Whether you’re a pro bass player, an acoustic bass player who wants to go electric, or a beginner – there’s a 5-string bass guitar out there for you.
We’re here to tell you more about the best 5-string bass guitars, how they’re made, and what they sound like, so you can make a decision and keep holding that groove down.
What Are The Best 5-String Bass Guitars?
In coming up with this list, we considered price, genre and style, design and functionality, and of course the tone of the bass guitar.
When you add an extra string, things like scale length and string spacing become more important. Essentially, you want to have the same sustain, volume, pitch, and intonation stability on the lowest string as you do with the other four bass strings.
So, without further adieu, here are our picks for the best 5-string bass guitars:
Sterling By Music Man StingRay 5 (Our Pick!)
Ibanez Talman TMB105 (Best Value!)
Fender Player Plus Active Jazz Bass V (Premium Option)
Made in the Indonesian division of the Ernie Ball Music Man corporation, it takes the classic American-made Music Man Stingray sound and knocks the price down significantly without compromising quality.
The Sterling By Music Man series is the overseas division of Ernie Ball Music Man. These basses are made in Indonesia using many of the same quality parts and including many of the same features as their American cousins.
The Stingray 5 has active electronics and a single humbucker pickup with two EQ knobs to shape your tone.
The body is available in a vintage swamp ash finish or in alder in a variety of colors
It has an 18-volt preamp for extra punch
Comes with two Marcus Super-J Revolution pickups
We can’t really talk about this bass without first talking about Marcus Miller, one of the most creative, dynamic, and prolific electric bass players around.
A multi-instrumentalist and songwriter, he’s mainly known as the bassist for jazz legends like Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock, as well as various R&B, hip-hop, and pop artists from Aretha Franklin to LL Cool J to Beyonce and more.
Now that you know more about the man himself, let’s talk about his bass.
If you’re after something like a souped-up Fender Jazz bass, the price tag alone will probably pull you in, as it’s a solid build for a bass under $1000 (although keep in mind that due to the rarity of the wood, the vintage swamp ash body finish will cost a little bit more).
Even if the price is not a concern, the details put into the build quality are impressive.
While the 18-volt preamp takes two 9-volt batteries, it’s worth it, because this bass has some serious power behind it.
The tone knobs are ergonomic and can dial in three EQ bands, including a sweepable midrange to get that signature Marcus Miller scooped sound.
Hopefully, we’ve steered you in the right direction for picking out a 5-string bass and you can go audition for the Tool tribute band.
If you’re new to that extra string, go easy on yourself and go back to the basics for a little bit if you have to; there’s no shame in revisiting your scales or easier bass lines.
Will a 5-string bass make you a better bassist? If it inspires you more than a 4-string bass, it just might!
What is scale length and why is it usually either 34″ or 35″? Does it matter?
Electric bass scale length is measured from the nut to the bridge saddles, so it’s essentially the length the bass string travels along the neck.The standard is 34″ but some basses- especially 5-string basses- have a 35″ scale neck. 34″ scale is actually referred to as “long scale”, with anything longer being “extra long.”
This comes into consideration when choosing bass strings, which we’ll get into later.
So why would you want a 35″ scale bass then? The longer the string, the lower the note, and the easier it is for the lower strings to remain stable.
This is especially important on any bass with more than four strings.
A longer scale means the distance between frets will be further apart, but depending on your style and the size of your hands, you might actually find this more intuitive and comfortable.
Are 5 string bass strings closer together?
Yes- in most cases, the string spacing on a 5-string bass is closer together than that of a 4-string. However, this is not always a bad thing.
It can be easier to get around the neck since your fingers have less distance to reach between strings, which can be especially nice if you have an electric bass guitar with a longer scale length that would otherwise be a pretty big reach.
How many octaves does a 5 string bass have?
A standard 5-string bass with 22 frets has 43 notes, which is just about five octaves (the range of pitch depending on tuning goes from 0B to 4F).
What kind of bass strings should I use and how often should I change them?
There are a few things to consider when buying bass strings.
First of all, both electric bass and acoustic bass strings come in different gauges, or thicknesses, just like electric guitar and acoustic guitar strings. The larger the gauge, the thinner the string.
Typically, light gauge bass strings start at .028 and heavy gauge strings start at .032, with extra heavy being around .035.
Depending on which string it is, sometimes the gauges might not be proportionate; in other words, there might be a mix of medium and heavy gauges in one set.
Make sure you’re accounting for scale length as well because you don’t want your strings to be too short or too long; it will affect playability and how long the strings last. D’Addario has a chart to show you which strings go with which scale lengths.
There are different types of bass strings depending on how they’re wound, what they’re made of, and if they’re coated.
Certain types of bass strings might sound warmer or punchier than others. For example, flatwound strings are usually favored by jazz players because they usually sound warmer and a little more mellow, as do coated strings.
Typically, electric bass guitar strings are made with a steel, nickel, or alloy core and are wrapped or wound with steel or nickel. Standard bass strings are round-wound.
How often should you change your bass strings?
Legend has it that Motown virtuoso James Jamerson never changed his bass strings. Other bassists say you can boil them to clean them and breathe some life back into them.
Just be sure to take them off the bass first, unless you’re going for a DIY relic finish.
Bass strings definitely last longer than guitar strings and are less prone to breakage, but over time, they’ll start to lose their punch and high end.
Some bassists prefer “dead strings” and others want the shiny new sound of a fresh set and that nice grippy feel.
When you change your bass strings, you should save the old set just to have a spare, if they’re not too worn out.
How do I tune a 5-string bass?
A 4-string bass is tuned to the notes E, A, D, and G going from the heaviest to the lightest gauge bass string.
The fifth string on a 5-string bass is tuned to B. That said, you can still tune a 5-string bass down in order to play along with a guitarist in drop D.
Just tune the low B string down to A and tune the other four strings to D, A, D, and G.
What genres of music use 5-string bass?
While many people assume that any bass with 5 strings or more belongs to the domain of all things metal (from black to death and beyond), 5-string basses show up in prog rock, jazz, fusion, and salsa too.
In fact, a lot of genres that sometimes use an upright acoustic bass will feature a 5-string bass instead since it can play lower notes and tones similar to the upright acoustic bass.
Regardless of genre, some bassists just prefer the extra notes and low end you get from that fifth string.
Is it hard to play a 5-string bass?
It can be a little bit of an adjustment to get used to that extra string down there, as well as the slightly wider neck.
Try to get a feel for the low string as soon as you can by incorporating it into your bass lines in lieu of the open E string, for example. Eventually, you’ll get more comfortable playing a 5-string bass.
Can you slap a 5-string bass?
While many bassists are divided on how cool it is to play slap bass, the important part is that you can slap any bass you want; it’s just a matter of adjusting your technique to mute that lower string and keep it from vibrating too much as you move to the higher strings.