It’s certainly not at all uncommon these days to hear of someone playing a 7 string (or even an 8 string) guitar.
Following in that path, you surely can’t count bass guitars out of that league. I dare say there are just as many variants of the ‘regular’ 4 string bass as there are different types of guitars.
Without a doubt, most bass players go after instruments with 6 or more strings because they want to shake things up a bit – and not just for the audience. Having a new type of instrument can do wonders for inspiring creativity and breathing life into some aspects of playing that may get kind of stale sometimes.
There’s a ton of different bass guitar options out there, though, and it isn’t in your best interest to buy a bass with a quadzillion strings on it just because you’re trying to make some sort of fashion statement (I say that in jest, of course).
What IS in your best interest is to dig a little deeper and develop a better understanding of what instruments like these can do for you. But they can get a little intimidating and confusing.
I’ve taken a good, hard look at what I think are the 8 best 6+ string bass guitars around. Not only that, but we’ll also get into what they were meant to do, how they are tuned (you may be a bit surprised with some of them), and how you might make the best choice for your particular needs.
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Let’s dive right in!
The 8 Best 6+ String Bass Guitars Reviewed
ESP LTD B-206SM 6-String Bass Guitar
Extended range on the bass is what attracts a lot of bassists to look at doing something past the standard 4 string setup, and the ESP LTD B-206SM 6 String is a great model to explore the possibilities.
The creative body design features a slab of ash with a spalted maple top. ‘Spalted’ means that the wood has a figuring or pattern as a result of a type of fungus (sounds gross, but it’s actually pretty cool looking).
You’ll find that 6+ string basses need a super strong neck to handle the extra string tension, and the maple & walnut construction is incredibly stable. It also comes with a true rosewood fingerboard that’s home to 24 extra jumbo frets.
Electronics on the B-206SM are impressive, with two ESP pickups (DB-6 for the bridge, and SB-6 for the neck), a master volume with a blend control (perfect for getting just the right mix from the pickup set), and an ESP ABQ3 active EQ system.
Rounding the entire package off is the black nickel plated hardware, which makes a great accent to the natural beauty of the spalted maple.
Ibanez GSR206 6-String Electric Bass Guitar
You may think that getting a good 6 string bass may be out of your price range, but the Ibanez GSR206 6 String is here to prove you wrong. It’s a great entry-level instrument with features that you may find on basses costing several times more.
Poplar is what the GSR206 uses for the body tonewood, and it’s known for being a little mellower than ash or alder. That’s because it’s a softer wood that may soak up the vibrations a little more.
The neck is super stiff (as it should be on a 6 string) thanks to its maple construction, and it’s capped off with a jatoba (a sustainable alternative to rosewood or ebony) fingerboard with traditional dot inlays and 22 medium frets.
You’ll find two Dynamix H passive pickups in the GSR206, each specifically tuned for the bridge and neck positions. Getting the right sound out of them is a breeze thanks to the individual volume controls (one for each pickup), a master tone knob, and the Ibanez Phat II active EQ (for dialing in enhanced low-end presence).
I’ve seen two finish options, with the first being a dark natural with black hardware and the other being a gloss black with chrome. Either one gives a great look and would fit right in to any bass player’s collection.
Dean Edge Select 6 String Bass
Dean Guitars has created an impressive entry into the 6+ string market with the Edge Select 6 String Bass.
It may cost a little more than some of the models on my list, but I’d have a hard time arguing that it’s not worth it.
The body design certainly commands attention, with a mahogany core along with a burled poplar top with a strip of walnut down the center for good measure.
Mahogany has long been known as an excellent tonewood, and the burled cap gives a pattern where no two basses will ever be the same.
Maple and walnut are used for the rock solid neck, and using Pau Ferro for the fingerboard gives a tone that is somewhat brighter than traditional rosewood (as it’s a harder wood overall). The body design makes access to all 24 frets really easy too.
Dean loaded two DMT pickups in the Edge, and each has its own individual volume control for getting the best blend for your needs. Tonal sculpting is quick and effective thanks to the active 3-band EQ.
