How many strings “should” a bass have?

July 9, 2018

Throughout my entire interview with Donald Waugh, he sat there holding a (count ’em) 7-string bass. Seem’s everyone’s got an opinion about this topic. Here’s mine.One topic that tends to incite a lot of passion among bass players is the question of the “right” number of strings for a bass. You may notice that throughout this week’s interview with Donald Waugh on, Mr. Waugh is holding his prized Cunningham 7-string bass on his lap.

You’ve probably heard the quote a million times: Jaco only needed 4 strings. True, but… the rest of us aren’t Jaco.

I’ll never forget my first 5-string bass. I bought it in the late ‘80s, at the height of the 5-string craze. Not long after, I got another one, this time a fretless. Admittedly, I spent way too much time “down there,” not always serving the song. The novelty of it was just too much for me to resist.

During that period, I played my five-strings for everything. It didn’t matter if I was doing a wedding, a show, a tour, a session … It was what I played. I was a 5-string bassist, exclusively.

That is, until…

Jon Liebman

Here I am, posing with an Prat 24-string bass at a recent summer NAMM show

I used to do a ton of work in the pit orchestras of Broadway musicals. I’ll never forget getting called to play Dreamgirls. Without even thinking about it, I took my 5. The problem was that the show required so much slapping and R&B bass playing that my 5 couldn’t have been more wrong for that gig! I immediately switched back to my old, trusted, nasty, four-string funk machine!

It was an uncomfortable lesson to learn, but a valuable one. It made me realize what I should have known all along: I was joining the band; the band was not joining me! The job of a musician is to serve the song. As a bass player, we need to give the song whatever it needs, whether that means using an upright, electric, 5-string, fretless, whatever.

My friend Igor Saavedra is a solo artist and plays some truly beautiful music on his 8-string bass. Another friend, Bill Dickens, does some wickedly scary stuff on a 7-string bass. Then there’s Yves Carbonne and Tom Petersson, with their distinctly styled 12-strings. At every NAMM show, I invariably see basses with as many as 18, 24 or even more strings! Toward the opposite end of the spectrum, I’ve also seen 3-string upright basses, proudly displayed by noted luthiers at a few bass conventions (I didn’t really “get” it, but okay). Recently, I even saw a photo of a bass with just one string!

These days, there’s no “right” number of strings for a bass. Whatever you like, whatever you’re into is fine, as long as you give the music what it needs and not try to see things the other way around. Donald does a lot of solo, unaccompanied performing, so for him it makes sense.

You can watch my interview with Donald on by clicking here.

I gotta tell you, all this talk has got me hankering to break out my fives. Appropriately applied, of course!

Learn bass from Jon!

No comments yet to How many strings “should” a bass have?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *