Best 5 String Bass Guitars for Rhythm and Soloing
Even though for the longest of time bass players have been using the traditional 4-string bass to complement other instruments, the limited range of a classic bass guitar may not cut it anymore these days for many professional players.
8 Best 5-String Basses for the Flexible Player
Here are my favorite 5-string bass guitars that promise to add extra range and depth by way of the extra notes available on the fretboard.
Table of Contents
- 8 Best 5-String Basses for the Flexible Player
- Fretted vs. Fretless Considerations
- Which Neck Design Inspires More Confidence?
- Does the Number of Frets Really Matter?
Talk about a smooth criminal. The Yamaha TRBX305 5-string bass guitar has a smooth rosewood fingerboard that promotes a fast playing style and extra range thanks to the added B string. The bass comes with 24 frets so it should be equally good for pros and amateurs.
Another convenient feature is the thumb rest, which you can find on both stock MHB3 active pickups. A five-way switch is also available. This facilitates a high level of tone personalization and allows the bass to lend itself to almost any genre.
You can adjust the balance, treble, bass, and volume by using the four control knobs. On top of all that, you will notice that the instrument is a bit smaller, as it’s a 34” model as opposed to the traditional 35” 5-string design. This makes it even more approachable as a beginner instrument.
Last but not least, the bass comes with premium hardware, including a die-cast metal bridge that improves the tone even more. With a big cutout for access to the 24th fret, availability in dozens of colors, the Yamaha TRBX305 5-string bass guitar is a rock-solid choice, one which comes with minimal drawbacks for any level of performance.
I’ve always liked this bass because I’m a fan of the GSR5 neck design. It’s very comfortable to hold and play on, and that’s all that most people look for in a bass anyway. Electronics can always be upgraded to beef up the sound.
Luckily, the Ibanez GSR205 already comes with quality passive pickups, the DXH-5 for neck and bridge. Another notable feature is the PHAT II active bass boost. This is part of the EQ and is in fact a decent booster for live performances. To use the booster, you’ll have to put in a 9V battery.
Depending on how often you play, you may get up to six months out of it, with rehearsals and live gigs combined.
The medium-fret fretboard design is not something that I’m particularly fond of, but I do recommend the Ibanez for most players. It’s a proper in-between choice if you plan on playing in more than one band and more than one style. It allows for better accuracy when playing chords and enough separation for slaps too.
This bass first caught my attention with its cool artwork. Then I was taken by its availability in both fretted and fretless variants. Sometimes looks matter too. In this case, the looks are impressive enough to warrant closer attention as to what makes this bass stand out in terms of sound and playability.
Starting with the thin U-shaped neck design, it’s clear that the ESP LTD B-205SM has been designed for any and all bass techniques. Everything is easy to access and you should have no problem finding a comfortable position to rest your forearm when you need to.
The ESP SB-5 passive pickups are well-known for their superior sonic fidelity, a fact made evident by how many bass players buy them as aftermarket pickups for lower-end basses. The 3-band EQ helps elevate your sound further with its offering of individual frequency controls for lows, mids, and highs.
If you’re looking for sound optimization above all else, the B-205SM might do the trick for you.
To the untrained eye, the Dean Edge 09 may seem like a very basic 5-string bass. It has a basswood top, a standard bolt-on neck, and a rosewood fingerboard. All of that is neatly finished off with chrome hardware. So far so good. But what makes it special, you may ask?
First of all, it’s slightly smaller, which makes it easier to play on. The 34” bass has less length, a C-shaped neck, and only 22 frets. That may seem like a limitation but only if you don’t factor in the extra B string.
The bass also comes with a 3 + 2 tuner setup, which by all accounts should help improve the string tension so that you can maintain your tuning for longer, even when playing at a fast pace.
While this bass can also handle some heavy lifting in live gigs, I recommend it first and foremost to beginners and intermediate bass players. The only reason for this is the limited number of controls. The Edge 09 only features a volume and a tone control.
If you want more personalization, this bass might fall short if you don’t help it out with some effects, or if you don’t know how to configure an amp to your advantage.
If you’re looking for a lighter bass but you still want the extended range of a 5-string model, then I recommend taking a closer look at the Ibanez GSRM25. This bass is all about playing fast and comfort.
It has a lightweight body and a rather compact build too. The short 28.6” scale may just be ideal for beginners but also for any players that know their fingers won’t be seeing much action past the 17th fret during a show.
And, don’t let the compact build fool you. The bass is anything if not customizable in tone. It has three control knobs for volume, bass, and treble, which should provide plenty of sound optimization options for most genres.
