Playing around with alternative tunings can be a lot of fun. A very interesting one to look at is ADGC. This tuning brings the bottom of your bass’s range a 4th higher. At the same time it adds notes to the high end. This increases the expressive possiblities of the bass guitar. The shift in range of ADGC tuning brings the bass guitars range closer to the cello’s.
When you buy a bass, it is most probably tuned EADG. And it makes sense, the bass guitar is supposed to fill the lower space in a bands sound spectrum. The low notes on the E string are pretty important in a band setting. Also the highest notes are not that imporant, they mostly dissapear between the sound of other instruments anyway. And who will play the bass notes if the bass player is ‘up there’?
For solo bass, the situation is quite different. You’ll find that the low positions on the E and A string are less usefull. Double-stops and chords become somewhat problematic down there. Fifths may be ok, but as soon as you want to layer thirds, it becomes too muddy. The good news is, it’s not you, it’s physics, and psychoacoustics. Overtones of the lower notes clash in the range of human speach, brains don’t like that.
Cello music is in the lower range, but still a bit higher than the bass. When playing the Cello Suites (in the pitch they were written for), you have to play high up the neck, above the octave marker. Often upto the 24th fret, while you’ll never go below the low C (String 2, fret 3), the cello’s lowest note.
Should You Buy a 5 String Bass?
5 string basses are usually stringed with an extra B, a fourth below the low E. That low B is a very powerfull tool. But this wont help us play the Cello Suites, and it also doesn’t make the lower part more useful since the low-chord issue remains. The lowest note on the Cello is now on string 3, fret 3.
Should You Buy a 6-string Bass Then?
A 6-string bass adds a high C string to the 5-string configuration. This C string is a fourth above the G. So all strings are a fourth apart. This is different on a regular guitar, where the interval between string 4 and 5 is a major third. But what’s more important is that we now have a higher string. The 4 highest strings are ADGC, they work exactly as the 4-string configuration, but they sound a 4th higher.
For the Cello Suites, You’ll never need to go upto fret 24, fret 19 on that high C string is usually the highest note. (Except for Suite 6, more on that later.)
However, the lowest 2 strings are not that useful. The lowest note on the Cello is still on string 3, fret 3.
Your 4-String Bass Guitar Will Do Just Fine
The good news is that you don’t have to own a 6 string to order a pack of 6-string strings, right? You can simplye install the 4 highest strings on a 4 string bass. If you do this, you have access to the high sounding goodness of the 6 string. You have lost exactly 5 low notes (E, F, Gb, G, Ab), but you have gained a lot of melodic, harmonic and expressive possibilies. The cello suites now fit perfectly within your basses natural range.
The Suites on this site are also available in a transposition a fourth down from the original key. This is relevant because switching your note-reading skills to a different set of strings isn’t that easy (but definitely doable). You can study the pieces on EADG in that key, and when you switch to ADGC you are playing the notes as J.S. Bach wrote them.