- 1. Sterling by Music Man S.U.B. Sting Ray 5 TBS
- 2. Fender American Ultra Jazz Bass V
- 3. Yamaha BB435 TBS 5-String Bass Guitar
- 4. Schecter Stiletto Studio 5-String Bass Guitar
- 5. Ibanez EHB1005MS 5-String Bass Guitar
- 6. Squier Classic Vibe ’70s Jazz Bass V
- 7. ESP LTD B-205SM 5-String Bass Guitar
- 8. Dean Edge 1 5-String Electric Bass Guitar
- 9. Spector NS Pulse II
- 10. Warwick Rockbass Corvette Basic 5
- 11. Sire Marcus Miller P-5
- Why Get A 5-String Bass?
- Incorporating the 5-string Bass in Different Genres
- Amplifying and Recording with a 5-string Bass
- Gettin Low
Are you on the hunt for the best 5-string bass this at the moment? You might have been playing bass a while but haven’t checked out what a 5 string can offer you. Or, you might be like me and already really love the benefits of having a 5th string on your bass. And let’s be honest, while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with just 4 bass strings, there’s something undeniably satisfying about having those deliciously-low frequencies at your fingertips.
So, if you’ve been looking for the best 5-string bass guitars available on the market, this ultimate buyer’s guide is your trusted path to making the right choice. Over a few decades of playing live and in the studio, I’ve encountered all of the 5-string basses mentioned in this guide. In this article, I’ll look at everything from tonal quality and playability to value for money, leaving you to focus on finding the right balance of factors that will work best for you.
When it comes to the best 5-string bass guitar, the Sterling by Music Man S.U.B. Sting Ray 5 TBS is an offer almost too good to pass up. I LOVE my Ray5 SUB and recommend it as the best entry-level option for buying a 5-string.
From slapped funk notes to warm and punchy rock or metal, this bass excels. It’s an ingenious reproduction of the original StingRay line at an entry-level price tag.
The Sting Ray lineage, which has been an iconic part of the musical scene since 1976, is apparent in this model’s popular sound. My Ray5 SUB features a sleek gloss black design, accentuated by contrasting shades on the body bevels. You won’t be limited to black though, the Ray5 comes in a variety of other colors, including mint green, walnut satin, trans blue satin, vintage sunburst satin, and ruby red burst satin.
- The Sting Ray 5 features top-notch build quality and is made for easy playability. Its quality and tone will delight both novice and seasoned players alike.
- This bass offers a well-balanced feel and a comfort-focused design, with features like forearm bevel and ample room around the upper frets.
- The wider neck, although more expansive than a traditional 4-string bass, remains comfortable for smaller hands due to the 16mm string spacing at the bridge.
- Equipped with a 2-band EQ, this bass facilitates easy tone shaping and packs a punch when needed on this bass guitar.
- Despite its reasonable price, the Sting Ray 5 can produce remarkable tones reminiscent of the signature StingRay sound.
- With its versatility, this bass is suitable for a broad range of musical genres and can be used for both live performances and studio recording.
This bass guitar is really fabulous value for money and I’d suggest that you’ll struggle to find another 5-string bass guitar with these features and quality within this price bracket. It stands as an affordable version of much more expensive bass guitars, without compromising on quality. If you are interested in a 5-string bass that you will be able to stay in love with, but don’t want to break the bank, the Ray 5 is for you!
As a proud owner of the Sterling by Music Man Sting Ray 5, I reckon this bass is impeccably built, easy to play, well-balanced, and comfortable. The wider neck is a great addition, making it very easy to play. While I have pretty big hands, I think even those with smaller hands would be fine playing this guitar. FYI, Sting Ray also has a model that is a short scale bass so never fear. I’m also plenty satisfied with the simple, original 2-band EQ that provides plenty of tone-shaping potential. This guitar can have a powerful sound when required.
If I had to nitpick, there are a few minor features of this bass that might present issues for some players. For instance, its weight could be a little on the heavy side for some (not for me). Also, some players have had the experience of finding it difficult to execute pull-offs on the G string. I’d suggest this is related to setup and fretwork more than anything though.
Bottom Line: Get it… No seriously, this 5 string bass is a gem and is my pick for best value for money. You’ll never look back.
