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Is this tuning unusual?


hard truth

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OK I'll admit upfront I'm not a real bassist, I'm a guitarist who owns a bass and uses it for occassional recording.

 

I got a 5 string recently and it occurred to me that by dropping the G string to F# the bass is tuned with the same intervals between strings as a standard guitar (except the high E is missing). Since I am accustomed to playing guitar and baritone guitar this makes it easier for me to find my way around. I suppose if you always played bass this wouldn't be any kind of advantage, but for folks like me this makes lots of sense.

 

Question: Is this unusual? Does anyone else around here do it?

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Seems like a shortcut to me that a few minutes of time with the bass would negate the calue of anyway. And some thought about the bass. I mean what would you do if it were a seven string guitar you were moving to?
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Yes, it's unusual. In fact, I think this tuning may wind up causing more confusion. Think of the standard 4 string bass like the 4 lowest strings on the guitar. The way the 5 string varies from that formula is that it adds a lower string. If you were playing a 5 string tuned E-A-D-G-C, I think I could understand you wanting to tune the C down to B. But in the case of a standard 5 string, I really don't think that tuning the G down to F# would really help you.

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The guitarist in our jazz trio many years ago made the commitment to tune his guitar like a bass...move the e up to an f to get fourths all around. He's an incredible player; of course, he doesn't play barre chords too much.

 

I agree that there is no intrinsic advantage in changing the bass tuning. Sure, your solo lines may be guitar-like. However, your bass playing will no longer match the idiom.

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Originally posted by BenLoy:

Tune it however you like. As long as you're in tune, in time, and in taste, nobody will care how your bass is tuned.

Yessir! I just love dropping my 5's low B to an A for some massive, bone crushing lows. It's the same note as a piano's lowest A note.

 

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Red Mitchell and Joel Quarrington tune their double basses low to high: C-G-D-A

 

Red Mitchell did it primarily to get a good low C without having to buy a 5 string.

 

Joel did it for that reason and so he would sound more in tune with the cellos, violas and violins in the orchestra.

 

After hearing them play, nobody can say they're doing something wrong. I'm impressed that they can handle the scary shifting required.

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Alternate tunings are always cool in my book as they can lead to new and unique ways of playing. An excellent way for me to get out of ruts is to try new tunings or instruments that are tuned differently, and then transpose back to my standard tuning. Though I have to admit the thing I hate most about playing my guitar is the 1/2 step shift, when playing scales.

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Tuning in fifths has been standard for viol-family instruments for a few hundred years. Except the bass, due to the long reaches required. Tuning a bass in fifths almost destroys the concept of position playing that has served the stringed-instrument family so well for so long.

 

Obviously if someone can do it well we cannot call it wrong. As others have said, tune as you like. I would only offer this: The tuning of a guitar is designed to make position playing of full chords easier. Such full chords are incredibly rare on bass, so there's really no advantage served in dropping the G string to F#. Besides, since it's the B string on guitar which gets the maj3 interval and NOT the G string, you'd likely be confusing yourself even more.

 

But there's no harm in trying it out! Let us know how it goes.

Originally posted by BenLoy:

Red Mitchell and Joel Quarrington tune their double basses low to high: C-G-D-A

Red Mitchell did it primarily to get a good low C without having to buy a 5 string.

Joel did it for that reason and so he would sound more in tune with the cellos, violas and violins in the orchestra.

After hearing them play, nobody can say they're doing something wrong. I'm impressed that they can handle the scary shifting required.

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I've had my back up bass (six-string) tuned to fifths quite a lot. THAT faciliates chording of a more open voicing than a fourths-tuned bass. One can scam mandolin chord charts as a matter of fact - though that's more trouble than just knowing what notes and relationships are on the neck.

 

It makes for some shifting though. If you are playing a lot of R&B/blues/boogies-derived bass lines that may be a big pain for you. Stuff that uses more fifths and octave and sevenths probably won't.

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I don't see it. Guitarists supposedly have been playing "tunings" forever. Drop D, G, etc - well before electric guitarists were looking for lower power chords and what not. A lot of these players used multiple tunings in the course of a night.

 

What's so hard about dealing with a few simple fourths-based variants? Are bassists REALLY guitarists that couldn't make the grade? I'd like to think not. Use different tunings for the possibilities they open up - not because you don't want to put the time in to deal with the instrument rightly.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Now that its been a few weeks I can report my results so far with tuning theG string of my five string to F#. I still like it. Its probably not a good idea for most bass players, but I don't claim to be a real bass player. I mostly play guitar and baritone guitar. With this tuning I have been able to use the knowledge of the fretboard that I developed on the guitar to save time learning my way around the five string bass.

 

My conclusion-if you are primarily a guitarist and only play five string bass occassionally, you can learn to get around on the instrument more quickly with this tuning.

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A-D-G-C-E-A is also used for baritones quite a bit, and if you consider the Fender-VI types to be baritones as well (tonally they are closer to guitar than bass most of the time), E-A-D-G-B-E.

 

Anything goes when it comes to tunings really. But tunings are usually arrived at to help achieve stylistic/musical goals - not because someone wants a shortcut that'll save a couple minutes of learning.

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The most common tuning for baritone is BEADF#B. The advantage is that the interval relationship between strings is the same as the standard guitar tuning, so you can use guitar chord patterns.

 

The A tuning also seems to be pretty common.

 

I'm sorry I disappointed you Greenboy. Please don't hold it against all guitar players. If it was my goal to be primarily a bass player I would probably stick with the standard tuning. But since I don't play bass all that much, and I'm accustomed to the baritone and regular guitar I'm taking the easy way out. I have seen no evidence of harm from doing so.

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I'm just shocked. I've ssen guitarists who used a lot of tunings, didn't seem to have all that much trouble accomodating the changes even on ones that were relatively new to them.

 

In the same way I have been shocked when bassists said that moving to a 5 string confused them. I guess I was lucky. My early days in music had me jumping around between instruments in the keys of Bb and C, with widely divergent ways of playing them, and it wasn't too long before I was playing ones in the key of Eb too and conversing with guitarists while describing the changes or notes.

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