The standard bass guitar is one of the music world's most commonly-used and well-loved instruments, played in virtually every genre to contribute the deep, resonant background adding energy to any song. If you're a musician who wants to take things up a notch, however, even an instrument as popular as the bass has room for change. With the 5-string electric bass, that change comes in the form of an added string.
This variation on the bass guitar was pioneered in the mid-60s by Fender and quickly began to make waves in the funk, metal and rock scenes, among others. By installing a fifth string, the range of the instrument is expanded, allowing the 5-string bass to play an even bigger role in a melody than its 4-string cousins. Not only does this give you access to more chords and allow you to play higher melodies, it also gives you a wider range that can translate to some amazing bass solos.
Like any bass guitar, the selection of tonewood is an important part of shaping the instrument's overall sound. Alder remains the classic choice, giving full, clear and balanced tones for versatility that easily adapts to any genre. To take full advantage of the 5-string bass' harmonic overtones, ash wood is another great option. Consider basswood if you like your sustain low, or maple if you like it high. Ultimately, the tonewood is a personal choice and it's a good idea to listen to different guitars to let your ear tell you which one is right for your own.
Where the wood is one half of the bass' tonal equation, its pickups are the other half. Your 5-string bass guitar will come with either passive or active pickups, and while both types sound great, there is a difference in character to take into account. If you're looking to overdrive your amp for big distortion while maintaining tight control over the sound, you'll want to look at some active pickups. These contain their own mini-preamp to put a big punch behind the signal before it even gets to the main amp. On the other hand, if you want your tone to have classic warmth and fullness or vintage bass sound, passive pickups should top your list.
When all is said and done, your goal is to find the 5-string electric bass guitar that perfectly matches your own preferences and is a great fit for the genres you play. Think about the wood and pickups you'd like as well as the wide variety of styles available and you'll find your instrument at the sweet spot where they all come together.