What would a bass review article be without a jazz bass in the mix somewhere? When it comes to basses, the Fender American Ultra Jazz Bass V, a recent addition to Fender’s premier active USA guitar line, is a testament to Fender’s commitment to upholding the legacy of the Jazz Bass core, while also integrating modern, innovative features. Distinguished by an alder body, a 34″ scale maple neck with a bound maple or rosewood fingerboard, and Fender “F” light-weight vintage paddle keys, this bass guitar is built to deliver a superior playing experience. And, in my opinion, that’s exactly what it does.
This bass looks classy, like really classy.
It’s furnished with 21 medium jumbo frets, a 5-bolt neck plate, and a bone nut, further enhancing Jazz Bass core functionality. I really love how the body, coated in natural gloss, contrasts beautifully with the satin finish of the neck. The Fender American Ultra Jazz Bass V is enhanced with Ultra Noiseless Vintage Jazz Bass pickups and a redesigned preamp, providing versatile tonal possibilities with no hum.
- Possesses Ultra Noiseless Vintage Jazz Bass pickups offering a wide tonal range on this bass guitar.
- Equipped with an 18-volt preamp for enhanced volume and tone control.
- Improved accessibility to the upper register with a sculpted neck heel.
- Features a modern D shape neck profile for improved tone and fewer dead spots.
- A tool-free dual battery box and larger HiMass bridge for increased convenience.
- Lightweight, weighing just under 10 pounds, providing comfortable playability.
Priced around US$2,350, the Fender American Ultra Jazz Bass V offers a high-end bass guitar experience complete with a hard-molded case and TSA locks. Compared to the Given the range of innovative features and superior sound quality, the bass justifies its premium pricing.
For lovers of the classic Jazz Bass vibe, the Ultra Jazz Bass V comes with a host of advantages by combining faithful Jazz Bass elements with some nice modern touches. The fit and finish of this bass are impeccable, it really does look gorgeous. The intuitive tone controls, with both tone and volume knobs spread between the two pickups, allow for a broad spectrum of tones. I find the Jazz Bass to be a very versatile instrument, suiting most musical styles and genres, from vintage to modern.
The preamp, though excellent in function, is not entirely quiet. You can sometimes hear a slight hum from the pickups which may be annoying in very sparse musical settings. Also, if you do love to choose from a large range of colors and finishes, the Ultra Jazz Bazz V does have limited options compared to some of the others in this list. Finally, one or two colleagues of mine have encountered bridge issues on certain models.
Bottom Line: If you love a classy, classic Fender bass with incredible tone, look, feel and playability, the Ultra Jazz Bass V is a 5-string bass standing in a league of its own. It is my pick for those who want a premium bass with classic Fender tones.
The Yamaha BB435 TBS is a distinguished 5-string electric bass guitar sporting an alluring tobacco brown sunburst finish.
Constructed with an alder body, a 5-piece maple/mahogany neck, and a rosewood fretboard with 21 medium frets, the BB435 TBS is a testament to Yamaha’s meticulous craftsmanship.
This bass boasts a long scale length of 864 mm and is furnished with a split single coil pickup and a bar single coil pickup, a testament to its sound versatility. All the hardware is made by Yamaha itself, underscoring the brand’s commitment to quality. Moreover, the BB435 TBS comes with a reassuring 30-day money-back guarantee and a 3-year warranty.
- Excellent playability facilitated by its well-thought-out construction and design.
- Versatile sound owing to its split single coil pickup and bar single coil pickup.
- High-quality construction using premium materials like alder, maple, mahogany, and rosewood.
- Acclaimed for its agility, presence, and sustain by customers.
- Suitable for both beginners and experienced players due to its affordability and great quality-to-price ratio.
The Yamaha BB435 TBS’s wide-ranging benefits make it a worthwhile investment for both beginners and seasoned bass players looking for a reliable, versatile, and high-quality instrument.
In my opinion, the BB435 TBS is a really solid choice. Its excellent playability, versatile sound, and high-quality construction place it in a similar league to the Sting Ray, but perhaps without quite the same character. It’s an affordable instrument that doesn’t skimp on quality, making it a popular workhorse among many players. If you have ever owned a Yamaha guitar or bass, you know that they are unsung heroes in the world of musical instruments. With unflinching standards and reliability, they are instruments that you turn to for robust reliability. The BB435 TBS is no exception to this rule. While it may not have the history and charm of some others in this list, it will never let you down.
