4 string and 5 string bass may look very similar, but these two offer a different playing experience that may or may not suit you. So, 4 string vs 5 string bass? We’ve compiled everything you need to about these two bass guitars and which is suitable for you.
What Are the Differences Between Four and Five String Bass Guitars?
The most apparent difference between four and five string bass guitars is the string count.
A standard bass guitar has four strings. On the other hand, a five-string bass guitar adds a low B to the usual E-A-D-G lineup. Some manufacturers even offer an additional high C or a second high C. These extra strings give you more options when it comes time to play chords and scales – they allow you to explore new musical spaces that are otherwise inaccessible with a four-string bass.
In addition to the string count difference, there are differences, including tuning, cost, design, and versatility. Here is a quick summary table.
|4-String Bass||5-String Bass|
|Standard tuning||E-A-D-G (low to high)||E-A-D-G (low to high) and B (high only; the low B is not fretted, but rather played open like all other notes on bass guitar).|
|Best for||Beginners||Intermediate and Expert|
|Neck/Body||Thin neck with a smaller body.||Thicker neck and larger body.|
|Versatility/Range||You can play virtually any style of music with a four-string bass guitar. The only limiting factor is that you will not be able to reach every note on your fretboard without some string bending or harmonics.||Thanks to the low B, a five-string bass gives you access to more chords and scales. It also allows for great tonal diversity between notes on different strings – that means you can play clean or dirty tones just by adjusting your fingers’ pressure on each string.|
The standard tuning of a four-string bass is E-A-D-G-B.
On a five-string, you play an extra low B string. So, the 5-string bass tuning is E-A-D-G (low to high) with the added note of B (high only; the low B is not fretted, but rather played open like all other notes on bass guitar). Or, simply B-E-A-D-G for a 5-string bass.
Tuning a four-string bass is pretty simple. You can tune it by adjusting each string until the notes are in harmony with one another, or you can use an electronic tuner to get you started. The process for tuning a five-string bass guitar is similar but requires some extra steps because of that low B note.
A five-string bass provides a greater range of notes and chords than a four-string counterpart. This means you can play different styles of music, including RnB and pop. And, if you are a metalhead, the extra string of a five-string bass can help you play the low tones.
With a four-string bass, you can also play different genres; however, the caveat is that you will not reach every note without some string bending or harmonics.
The average price for a standard, but decent quality, brand name four-string bass is more budget-friendly than a 5-string bass counterpart; the average cost of a similar model with an added low B string is around double the price.
The difference in price range is largely due to the brand of the instrument itself (different brands have different pricing), the cost of materials needed for that extra string, and the extra time it takes to manufacture a five-string bass.
And, don’t forget you’ll eventually have the replace the strings. And, going for the cheapest bass string is not always the best choice – they easily break! For bass strings, go for the Elixir Strings Nickel Plated Steel 5-String Bass Strings.
A 4-string bass has a thinner neck with a smaller body, while a 5-string bass is larger and thicker. Some players claim to have more difficulty reaching notes on certain frets of their fretboard when playing on a four-string, but others can adapt their playing style to avoid this issue. Others complain of hand fatigue with a five-string bass because the thicker neck can sometimes cause more tension on your hands while you play.
Ease of Use
Experts agree that it is easier for beginners to pick up and start playing on a four-string bass. The reason is that beginners are typically working on mastering the basics of playing any instrument, including chords and scales. Since a four-string bass has a lighter weight and slimmer neck size, you can reach all strings without string bending or harmonics.
On the other end of the spectrum, experts agree that a five-string bass is best once you have mastered the basics.
What Are the Pros and Cons of a 4-String Bass?
The pros and cons of a four-string bass are that it’s lighter in weight, and the neck is thinner, making playing easier. The downside to this bass guitar model is that you can’t play as many notes or chords because there isn’t an extra string below the standard E.
- A four-string bass is excellent for beginners and professionals alike.
- You can learn and master the fundamentals.
- Price is one of the biggest pros for four-string bass. It’s much easier on your wallet, especially if you are working with a limited budget.
- A variety of complaints have been made about how difficult it can be to play certain chords or scales on a four-string, though this is likely an issue that comes from lack of experience and would go away with further practice.
- Many players find themselves limited by only owning a four-string bass, especially if they are fans of genres that use a five-string. While you can play any genre with the former, it’s harder to do so on this type because your tonal range is limited.
What Are the Pros and Cons of a 5-String Bass?
With a 5-string bass, you can play the lower octaves and ultimately get more range of chords. However, you have to give up portability and expect to spend more – on the initial instrument purchase and string replacement.
- Get more range of chords and notes thanks to its fifth string.
- More versatile and best for certain genres like metal and jazz because it can play lower octaves.
- You aren’t limited to any genre.
- Heaver and thicker neck can be cumbersome for some, especially for those with small hands.
- Not really the best choice for portability; harder to carry around
- More expensive.
4 String vs 5 String Bass: Which One Is for You?
4-string and 5-string bass guitars have their pros and cons, and choosing between the two is going to be a tough call. To help you with your decision: If you are a beginner and want to master the fundamentals first, you should go with a 4-string bass. Once you’ve mastered it, you can move on to a 5-string bass.