4 String vs 5 String Bass: Which Should You Choose? – 2021 Guide

Craig
| Last Updated: February 6, 2021

Bass line is one of those important song parts that you may not think of but you will immediately notice if it stops playing.

That’s why we will try to help you today with the concerns between 4 string and 5 string bass guitars and which one is the best for you.

History of Electric Bass Guitar

Electric Bass Guitar was made as a portable substitute for double bass instruments and it’s one of the youngest string instruments.

Photo Credit: Guitaristas.info

When Was the String Bass Guitar Invented?

String Bass Guitar concept was made in 1935. It was called Model 736 Bass Fiddle and it had four strings, walnut body, ebony fretboard, single pickup, and 30.5-inch scale length. It was also provided with a bass amplifier Model 236.

However, it was the year 1951 when the real fame of this bass guitar format started to kick in. Leo Fender has made Precision Bass and popularized it within big band groups.

Gibson also tried to keep up the pace with the EB-1 model and later with EB-0 but Fender got the things right that even today Precision and Jazz Bass from 1960 is considered to be an industry standard that others can only try to enhance.

4 String Bass Basics

The 4 String Bass is how the electric bass guitar concept started at first and it’s still considered as a standard in so many situations.

What Are The Notes On a 4 String Bass Guitar?

If you’re setting up the standard tuning, the notes on a 4 string bass guitar will be tuned with 5 semitones difference starting from the lowest E on the top to the highest G on the bottom.

So the notes are placed in order E A D and G.

Photo Credit: BradleyFish.com

What Genres is a 4 String Bass Best For?

Vintage oriented genres are the best choice for 4 string bass. Whether it’s world music, jazz, blues, or some older rock or pop songs, 4 string bass is probably how these songs were initially recorded.

Despite certain limitations, 4 string bass is still being used regularly as both studio and live equipment for various genres.

5 String Bass Basics

The 5 String Bass seems to be quite a necessity these days for both live and studio work, so let’s check some basics about it:

When Was the First 5 String Bass Guitar Made?

The First 5 string bass guitar was made by Fender in 1965 but due to its high C string and 15 frets, it didn’t get so much interest it got discontinued in 1970.

The string setup that’s somewhat considered as standard today with the low B string was created in 1975 by Jimmy Johnson when he replaced the nut and used a new, thick low B string from GHS on it.

What Is Standard Tuning For a 5 String Bass?

The standard tuning for a 5 string bass is B E A D G.

What Are The Notes On a 5 String Bass?

If you’re tuning your bass in standard E tuning, the 5th string on a bass is the note B. You may also consider adding It may not be so often due to practical reasons, but you can also add a high C note above the highest D note.

Photo Credit: BradleyFish.com

What Genres Is a 5-string Bass Best For?

Because of the low B string, the 5 string bass is ideal for modern music, especially for metal, rock, or punk. It will work for all those songs where you need extra low-end from the bass guitar sound and at some point it may work as a replacement for a synth bass sound.

4 String vs 5 String Bass Similarities and Differences

As you can see, those two instruments look very similar, and yet, they have some important differences. Let us break them down and explain you further what you may expect from it:

4 String vs 5 String Bass Similarities

There are several things these two instruments have in common:

String Tension

Apart from the additional low B string, the rest of the strings are the same and should not require any additional effort to play.

Photo Credit: ToneTopics

Sound Options and Quality

Many bass guitar brands treat those two instruments the same regarding sound quality options. There shouldn’t be any difference regarding tone control or control features such as pickup switch selector or push/pull knobs. As for quality, the note played on both instruments will sound the same.

Design

As we said about the sound, the same goes for visuals. In most situations, both guitars will have the same control layout, body shape, and finish.

The only minor difference is the nut width and the placement of the 5th tuning machine.

Purpose

Both guitars can work well in the studio and live conditions respectively. The Bass guitar is one of those instruments where performance relies much more on a player's skill than many strings.

4 String and 5 String Bass Differences

A few things set them apart:

Range

The 5 String bass covers a significantly wider tonal range than 4 string guitar thanks to that additional low B string. It can sound exactly like a 4 string bass guitar, but at the same time, it will allow you to play lower notes which seem to be very useful in various situations.

Also, with the additional string, more notes are at disposal without moving a fret hand across the fretboard at all.

Photo Credit: PhilipTuffs.com

String Spacing

The 4 String bass will have a wider string spacing than the 5 string model which is especially noticeable at the nut width. This might be an important difference for new players.

Skill Levels

In general, both professionals and beginners could handle those instruments well.

But, as the 5 string bass brings more playing options we could say that it will suit a more professional mindset better. It will simply provide you with more playing choices.

Also, an extra string may confuse newcomers.

Ease of Playing

There should be no significant difference in playing those two instruments. The notes, frets, style of playing is pretty much the same.

However, those who have played one or another instrument for too long may need some time to adapt to the new layout.

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Size/Weight

The 5 string bass usually has a bit wider neck and an inch longer scale, which will make problems only for complete beginners. As for weight, the 4 string bass is a bit lighter, but we find the weight difference generally insignificant.

Price

The 4 string bass guitars are usually just a bit cheaper than 5 string models.

Availability

The 5 string bass guitars may not be so easy to find as 4 string models. This goes especially if you’re looking for the left-hand models.

Top Pick Between 4 String and 5 String Bass

If we had to pick the best bass guitar for you, we would have to go for 5 string bass.

Simply put, modern music goes much deeper in terms of low-frequencies than it was in the 1950s when the first bass guitars were initially made. For studio musicians, 5 string bass guitar is a no brainer as it will cover you with all the solutions any music producer will ever think of.