The factory setup is usually really good, but like any instrument, some adjustments may be required for optimal playability, especially within the first year of ownership. Despite this minor potential drawback, the BB435 TBS’s robust construction, sound quality, and positive customer feedback make it an attractive option for those looking for an instrument that delivers both performance and value.
The Schecter Stiletto Studio 5 makes its mark in the music world as a five-string electric bass guitar. Its design speaks volumes about modern aesthetics, featuring a sleek, double-cutaway body shape and a slim midriff.
It boasts an impressive combination of mahogany and bubinga in its body construction and a maple and walnut neck, topped with a smooth rosewood fingerboard.
The guitar is further equipped with a diamond custom bridge system, a synthetic nut, and a Grover tuning machine.
There’s more to the Schecter Stiletto Studio 5 than meets the eye. Here are some of its standout features:
- It’s equipped with two EMG-HZ humbucking pickups at the middle and bridge positions. These pickups offer a broad tonal range and deliver a powerful output.
- The guitar’s construction materials contribute to its resonant and tonal qualities.
- Controls for master volume and tone, as well as three additional knobs for blend options, offer versatility in sound shaping.
- The guitar produces deep, warm low tones, expressive mid-tones, and a strong output, making it perfect for a variety of musical styles.
The Schecter Stiletto Studio 5 is a high-quality guitar that offers excellent value for its price. It’s a commendable investment for those seeking a versatile and reliable instrument.
From my experience with the Stiletto Studio 5, Ive identified some pros and cons you might want to consider. On the plus side, the guitar’s two EMG-HZ humbucking pickups provide a wide range of tones, allowing for versatility in sound. The powerful output they help create is an absolute advantage for any bass player.
However, while the design of the Stiletto Studio 5 is undoubtedly modern and sleek, it doesn’t necessarily stand out as unique. This might not be a deal-breaker for everyone, but if you prefer an instrument that makes a visual statement, it’s a factor to consider.
The Ibanez EHB1005MS is a headless, multi-scale bass guitar that’s sure to catch your eye. This remarkable instrument features a robust 5-piece roasted maple/walnut neck with graphite reinforcement rods for added stability.
The body, crafted from American basswood, sports a slanted back for improved comfort and control while playing.
With a fretboard made of roasted birdseye maple, off-set abalone dot inlays, and 24 medium stainless steel frets, you’re all set for a smooth and enjoyable playing experience.
- Designed for comfort, thanks to its ergonomic body design and slanted back.
- Comes with a 5-piece roasted maple/walnut neck for stability and durability.
- Equipped with a Vari-mid 3-band EQ with an EQ bypass switch for versatile tone shaping.
- Features Bartolini BH2 passive pickups for improved sound quality.
- Comes with a detachable finger ramp for comfortable fingerpicking.
- The MR5HS mono rail bridge is designed for maximum vibration transfer and adjustable saddles for individual string spacing demands.
- Includes a gig bag, luminescent side dot inlays, and Ibanez custom headpieces.
As a high-quality bass guitar with numerous features, we anticipate it will be priced accordingly. We currently have it priced at roughly US$1.350.
From my perspective, the Ibanez EHB1005MS offers a host of benefits. I love its unique design, which combines headless and multi-scale configurations for an individual playing experience. The addition of the Vari-mid 3-band EQ and EQ bypass switch offers versatile tone-shaping options, which I know many players will appreciate.
The bass comes with D’Addario EXL170-5SL strings and has a hardware color of black, which adds a nice aesthetic touch. We’re also impressed by the MR5HS mono rail bridge designed for maximum vibration transfer and adjustable saddles for individual string spacing demands. The inclusion of Schaller S-Locks strap pins and a Neutrik locking jack for secure strap and cable attachment is a thoughtful addition.
On the flip side, the lack of pricing information is a downside as it may deter potential buyers who are budget-conscious. Nonetheless, I believe the Ibanez EHB1005MS is a high-quality bass guitar that offers excellent comfort, tone versatility, and reliable performance.
