If you’re looking to buy your first (or next) bass guitar, you may find yourself wondering – should you get a 4-string, or a 5-string bass?
The truth is, there are more differences than simply the number of the strings. The advantages and disadvantages of both options should be seriously considered prior to purchase.
Let’s start with the advantages of a 5-string bass.
The Advantages Of A 5-String Bass
First and, well, most obviously – you get an extra string. While the normal strings of a bass guitar go E-A-D-G, a 5-stringed bass will have a lower B string added, making the string arrangement become B-E-A-D-G instead.
This gives you 5 extra new notes to work with – B, C, C#, D, and D#.
That being said, it is possible to tune a normal 4-string bass down, but sound quality can suffer and you have to deal with the hassle of re-tuning.
The other primary advantage is that by having an extra string, you give yourself more options to play certain notes without having to move your hand around the fretboard as much. The range of notes you can play in one position without sliding your hand up or down drastically increases, which can be very helpful depending on how you intend to play.
However, some professional bassists argue that starting out with a 5-stringed bass can cause new players to develop bad habits, or find it harder to transition back to a regular 4-string bass later down the line. In my opinion, this isn’t as big of an issue as it’s made out to be – somebody playing fast enough to take full advantage of the 5th string will probably already be skilled enough at playing bass to move up and down the neck comfortably.
Finally, if you are playing bass in a band or with other guitarists that like to tune guitar down (most commonly to Drop D), having a 5-string bass allows you to play along without also requiring a retune. This makes 5-string basses a popular choice among metal players.
The Disadvantages Of A 5-String Bass
Truth be told, a lot of people find 5-string basses harder to play, especially for beginners. The extra string adds a bit of complexity and quite simply, is another thing that new players have to be aware of.
There can be a lot of extra work involved ensuring that you don’t accidentally hit the string, and you’re able to keep it muted when you’re not using it.
Additionally, the extra string has to be physically accommodated for on the neck of the bass. This often means that the neck is wider, forcing you to stretch your hand further to wrap it around the bass. This can make it a bit more uncomfortable, especially for people with smaller hands.
Alternatively, the strings may be closer together on the neck, making it more difficult to pick out individual strings on the fretboard.
Due to the extra material, 5-string basses also tend to be noticeably heavier than their 4-string counterparts. Something to keep in mind if you prefer to stand up when you play, or you’re going to be using it as your primary gigging bass!
When it comes down to the 4 vs. 5 string bass debate, almost everything else is the same. Although models obviously vary, both 4 and 5 string basses are made up of the same types of wood, use the same internal materials, have the same pickups, etc. There would be no noticeable difference in tone or sound quality between the two.
What Would We Recommend?
Ultimately, going with one choice or another is not going to hurt you in the long run. The most important thing is that you find the instrument you believe you’ll enjoy the most, and don’t feel bad about your decision either way.
If you are truly on the fence or you’re just not sure, we typically recommend 4-string basses to beginners. They are a bit easier to get started with, and the majority of music you’ll want to play was originally played on a 4-string bass. They also tend to be cheaper, so you could spend the extra money on other important gear like an amp, case, and pedals.
If you are an experienced bassist and you don’t yet own a 5-string, you may consider picking one up. 5-string basses make an excellent 2nd or 3rd bass for those that started on a 4-string. Some bassists that play for independent groups or specific performances may be given music that is written for a 5-string bass, so actually owning one opens up extra job opportunities.
I hope that this article has given you some further insight into the differences between 4 and 5-string bass guitars. We’d love to hear what decision you ended up going with. And of course, if you have any questions at all, please do not hesitate to ask them through the comment form below!