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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”? – leftaroundabout 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 :-) – Laurence Payne 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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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.

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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.

  • 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

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