The Squier Classic Vibe ’70s Jazz Bass V is a standout 5-string electric bass guitar that brings together the functional advantages of five strings and the retro aesthetics reminiscent of the 1970s. With its vintage-tint neck and slotted bridge, it cuts a nostalgic figure.
The pedigree of its craftsmanship gives it a quality that rivals basses thrice its price.
It features a glossy, poplar body with a pickguard, a maple neck in a comfortable “C” shape, a maple fingerboard, and nickel hardware, including a vintage-style bridge and tuning machines. The bass is equipped with dual Fender-Designed alnico single-coil pickups, offering a diverse range of tones. Its 34″ scale length, 20 narrow-tall frets, and a nut width of 1.875 inches make it a comfortable and versatile instrument.
- The bass produces a punchy and articulate tone, adaptable to various musical styles.
- With its “C” shaped neck and 9.5″ radius, it’s easy on the fingers and comfortable to play.
- It offers remarkable value, with features and quality of sound comparable to higher-priced basses.
- The Squier Classic Vibe ’70s Jazz Bass V is part of the acclaimed Squier Classic Vibe series, known for its vintage-inspired designs and high-quality craftsmanship.
The Squier Classic Vibe ’70s Jazz Bass V is priced at roughly US$480, making it a great choice for budget-conscious musicians.
As with any instrument, the Squier Classic Vibe ’70s Jazz Bass V has its strengths and weaknesses. The string spacing is notably comfortable, avoiding the excessive narrowness that can plague other five-string basses. The neck of the bass is smooth and easy to play, with no rough edges on the fretboard to hamper your performance.
When you pick it up, you’ll notice its solid and reassuring weight — a testament to its high-quality build. A major plus is the range of tones it offers due to its two volume knobs and a master tone knob, providing a wide palette for you to play with.
On the flip side, the bass is made in Indonesia, and the case is sold separately, which might be annoying for some. Nonetheless, the general consensus among users is that this bass delivers impressive performance and value despite being a cost-effective choice.
The ESP LTD B-205SM is a delightful 5-string bass guitar, flaunting a unique ash body with a visually striking spalted maple top.
Made in Indonesia, this guitar is known for its exceptional quality and reliability within its price range.
This bass guitar comes with ESP Designed SB-5 pickups and an active ABQ-3 3-band EQ, which gives you a range of sound options. The guitar’s black nickel hardware further enhances its overall appeal. This bass is available in a natural satin finish and also caters to left-handed musicians. The thin U-shaped neck and 34″ scale length make for a comfortable playing experience.
- Significantly punchy tone with a lasting sustain
- Versatile sound options with ESP Designed SB-5 pickups and active ABQ-3 3-band EQ
- Comfortable playing experience due to the thin U-shaped neck
- Aesthetic appeal from the ash body, spalted maple top, and black nickel hardware
- Available in a left-handed version
- Widely adaptable to various musical styles such as Christian worship, jazz, funk, and fusion
This instrument offers exceptional quality for its price. As such, buyers can expect a high-value purchase that delivers excellent performance and quality construction. Expect to pay roughly US$650.
The ESP LTD B-205SM 5-String Bass Guitar has won the hearts of many musicians with its impressive features. Players love its excellent tone and sustain, with the wood resonating beautifully. Straight from the box, the bridge adjustments are accurate, eliminating the need for further fine-tuning. The active three-band EQ provides just the right amount of control, enhancing the natural tone of the bass. Many musicians, beginners and professionals alike, have praised the neck action and string position.
In terms of versatility, this bass is apt for a wide array of musical styles. The bass is also lauded for its lightweight construction and smooth, fast neck, making it comfortable to play. However, some users have mentioned that they find the weight a bit heavy. Overall, the ESP LTD B-205SM presents an excellent balance of quality, sound, and affordability, making it a popular choice among bassists.
The Dean Edge 1 5-String Electric Bass Guitar is a testament to Dean’s two decades of experience in the field.
This guitar is part of the Dean Edge series, which is conventionally designed to compete with intermediate Japanese models such as the Ibanez SR series and ESP models.
