Josh vs the world: different fret positions in tabs - why & how?

When comparing downloaded tabs to tabs from Josh I noticed sometimes that they have different fret positions
Of course, the ones of Josh are always better :slight_smile:

But downloaded tabs seem to prefer staying on the same string, while Josh prefers to finger frets that are very close to each other - which is good, as your left hand does not need to travel so much.

A good example is “Seven Nation Army” by White Stripes.

Josh tabs look like this:

Please note D5. That’s good!

So now look at a downloaded tab:

Here D5 is moved to A10 - which means your left hand needs to travel more (but you could do some nice slides, of course).
I see this all the time in downloaded tabs…

Just for fun, I used the Guitar Pro “Automatic Finger Positioning” feature, and it got me this:

So here everything is close together, but D5 is moved to G0 (I ignore the other changes for now).
That is great, until I play it. The open G does not only sound a little different (it’s not a tuning issue), worse: I make mistakes sometimes as holding the neck interferes with G0, as my hand touches the string sometimes.

So: not good!

Two questions:

  • are there rules of the thumb to optimize tabs the “Josh way”
  • Does anybody know how I can select all D5s and move them up to A10 in Guitar Pro? You can do with a every single note, but it takes ages to do for a complete song. You can do it in MuseScore 3 (selecting all notes of a specific type), but the XML export destroys the tab and makes a guitar score out of a bass score.

Asking for a friend :slight_smile:


The thing about tabs is the fingerings on them are the preference of the tab creator. They are not mandatory or canonical, so just change them up mentally as you will.

One you noticed is a common one. There are many times when an open string sounds better or makes much more sense than a 5th fret fingering of a note. There are others when the opposite is true. Often the tabs are notated one way but I really prefer another. So it’s best to just think of the tabs as rough guidelines and not canonical.


So, just to be clear that we are using the same language: tab are showing fret positions; which finger you use is still up to you (to a certain extent).

As such, tab reflect certain fingering preferences by their authors (even though the actual fingering is only implied).

I use tab always as guidance and once I learned to song, I see whether I can “optimize” the way I play a certain line. Optimization includes better fingerings for me (this could also include avoiding open strings), better flow (again for my fingers), better sound (this is subjective, but this may lead you to avoid or emphasize open strings, and where on the neck you play more generally) and so on.

So, I guess Josh made tab to be aligned with what he, as a teacher, thought would be best for beginners on the bass. Look at all the tab you can find and pick and choose what works best for you (sorry, your friend :wink:)!

Sorry, can’t answer your second question…


@joergkutter, yes fret positions, will change that in the text!

Funny to see you @howard prefers open strings, while @joergkutter does not.

Since I use a brass nut I kind of like open strings, EXCEPT on G, because of the problem mentioned above (touching G while holding the neck).

Being a beginner, I just follow the tabs and can definetely not do a real-time-in-my-mind change of frets/strings (ie A10 to D5) .

So I need to find a way to have an optimal approach before I play … and then change downloaded tabs efficiently…


I do like the sound of open strings, but sometimes I prefer fretted notes. They are easier to mute and it makes it easier to play a song when you have to change the key, for blues songs for instance :sweat_smile:


Just shows you that nothing is gospel here, but comes down to personal preferences (which evolve over time, and can change…)

That is something you can work on! I basically don’t hold my neck at all! My thumb is just a counterpoint to my fingers, but there shouldn’t be any need to hold on to your neck :wink:)

I didn’t mean to imply that. Once you learned the line, take a moment and look at it more closely and see whether there would be other, “better” ways to play this line than what the tab told you.


Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm … that is a new thought.

I have never considered this approach but that makes total sense. Now I finally understand all those discussions about basses being “balanced”. I thought that was all nonsense as I just hold the neck and that’s it.

I learn every day on this forum!


@joergkutter - so I ran to my sofa immediately, strapped on the bass and am balancing the thing while typing this.
Is there a trick or just go through every angle, position & strap length in iterations?


It obviously depends on a number of things: bass design (not all of them are balanced very well), playing position that works best for you, … yes, you’d need to experiment!

Even without a strap, I don’t need to hold on to my neck (I play sitting most of the time). The forearm of my plucking hand rests on the top of the bass body and lightly “squeezes” the bass inwards and down; that is all the stabilization I need :wink:


Ok, I keep trying.

For my sofa bass I made so many modifications (bridge, pickups, nut, machine heads) that I’m not sure about balance - we’ll see (hear)…


Are we talking tabs as in from customsforge? Cos they’re definitely not always right :sweat_smile: Sometimes downright awful :joy:

There’s some (not many, but some :sweat_smile:) even I play differently to how they’re charted lol, even if it’s just a single extra note somewhere that just doesn’t feel the way it’s been tabbed.

There’s a handful of charter names I’d trust over others if there’s multiple versions of a particular song, Del, FireKorn, Ramen (basically any of the names in red lol), MrCalland, BrainMartyr, DThos, JamesPreston to name a handful from memory


Well, I have four main sources:

  • Customsforge
  • Songster
  • Rocksmith
  • anywhere else :slight_smile:

I have to check the original Rocksmith source - I read somewhere how those tabs were created, and those guys were absolute freaks (in the best sense).
Other sources vary in terms of quality … from absolutely great to WTF.

So, I understand when tabs are sometimes wrong. It’s really a lot of labour, creating those. And you need an ear for it. Who are these people that take the time to do that???!

But my question was about different fretting/string philosophies, mainly: notes on the same string vs notes close together on different strings.

And of course: how can I change that easily. I’ve done that for Seven Nation Army now - every note individually - and it s#cked! Too much time spent with mousing around, not enough time spent with actual playing the bass!


:joy: Some of them are madmen! Transcribe by ear, and charts can be out the day some new albums just released!!


I can fret my P bass without using my thumb on the back of the neck as it’s balanced. If you’re using your hand to hold/balance it then that will affect your playing.

Also you mentioned playing on the sofa. If you mean sitting back on the sofa then obviously that’s going to put your body in a totally different ergonomic position.

I can’t play like that as it hurts my hand. So I practice standing up or sitting on a stool.

Watch this for a clearer explanation


I don’t, but these guys on reddit might:

Essentially, you can select multiple notes and shift them. Perhaps you can search the Guitar Pro help menu for “shifting notes.” I can’t because I don’t have the software.

What I find is that as you learn, you’ll find ways to shift fingerings or positions around. You seem to work hard on that already, good job!


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Yeah, I saw that already, but when they say “All this of course also works with multiple notes selected.” they mean all notes, not all specific* notes, as in all A10s, for example

In MuseScore 3 you can do that, using right click on note Select|More|Same Note Pitch. MuseScore 4 s#cks as it got rid of the tab view somehow (or I am to stupid to enable that).
Trouble is, as I said before, the export to MusicXML s#cks, as it breaks the bass tab and “promotes” it to a guitar tab when you import it to Guitar Pro 8 in order to convert it to GP5 that can be used in Tonelib Jam.

That was a long sentence, but it reflects the pain of this process accurately!

It very much depends on the situation and the song.

If a bass is properly balanced (i.e. no neck dive) and set up (with good neck relief and action height), you should be able to fret notes without either holding it up or touching the back of the neck, simply by using a little counterpressure wuth the forearm of your picking/plucking hand. It’s actually a good exercise to try at the start of practice sessions. You’ll be surprised at how little pressure is needed to actually properly fret a note, provided a good setup.

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Yeah! I spent all afternoon with failing that :slight_smile:

Now I will lower the strings to the max and do some finger weight training and illegal steroids to schwarzenegger my pinkie :slight_smile:

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When you’re working out a bass line - whether it’s something you made up or something from a recording -
The frets you choose and fingering you choose should be guided by these factors:

  1. True To The Original
    If it’s a recording and you want to be true to the original, try and find the fingering that most sounds like the recording. Open strings have a different sound than closed, playing up high on the neck sounds different than those same notes down low.
    When I can’t tell where to play something, I’ll hunt down live footage and try and see where the bassist plays - or find an isolated bass track to try and really clearly determine where and how the bassist is playing a line.

  2. Efficiency
    If you don’t care too much about true-to-the-recording accuracy, then try and play it in a way that is the most efficient for your instrument. This usually means more string crossing, and less moving way up and down on the same string.

  3. The Best Option For You
    This means you have to actually take the time to work out possible alternate fingerings, and do the one that makes the most sense for you and your ears and your technique.
    This is where 90% of internet tabs fail because once a beginning player has figured out a thing, they leave it where it is and want to share it with the world.
    The intermediate and advanced players will go through steps 1 and 2 and come up with something that is more accurate and efficient.