It goes without saying that whenever you hear someone talk about the bass guitar, they typically are referring to the 4 string instrument that we have all grown to love. And admittedly, there are a huge range of bass guitars to choose from, too.
That being said, bassists certainly aren’t limited to just those 4 strings when it comes to allowing their creativity to flow, or to help reach that low (or high) note that you can’t get from the ‘standard’ bass setup.
Here’s where a bass guitar with some extra horsepower comes into play, and it’s pretty simple really. All you may need to get where you need (or just want) to go is to have a 5 string bass.
Yeah, I know…for some that may be a little intimidating. It’s hard enough to figure out how to get your groove on with 4 strings, let alone throwing in an extra one to deal with.
For the uninitiated, it may be tricky to know what to look for. But here is where I’ve got you covered – I’ve compiled a list of what I think are some of the best 5 string bass guitars around.
Once we take a look (and also chat about what a 5 string is all about) you hopefully will have a much better idea of what’s involved, and it’ll be easier to decide if a 5 string bass is in your future.
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Let’s get ready to rumble…literally…
The 9 Best 5 String Bass Guitars Reviewed
Yamaha TRBX305 5 String Electric Bass Guitar
Let’s start off with my top pick – the Yamaha TRBX305. It’s a great example of a quality 5 string bass with some advanced features that typically are found on basses that cost several times as much.
The mahogany body is well-balanced, making it comfortable to play either standing or sitting. It also comes in your choice of 5 different finishes, so you can select the one that has the best visual appeal to your liking.
The neck has a five-piece maple & mahogany construction, along with a true rosewood fretboard for warm and full tones.
Hardware is impressive for a bass at this price, with two MHB3 ceramic pickups and a unique Performance EQ active setup that provides five separate EQ curves for maximum tonal flexibility.
Rounding things off are die cast tuners, along with a high-mass bridge which features an 18mm string spacing for enhanced playability.
ESP LTD B-205SM 5 String Electric Bass Guitar
ESP delivers a very unique – and affordable – 5 string with the LTD B-205SM.
We’ll kick things off with an ash body with a highly spalted maple cap. In case you’re wondering (because I know that I was myself), ’spalting’ means that the wood pattern has been colored by a type of fungus. Sounds weird, but man oh man does it look cool!
The neck is constructed from five pieces of maple, making it rock solid, and it’s topped off with a rosewood fingerboard as well. It also has ESP’s Thin U-Neck Contour design for super silky and comfortable playing action, all the way up to the highest of the 24 extra jumbo frets.
Active electronics on the B-205SM are a treat as well. Instead of the traditional selector switch to navigate between the neck and bridge pickups, the B-205SM features a blend knob that will let you go from full bridge to full neck, with a master volume to top it off.
Most basses and guitars have just a single tone knob, or – at most – a set of high and low frequency controls. The B-205SM has a complete 3-band EQ, letting you get the best tone in any setting.
Sterling by Music Man S.U.B. StingRay5 Bass
The Stingray bass by Music Man is certainly an iconic design, but it can come with an equally iconic and affordable price.
You can get the same vibe for a lot less money with the Sterling S.U.B. StingRay5 – a fine 5 string bass alternative to the real deal that has a good feature set for the price point.
Yeah, it looks and smells like a real Stingray…and, truthfully, once you play one it may be hard to tell the difference. It features a single humbucking pickup with an active electronics setup along with individual volume and low/high frequency boost controls.
The bridge is fully adjustable and is built like a tank – and those are must-haves for any good bass that’s good enough to be considered your #1.
Ibanez SR305E 5-String Electric Bass Guitar
Looking for a professional level instrument without the associated price tag? The Ibanez SR305E would be a worthy 5 string addition to any bass player’s collection.
The impeccably finished body is constructed from mahogany, but the neck is something altogether different. It is made from a combination of five-piece combination of maple and a jatoba fingerboard.
Jatoba isn’t the first thing that pops to mind when you say ‘tonewood’; another name for it is Brazilan Cherry, and it’s a hardwood that has been used by many manufacturers as a substitute for rosewood.
Electronics are top-notch, with two PowerSpan pickups that feature stainless steel pole pieces for more clarity and output.
An impressive benefit of the PowerSpans is the 3-way PowerTap switch. This will give you a full humbucker sound, a more biting single coil tone, or an enriched single-coil sound that is beefed up with some of the low frequencies of the humbucker.
Yamaha BB235 5-String Electric Bass Guitar
The BB235 from Yamaha is an entry level instrument without a lot of bells and whistles, but that’s OK. It does exactly what it was intended to do – provide a great 5 string bass for players that may not have a big budget to work with.
