When a traditional bass doesn’t have enough low end to serve the music you’re playing, then you might want to explore some of the best 5-string bass guitars instead. Having an extra low string gives you access to a much wider frequency range and can help lend some serious low-end punch to your sound.
The best 5-string bass guitars come in a variety of shapes and styles, so whether you’re playing death metal, smooth jazz, or anything in between, you can find an instrument that suits you tonally, and visually. There are all sorts of tones you can get from our choices in this guide; from classic and vintage to super contemporary. No matter your style, you should find something here for you.
Having one of the best 5-string basses in your arsenal of instruments might be more useful than you think. They aren’t just for detuned riffs and djenting – a 5-string can give you extra presence in the low end, beyond your regular 4-string bass, filling out more space in a live scenario. They’re also great for recording as they can help your tracks stand out a little more; using that bottom B string sparingly in a song can have a massive impact.
So let's take a look at your options. We've got some useful buying advice towards the end of this guide too.
Best 5-string bass guitars: Our top picks
There really are some great options on offer when it comes to finding the best 5-string bass. For an updated twist on a classic, the Fender American Ultra Jazz Bass V is great. Featuring noiseless pickups, high quality hardware and a timeless design, it’s got everything you’d want from a 5-string bass. For players that want something more modern looking and sounding, then our top pick either goes to the Ibanez EHB1005MS or the Spector NS Pulse II.
It’s also hard to ignore the Sterling SUB Sting Ray-5. In terms of value for money, this is probably the best 5-string bass out there. It sounds great – not too dissimilar to its American (and much more expensive) counterpart, it’s super playable and it looks amazing!
Best 5-string bass guitars: Product guide
This is an all-singing, all-dancing 5-string bass guitar from one of the most well known and respected bass manufacturers in the world. The Fender Ultra series offers players premium and modern features, whilst retaining all the old school vibe that they’re so well known for.
This incredibly well-equipped Jazz bass has noiseless pickups, which are super useful if you’re looking for a 5-string bass for recording. The pickups eliminate any unwanted hiss or hum – this can be amplified if you’re playing with distortion so to start with it puts you in a good position! In addition, you get the classic Jazz bass sound, and a really clear and defined tone, with balance across the frequency range, including a bottom end that stays tight even on your lowest notes.
Other premium features include an active/passive preamp, comfortable Modern D neck profile (with compound fretboard radius that makes it super playable all over the neck), HiMass bridge for tons of sustain and ergonomic body contours, all making this one of the best 5-string basses out there.
The SUB series from Sterling by Music Man offers some of the best budget basses on the market. They’re made to a good standard, they’re super playable with slick neck profiles and they sound fantastic, offering the trademark low end rumble that you’d expect from this style of bass. The basswood body also helps keep the weight of the instrument down – something that can be an issue with 5-string basses.
The single ceramic humbucker is really punchy and sounds great both clean and overdriven making it ideal for rock and metal, but also jazz, prog and more experimental genres. There’s an active 2-band EQ on board too, allowing you to dial in or notch out low and high frequencies so that you sit in the mix just as you need to.
For the money, the whole SUB series is amazing, and the Ray5 is no exception. Whether you’re new to the world of 5-strings, or you’re looking for a reliable workhorse to take out on the road, this thing won’t disappoint.
Read our full Sterling by MusicMan SUB Ray5 review
This is a super contemporary option. Headless basses are becoming more and more popular amongst players of a range of styles. The pickups offer plenty of clarity, high end growl and bottom end thump – they’re perfect for rock and metal, but work well for other genres too.
The multi-scale keeps tuning and intonation super tight, though isn’t necessarily traditional and might take a bit of getting used to. The bass has an active EQ section – the Vari-Mid 3-band EQ which allows you to shape your tone exactly how you want it, though you can also switch it to a passive preamp if you’d rather, making this a surprisingly versatile instrument.
Of course, the look isn’t for everyone, particularly traditionalists, but if you’re looking for something different from the usual options then this is one of the best 5-string basses out there right now. The black finish is of course a classic option, but we do love the seafoam green matte finish.
If you’re looking for a versatile 5-string bass that’s got a range of modern and classic appointments, then this could be the solution. The Yamaha BB435 has a tried and tested P-style split coil pickup, along with a J-style bridge pickup letting you cover loads of ground sonically. These pickups feature Alnico magnets for a classic tone, but have been updated so that they’re a little brighter allowing them to cut through a mix. It also means that the low B retains note clarity.
The thin neck profile is a nice touch as well – it’s slightly easier to get your hand round to the low B string, making it comfortable for all playing styles. The bolt-on construction can also add a touch of snap and articulation, which is really useful for a 5-string. The body shape feels familiar but is still its own thing, and can help you stand out a little more visually.
The Spector NS Pulse II has a bit of an alternative/prog/metal look about it, but it’s incredibly versatile. Jazz, rock, funk or seemingly any other style of player shouldn’t overlook its high-end feature set, especially given that it could easily sell for more than it does. The swamp ash body lightens the load of the instrument a little, and helps it sound natural and open. It’s fitted with active EMG pickups and Spector’s TonePump Jr active preamp for superb clarity and detail. There’s loads of low end thump, and it can deal with as much distortion as you want to throw at it.
It also features Spector’s locking bridge, a really comfortable carved body, sturdy tuners, ebony fingerboard and a graphite nut. If you’re looking for a professional-grade 5-string bass that covers a lot of ground, then this is one to consider.
