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I've been researching the topic and I like the 6 string bass, but looking on YouTube, Yousician, and other resources, most guides on how to play the bass are for 4 strings. Even Yousician, which I was going to use, only has guides for 4 string bass. Should I just get a 4 string or get the 6 string and not use the additional 2 strings when using guides for 4 strings?

In other words, as a beginner, would one be better served starting with a 4 or 6 string bass, considering the disadvantages/advantages of one to the other?

EDIT: Well thank you for the responses, it seems I'm either going to get a 4 string and learn by tabs, which seems to be plenty of videos and web sites with tabs. Or, I'm going to get the 6 string and screw tabs and learn bass by notes, which I do know how to read. Most sheet music isn't really free, though I could sit there and convert 4 string tabs into 6 string tabs. For me, it's not a bad idea, I'll have to dabble with that while I wait for the 1st, when I get paid. This may help me decide.

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    I agree that this kind of question can't really be answered, though IMO it could make a good question if you rephrase it to something like “what are possible disadvantages in learning electric bass on a bass with more than 4 strings”? Aug 28 '16 at 0:11
  • It will depend also on the type of music and band you're looking to play (in). I find in most cicumstances, a 5 string is sufficient, as 6 takes you into guitar territory, although you can play chords on one. But that's taking the guitarists job. I recommend 5 string!
    – Tim
    Aug 28 '16 at 11:43
  • A 4-string bass does everything a bass SHOULD do. A 6-string encourages you to over-play. But I don't suppose that will stop you wanting one :-) Nov 28 '16 at 20:30
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Consider your level of playing

but looking on YouTube and yousician and stuff most guides on how to play the bass are all 4 string guides

The fact you have stated you're looking at Yousician and YouTube suggests that you're new to playing bass. When you're in the early in the stages in learning the last thing you want is added complexity. Is it really necessary to have two extra strings when you're not going to play them?

should I just get a 4 string or get the 6 string and not use the 2 strings when using guides for 4 strings?

As a beginner, a 6 string bass is going to make finding your strings with your plucking hand more difficult. This is because you will have two extra strings to work-around and you should be watching your fretting hand and not your plucking hand. The neck is also going to be significantly wider, which initially, is going to make it more difficult to get your hands around comfortably. And finally, the scale length is likely to be longer. A longer scale length will mean that the frets on your bass will be further apart, requiring you to stretch your fingers further.

Edit: Tim has noted that some basses can have smaller dimensions and still have more strings. This will, overall, make the bass much easier to play. However, because of the smaller dimensions, the strings will be closer to together and may make it a little more difficult to change strings.

What is appealing about 6 string bass?

I've been researching the topic and I like the 6 string bass

What is the primary reason for wanting to obtain a 6 string bass?

  • Do you find the range of notes available on a 4 string bass is not enough?
  • Do you want to be able play notes at a lower and higher frequency than E standard without retuning?
  • Are there arpeggios or melodies you cannot reproduce easily on a 4 string or 5 string bass?

If you cannot answer 'yes' to any of these questions then I think that 6 string bass is not for you; not at this stage in your playing.

Have you considered 5 string bass?

If you must absolutely have an extended range bass, could you compromise for 5 strings instead? There are some advantages of playing a 5 string bass that you shouldn't overlook. A 5 string bass will give you a slightly extended range with access to more notes at a lower frequency, just like the 6 string. There is only 1 additional string to learn rather than 2 with a slightly narrower neck than a 6 string. This allows for easier playability.

And, of course, similar disadvantages from the 6 string bass. There is still the issue of a longer scale-length to deal with because of the lower tuned B string. Again, this means frets will be further apart and requires more stretching or travel.

Think about long term progression

If this is your first bass, I would strongly recommend that you start with 4 strings. You should make learning as smooth a process as possible, and unfortunately, starting with an extended range bass does not aide that.

Hopefully, you will be playing bass guitar for many years to come so consider that this may not be the last bass you decide to purchase. As your ability progresses and you have a better fluency with playing, you can begin to progress onto basses with more strings. You may find that in the future you prefer only extended range, but remember it takes a more advanced level of playing to make full use of the extra strings.

Attempting to learn 6 strings while learning essential techniques will slow down your initial progress

tho i could sit there convert 4 string tabs into 6 string tabs for me

The time spent working how to move notes from a 4 string to 6 string will detract from the time you can spend on fundamentals. No real conversion is needed from 4 string to 6 string, since all the strings on the 4 string tab will exist on your 6 string bass.

or im going to get the 6 string and screw tabs and learn bass by notes

There is value on learning how to move notes to the extra strings, e.g. F# on the low E string to an F# on the low B string. But, this should not be your focus at a beginner stage of playing.

