The 5 and 6 string bass are relatively new instruments since they have only been made since the late 1970s. World-class bassists such as Les Claypool and Victor Wooten, have been playing these since the ‘90s.
As a result, 5 and 6 string bass guitars are becoming increasingly common on the bass guitar scene. The extended range that the bass guitar can play in, and the new sound options available, appeal to many players.
5 String Basses
5 string basses are becoming more common in all music types. The fifth string is a low B, below the low E. The lower notes on this additional string can really change the sound of any music it is added to.
The fifth string is also handy for bassists in metal bands that use drop tuning - such as tuning down to C. They can play in the lower range without needing to readjust the instrument’s tuning.
6 String Basses
The 6 string bass guitar has a high C string above the B, E, A, D, G strings found on a 5 string bass. This allows bass players to perform unison lines with guitarists with greater ease, and the extra notes on the high C string are excellent for bass solos.
Younger players and beginning players will find 6 string basses difficult to play as the neck of a 6 string bass is exceptionally wide. This would be a consideration for any player with small hands.
Points to think on
For beginners, starting on a 5 or 6 string instrument is not generally recommended.
The extra strings and wider neck can be difficult to learn on.
Some people have different amps for their 5 or 6 string basses than they use for their 4 string bass. They feel that the different amp responds better to the lower frequencies. You will need to determine whether your amp sounds good with a 5 or 6 string bass guitar.
What to know about buying new 5 and 6 String Basses
Many familiar bass guitar models also have 5 or 6 string versions. This can be a great starting place if you already know and like a particular brand.
For example, Fender’s Jazz and Precision models have 5 string versions.
As with the more common 4 string models, the wood used in constructing the instrument is a major factor in determining the instrument’s sound.
Having the body formed from harder wood, is a preference of some 5 and 6 string players. They find that the bright tones from the hard wood, working with the extra low tone of the B string, helps prevent the sound from getting too muddy.
The type of pickup is still another important aspect of the sound.
For 5 and 6 string bass guitars, Fender’s pickups have been praised. Bartolini pickups have also done well over the extended range.
One common problem with 5 and 6 string basses is that the sound can be overshadowed when playing with a band.
Getting a bass with a mid boost can be an advantage. A mid boost helps by increasing the volume of the middle frequencies of the guitar’s sound.
This feature comes with some of the higher end Ibanez Soundgear basses.
What to know about buying pre-owned 5 and 6 String Basses
If you are looking to see if you will enjoy playing a 5 or 6 string bass, buying a pre-owned instrument is a great money saving choice.
However, people seek out pre-owned basses for other reasons too.
Some great bass models have gone out of production, or the companies that made them have gone out of business, and now they are only available only on the second-hand market.
For example, quite a few of the 5 and 6 string basses made by Vantage in the ‘70s and ‘80s are still available pre-owned.
People are also looking for vintage basses, because the sound of a bass can mellow over time, getting deeper or warmer as the wood ages.
As with all used instruments, check them carefully for damage or other problems and look into whether extended warranties are offered.