The body is made from solid alder, and it has a relatively small footprint when compared to some other 5 string basses – that means less weight to throw around.
It also comes in your choice of four different attractive finishes for maximum visual impact. Maple neck construction is solid and stable, and it features a slim profile for relative comfort and playing ease.
Two single coil pickups (with the neck pickup having a split design) are loaded into the BB235, each with its own volume control in addition to one overall master tone knob.
This is a step above the traditional ‘pickup switch selector’ setup as it allows you to blend the neck and bridge signals together to your liking, then doing a master tone tweak to finish things off.
Squier Contemporary Active Jazz Bass HH V
With the Contemporary Active Jazz Bass V, Fender’s Squier line of low-to-moderate priced instruments gives you all of the ‘cool factor’ of a read Fender Jazz 5 string bass at an attractive price point.
Featuring an ash body modeled off the classic Jazz Bass design, the Contemporary Jazz also has a ‘C’-profiled maple neck and fretboard with the legendary Fender headstock design.
The hardware and electronics setups are where this Jazz Bass shines. The adjustable bridge and tuners are black chrome plated, creating a striking contrast with the jet black finish and other black hardware.
It’s loaded with two Squier SQR ceramic humbuckers, and the active setup allows for master volume, neck/bridge pickup mixing, master tone, and bass/treble boost controls.
ESP LTD D-5 5-String Bass Guitar
The D-5 from ESP is one of the more expensive models on my list, and for good reason – it has many attractive features that let it command a higher price (that being said, it’s still affordable).
Featuring a merbau body and a sturdy 5-piece maple & mahogany neck construction, the D-5 is visually appealing with its clear satin finish (ever heard of ‘merbau’? Me neither, but it’s a dense hardwood that has a similar tonal profile to mahogany…just maybe not as warm).
Going further with the ‘exotic’ theme, the neck is capped off with a jatoba fretboard as well.
As far as the hardware is concerned, the black nickel finish gives a unique look to the darker, redder color of the merbau.
Electronics are top-shelf as well, with two ESP SB-5 pickups (each voiced for the neck or bridge positions) mounted directly to the body along with the ABQ-3 3-band active EQ that works in conjunction with the volume and pickup balance (blending) controls.
Yamaha TRBX605FM 5-String Electric Bass Guitar
Yamaha is an often underappreciated brand when it comes to basses and guitars, but in my opinion the TRBX605FM is a model that may prove all of the nay-sayers wrong.
The first thing that strikes you is just the overall look of the thing. The combination of the alder body with the maple top – along with some creative 3D sculpting – gives you a bass that isn’t only great to look at, it’s really a good ‘fit’ from an ergonomic standpoint as well.
5 string basses require a lot of string tension, so it’s a typical requirement that the neck is extremely solid, durable, and stable enough to keep tuning and playability in check. With the 5-piece maple & mahogany laminated construction, that’s not even a concern.
Two YGD H5 pickups provide plenty of output, with a humbucker design that’s controlled by a master volume, a mixing knob, and an active/passive preamp circuit design where you can run things ‘old school’ in a passive mode, or with the active electronics enabled for further tone shaping.
And…it may be a minor detail, but it’s a really, really good one: there’s a low battery indicator. Pretty much all onboard active setups use a 9V battery, and if you’ve ever had one die out on you at a gig, you know how much that…sucks!
Schecter Guitar Research Stiletto Studio-5 Bass
Schecter has a reputation for producing extremely functional instruments that have what I’ll call ‘an element of visual danger’ to them, similar to some of the BC Rich designs from back in the day (but maybe not as extreme).
That being said, I give you…the Stiletto Studio-5 Bass.
This bad boy has a semi-transparent (called ‘see-through black satin’) finish that lets the natural beauty of the mahogany body come through, and the neck is built like a tank thanks to the maple and walnut ply construction.
Black chrome hardware finishes off the ‘midnight’ theme. EMG 40HZ pickups are installed in both the bridge and neck positions, and getting ‘just the right tone’ can be done easily. That’s thanks to the master volume, pickup blend, and 3-band active EQ system.
What’s the difference between a 4 string and a 5 string bass?
OK – here’s the deal…(are you sitting down for this one?) The biggest difference between a 4 string and a 5 string bass is this: one has one more string than the other.
Groundbreaking stuff, I know. 🙂
All jokes aside, the whole intent for any stringed instrument that has extra strings over the established ‘standard’ (for example, a 7 string guitar over a 6 string or a 5 string bass over a 4 string) is to increase the range of the instrument.
