Discovering the Five String Bass

Ages and ages ago, I think it must have been ten or eleven years ago, I was working a software dev contract across the road from MusicWorks. There was a Breedlove five string bass that I sort of fancied. Well, it was fun. You’d get to the low, E string and the notes just kept going. It was like finding a hidden basement in your house.

Anyway, When the contract finished early due to budget stuff, I decided to buy the bass. I have no idea why. Some weird idea about “deserving” it, like those actresses on the L’Oreal ads… you know, “because you’re worth it”.

And that has to be the most stupid reason ever to buy something. I agree with whoever that Japanese lady is, things should really spark joy. This just sparked a sense of entitlement and gratification. Worst of all, clever old Musicworks had just that one bass and had no strings for it.

I wasn’t too worried (I don’t really break bass strings anyway) but I DO hate it when strings start to wear out. New strings start off sounding like a flock of screechy parrots, then after a couple of weeks they start to lose that screechy sound and mellow out into a golden space that lasts a couple of months and then they sound progressively duller. A lot of bass players love the dull sound, it’s deep, there’s not much fret rattle and it doesn’t get in the way of other instruments.

As a solo bassist though, I can’t have a muddy sound so I go through a lot of strings.

Anyway, I got into this weird mindset where I didn’t want to play too much so as not to wear the strings out. I contacted Breedlove and they couldn’t tell me what strings shipped on my bass and nobody in Wellington stocked acoustic five string sets. I also had several packets of 4 string sets, at about $40 bucks a set, they were a bit of an investment.

I eventually got the Rock Shop to order some single bass strings for me so I could make up a set, but the individual strings cost a heap of money, too. I think it was something like $25 a string. Outrageous… but not unheard of.

Anyway, it was all messy and problematic so I eventually went back to my then workhorse, a Greg Bennett Regency four string bass. It’s a cheapie but a lot of the sound of a string instrument is in the fingers and how you play it.

The five string was a nice bass but it stayed in its case for about ten years. I could have sold it but I hate selling things, even though, when I do get around to it, it’s as wonderfully cathartic as ripping off a band-aid.

A couple of weeks ago, I pulled the bass out of its case and had a long look at it. And it occurred to me that I didn’t have much use for the deepest string but I HAVE been trying to think of some way of adding more high notes to what I do. I’ve tried harmonisers, I’ve tried creating loops of high-pitched notes, I’ve tried arpeggiators. The main thing is, I enjoy sitting on the couch and just playing. I want to keep technology to a minimum and the idea of cables and amps and pedals and stuff doesn’t do anything for me.

I took off the lowest string and moved everything down. Rob Matthews gave me a sixth string (the highest pitched one) from a six-string bass and I’ve been having a great time ever since.

This thing really sings and I’m getting heaps of compliments about the sound. It’s like a huge guitar sound but mellower. And the bass strings come in like a choir. I’m really happy with the new bass. I’m going to keep the Crafter as a backup at gigs, probably tuned differently. I miss the crispness of a four string (everything feels just right) but that extra string in way too nice to ignore.