The Edge 1 comes with a solid basswood body, a maple neck with bolt-on construction, a rosewood fingerboard with 24 frets, and chrome hardware. It also features two humbucking pickups and standard controls for tone and volume. This guitar, made in China, comes in a satin natural finish and is equipped with a dual-action truss rod. Available in Classic Black, Trans Amber, and Trans Red, the Dean Edge 1 offers quite a bit of versatility.
- Solid basswood body and maple neck offer excellent sustainability and durability.
- The 24-fret rosewood fingerboard allows for a greater range of notes.
- It comes in a variety of color options, allowing users to choose according to their personal style.
- The dual-action truss rod provides enhanced convenience and ease of usage.
- The guitar is compatible with different case options, including DHSEB, LLEB, and DGBEB.
The Dean Edge 1 5-String Electric Bass Guitar is priced at $249.00, with an MSRP of $379.00. You can purchase it from authorized dealers or online. Considering the features and quality it offers, we believe it provides excellent value for money.
I found that the Dean Edge provided a very comfortable playing experience and delivered a clean low-end sound. I’d certainly recommend it for both beginners and intermediate players. The double cutaway body and solid construction have received praise from musicians.
However, I also agree with some reviewers that there is room for improvement in the quality of this bass. For this reason, I suggest that the Dean Edge 1 5-String Electric Bass Guitar is best suited to beginner to intermediate players who want a comfortable, easy-to-play bass guitar at an affordable price point. I wouldn’t choose it in favour of the top 3 in this list for anything more serious though.
The Spector NS Pulse II is a highly regarded bass guitar recognized for its iconic shape and versatility. Introduced by Spector in 2020, it’s an upgraded version of its predecessor from the NS Pulse range. The instrument stands out with its sturdy construction and powerful pickups. Sporting a balanced construction featuring a swamp ash body and a quilted maple top, it comes with a three-piece roasted maple bolt-on neck and a Macassar ebony fretboard. The NS Pulse II is available in a five-string version with a 35″ scale length. The electronics include a pair of EMG 40DC humbuckers and a two-band EQ with Spector’s Tone Pump Jr. preamp. Each of these features contributes to its sleek matte finish, available in three colors: Black Cherry, Black Stain, and Ultra-Violet.
- Offers a balanced construction with a swamp ash body and a quilted maple top.
- Equipped with a three-piece roasted maple bolt-on neck and a Macassar ebony fretboard.
- Comes in a five-string version with a 35″ scale length.
- Includes a pair of EMG 40DC humbuckers and a two-band EQ with Spector’s Tone Pump Jr. preamp for a punchy sound.
- Available in a sleek matte finish in three distinct colors: Black Cherry, Black Stain, and Ultra-Violet.
- Suitable for a diverse range of music styles, such as rock, metal, jazz, blues, and gospel.
The NS Pulse II falls within the mid-price range, quoted at roughly $1299. Despite its midrange price tag, it is recommended for jobbing bassists due to its diverse range of features, sturdy construction, and powerful pickups.
Pros & Cons
From a personal perspective, several aspects stand out in the NS Pulse II. Its strengths lie in its sturdy construction, making it a durable and reliable instrument. The well-spaced frets and the smooth fingerboard make it extremely comfortable to play. Further, the Tone Pump Jr. preamp eliminates low noise and provides a liquid low-end and a spacious dynamic range, which is a significant upgrade from the previous model.
The bass offers a wide gamut of tonal possibilities, from round and P-bass-like to bright and snappy, making it versatile for various music styles. Its sleek design, powerful pickups, and punchy tones add to the fun of playing this instrument.
However, on the downside, while the NS Pulse II does offer a lot, it’s not available in a left-hand version, which can be a letdown for left-handed bassists. Also, the package does not include a case or gig bag, which might be an additional expense for those who need it. Nonetheless, the NS Pulse II stands out as an impressive bass guitar that offers pro-quality sound at a midrange price, making it a worthy choice for many bassists.
10. Warwick Rockbass Corvette Basic 5
The Warwick Rockbass Corvette Basic 5 is a highly-regarded 5-string electric bass guitar known for its exceptional craftsmanship, design, and tone. It is often found in the hands of professional bassists like Dick Lovgren of Meshuggah and Peanut of 311. Not limited to the pros, the Rockbass model is designed to be accessible to beginners and hobbyists. The bass guitar features a bolt-on maple neck and a two-piece alder body, providing a solid build and a unique design. It is equipped with active MEC J/J pickups and active 2-band electronics, which allow for a wide range of tonal possibilities. The bass is meticulously crafted and inspected before shipping to ensure it delivers the true Warwick experience.
