BEAD tuning for bass, the easiest way for tuning down
Go low or go home.
Tuning a bass this way, such as I do, has several advantages to it. But before getting into that, I'll describe what this actually is.
B-E-A-D tuning is exactly like tuning a 5-string bass without the 5th string. It is very easy to get used to B-E-A-D tuning because you don't have to relearn how to play at all. Your fret positions on the 3, 2 and 1 strings will be exactly the same because that's E, A and D. The only new thing is the 4 string with the low B on top.
There are two distinct advantages to B-E-A-D tuning.
First, you get to hear what a 5-string would sound like without actually having to buy one. Just use your existing 4-string, tune to B-E-A-D, and ta-da, there you go.
Second, it is much easier to play in B-E-A-D. Holding down strings will be oh-so easy. You might even want to raise the action higher, or possibly even use thicker strings.
And that's leads me to...
Using B-E-A-D requires the right string type
I'll explain the wrong string type first. It's any standard roundwound set. What will happen is that your 4 string tuned to be will be "farty" sounding.
If you have a standard roundwound set on your bass now, don't let that stop you from trying B-E-A-D. But don't be surprised if that 4 string flops around too much.
The right type of string is something with even tension, greater tension, or both.
D'Addarion Balanced Tension bass strings handle B-E-A-D very well on a 4-string. More often than not you will only require a slight truss rod adjustment to accommodate for the tension loss (when compared to E-A-D-G) and maybe a small adjustment of the string saddle height. You're pretty much good to go after that. The BT sets when tuned down aren't necessary louder in B-E-A-D, but they are punchier and vibrate longer. Where regular roundwound poofs right out, the BT's stay in the game, so to speak.
On top-loader basses, flatwound is the easy way to get greater tension. I say top-loader because if you try to load flats on a through-body bass, that usually doesn't work very well (the bend over the saddle will destroy the string quick).
Although I've not tried this, the D'Addario Half-Round may work on a through-body bass, but I can't confirm that. I have used Half-Rounds before. They do have greater tension but nowhere near as much as flats do. And by that I mean when comparing to something like the La Bella "1954 Original" set, made the very-old-school way, tightness and all. You want tight flats? Get those - if you have a top-loader.
Fingerstyle, yes. Slap? Not-so much.
This is probably something where I'll eat my words later, because some lunatic will probably find a way to slap on a 4-string with B-E-A-D tuning. If that's you, tell me and I'll gladly update this article to say yes, it can be done.
But until that happens, I think slap with B-E-A-D tuning on a 4-string can't really work. I don't play that style of bass myself, but if I did I'm certain the strings would be clacking too much on the slap down, and pulling out-of-tune too much on the pluck up.
If you can prove me wrong there, go right ahead. I just don't think it's doable.
Yes, this is one of those "Gee, why didn't I think of that before?" things
When most bass players (or guitar players pretending to play bass, such as yours truly) want the low B, the first thought is, "I need a 5-string". No. There's no rule that says you have to play a 4-string in E-A-D-G. You want that B? Save your money and tune to B-E-A-D.
The only cash you'll really have to spend is on strings that can handle the lowered tuning to your liking. And that's certainly cheaper than buying a new bass.
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