While basses with more than 4 strings – even 6 strings on a bass isn’t unheard of – have been around for years, a great example of how they could be used is with some styles of modern rock. Songs in this vein often either tune down or use guitars that have extended low ranges of their own; a 5 string will certainly help to keep the low end…well…low.
It’s important to know that the extra string on a 5 string bass can either extend the low register or the high one, and it depends on where the extra string is located.
And, that’s a natural lead in to our next topic…
How do You tune a 5 string bass?
How a 5 string bass is tuned is completely dependent on where your extra string is.
For 5 string basses that are meant for increased lower range, the string is above the low E, and it’s usually tuned to an open B note. So the tuning in this case would be B-E-A-D-G.
On the flip side, 5 string basses that go higher than standard have the string located below the high D. That means it’ll be tuned E-A-D-G…and C.
What? C? Shouldn’t it be a high B, just like on a guitar?
Nope. In the case of the bass (I’m a poet and didn’t know it, BTW…), things get mixed up a bit. Bass guitars are typically tuned in 4ths, so that’s where the high C comes in.
Which 5 string bass guitar is the best for beginners?
I really don’t think that saying ‘Model XX is the greatest 5 string bass since sliced sheet music for a beginner’ is the right way to answer this. I think the best way is to chat about what your approach to finding the best should be.
And…to be fair…this – in my opinion – should be the way to approach any piece of gear, whether it’s a bass, or a guitar…you get the point, right?
First and foremost, you have to find an instrument that is comfortable for you to play. Bass guitars – especially ones that have extra strings – can be pretty big slabs of wood, and they can be a bit unwieldy to manage. In this context, the best 5 string bass guitar for a beginner is one that fits your body and is ergonomically correct, with a good setup for the best string action.
Second, you have to find an instrument that sounds good. Before we go deeper here, I may be a little off my rocker…but I think that the overall sound of a beginner’s instrument isn’t necessarily as important as how well it plays.
Why, you ask?
You have to look at it from the viewpoint of a true beginner. Countless aspiring musicians have tried to learn how to play an instrument, and – let’s be honest for a sec – many don’t make the cut.
It can be very easy to lose enthusiasm to keep on keeping on, and one of the biggest reasons why is starting out on a beginner’s level instrument that just isn’t well made. If it’s not comfortable to play, then you may be inclined to not play it at all – no matter how good it sounds.
It’s hard enough to build up those calluses and get your body used to using muscles that it’s not used to using all the time, so why make it harder by starting out on a bass that has either high action, or it’s too heavy, or it just doesn’t fit your body right?
Don’t get me wrong – sound quality is super important, especially once you get to the point where you are playing live or doing a lot of recording. The fact is that beginners don’t just start out at those more advanced levels.
So my recommendation for the best 5 string bass for a beginner is this: buy the best, most comfortable bass that your budget will allow. Again, tone is important, but maybe not as important as learning the physical aspects of playing first.
What are the best 5 string bass strings?
Strings are kind of important when it comes to the bass. The true answer to this question is debatable, however, we have put together an in-depth article on bass strings if you fancy checking it out.
There are endless variations (for example: roundwound, flatwound, etc.) along with different gages (that refers to ‘string thickness’).
Some bass players may even have multiple basses, each set up with a different type of string in order to get a different tone. The bookend here is that finding the best choice of bass strings for your style of playing will take a little experimentation.
How do I choose the best 5 string bass guitar?
You’ll typically find excellent 5 string basses across the entire price range.
Features that used to be found only on the higher end models (such as active pickup systems, good quality hardware, or exotic tonewoods) have migrated their way into the mid-range (and even the budget level) instruments on the market.
And – at the risk of repeating myself (but I will anyways) – I always advise people to buy the best bass that fits their individual needs while also keeping in mind what you can afford.
Don’t go the cheap route and end up with a sub-par instrument…and, at the same time, don’t by a super expensive one that may have features that you really don’t need or care about.
The first time that you come across a 5 string bass can be a little bit daunting. Trust me here – it’s really not a big deal at all. In fact, mixing things up a bit can expand your playing technique and vocabulary.
In my experience that makes playing the bass guitar even more enjoyable.
As I already talked about, in my opinion there are two cardinal rules for picking the bass that’s right for you – it has to be comfortable and play well, and it has to sound good (oh…and looking good helps a bit too…don’t forget about that…). Pretty simple, right?
That’s true with any bass, but nailing those two things on the head is why I’ve put the Yamaha TRBX305 5 String Electric Bass at the very top of my list.
Go ahead…give a 5 string bass guitar a try. Once you do, you may find that a standard 4 string is now kind of boring!
But it’s not all about me and my opinions here. I’m always game to hear what my fellow musicians have to say. Before you click off this page, take a sec and leave some comments below!