Top shelf Grover machines keep your tuning in check, and the black finish for all of the hardware is a great match for the burled effect of the poplar.
Ibanez BTB846 6 String Bass Guitar
The ‘BTB’ in the Ibanez BTB846 6 String stands for ‘boutique bass’, and all it takes is a quick glance to see why.
Uniquely shaped with deep cutaways and contours, the BTB846 may be one of the most visually exciting basses I have ever laid eyes on.
Aside from the aesthetics of the design, the impact on the eyes of the burled poplar top on an ash wing body with a mahogany back is nothing short of breathtaking.
Sounds like a bit of hype, I know…but you really have to see this to appreciate it.
Sporting a 5-piece maple/jatoba construction, the neck is incredibly sturdy. 24 stainless steel frets find their home on a fretboard made from jatoba as well, and there’s also a ‘zero’ fret right in front of the nut to enhance the accuracy of the BTB846’s intonation.
Tone from the two Bartolini BH2 pickups is managed by (curiously enough) a passive 3-band EQ with an additional 3-position mid-range selector switch along with independent volume controls.
Hardware on the BTB846 is impressive as well, with a mono-rail V design bridge that has individually adjustable saddles for each string. Brownie points also go to Ibanez for using a Neutrik output jack with locking capability; if you’ve ever accidentally stepped on your cord and unplugged your bass then you’ll know exactly what a cool feature that is.
Schecter Guitar Research Stiletto Studio 6 String Bass
The Stiletto Studio 6 Bass from Schecter just gets down to business. It’s a mid-to-upper level instrument that checks just about all of the boxes to make it your ‘go-to’.
The mahogany body (with a bubinga top) isn’t extreme, but it’s shapely enough to stand out in a crowd. Maple and walnut comprise the neck, with a true rosewood fretboard for the ultimate in tone.
24 jumbo frets give you a full two-octave range, with the body shape letting you access those higher notes with ease.
Electronics may be somewhat typical for a bass in this class, but they certainly are top-end.
EMG HZ pickups are found in both the neck and bridge positions, and an active 3-band EQ lets you tone sculpt until the cows come home.
Oh yeah…and you have the requisite master volume and pickup blending controls as well.
The Stiletto has Grover tuning machines for smooth and accurate adjustments, and the Diamond Custom bridge has individually adjustable saddles to let you get perfect intonation.
The gold finish for all of the hardware is the perfect match for the Satin Honey finish (kind of a reddish-orange color), and the Satin See-Through Black has jet black plated hardware to complement the color scheme.
ESP LTD B-208SM 8 String Bass Guitar
The B-208SM 8 String is the big brother of the B-206SM that we talked about above.
A more accurate term may be ‘fraternal twins’.
For the most part, the feature set between the two models is almost the same…except, naturally, this guy has 8 strings instead of 6.
You’ll find the same spalted maple top for an impressive punch to the eyeballs, a maple neck capped with a jatoba fretboard and 24 extra jumbo frets.
You’ll also find custom made ESP pickups with an active 3-band EQ setup and black finished hardware (featuring a bridge with adjustable saddles) wrap this family member up.
Schecter Guitar Research Stiletto Studio 8 String Bass Guitar
Family reunion time again…
The Schecter Stiletto Studio 8 is the companion model to the Stiletto 6 string bass we took a look at previously.
As with the comparisons on the ESP B-206 and B-208, the basic feature sets between the Stiletto Studio 8 and the Studio 6 are essentially the same.
You’ll find the same mahogany body with bubinga top, laminate maple and walnut neck with a rosewood fretboard, gold plated hardware (on the Satin Honey finish option; black hardware with the Satin See-Through Black), and smooth Grover tuners along with a Diamond Custom bridge design.
EMG HZ pickups find a home here as well, with the same active EQ and volume/blend control setup you’ll find on the Stiletto Studio 6.
I mean, hey – if you find something that works once, might as well keep with the same formula for success, right?
The Studio 8 is just as solid of a performer as the Studio 6, meaning it may be the right choice for an 8 string that delivers just what you need.
