(Disclaimer: strings on bass are counted starting from the thinnest one on the four strings bass (G) and then in order to E (the fourth). The fifth string is a low B placed after the E string and the sixth is the thinnest tuned in C after the G string.)
I often notice how beginner bass players wonder about the number of strings of their instruments.
They don’t understand how this detail impacts on their everyday music routine (if it even does) and this generates a lot of confusion that is also fueled by some myths musicians like to pursue.
But does the number of strings really matter? As always there is not a single answer to this, but we can start taking a look at history.
Electric bass was born in 1935, but it was only in 1951, when Leo Fender conceived his first precision bass, that it was mass-produced for a real commercial use.
The original precision bass used to have four strings tuned E A D G, one pickup and 21 frets like our modern basses.
First models of five strings used to have a C string after the G, but the five string bass as we know it was born in 1976 and produced by Alembic.
Despite a couple of brands that tried to produce it around 1960, the first six strings bass, as we know it, was produced by Fodera in 1984 for Anthony Jackson who had asked for it.
He wanted a bass guitar with a fifth string to play lower notes and a thinner one (the sixth) to make it easier playing chords.
Now you can see how all these instruments were born separately to meet needs for a more comfortable instrument than the double bass, and to develop sound in different ways.
Since the first electric bass was created to replace the double bass, five and six strings intent was not to take over for the four strings bass but rather to give more choice and possibilities to bass players who wanted to experiment.
I’m telling you this because there are two things in the music debate that always leave me perplexed, and they’re connected to each other.
The first is the bass myth that wants the five or six strings harder to play than the four. I’m saying it: it’s not true.
There are absolutely no reasons for this, in fact, as opposed to other instruments like guitar, bass is tuned all the same, by fourth intervals between all the strings. Notes relations are the same and the technique required to play them is too.
This doesn’t mean there are no differences between these models, of course there are. The neck is bigger and the distance between strings is smaller. But it’s nothing too hard, you just have to get used to it. There are more differences between different models of four strings basses than between the same model with four or five strings!
The reason why I suggest beginners to start with the four strings is that it represents the “philosophy” of the instrument like when it was born.
Once you got this you can experiment and try different sounds and kinds of playing.
The second myth I wanna talk you about is closely related to this: “when you become good enough you have to buy a five strings”.
No. No and no.
The number of strings of your bass is a personal choice.
There are just a few situations that absolutely require five or six strings but you could peacefully spend all your life playing only four.
Session musicians often have a bass for type to be always appropriate with any kind of job they have to do, but how many bass players have you seen playing the same bass al their life? I’ll say it: almost all of them. Does it mean they’re not good enough? No, it means they don’t need to change.
The thing I want to suggest to you is to try. Try different models, different numbers of strings, just be curious and at the end you’ll find the perfect instrument for you without any useless dogma.
And if you do, let me know!
Once more I hope I’ve been useful, and if you like this article send me a feedback!
See you next week,