- High-quality construction using premium tonewoods
- Versatile sound options due to active electronics and pickups
- An affordable price compared to the Masterbuilt German models
- Lightweight and comfortable to play, with an approximate weight of 3.8 kg
- Suitable for various musical styles, including rock, fusion, jazz, and more
The Warwick Rockbass Corvette Basic 5 is available for purchase for $1,245.00. There are also financing options available, allowing customers to spread the cost over multiple payments.
Pros & Cons
After thoroughly examining the Warwick Rockbass Corvette Basic 5, it’s clear that it has a full and phat sound, with clear and deep lows and nice highs. Its quality construction and materials, such as the woods, tuners, and active pickups, are of high quality, which is expected as the build is solid.
However, the bass isn’t without its drawbacks. Some might find the plastic nut and one-piece bridge to be minor issues. Nevertheless, the bass still offers great value for its price range, playing better than other brands in the same price range.
In terms of aesthetics, it’s hard to deny the appeal of the Rockbass Corvette Basic 5. Its design has a lot of sex appeal and a unique design. The Stingray style is both classic and unique, and the see-through finishes are particularly beautiful.
Finally, the bass is recommended for both beginners and experienced players. It is considered a good choice for active gigging musicians in various musical styles. Its active bass and EQ controls contribute to its exceptional tone, making it great for playing in a jamband and also suitable for both studio recording and live performances.
11. Sire Marcus Miller P-5
The Sire Marcus Miller P-5 is a bass guitar engineered for dynamic playing, providing a mixture of vintage and modern sounds. This instrument is a collaborative effort, featuring the P Style Body and Marcus Miller’s signature electronics and hardware, which results in meticulous low registers. It boasts a wide neck profile constructed from roasted hard Maple, complete with rolled fret edges for increased playability and comfort. This bass guitar is available in three striking colours: Tobacco Sunburst, Dakota Red, and Mild Green.
- Collaboration of P Style Body and Marcus Miller’s signature electronics and hardware
- Produces precise low registers
- Wide neck profile constructed from roasted hard Maple
- Rolled fretboard edges for increased playability and comfort
- Marcus Vintage-Fat Precision Revolution Set pickups
- Passive volume and tone controls
- Chrome metal knobs, Marcus Miller Vintage-S Premium Open-Gear tuning gears, and a tortoise pickguard
- Available in three striking colours: Tobacco Sunburst, Dakota Red, and Mild Green
While pricing is not explicitly mentioned in the reference material, the general consensus is that Sire offers a lot of features on their bass guitars, especially for the price.
Pros & Cons
The Sire Marcus Miller P-5 is a remarkable bass guitar that offers a mixture of vintage and modern tones. One of the significant highlights of this instrument is that it provides a comfortable playing experience due to the wide neck profile constructed from roasted hard Maple, and rolled fretboard edges. The North American Alder body, one-piece roasted hard Maple neck, and a 34″ scale length make for a robust and sturdy build.
The Marcus Vintage-Fat Precision Revolution Set pickups, passive volume and tone controls, and chrome metal knobs deliver exceptional sound quality. Although the gloss fingerboard may not appeal to everyone, the overall impression of the instrument is highly favourable.
This bass guitar is a hard bargain, competing well with more expensive models in terms of quality and features. Its availability might be an issue as some potential buyers have noted difficulty in finding one in stock. Despite this, the Sire Marcus Miller P-5 remains a solid choice for both budding and professional bassists. Its quality craftsmanship and attention to detail are noticeable, living up to the reputation that Sire basses seem to be upholding – quality over quantity.
While the numerous knobs may seem overwhelming at first, most find it akin to dialling in sounds on a new amp. Once familiar with how each knob affects the sound, it becomes an advantage rather than a drawback. The mid control, in particular, makes a significant difference, and it’s worth noting that the tone control works in both active and passive modes.
