Players with small hands and/or a small stature often find the neck on 5-string bass guitars too thick for comfortable playing, particularly for low notes close to the nut. Basses with full 19 ¾” bridge spacing are also challenging for smaller hands.
5-string P-basses are wide-necked guitars and often harder to play for small-handed players. They have a hard time spanning 4 frets in the lower notes, e.g. when playing a I-IV-V in G.
A smaller neck can help reach the low B string more easily, especially between the 5th and 12th frets.
Some 5-string basses, including Musicman, G&L, Peavey, KSD, and Carvin, tend to have slightly narrower nut width and shorter string spacing, making them a bit more comfortable for smaller hands.
Hand size is not necessarily a major hindering factor for playing a 5-string bass, and good technique can make a huge difference. That said, some basses are definitely better-suited than others for small-handed people.
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What to look for in a 5-string bass for small hands
Generally speaking, small-handed bassists should look for a 5-string bass with a slim neck profile, narrow string spacing (less than 18mm at the bridge), and standard or short scale length (34″ or less).
Neck profile for small hands
Neck profile (aka back-shape) refers to the shape of the back of the bass guitar neck in cross-section. It has no impact on the sound but only affects the playability of the bass.
Neck width is also a consideration (see next section) but not as important as the neck front-to-back thickness.
The neck-profile variations include C, D, V and U-shaped necks. The C-shape neck is the most common in production bass guitars.
The D is similar to the C but has a flatter profile. The V radius is the smallest at the point where you normally place your thumb.
The Ibanez SR series and J-bass vintage models tend to have the narrowest necks (see later).
Neck width for small hands
Width refers to nut and bridge width, both of which can impact playability for small hands.
A bass that is narrow at the nut is considered ‘faster’, while a narrow bridge width will impact running up the string.
The most common nut-width for 5-string bass guitars is 45mm. Some basses e.g. the Traben Standard, ESP Surveyor, Epiphone/Gibson Thunderbird V are narrower.
Small-handed players generally find that a flatter neck profile (e.g. Lakland 55-02 or Godin basses) does more for playability than a narrower width.
String Spacing for small hands
Close string spacing makes a 5-string bass more playable for small hands.
The Ibanez 5-string basses have narrow spacing between 16.5 and 17mm. The EBMM 5ver has a 17mm string spacing.
Some small-handed players, however, still prefer a healthy string spacing such as the Fender 5’s 18mm – ultra-narrow spacing can make both fingerstyle and slapping harder.
Scale Length for small hands
Short scale basses are generally easiest for smaller bass players. Some basses have scale lengths as short as 28 to 30″. For most players, however, a 32 or 33″ scale 5-string with close string spacing can work well.
A combination of shorter scale, low action, and light-tension strings can make a 5-string bass easier both on the right hand and left hand. You can opt for flatwounds like La Bella or TI Jazz Flats if you don’t mind forfeiting the slap tones.
Size and Shape
Beyond small hands, smaller sized musicians should generally look for a 5-string bass with a relatively slim body, an ergonomic shape, and lighter weight – a 10-11lb bass will get you exhausted after a couple of sets.
A few top 5-string basses for small hands
Ibanez SR Series
The full-scale Ibanez SR 5-string basses have a very slim neck, making them easier to play than even the slimmest Fender Jazz model. The lower numbers of the series have a 1.77/45mm nut and a narrow heel and bridge spacing.
The SR series has very consistent QA and comes with modest price tags. The only caveat is if, despite small hands, you may find the 16.5mm spacing of some SR models too close for your liking, even for small hands.
You may also need to pivot your fretting thumb more to adjust to the design.
The SR 805, SR 755, SR505 and SR305, are all good 5-string options for a small-handed player. The SR505 is a great bass overall. It’s narrow at the nut, with a thin neck and very low action which makes it play beautifully with smaller hands.
You can see the Ibanez SR Series on Sam Ash.
Ibanez GSRM25 Mikro
The Ibanez GSRM25 is undoubtedly the best option if you want a short-scale bass. It has a fast and slim neck and a 28.6” scale length. The bass is as durable as a regular model and there is no compromise in sound or tonality.
However, there is only one string set that fits this model, so you will have to stock up and settle for it.
You can see the Ibanez GSRM25 on Sam Ash.
Yamaha makes some really affordable high-end 5-string bass guitars that are very playable for smaller hands, with excellent pickups and 3-band equalization.
The Yamaha BB series, though not exactly slim, has neck profiles that are comfortable for small hands.
The BB415 is 1.69” wide at the nut width, marginally smaller than the average 5-string bass (typically 1.75+), though the 18mm bridge spacing is almost full-sized – a plus for most small-handed players.
The BB735A is also a very good 5-string option for small hands, with a similar 1.69 nut width and a thin neck profile.
It’s a great 34” scale active/passive P J bass with a unique 45-degree bridge design where the saddle can be flipped to an angle, making the B-string more accessible and punchy.
The Yamaha BBNE2, and the similar MIJ BBP35 are also very comfortable and playable for smaller handed players, and quite affordable at around $800.
The entire Dean Edge series offers viable basses for small hands. Their 5-string basses have great action that can be adjusted to super-low without any buzzing.
The neck has a great profile and the fretwork is excellent. This single humbucking passive 5ver only weighs around 7 to 7.5 lbs because of the basswood body and costs $200.
You can find the Dean Edge on Amazon
The Rickenbacker 4003s5 is essentially a 5ver with the neck of a 4-string bass. Ricks are known for their flat fretboards that are skinny front to back.
Though the neck is wide, it is roughly half an inch shorter than the standard 34” scale, which helps the fretting hand during fast runs and longer sessions.
Modern Ricks are relatively lightweight and have a slim/compact design that favors small hands.
Roscoe Classic PJ + Century Series
Roscoe basses are high on playability with slim fast necks, e.g. the Classic PJ. Small-handed bassists generally love the slim necks and B string on these 5ers.
The only caveat is that the Rocoes are quite costly.
You can find the Roscoe on Reverb.
G&L Tribute L2500
The L2500 is well-regarded for its 34” scale, punchy/tight B string and relatively narrow neck. The L2500 neck is fast, playable and very easy on smaller hands.
You can find the G&L Tribute L2500 on Reverb.
The relatively unknown Vester is a company that made budget versions of big brand instruments. Many of their 5vers like Clipper 5, Vester Fretless 5 and Vester Maniac are great for people with small hands.
The quality-built 5-piece neck is a little over 44mm at the nut. String spacing is 9.5mm at the nut and 15mm at the bridge (vs 18-19mm for most modern 5-string basses) with only 1.375” between the low B and G.
Tips & Technique for Playing a 5-string Bass with Small Hands
Some bass players with small hand find that 5-string basses are actually easier to play than 4-strings because they’re able to use many more positions without having to go below the fifth fret.
The lower part of the neck is the most challenging for small hands in terms of reach as they require the most horizontal stretch. Positions higher on the neck are much easier to play for small hands.
In general, a small-sized / small-handed bass player with good technique can even play a 35” scale 6-string bass with a 19mm bridge spacing without issue.
Finding a sweet spot for the angle of the bass neck relative to your upper body – a more vertical position – also makes the bass easier to play with small hands.
You can practice scales on the B string with the bass at a “double-bass” angle – neck close to your shoulder, the guitar bottom close to your hip.
Getting the right strap height for the bass body also helps, namely for the right hand.
Sometimes, playing issues result from a stiff and haphazard technique rather than hands size. Comfort and speed come with good technique and effortless playing.
Some players suffer from anchoring too much and too tight. There is a sweet spot as to how much pressure to apply with your fretting-hand grip.
The video below shows an example of a small-handed bassist on a full-scale guitar with a relatively thick neck and full-width string spacing:
People with small hands can typically make up for size by slightly offsetting the thumb of their fretting hand. Placing it behind the G string, slightly lower than the usual recommendation of ‘bang in the center’ of the back of the neck allows for more efficient angles.
The pivot technique used by upright bass players can also help for playing a 5er with small hands. Rocking the wrist helps for a four or five fret reach.
If strength is an issue that limits reach, you can also club your little and ring fingers to press down ‘reach’ notes.
Fretless basses can also be a good option for small hands due to the very low action and the ability to lay down the finger slightly short of the fret-line and slide to the exact note.
Sure, Jaco, Pino, Bootsy and Claypool all have freakishly large fingers/hands. But if it didn’t bother Bill Wyman, Mohini Dey, or Tal Wilkenfeld, there is clearly a case to make that small hands can lay down some big chops.
Featured image: “Richard Bona” (CC BY 2.0) by GeS
(2) “CMJ Music Marathon: Day 1” (CC BY 2.0) by Feast of Music