Ideally, you want to have full attention on basic scales, note positions, reading tablature, without having to think about those two extra strings. Once you have learnt many of these skills, it's very little work to apply this to a bass with more strings afterwards.

You can still learn all of these techniques on a 6 string bass, but it will leave more questions in your mind every time you learn a new topic. How do play this scale on my other two strings?. Asking questions is always good, but I worry this will be a little overwhelming for you without someone to guide you through the process of what to learn first, and what to leave for later.

Are extended range basses all complexity?

Definitely not! They're fun, expressive, and very versatile. But owning an extended range bass before you can play is like exploring a new country without a map or guide. I think you should see 6 string bass as long term goal, and begin working towards it at a steady pace, starting with 4 strings.

I wish you luck on your musical endeavours.

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    The scale length of a 5 string is usually no different from a 4 string, as the B string is a heavier gauge. There are 5 strings with the same neck width as 4 strings - the strings are closer to each other. One of the main advantages of a 5 string is that there is no need to go down 5 frets (for example) to play a V under the I you play on the E string - just play that new note on the B string. Otherwise, good points. Interesting to look at an 8 string bass - F# - F...
    – Tim
    Aug 28 '16 at 7:26
  • Thanks for the feedback Tim. However, I seem to find 5 string has a longer scale length. For example Squier V has a 34.0" scale length vs. the 4 string variant that has a 30.0" scale length. The nut is at a length of 51mm on the 5 string vs. 38.1mm on the 4 string thus also making the neck wider. The longer scale length helps increase the tension in the strings and therefore maintains a more consistent tension in lower tuned strings. Dingwall basses, for example, are designed with fanned frets purposely to combat issues of scale length in extended range basses.
    – dkmann
    Aug 28 '16 at 8:58
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    I have several basses.All the SGC Nanyo basses are the same at 34",be it 4 string, 5 string, fretless, and I have a BEAD strung at the same. My Steinberger fretless 5 is also 34". I have had a 5 string with 4 string dimensions, but the gaps between strings were too tight for my playing. I use 40/60/80/100/120 on most of my 5 strings, with no tuning, intonation or playing problems. The low B is always a thicker string, so the tension is similar on each string. Perhaps I'm just lucky! Certainly think I am, playing Bass Collection (the older ones).
    – Tim
    Aug 28 '16 at 11:36
  • Certainly different to what I'm used to. =) I think you are lucky with your collection. Interesting to know these basses have similar dimensions despite having different numbers of strings.
    – dkmann
    Aug 28 '16 at 12:53
  • It seems obvious, really. If the scale length is shorter all round, the strings need to be of a different gauge, as in thicker, to retain the same tension. Or, use lower tension, typically -10-15%, which gives more of a thud, if that's what you want. So I wonder what gauge the low B might be on a short scale bass of normal tension.
    – Tim
    Aug 29 '16 at 12:27
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I would agree. Start with a 4 string gain traction in the basics then move up later. I own a four string and a six string bass. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. I personally got a six string for the tonal range more than anything. They are very fun to play but also more difficult. My six string has less space in between strings than my four string (even though they are sister units made both made by Schecter) This "small" difference greatly changes the dynamics of playing technique "basics" like slapping and muting. Because of these considerations sometimes I prefer my four string over my six string and vice versa.

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  • My 6 string is by Alden, and the spacing is only a little different from my 5s. D>G at the bridge is 16mm on Bass Collection against 15mm on Alden.On the 4s it's 17mm. So not a huge difference, and one of the reasons I went for Alden 6 string.
    – Tim
    Jan 25 '20 at 10:07
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Partly addressing the edit - if you read bass dots, then this is a better way forward.There's a lot of work out there for the quite rare beast - a bass reader! Sad to say, a lot of the tabs are inaccurate, don't help with timing ( unless the dots are there too), and are one individual's version of where and what to play. On bass, there are usually two or three different places (positions) to play lines, and the choice should be that of the player, not the tabber.

If you go for a 6 string, then initially, disregard the outer two strings, and get used to playing and reading the standard notes on standard strings. Then it's a matter of adapting by moving up 5 frets and down one string for the same. For me, the B string is somewhere to go under the E, rather than play actual lower notes than E most of the time.

