This article will discuss if it’s possible to tune a 6 string bass like a guitar (EADGBE).
Some bass players may ask if it’s possible to tune their instruments like a guitar. That can happen due to the desire to form chords easier, adapt faster to the instrument, or even of soloing as a guitarist. Independently of the purpose, the question remains common among musicians.
But can a 6 string bass be tuned like a guitar?
You can certainly tune 6-string bass like a guitar, but you should keep one thing in mind. Although the bass is similar to a guitar, it’s different and should be treated as it is. When you ignore the nature of the instrument and try to make it identical to a guitar, you have problems.
Tuning 6-string bass like a guitar can mean tuning the lowest string to the low E or an octave higher than that. Tuning it to the low E is easy because the strings bear the tension better, but it’s useless, since there’s no amp capable of reproducing a low E (20 Hz). On the other hand, tuning it up (E=41 Hz) will require using thinner strings and recutting the nut, to hold the strings tightly. That’s because the lowest string is made to be tuned to aB, so the E a fourth above is a little high for it.
Is a six-string bass the same as a guitar? What’s the difference?
A six-string bass isn’t the same as a guitar. Although it’s quite similar (especially with the same tuning), it is still different. While the guitar is commonly used to solo and provide the harmonic background, the bass is essentially part of the so-called rhythmic section of the instrumentation.
It doesn’t matter the number of strings. That’s because what makes it part of the rhythmic section isn’t only its low register, but also its darker timbre. Even if you have another instrument doing what’s expected for the bass, while the bass plays high notes, its timbre will still require it to stay along with the drums. So there’s a clear difference between the musical roles of both instruments. While one is essentially melodic, soloist and harmonical (guitar), the other is part of the basis of the musical texture.
There are also physical differences between these two instruments. While the first has thicker and spaced strings, the second is the opposite. While the six-string bass (still being a bass) has a longer and thicker neck, the guitar neck is smaller. While the guitar is played in the medium/high register, the bass is played an octave lower. Besides, guitar players commonly use picks to play, while most bass players use their fingers. That’s because of the soft tone, which the use of a pick may harm.
What are the most common tunings on a 6-string?
B0–E1–A1–D2–G2–C3 That’s the most common tuning. Here, the lower string is a fourth below the usual E. This is an interesting combination for those bassists who want more power and weight in their sound. All strings are spaced by a fourth, making it proper to soloing.
B0–E1–A1–D2–F♯2–B2 Here, you can see that it’s almost the same thing, but there’s an interval of a third between the 2nd and 3rd strings (F# and D). That’s because it preserves the intervals of a guitar, even though an interval of fourth lower. Having a 3rd between these strings, it becomes easier to form chords and bars.
E1–A1–D2–G2–B2–E3 If you want your 6 string tuned like a guitar, there it is. It has the same intervallic sequence as the previous one but begins with an E note. It’s recommended for those who already play the guitar, since these are the same notes of guitar strings, but an octave lower.
Differences between 6 string bass, bass VI and baritone guitar
Most people have doubts concerning the difference between a 6 string bass, a bass VI and a baritone guitar. Although similar, they aren’t the same, but different levels between 2 extremes: common guitars and basses. In the table below, you will see all these differences listed:
6 string bass
Basically a bass with 2 additional strings.
A “hybrid” between guitar and bass. It has some of the guitar characteristics but is a bass and sounds like it.
It’s still a guitar and sounds like it, but with lower notes and with deeper timbre.
Has a thick and long neck
Has a smaller neck, and it isn’t thick.
Has a short neck, as all guitars have.
More string spacing.
Less string spacing.
Less string spacing.
Usually tuned BEADGC, although you can tune it EADGBE (the 6 string bass tuned like a guitar)
Standard tuning (an octave below the guitar)
Standard tuning (an octave below the guitar)
Strings are much thicker.
Strings are thinner than a bass, but thicker than a normal guitar.
Strings are as thick as on the bass VI.
Are there any specific difficulties in playing a 6 string bass?
There are some specific difficulties in playing a 6-string bass. That makes it necessary to play it with caution and an excellent instrument to improve your technique. It will urgently require you to develop useful techniques for the usual bass playing. Below, you can see some of these issues:
You need to mute the strings all the time
While playing a six-string, you’ll see that the strings keep sounding after you stop playing them, producing noise. To avoid that, it’s important to keep muting them constantly, which requires a lot of control. Since there are more strings, more responsibilities come (and difficulties).
You must know what you’re doing while playing in a high register There are more strings to play solo, but you must remember that the bass is still the foundation of a musical texture. While you solo, the bass register will become “empty”, making every outside note even clearer. You must know precisely what you’re doing while soloing to avoid that.
There’s more information to learn
Since there are more strings, there are also more notes to learn. There are more places in the neck of the instrument to know. It is harder to memorize all these notes on a six-string, but if you do it, the result of your playing will be fantastic.
Can you slap on a 6 string bass?
You can slap on a 6-string bass, but you must know that it’s going to be harder. That’s because there are more strings and because the higher string is thinner and different from slapping. Apart from that, while playing the first string, the G (2nd) also gets in the way, making it difficult.
But exactly because it’s harder to do, it’s also recommended to practice the slapping technique on a 6-string bass. If you practice it using a six-string, slapping with four strings will be easier, and you’ll also have more versatility while changing between instruments.
Is it better to learn 6 string bass or guitar first?
It’s better to learn the guitar first. That’s because the guitar is a more versatileinstrument than the bass, and it will hurt your fingers less. But before deciding that, you must know what you want to do musically. Wanting to be a soloist, you must learn guitar (if you want to buy a guitar, click here!). In the other case, learn the 6-string.
In this article, you learned that a 6 string bass can be tuned like a guitar, but you must know that this isn’t exactly what he has made for. Although you can use the same tuning as in the guitar, it will still be an octave lower and the tension will be a little high for the strings.
Although the 6-string is similar to a guitar, you’ve seen that both are still different instruments and should be treated as what they are. There are differences in the body’s construction, on the strings, in the technique used to play each instrument, etc. But there’s also the bass VI, which is closer to a normal guitar, but it’s still bass and different from a guitar.
You’ve also learned that there are specific difficulties in playing a six-string. Although the greater number of strings allows for more musical possibilities and advantages, it also has some issues. To solve them, you must develop your technique well and get used to the instrument. But that can be seen positively, since learning to play a 6-string well will make you capable of playing a 4-string even better. Since playing a 6-string may hurt the fingers and the instrument is not so versatile, it’s recommended to begin playing the guitar. But that will surely always depend on your specific tastes and objectives. If you want to conduct the harmony and only eventually solo, play the bass, but if you’re going to play a lot of solos, play guitar!
I hope the article was helpful, and see you next time!
Luiz Hauck is a composer, guitarist and music teacher based in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Being in the final phase of the bachelor’s degree in musical composition, from the Federal University of Minas Gerais, his artistic work concerns mainly concert music, which is his main interest.