Many curious bass players, beginners, friends, family members, always ask us the same question when we tell them we are bass players: “but, how many strings does a bass have?
¿4, 5, 6…? Don’t worry if you are also here to solve this doubt. In this post we are going to reveal the usual number of strings of a bass guitar (electric and acoustic), and how many it can have. Or did you think that all bass guitars always have the same number?
Come on, let’s go to the Groove!
How many strings does a standard bass have
Well, let us start by justifying the title of this section:
The electric bass, and of course the acoustic bass, are descended from the Double Bass, a fretted string instrument that has 4 strings. (Yes, yes, fretted string, although it is very common to play it with the fingers).
For this reason, we can say that a “normal” bass (be it electric, acoustic, or electro-acoustic) has 4 strings.
But the word normal is too colloquial. We, as bassists, prefer to refer to the 4-string bass as the standard bass.
Standard bass with 4 strings
A standard electric bass, as we have just pointed out, has strings.
Its tuning, also standard, is the equivalent of the double bass and the last ones of the guitar.
That is: E – A – D – G (from the lowest to the highest) in intervals of 4th ascending.
If you are a beginner, a music lover, or just “are”, this is the number of strings you will be used to seeing on a bass.
Are there only 4-string basses?
Since it is very common to see bassists playing this instrument with “only 4 strings”, it is common for many to think that all basses are like that.
Do you think that’s not enough, don’t worry, you’re not the only one who thinks so. That’s why there is the misconception that the bass is a simpler and more boring instrument than a guitar.
But well, if we told you that the bass has five strings, would you still think the same? What about six? What about twelve?
Indeed, as you could already guess from the beginning, the electric bass can not only have 4 strings. And we call these instruments extended range basses.
Extended range basses
In addition to the standard bass that we have just seen, there are models of this instrument that we call ERB Basses.
An extended range bass are all those basses that have a number of individual strings greater than a standard one. That is, more than four.
Although there is a small nuance.
As we will see below, there are electric basses with 8 and 12 strings, which really cannot be considered as extended range basses, because they do not really increase the basic range.
Just like a double 12-string guitar, these instruments actually have 4 different strings:
Double 8-string bass (2 of each string).
Triple 12-string bass (3 of each string)
So, how many strings can extended range basses have?
Well, to the surprise of more than one reader who makes it this far, ERB basses can have 5, 6, 7, 8, 8, 9, 10, 11 or 12 single strings. Take that!
But well, this is just to draw attention. The normal is always between 4 and 6. Basses with a higher range are custom instruments, limited units, and authentic experiments of some luthiers.
Basses with 5 single strings
It is true that we have mentioned that standard basses have four strings. But it has a real rival nowadays.
Since a few years ago, the 5-string bass has become an instrument widely used by bassists of all genres:
- Not only does it have one more string, but also the strings are closer together and it can be “more comfortable” to play.
They became very popular among Jazz bassists and soloists (wider range of notes), and among Rock and Metal genres (styles with lower tonalities), and this bass is perfect to offer more versatility, as well as to reach lower notes.
This is possible because it includes a fifth tuned in B flat.
That is, its standard tuning is: B – E – A- D – G
Although Jazz bassists often set an E – E – A – D – D – G – C to reach higher sounds in solos.
Thanks to the 5th string, this bass gives a great versatility to the bassist without widening too much the neck of the instrument.
This is why it has become so popular in recent years among musicians of all styles, regardless of the virtuosity of the bassist.
Single 6-string bass
From 5 strings onwards we start to enter the world of the virtuosos of this instrument.
Although if we had to mark a border between the “normal” and the “extraordinary”, we would place the 6-string bass:
- This is an instrument that includes 2 more strings than a standard bass: one lower (bass) and one higher (treble). That is to say, the 6th tuned in B (the same as the 5th of the five-string), and the 1st tuned in C.
The truth is that unlike the previous one, the neck or fingerboard of this type of bass is usually quite wide. This requires a great technique to be able to play it.
Thus, it is usually an instrument used in the studio for its great versatility, or live by true talents of the electric bass and soloists.
Basses with 7 to 12 single strings
From 6 strings… what can we tell you, we are already talking about basses not at all normal in terms of staging.
They are very marginal instruments among professional bassists, and of course Groove lovers at home.
At least we haven’t seen any live bassist with an 11-string bass on his back yet, can you imagine? But well, they exist, they do exist.
In fact, there are brands specialized in building this kind of instruments.
The world of the electric bass never ceases to amaze us, and we believe that this entry will surprise more than one curious person who is thinking about getting into the world of music with this instrument.
Of course, if you are just starting out, our recommendation is that you go for a bass that has 4 strings. Alone? well, when you have it in your hands you won’t think it’s too few. Besides, the vast majority of professional bass players are capable of doing anything with this model.
However, if you want to go deeper into the world of bass strings, types, models, brands, etc. we recommend you to visit this section dedicated to the types of bass strings, models, brands and characteristics.