Overall, the Sire Marcus Miller P-5 is a thoughtfully designed, high-quality bass guitar that offers value for money, making it a worthy consideration for your next bass acquisition.
Originally designed by none other than Fender, the 5-string bass guitar is an innovative variation of the conventional 4-string bass and is distinguished by the addition of an extra low B string. Over the years, bass guitars have evolved and modernised – from the introduction of single-coil pickups to the implementation of active electronics. For example, it’s now common for bass guitars to have a three-band EQ to help shape your tone more precisely.
Fender, a juggernaut in the world of electric guitar, also unveiled the first 5-string model, known as the Bass V in 1965.
Funnily enough, the Bass V deviated from what would later become the standard 5-string configuration; instead of adding a low B-string, Fender included a high C-string! This unusual choice made the Bass V unique but also somewhat out of step with the demands of bassists who were actually seeking lower tonal ranges.
The quest for those sweet lows was finally realized in 1976 when Carl Thompson developed the first 5-string bass guitar with a low B-string. In the same year, Alembic, another major player in the world of bass guitars, delivered their inaugural 5-string bass equipped with a low B-string to Stanley Clarke, a renowned bassist. Clarke’s endorsement of this particular configuration helped solidify its place in the musical world.
Typically, you’d tune a 5-string bass to B-E-A-D-G. The extra B-string gives you five additional low notes, filling in the gaps that a 4-string bass in standard tuning can’t produce in a low and deep-sounding register. All of the strings can stay in standard tuning as these notes correspond to the most common tunings in western music. However, some musicians, like jazz bassist John Patitucci, prefer to tune the five-string bass to E-A-D-G-C, with a high C-string instead of the low B-string.
The 5-string bass offers unique features that set it apart from its 4-string counterpart. The extra string allows for an extended lower range, giving you more note coverage under your hand in one position. This efficiency of movement can decrease sideways movement and drag, making it easier for you to play notes in lower keys and offering more scales, chords, and arpeggios.
However, the 5-string bass does have a wider neck and is generally heavier, which can be a drawback for some players. It’s not necessarily a more advanced instrument than a 4-string bass, and it’s not the natural progression from a 4-string. It’s simply a different tool that offers more versatility, especially if you need the additional string to hit notes in lower registers while staying in standard tuning.
If you’re a session musician or aspiring to expand into theatre/musicals or studio work, you’ll find the 5-string bass a necessity. Sheet music in session work is typically written for 5-string bass, and the instrument offers more versatility and convenience for common session situations.
When it comes to cost, 5-string bass guitars tend to be pricier than comparable 4-string models. This could be due to the materials and the reinforcement of the neck, as well as supply and demand.
The 5-string bass guitar offers an extra range of notes, providing more power and extra thickness than only low root notes can provide. This has made it a preferred choice for many of today’s rock bands and music artists. The percussive approach and deep sub-bass tones of 5-string bass guitars have been used in genres like dub, hip hop, and electronic music.
Some of the most famous 5-string bass players include Reginald Quincy Arvizu, a.k.a. Fieldy, Aaron Bruch, Traa Daniels, Steve Digiorgio, Tom Petersson, Greg Lake, John Paul Jones, Jack Bruce, Tony Levin, Derek Smalls, Chris Squire, Alex Webster, Nathan East, Roscoe Beck, David Ellefson, Jeff Berlin, Robert Trujillo, and Reginald “Fieldy” Arvizu.
In jazz and blues, the 5-string bass guitar’s additional B-string can be a game-changer. It allows musicians to delve into uncharted territories, offering a wider spectrum of notes and chords. This added flexibility enhances the instrument’s versatility in these genres.
For rock and metal genres, the 5-string bass guitar can be a formidable tool. While not essential, it provides an extended range that can be advantageous in sub-genres favoring deeper tunings. Death metal, black metal, and progressive metal often employ lower tunings, making the 5-string bass a logical choice. It simplifies the execution of down-tuned songs and provides more melodic or solo-playing options. Some bassists even find the thicker neck and closer string spacing more comfortable.
The 5-string bass guitar also has a place in pop and dance music. The additional string broadens the range of notes and chords, facilitating the performance of various music styles, including RnB and pop. This adaptability can be a significant advantage when crafting bass lines for pop and dance tracks.