Dean Rhapsody 12 String Bass Guitar
With the Rhapsody 12 String Bass, Dean has created an instrument that is sure to impress with its full tone and – to be blunt – a really cool look.
Yeah, the body shape is somewhat typical with a double cutaway design, but the upper horn is certainly distinctive, and the mahogany base (with a sculpted maple top) really stand out with the Trans Black finish.
Strength has to be the name of the game for the neck, especially when you consider you have three times the strings of a traditional 4 string bass.
You hear of ‘maple and walnut’ construction for necks on these 6+ string basses a lot, and for good reason – you could pretty much set off a bomb under them and you’ll probably still find yourself to be in tune.
The electronics setup on the Rhapsody include EMG HZ pickups with the Dean 3D active preamp/EQ system, and a master volume and tone control top things off.
Truthfully, I do wonder why a master tone would be chosen over a pickup blend control, especially when there’s the active EQ section.
Black plated hardware (featuring Grover tuners) is the right choice to match the Trans Black finish, and the design of the bridge deserves a special mention.
The Rhapsody has 12 strings, but only 8 saddles…that’s because the two strings per pair that are tuned to the same octave note share a saddle which greatly simplifies what could be a nightmare intonation setup.
6 string vs 8 string vs 12 string bass guitar
While it’s obvious that the main difference between the three types of what I’ll call ‘expanded’ bass guitars is that some have more strings than others, it’s important to understand what the purpose of each type of bass is.
Each purpose also drives the standard way of tuning for that particular type. I’d highly advise you taking a minute to read through the discussion below, as things aren’t always what you think they may be.
What is a 6 string bass, and how do you tune it?
A 6 string bass is typically used to expand the range of the traditional 4 string bass. This is done by adding two strings – one lower and one higher than what you’ll normally find.
There’s nothing super fancy about tuning a 6 string bass. Going from low to high, the most common way to tune one is:
- 6th (thickest) string: B
- 5th string: E
- 4th string: A
- 3rd string: D
- 2nd string: G
- 1st string: C
It may seem a little weird to tune the 1st string to a C – that’s because if you follow the standard tuning method on a 6 string guitar you’ll find it’s E-A-D-G-B-E. The reason for this is that basses with expanded range like a 6 string are usually tuned in perfect fourths, instead of the 3rd that would have been created by tuning to B (B is the 3rd of G).
You really can look at a 6 string bass as being a combination of the two main types of 5 string bass guitars [insert link to 5 string bass article]. Some of those have the low string, while others have the high string (with the low string admittedly being more common). So really, you are getting a pretty sweet deal with a 6 string.
What is an 8 string bass, and how do you tune it?
8 string basses are different from 5 or 6 string basses in that they aren’t meant to give you additional notes beyond what you’ll find on a 4 string. It’s more aligned with the same thought process behind a 12 string guitar (which is intended to give a richer, fuller sound than a regular 6 string).
On an 8 string you’ll be fretting two strings at a time with a single finger. That means while there are truly 8 strings on it, you are really playing 4 groups of 2.
That also means that the tuning is set up to enhance the overall sound quality of the instrument (again, mimicking what a 12 string guitar does).
To prove my point, take a look at how an 8 string bass is tuned:
- 8th string: ‘high’ E
- 7th string: ‘low’ E
- 6th string: ‘high’ A
- 5th string: ‘low’ A
- 4th string: ‘high’ D
- 3rd string: ‘low’ D
- 2nd string: ‘high’ G
- 1st string: ‘low’ G
That may seem a bit confusing, so here’s the deal – each string pair is tuned in an octave to each other. That’s the secret to that beefier, almost chorus-ey sound that you’ll get. Also…with instruments like this you may see the tuning laid out as:
- eE, aA, dD, and gG
Same thing, just a different way of laying it out (the lower case letter is the higher octave note).
Here’s where things can get really cool though: you can veer off course and tune the two strings to different notes. Chris Squire from Yes did that all the time with his 8 string, where some of the string pairs were tuned in octaves and others were tuned to perfect 5ths.
