Really? How can you get 5 strings out of 4. Okay, you will still have 4 strings but they will sound different. Here is what you can do:
Buy 5 string set and put this on your regular 4-string bass. Put the low B where you normally put your low E, next in the set is the E, this one replaces your A, then it is the A which replaces the D and last is the D string which replaces the G on your regular 4-string bass. You have lost the G, but you have gained the low bottom end, which may be the most important part of playing 5-string bass.
Another, simpler way is to retune your regular 4-string bass like this:
Normal Tuning: 5-String Tuning
G —————————> D
D —————————> A
A —————————-> E
E —————————–> B
There you go, standard set of strings tuned to 5-String Bass.
What Gauge is good for this?
I use 0.45 to 105 and it works perfectly: The strings loose a bit of tension which you may like, but there is still enough tension to retain the sound.
When you buy a low B you may find it may not fit through the body where the string is treaded through to meet the bridge. All of this depends on the bass you use. A low B may fit, but if you have trouble just retune the low E to a B.
Back to Standard Tuning? Use a Capo on the 5th Fret!!
It is a simple as that, just use capo at the fifth fret and you are back to the tuning you normally use. Yes you have lost a bit of fretboard, but you may like the new-sounds and feel coming out of your standard bass.
Using the capo at the fifth is also great for the actual tuning: Place capo on the fifth and use your tuner: Your tuner will read the E string as an E, even though you are tuning it up to a low B, same for all the other strings. Great idea.
Overal you may have a tune a few times before the strings will hold the slacker tension, but this is not really a problem, similar as to when you put new strings on your bass.
What About Guitar?
Works for guitar as well! What so many metal guitarists do, they tune the low E to a low B. Why not change the whole tuning to this?
Guitar Regular Tuning: New Low Tuning:
E —————————————–> B
B ——————————————> G
G ——————————————-> D
D ——————————————-> A
A ——————————————-> E
E ——————————————-> B
Some people may feel this tuning does not really work for them very well. You will need to bend your ears to the sound, it is also a tuning which is good for certain songs/compositions or other kind of ideas.
For standard, heavy Rock sounds it may be better to tune whole guitar one fret down (Eb tuning) or just tune the Low E to a B.
If you are using this guitar tuning, your bass player will always be in tune if he/she uses same tuning. Again, not all bassplayers may like the sound. My feeling is the low tuning may be better suited for bass rather than guitar.
A side effect of the low tuning for guitar is: Your regular distortions start to sound a lot better, some of them will sound a lot more like a Fuzz. It does help if you use a heavier gauge of guitarstrings when you go for this low tuning. I use 0.11 up to 0.56, and yes, the tension on the strings feels a lot less stiff compared to standard tuning.
For future articles I will go more into detail about using open tunings: Tunings where you tune the guitar into a chord.
Whatever you do, you cannot go wrong really, you can also make up your own tuning: Think about a chord, play it, write down notenames and tune your strings according to notenames of chord. Usually it is better practise to tune strings down to whatever note you need, but this is not a hard a fast rule: You can tune up, but do not tune up a string about 7 frets as you will cause that string to break!
Thanks and hope to see you soon again.