So you’re thinking about picking up a 6-string bass, huh? You’re not alone – more and more bassists are making the switch to 6-stringers every day. But is it really worth it? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of 6-string basses to help you decide if these large instruments are what you need to create and perform the music you want.
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The Pros Of 6-String Bass Guitars
If there were no benefits to using 6-string basses, they wouldn’t be used, right? People make the leap to 6-string bass because it offers them something that their four and 5-string basses cannot. Here are some of them:
1. A Wider Range of Notes
Much like the transition from 4-string basses to 5-stringers, getting a 6-string bass gives you more notes you can work with, and this time, it’s higher notes. 5-string basses introduced the low-B string, but 6-string basses now offer a high-C string, giving the player access to a higher register of notes.
This new, more trebly string is excellent for bassists who like to take a more lead or soloist approach to their playing and want those extra pitches to express themselves and have an easier time doing so.
Technically, you could switch it so that your new string is a low F# if you wanted a bass with an extremely low pitch, but you’ll be hard-pressed to buy a set of strings that have what you need; most packs of strings for 6-string basses are designed with the high-C in mind.
If you decide you want to have a low F#, you’ll also need to replace the nut, and possibly the bridge, on your bass and get a setup so that it accommodates the massive string gauge. Overall, I don’t recommend this route, but people do it.
2. Ease of Positioning & Accessibility
In addition to simply having more notes to use now, having the new C-string above the G-string makes it easier to play them without moving your hand as much.
For example, instead of moving horizontally to the nearby higher notes on the same string, you can keep your hand in the same position, move up vertically and play the same notes on the C-string.
Aside from reducing the effort that it takes to play many basslines, having the extra string can also open some doors to more positions and voicings that you may not have had access to before, which is nice if you like to play chords and more extended arpeggios on your bass.
3. Tonal Clarity
Regarding chords and arpeggios, people often find that in addition to having an easier time playing them on a 6-string bass, they also notice that the notes can come out more audibly with the higher string as opposed to having boomy or muddy-sounding chords when playing elsewhere on the fretboard.
Typically, people often avoid playing chords on the bass because its inherent low frequencies can make it hard for the chord tones to ring out clearly, but with the thinner, and more trebly string that’s added to a 6-string bass, you may have a better time having more defined-sounding chords and utilizing them more often in your music.
The Cons Of 6-String Bass Guitars
While there are some tangible benefits to using 6-string basses which have very specific purposes, they come with some potential drawbacks. However, depending on the individual, these cons can be subjective and might not be a big deal, but they are still something you should be aware of:
1. Increased Price
6-string basses usually cost more than four or 5-stringers because they require more wood and hardware to build. However, this is all relative and depends if you’re comparing basses from around the same tier.
For example, if you compare Ibanez GSR series basses, the GSR206 6-string bass is around $100 more expensive than the 5-string version (GSR205). This example also illustrates that despite being a little more costly than their counterparts, 6-string basses don’t have to cost an arm and a leg. You can find them at affordable prices if you’ve been thinking about getting one.
Nonetheless, 6-string basses can get pretty expensive, especially if they have special features, such as being a multiscale instrument with fanned frets.
2. Wider Necks
To accommodate the additional strings added to them, 6-string basses have wider necks than basses with fewer strings, making them a bit more challenging to play, even for experienced players.
Like all instruments, though, there can be some variation, and ones with larger string-spacing can contribute to wider necks. This also means that you can also find ones with slimmer necks with narrower string spacing, which could be helpful if you have small hands. Some people like the broader fingerboards, though, because it can help with accuracy and make it easier to play slap bass.
3. More Strings To Restring & Tune
This one is pretty self-explanatory – having an extra string if you’re coming from a 5-string or two strings if you’re making the transition from a 4-string bass, respectfully, can come with its own challenges in regards to essential maintenance.
As you may know already, bass strings, in general, aren’t necessarily cheap, and having more to deal with on a 6-string isn’t something that a lot of people particularly enjoy, but if you don’t mind it, all of the benefits could easily outweigh this drawback.
4. Extra Weight
Along with the wider necks, 6-string basses are typically heavier than four and 5-stringers due to the extra string and larger body size and hardware. This can make them a bit more challenging to play for extended periods, if you don’t have a great strap to help distribute the weight.
For reference, 4-string basses usually weigh around 8 or 9 lbs. and 5-string basses are typically about 12 lbs. 6-string basses, on the other hand, weigh approximately 15lbs. Depending on the person playing, this can be a substantial difference!
5. More Muting
6-string basses can be more difficult to mute than four and 5-stringers. This is because there are more strings, so you have to be more careful when muting each one when you’re playing.
There’s a lot more potential for extra sympathetic vibrations and unwanted notes ringing out, so you’ll need to pay close attention to your technique or refine it so you can sound your best on your 6-string bass.
Even if you have a lot of experience and have great muting techniques, there will still be a bit of a learning curve involved when you start playing one of these. If you don’t have one already, a fretwrap will be your best friend when playing a 6-string bass because it can help mute unnecessary sounds. It’s still not a replacement for improving your technique, though.
So, those are some of the pros and cons of 6-string basses, which can help you make an informed purchasing decision or simply answer your questions if you are just curious about these instruments.
Don’t be alarmed that there appear to be more drawbacks than benefits; for many people, the cons listed here are inconsequential and don’t really matter or take away from the enjoyment and utility they get from this instrument.
Ultimately, it’s up to you whether you think they’re worth the extra cost and effort, but if you’re looking for an instrument with a broader range of notes, a 6-string bass might be perfect for you.
On the other hand, if you’re happy with your four or 5-string bass, that’s cool too! I personally prefer 5-string basses, but people have their own individual needs, which can warrant having more strings. Conversely, many people are totally content with having fewer strings because it gets the job done; 4-string basses are by far the most popular ones anyway.
Nonetheless, 6-string basses are incredibly versatile and can be used for everything from metal to jazz to country. No matter what genre of music you’re into, a 6-string bass can probably do it, and if you’re interested in technical and virtuosic bass playing, you’ll probably get the most out of these basses.