The only limit is your creativity and imagination!
What is a 12 string bass, and how do you tune it?
A 12 string bass isn’t one of those ‘range extenders’ either. It’s more closely related to the 8 string bass, but it just takes things up a notch.
Instead of 4 sets of 2 strings as you’ll find on an 8 string bass, a 12 string actually adds another string to each of the four sets.
That means you’ll be fretting three strings at a time with each finger.
Sounds like a lot, but they are spaced close enough together where you should have enough real estate on your fingertips to get all of them down on the neck properly (it may take a little practice to get it consistently, though).
Just like the 8 string, a 12 string is tuned in octaves. There is typically one note that is the same as the corresponding string on a 4 string, and the other two are tuned to the same high octave.
Using the shorthand I talked about for the 8 string tuning standard, this is how a 12 string bass would usually be tuned:
- eeE, aaA, ddD, ggG
Could you tune it differently, like you can with an 8 string? Of course you can!
It all depends on how innovative you want to get, but you’ll get along just fine with this standard tuning method.
Which are the best 6+ string bass strings?
So it goes to say that you should probably pick the best bass strings that best fit your playing style. There really isn’t one particular type that’s best, as each kind may excel at one style more than another.
For example, using flatwound strings as compared to roundwounds will give you a warmer tone with a lot less finger noise. For another example, coated strings may last longer, but they may have a little less brightness than uncoated ones.
We’ve put together a detailed article on bass strings, and how to choose the right ones for your playing style. With a little experimentation, you’ll find a few favorites in no time.
How to choose the best 6+ string bass guitar for you?
There are three big factors that you’ll need to take into account when deciding which 6+ string bass is the one for you. Each one is equally important, so I’d recommend taking the time to really flesh each one out.
1. Determine the type of bass that works best for your needs
Do you want extended range so you can hit the highest of highs and the lowest of lows If so, then a 6 string bass may be in your future.
If you want your tone to basically sound like an octave pedal, then an 8 string or a 12 string will be what you want parked in your garage.
2. Aim for the best possible build quality
While it’s true that many ‘budget’ models of bass guitars have a quality level that is almost as good as the more expensive ones, there are some dodgy ones out there. Don’t settle – do some research and buy the best bass you can for your budget.
Does that mean you may have to scrimp on some features?
Sure. But at least you’ll know that you’ll have gotten the biggest bang for your buck possible.
3. Make sure it sounds as good as it looks
It may look cool…and it may play like a dream, but if it sounds pretty bad then all may be lost.
With a 6 string, I’d pay a lot of attention to how each end of the range sounds. That’s the reason why you got a 6 string in the first place, right? Lows should be well defined without sounding mushy or boomy, and the higher end of things should be snappy, perky, and tight.
On an 8 string or a 12 string bass, I’d really look at how each set of strings sound. Can you hear a good distinction between the low and high octave? Is the sound full and clear all the way up and down the neck?
Comparing the models discussed in this roundup, they are all highly regarded as being great quality, but you will certainly get a lot better sound out of a Ibanez BTB846 6-String vs the more affordable Ibanez GSR206
If you’re getting a little tired of doing the same-old-same-old as far as your bass playing goes, a good way to break out of the mold is to try a bass that has more strings – in particular, one with 6 or more.
Depending on what you want to do, you’ll find a bunch of different options. You can get a 6 string and experience notes at both ends of the spectrum that you’ve never been able to play on a 4 string. Or, on the flip side, you can explore more of what a 4 string-type instrument can give you from a sonic standpoint by trying out an 8 or 12 string bass.
From my point of view, I’ve taken a liking to the ESP LTD B-206SM 6-String Bass Guitar. I’ve found that the allure of having more range is more my thing, making a 6 string a better personal choice.
For the price, it really may be hard to beat: top-notch build quality, impressive sound and electronics flexibility, and the spalted maple top gives a striking look that says ‘I’m not your normal bass guitar’.
So enough about me. What about you?
I’d love to hear what your take is on what kind of bass rocks your world more than the others in the comments below!