Read our full Spector NS Pulse II review
The Warwick Rockbass Corvette is a more affordable take on the premium German-made models, though rest assured this is a killer instrument – certainly one of the best 5-string basses around the 1k mark we think. Many a rock, funk and metal player has looked to this style of bass for their trusted tone. It’s fitted with active MEC J/J pickups that deliver the classic Warwick tone, with plenty of punch and clarity as well as snap and articulation thanks to the bolt-on neck. Even when you’re playing with gain and you’re rocking that low B string, you’re still going to get good note definition and be heard.
These basses play like a dream, and are comfortable to play both standing up and sitting down. The Corvette is cool, it’s unique and it’s been played by some legendary players as well as a ton of session pros. The hardware is of a very good quality – the two-piece bridge will give you great sustain and resonance, plus it stays in tune well. All in all, a great example of a practical and functional 5-string bass.
The main idea behind this bass was to get as many premium features packed in, whilst keeping it relatively affordable. The classic body shape made from alder immediately looks, feels and sounds comfortably familiar. The pickups are Schecter’s USA MonsterTone-J pickups which are punchy, bold and articulate. They’re great for modern rock, with lots of nice top end, as well as gut-punching lows. If you want a more vintage J-style tone, then you can tap the tone knob to engage the coil tap for single-coil tones.
The hardware is great too – it’s got decent machine heads that hold tuning well, and a good, solid bridge that lends some meaty sustain. We also love the black finish on the hardware, especially when paired with the sea foam green finish. The neck profile is fairly thin too, which will be ideal for certain players.
Boasting the ability to produce both modern and vintage tones, this classic looking bass serves up punchy low-end tones at a great price. With it bearing bass legend Marcus Miller’s name on the headstock, you’d assume that it’s up to decent standard, and it absolutely is. It offers great value for money, and would suit a wide range of musical styles.
The P-style pickups are classic and work for pretty much anything. They’re nice and smooth sounding, though stick them through an overdriven bass amp and they will growl really nicely too. The pickup has been voiced to produce a hot, vintage style sound, giving you the best of both worlds. It’s built well, and feels great to play. The smoothed edges of the fretboard allow your hand to fit conformably around it – reaching for that extra low string isn’t problematic at all, and the neck profile feels great in all positions. All in all, there’s not much to dislike about this, making it a viable option when looking for the best 5-string bass.
Best 5-string bass guitars: Buying advice
How to choose the best 5-string bass for you
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Five-string basses are just regular bass guitars, with an additional low B string. They’re usually tuned B, E, A, D, G though you can of course alter that – some players like to tune as low as A, particularly for heavy styles of music. Most 5-strings are long scale too – short scale versions do exist, but due to the nature of them, and the tension that they exert, you’ll usually find that a scale length of around 34” or longer is best.
That extra low B does extend the frequency range of the instrument, so you’ll want pickups that can handle that – luckily, all our best 5-string bass picks have this, but there are a few considerations you can make to ensure you get the most for your money.
A consideration to be made when shopping for the best 5-string bass is what sort of EQ control section it has. This is something you can think about for any bass really, but having more control over the different frequency ranges can be especially helpful when you’ve got an extended bottom end. An on-board 3-band EQ section will let you tweak the bass, middle and high frequencies allowing you to really control how you sit in the mix. Whilst you can do this on most amps, it’s nice to have extra control on your instrument, especially when playing live where changes on the fly are more useful.
If you’re not too bothered about this fine-tuning, and prefer a simpler layout, then a 5-string bass with a single tone knob might be more your thing. There’s a lot to be said for simplicity – there’s less to get confused by, and there’s no way of sculpting a bad tone!
Do I need active or passive pickups?
You’ll find that some of the best 5-string basses have active pickups, as opposed to passive. Active pickups require a source of power, usually in the form of a 9v battery, and deliver more signal giving you a hotter output. They often sound a bit brighter and snappier, so some slap players like them for this. When played clean, they sound very clear and focused. They also handle lots of distortion really well, retaining clarity even through the fuzziest of rigs, making them popular amongst metal players.
Passive pickups are often more classic sounding, with some players describing them as fat or warm. They are usually a touch more dynamic too. Rock, blues and jazz players have found themselves at home with passive pickups, but as with most things surrounding gear, there are no hard and fast rules.
Again, this is something to be wary of when looking at any kind of guitar, but good hardware can really make a difference on a 5-string bass. Sturdy, high mass bridges can help add sustain, and quality tuners can help the instrument hold its tuning better – when you’ve got an extra low B string, you really want to make sure you’re bang on with the tuning!
As with most things, the more you pay for an instrument, the better you’ll probably find it to be, but there’s certainly no bad hardware on any of the options on our list.
Which scale is right for me?
Another thing to look out for with the best 5-string basses is what sort of scale they have: regular or multi-scale/fan-fretted. Multi-scale basses have the frets going slightly diagonally – this is to improve intonation, so that all your strings play as in-tune as possible at every point on the neck. This is more a feature found on modern styles of bass and might take a little getting used to. If you’re happy with a regular style scale, then this shouldn’t be something you need to concern yourself too much about.
How we chose the best 5-string bass guitars for this guide
Here at MusicRadar, we are experts in our field, with many years of playing, creating and product testing between us. We live and breathe everything music gear related, and we draw on this knowledge and experience of using products in live, recording and rehearsal scenarios when selecting the products for our guides.
When choosing what we believe to be the best 5-string bass guitars available right now, we combine our hands-on experience, user reviews and testimonies and engage in lengthy discussions with our editorial colleagues to reach a consensus about the top products in any given category.
First and foremost, we are musicians, and we want other players to find the right product for them. So we take into careful consideration everything from budget to feature set, ease of use and durability to come up with a list of what we can safely say are the best 5-string bass guitars on the market right now.
Find out more about how we test music gear and services at MusicRadar.