More often than not, the top C doesn't get used except for chords and popping, so I still advocate a 5 string. Another thought is that if you're visiting without your bass, finding a 6 string to use won't be easy.

However, as a raw beginner, I'd advocate starting with a 'simple' 4 string, finding your way round that for a couple of years, by which time you'll be ready for the next stage, and will also have made decisions on what else you need in a new bass - no. of strings, string spacings, pups, scale length, active/passive, etc.

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I'd say go for the 6-stringed. From what I can tell, having more range is nothing but an advantage when it comes to it all, playing, composing, improvising...

The techniques are practically the same, finger and pick playing, you can actually incorporate more techniques, two-handed tapping, hybrid picking (?), higher (relatively to the 4-stringed) pitched melodies, extended chords... There's also the advantage of going vertically (i.e., up and down the strings instead of horizontally through the neck) to play wide intervals.

The disadvantages I can see, would be the wider neck, making the playing uncomfortable, but I believe you eventually get used to it as with every other instrument, and the price of the extra strings for when you want to change them. Other than that, my vote goes to the 6 stringed.

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  • Perhaps for an intermediate player with some experience, but the OP appears to be a beginner. Otherwise he wouldn't be posing the question.
    – Tim
    Aug 28 '16 at 7:29
  • agree, seeing anything other than what you have in your hands on-screen or on-page is just confusing. His progress needs to be incremental and smooth, with no bumps in the road that cannot be got over with a little practice, rather than find youre on the wrong strings again Aug 17 at 9:40
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I started with an Ibanez SR-1200 Premium bass in 2014 as a beginner. After sitting in the corner of a coffee shop for two years learning to play the instrument and learning to read standard notation bass clef via a Beatles book of transcriptions for their songs. In 2016, I started playing Contemporary Christian music for a church. After about a year of working from Praise Charts, Tabs and piano sheet music, I found that the piano bass lines were often written out of range of my four string bass. So, I elected to purchase a 6 string bass. The 6 string bass solved the problem of sheet music piano bass lines written below low E for my four string bass. Also, the 6 string gives me more access to notes from the same position on the fret board making it easier for me to focus on the sheet music rather than my finger placement on the fret board unless changing position. True, there is the contention that one should master a four string bass before moving to a 5 or 6 string bass but my move to a 6 string was out of necessity rather than want. Moreover, in the absence of a guitarist, I was often asked to play chords. The 6 string bass with C, G, D and A strings work rather well for playing chords. My four string bass works well for music written in the 50s, 60s and 70s but with the introduction of ERB basses in the late 70s and beyond and bass parts written for 5 and 6 string basses for many songs, my Ibanez GVB 36 6 string became the best choice for me and my applications. Choosing the right bass for the job required dictated the choice for playing a 6 string bass.

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  • “the problem of sheet music piano bass lines written below low E for my four string bass” – you realise that piano as-written in bass clef is actually an octave higher than when a bass player plays from the same sheet? (Some people say “bass is a tranposing instrument”, IMO it makes more sense to just say it usually plays in octave-bass clef, rather than regular bass clef.) Yes, piano has a range of notes that goes below bass, but they're quite seldom used, more as a thundrous effect than as an actual bass part. So, realistically speaking you can cover piano-bass parts just fine with 4str. Jan 25 '20 at 16:03
  • 6 string gives me more access to notes from the same position on the fret board – that's a valid point, but I'd argue it's probably not a good idea to make this a habit. Playing on high strings in low position tends to give an overly bright, thin sound that doesn't really have the spectral characteristics a bass part needs to fit well in a band mix; playing on low strings in high position tends to produce a muddy, unresponsive sound. IOW, for best sound you should probably often switch position regardless. Jan 25 '20 at 16:03
  • This leaves the point about ERB. Sure! It's great to be not limited by the 4-string's limit, but be able to produce some really earth-shaking notes when you want. Arguably a fifth string is the way to go for Yet, it's not the only way. Octaver effects can get you lower than any bass you can reasonably play with your hands. IMHO they actually do a better job at it, in particular the analogue ones, because the electronic synthesized signal is not subject to the inharmonicity and transient-response problems you get with very low plucked strings. ... Jan 25 '20 at 16:04
  • ... Also, such effects make it a conscious decision when to make musical use of the subbass jackhammer. All too many 5-string players use their power too often and in ways that doesn't benefit the music. – This one is definitely a matter of taste though. Jan 25 '20 at 16:04

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