On top of that, the string tension is quite impressive with the 5th string being capable of maintaining its tuning for longer than on most other bass guitars in this price range. There aren’t many options when it comes to materials and colors, but if you’re serious about playing, that’s not a big issue, to be frank.
What if you’re a left-handed bass player looking for some extra range? Then I might recommend the Schecter Omen Extreme 5-string model. It has a superior build design that truly favors lefties and it comes with 24 full frets.
The bass has two active pickups, so you’ll need a 9V battery to get the ball rolling. Their power draw is surprisingly low so there’s little chance of unwanted surprises. To adjust the tone, you can use the 2-band EQ on each pickup individually.
One more cool aspect, which may be better appreciated by advanced players, is the 35” scale length. That and a solid Mahogany body always make a good combination. And, even though this may put the bass on the heavier side, the richness of the tone and the comfortable build for lefties are hard to dismiss.
7. Rogue LX205B
If you favor classic designs but are still itching for a more modern sound, the Rogue LX205B may be a good fit for you. The basswood body has a dual cutaway design, quite vintage-looking if you ask me.
The bolt-on neck provides good stability, durability, and reliability when it comes to adjusting for different tunings. The saddle bridge is also quite customizable and versatile, which means that you won’t be stuck in standard tuning for long, if you don’t want to be.
The J-style pickups are passive pickups but they sound really good, perhaps a bit outside their price range. You can do some tone optimization too as the bass features a 2-band EQ. The positioning of the knobs is volume on the upper row and tone control on the lower row.
This does make it a bit easier to do some fancy fade-in/fade-out embellishments on the bass. Thanks to the close proximity, using the volume controls to your advantage could really make you sound like a real pro.
The Stingray 5 is a very interesting bass in terms of design and choice of electronics. It has smooth but very bold edges which look great but can also serve as hand rests. It also comes in a variety of cool patterns like Ruby Red Burst Satin, Vintage Sunburst Satin, the classic Mint Green, and a few others.
I’ll be honest, this is not the bass guitar for a metal band, at least not for its looks. But when it comes to the sound, there’s not much that the Stingray 5 won’t handle. The single bridge pickup is a Sterling pickup with ceramic magnets.
The bass also features an active preamp, 2-band preamp, as well as controls for treble, bass, and volume. Having only three knobs is sometimes preferable if you need to make quick adjustments.
Apart from having active electronics, the Stingray 5 also sets itself apart through its low-noise performance and impressive durability. The bass features the traditional Music Man six-bolt neck joint, which has been proven over the years as a superior choice.
Fretted vs. Fretless Considerations
In general, you should stay away from fretless bass guitars until you have a good understanding of music theory and enough experience on the fretboard. Although the sound of a fretless bass is unique and richer, and the play style smoother, it’s more difficult to find notes on it.
A fretted bass will also require a good deal of muscle memory but you’ll always have the half-step chromatic separators to guide you when things get tough.
Which Neck Design Inspires More Confidence?
This is where things can get out of hand. Not everyone has the same preference, so the answer to this question may not always be objective. I myself prefer bolt-on bass guitars. From the standpoint of playing style, this is the traditional design so there’s nothing wrong with it.
Furthermore, a bolt-on neck can be swapped out easier down the line if you damage your bass. You can’t say the same about neck-through bodies. Of course, the latter design should provide you with longer sustain and less buzzing. But, the pricing will also make a difference, as will the electronics.
If there’s something to take away, it’s probably this. Bolt-on necks are more convenient in almost every aspect. However, try not to settle for anything less than a four or six-bolt design if you want some assurances in terms of durability.
Does the Number of Frets Really Matter?
I would say that this is a matter of personal taste. Most bass guitars will have at least 21 or 22 frets. That should give you enough range to play whatever you want, especially since you have an extra 5th B string at your disposal.
That said, if you’re more of a soloist or a jazz bass player, then you might want to consider looking strictly at 24-frets basses. If you’re spending more time playing rock, pop, metal, folk, and perhaps something tamer, getting access to the full roster of higher frets may not be high on your to-do list.
An Extra String for Endless Opportunities
You may think that I’m exaggerating the impact that a 5th bass string can have on play style, creativity, and overall instrument enjoyment. But, remember that even since the 70s and 80s, bass players have begun exploring other options apart from the 4-string design.
At this point, hopefully you’ve selected one or two models that fit your personal style better than others. If it were up to me, I’d say get them all with confidence since one of the best things about being a musician is the opportunity to experiment with different instruments from various manufacturers.
But since not everyone has a bottomless wallet, just pick one that you like and experience the depth and range that an extra string can give to your sound.