How many strings are on a bass guitar? A traditional bass guitar has four strings, which are at the same note as the lower four strings of a traditional guitar. The only difference is that the bass guitar is one octave below when it comes to pitch.
The bass guitar is one of the most crucial elements of a band. Despite not always being under the spotlight, numerous songs would simply sound awkward and incomplete without a solid and interesting bassline.
Just imagine how different The Beatles’ songs would be without Paul McCartney playing his 1963 Höfner 500/1. If you wish to be the bassist of your band, or you want to be the next Paul McCartney, it’s important that you know all the things you need to know about the bass guitar.
To start off, let’s talk about the number of strings on this instrument, why it came to be, the tuning, and a whole lot more.
How Many Strings Are on a Bass Guitar?
As we mentioned above, a traditional bass guitar has four strings. The standard tuning for the bass guitar is E-A-D-G, which is the same as the four lowest strings on a guitar. It’s one octave lower than the standard guitar tuning, and all the strings are tuned in perfect fourths, which means there’s an interval of four notes between each string.
Why Does a Bass Guitar Only Have Four Strings?
The main reason for the bass guitar only having four strings is that its overall design was heavily influenced by its older counterpart, the upright bass. The upright bass is an even bigger instrument that you play by standing alongside it. The tuning is also an octave lower than the traditional bass guitar.
As rock-and-roll music grew, the demand for a bass guitar that you can bring anywhere and carry on your shoulder grew as well. This gave birth to the bass guitar that we know today. However, there are also other reasons why the bass guitar only has four strings.
One of the most prominent reasons for this is the relationship between string instruments. Most string instruments rose for symphony orchestras. Each instrument was then given a certain range of frequency for their tuning, and they were designed to overlap a bit but not too much.
For instance, the double bass initially only had three strings. However, as they were frequently used in orchestras that include violins, cellos, and other instruments, a fourth string was added. In this group of instruments, the bass has the lowest octave pitch.
Because of this arrangement, playing the bass with other instruments, whether it be violins, cellos, or electric guitars, complete the overall flavor of the music.
Other Types of Bass Guitars
Not all bass guitars have four strings, only the traditional ones. There are other models and brands that have additional strings to increase the frequency range of the instrument. Although you won’t often see them, there are three other “common” guitars in the world of basses. We’ll show them to you below.
The five-string bass guitar either has a higher or lower frequency range than the traditional four-string bass guitar. That depends on where or what the additional string is. Adding an extra low string allows the bass guitar to reach lower pitch registers. On the other hand, adding an extra high string will allow it to reach a higher pitch register.
That’s because when you add strings to a bass guitar, you have to follow the perfect fourths interval instead of the standard guitar tuning. This means that a five-string bass guitar with a low string should be tuned B-E-A-D-G.
On the other hand, a five-string bass guitar with a high string should be tuned E-A-D-G-C. If you noticed, the high string is C, which is unlike the traditional guitar tuned at E-A-D-G-B-E.
If you don’t want to compromise a low string for a high string or vice versa, don’t worry. There’s another type of bass guitar that has six strings. This combines the two types of five-string bass guitars by adding a lower and a higher additional string.
This puts the tuning of the six-string bass guitar at B-E-A-D-G-C.
Going over to the extremes, we have an even rarer type of bass guitar that has 12 strings, otherwise known as the Colombian Tiple. The twelve strings are divided into four courses with three strings each. This means it’s almost like the traditional bass guitar, but instead of four strings, you have 12 in groups of four.
However, it’s significantly harder to play because instead of fretting one string to play one note, you have to push down three strings simultaneously. Additionally, the fingerboard is wider than the traditional bass guitar because of the number of strings.
The only advantage a 12-string bass guitar has is that it produces an enormous sound since it has strings that are tuned at higher octaves.
Should a Bass Guitar Stick to Four Strings?
There’s no rule that says a bass guitar should only have four strings. As you can see, there are other versions with five, six, or even 12 strings. These types of bass guitars are more common in electrics.
However, increasing the number of strings widens the frequency range of the instrument. This means that doing so would allow the bass guitar to reach higher octave registers. These types of bass guitars are a bit controversial since they overlap too much with the octaves of other instruments, and they don’t stay under the “bass frequency” any longer.
This kind of defeats the purpose of having and playing the bass guitar since the higher octaves can be played by other instruments instead.
The bass guitar is an integral instrument in the evolution of music. Without it, we probably wouldn’t enjoy the songs we listen to today. When it comes to the number of strings, having four on your instrument is probably enough.
However, if you want to cover a wider range, maybe because you’re a three-piece band, soloist, or you just want to experiment, you can try learning the other types of bass guitars. The five-, six-, or 12-string bass guitars are not that hard to find.
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.