In country and bluegrass, the 5-string bass guitar can bring a distinctive sound. Traditional bluegrass configurations often set the strings high on a plywood bass, allowing for both slapping and plucking. However, contemporary bluegrass trends favor the use of solo strings on the top three, tuned A, E, B from top to bottom, with a C extension tuned. This setup, coupled with the 5-string bass’s extra low B string, can produce a unique sound that distinguishes your music.
Amplifying a 5-string bass requires a specific type of bass amplifier. Not all bass amplifiers can handle the extended range of a 5-string bass, particularly the low-B. This can result in a muddy and unclear tone, especially for amps under 200W.
Selecting the right amp for a 5-string bass isn’t just about the cab’s ability to handle the low B frequency. It’s also about its capacity to reproduce it. A good bass rig is a thoughtful combination of a bass amp head and a speaker (cabinet).
The amp head should be capable of handling difficult-to-amplify low frequencies. The speaker should be able to produce the overtones. The rule of thumb for gigging amplification is that the bass should have 3x the power output of the guitars. For a 5-string, it should ideally have 300+ watts. Solid state amps, which are less expensive than equivalent tube amp heads, are favored among bassists for achieving this power.
Recording a 5-string bass presents unique challenges. The biggest challenge is maintaining timbral consistency from string to string. The tone quality changes when moving from the 4th (E) string to the 5th (B) string.
The fundamental frequency of an open B string is 31 Hz. This requires a considerable amount of mass to vibrate soundly. These bass strings are typically 0.120″ to 0.140″ in diameter, often with more layers of metal windings than their less substantial neighbors.
The wider neck needed to accommodate the extra string(s) has more mass. This means its resonant frequency and dead spots will be different from an otherwise identical 4-string bass.
Effects pedals can add an additional layer of tone and dimension to your bass playing. They allow you to express musical ideas with greater depth and variety. These pedals can include volume pedals, octave pedals, overdrive and distortion pedals, envelope filters and wah pedals, and chorus and delay pedals.
Several bass guitar pedals have been popular among bassists for their ability to enhance the bass guitar sound. These include the Darkglass Alpha Omega Ultra, Fender Downtown Express, MXR Bass Envelope Filter, the Boss OC-5 Octave pedal and the Big Muff Pi. Preamps like the Darkglass Alpha•Omega Ultra v2 can add drive/distortion and EQ to the sound. They can also serve as a replacement for a bass amp.
When it comes to mixing and mastering, there are a few things to remember. The ideal bass cabinet doesn’t necessarily need a low-end response starting at 30Hz. Most of the sound is in the 80-120Hz region.
Many cabinets don’t reproduce the fundamental of the low B (31Hz), or even a four-string bass tuned down a full step (the low D). Most amps have a roll off at 40-50hz and the low B sound is primarily the overtones. The human brain uses contextual clues provided by these overtones to fill in the rest of the note.
The rule of thumb for the best B string sounds is to opt for smaller speakers and more of them, like multiple 10s or 12s. The cabinet should have more power than the watts put in by the amp to ensure clean sound at high volumes. An amp’s EQ should allow for fine-tuning in the low range. A bass amp with inadequate EQ capabilities won’t allow for deep lows beyond a certain point, which are necessary for a 5-string bass.
To wrap things up, it’s evident that the 5-string bass guitar has made its mark in the music world. Its extended range and tonal versatility offer a broader spectrum for musicians, encouraging creativity and diverse expressions in sound.
The models showcased in our review each hold their unique strengths, from the sleek and modern Ibanez EHB1005MS to the vintage vibes of the Squier Classic Vibe ’70s Jazz Bass V. Regardless of their differences, each one rises to the challenge of delivering quality sound, playability, and aesthetic appeal.
Investing in a 5-string bass is a testament to your growth and commitment as a musician, whether as a beginner or an experienced bassist. The journey may involve a learning curve, especially if you’re migrating from a 4-string bass, but we can assure you the added versatility is well worth it.
Straying from the beaten path is often daunting, but in doing so, you may just find the perfect instrument that resonates with your musical soul. So, let’s tap into the world of lower frequencies and let your music do the talking. Get ready to experience the unique charm and prowess of the 5-string bass!