Even if you don’t need those lower notes at the moment, it’s always nice to have an extra option than no option at all, especially because the price difference will usually be quite insignificant while the build quality and all the features should be pretty much the same.

Photo Credit: WhichBass.co.uk

Also, for a performing musician and live performer, having an additional tonal range is a must-have for all those various jam sessions and improvisations you may end up in. Let’s imagine your singer is having a bad day so you have to tune down your songs - if the song is in the E key, you may have a problem with the 4 string model.

And in the end, 5 string bass will provide you with more freedom in playing and artistic creativity.

Tips for Better Bass Sound

Regardless of what bass guitar you have, here are some advice that can be applied for both instruments:

Aim for Brighter Tone

A lot of things may already be going on in the low-end spectrum. If you want to stand out, emphasize the low mids, and bring some brightness to your overall tone.

It’s always better to tame those frequencies down than add them up artificially.

Photo Credit: PremierGuitars.com

Listen to the Drummer

Even with the best sound, you will have to work with the drummer. You two are building the rhythm of the songs, so you should think as one mind.

Timing

No matter how good your sound is, the real difference is how tight your playing is eventually. Put a lot of devotion into your practicing.

Use Effects

Limiters, compressors, distortions, and saturation pedals can bring additional depth to your sound, especially in studio recordings.

Keep the Things Minimal

There is probably no instrument where the “less is more” idea talks more than a bass guitar. Yes, it may be wonderful to hear your improvisations in the song, but always think about the song content and if your arrangement contributes to the song overall.

You might be surprised but sometimes silence tells a lot more about your playing skill than dozens of notes.

How to Boil Bass Strings

Who would say that kitchen and bass guitar have something in common? Well, if you want to improve your sound without buying new strings, you will have to practice your chef skills a little bit and boil your strings down.

Photo Credit: Get-Tuned

With the boiling, you’re removing all dust, grit, and dirt accumulated on strings, so here’s how to do it:

  • Coil the strings so they can fit your casserole.

  • If possible use distilled water as you want this process to be as clean as possible. Tap water is fine, it’s just distilled is a better solution.

  • Once you make the water boiling, put one string at a time and “cook” them for up to 15 minutes.

  • Leave them on the cotton towel and make them as dry as possible.

  • Next, heat the oven to lower temperatures.

  • Wrap the strings in aluminum foil and perforate it with the fork so that the air can get inside.

  • “Cook” the strings for 15 minutes more and leave them cool on their own

Put them back on your bass guitar and you should probably hear a significant improvement in the string brightness. However, bear in mind that you can repeat this trick two or three times with a single set of strings.

Conclusion

Regardless of what bass guitar you may end with, always remember that both options should serve you pretty well. Also, bear in mind that unfortunately there is no such instrument that may work in all situations, so don’t be surprised if you end up with having 4 string and 5 string bass guitar eventually. 

People Also Ask

There are so many questions about bass guitars so let us explain in brief the difference between bass and guitar, what should you pick for a start, and do you need a 5 String Bass guitar at all. Also, we will explain to you what a 6 String Bass guitar is.

Is Bass Easier than Guitar?

In general, the bass guitar may seem easier to start, but, you should be aware of one bass guitar “omen” - if you play perfectly, no one may notice you - but once you make a tonal mistake, everyone in the audience will notice it. Hope this explains how important the bass guitar role is.

Photo Credit: DawsonsMusic.co.uk

Can You Slap On a 5 String Bass?

Of course. Slap is a playing technique that can be done on any string instrument. Slapping on a 5 String Bass won’t sound any different from slapping a 4 String Bass. It may even create more thump as you can hit those lower notes.

Is a 6 String Bass Just a Guitar?

Not at all. 6 String Bass Guitar is a 4 String Bass guitar with added notes on the top and the bottom. So, in the standard tuning, it has the low B note, just like the 5 String Bass and the high C note right above the G note on the bottom.

Should I Start with a 4 String or 5 String Bass?

Fewer strings always mean less chance to mess it up. That’s why we believe 4 string bass is a much better choice than 5 string. Also, the neck width will be easier to grab. But, if you’re really into metal, there is nothing wrong with starting with the 5 string bass.

Can You Put a Low B String On a 4 String Bass?

While it may not be the recommended way to go, it is possible.

It may not fit the existing nut that you have on your bass guitar and you may need to readjust the tension of your instrument, but if you want to do it, it won’t be so complicated or expensive to try it out.

How Often Should I Change Bass Strings?

Bass strings don’t break so easily like guitar strings. The only difference is that the new string sounds much brighter. But, if you want to maintain the overall sound at some average level and you’re playing regularly, changing them twice a year should be more than fine.

Do I Need a 5 String Bass?

It all depends on what kind of music you’re most interested in. If you’re playing jazz, blues, or vintage music, 4 String bass will be more than enough. But, for all kinds of modern music, especially rock or metal oriented 5 strings is simply a must-have instrument.

Photo Credit: LaysGuitar.com

Can You Put 5 String Bass Strings On a 4 String Bass?

The 5 string bass strings should come with the same gauge as the original 4 bass string set, so besides that low B string, there should be no difference in setting up the strings from the 5 string pack. So, just skip the low B string and set the other strings in the usual method.

Can You Put 4 String Pickup on a 5 String Bass?

It’s not an ideal solution we must say and we wouldn’t recommend this at all if you have Fender-like pickups. Solid bar or rail magnet pickups could work better if you manage to keep all the strings within the outside pickup pole spacing.

Craig

Hi there, my name is Craig. I took over Gear Savvy in mid-2019 and have had a blast writing content about music ever since. My role here is to steer the ship and ensure readers have the best information available for learning a thing or two. When I’m not working on content, I’m a husband and a dad. I enjoy spending time with my family, playing guitar, or messing around in my woodshop.