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Things you need to know about strings

Discussion in 'Bass Strings' started by DiMarco, Aug 11, 2011.

  1. DiMarco

    DiMarco nutcase Good Vibe Sponsor

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    Right then.

    Why do I post this: Grumpy ol' me was getting annoyed with all the threads being opened with questions like 'what strings are good for my bass?', 'which strings do you use', 'what strings go on a fretless' etc. etc. At first I was starting to take it out on the persons asking these questions but this morning I figured good information on bass strings for those starting out is missing on the forum and quite frankly on other resources too.

    So here is my go at explaining what to look for and how to pick your first sets of bass strings. Keep in mind that the lovely people at Warwick are not stupid and ship their instruments with strings that are really good for the instrument you bought. However they can't fulfill any specific needs you might have in advance so what they supply you with might not suit you in the end.

    I will discuss these string specific parameters:

    - String Lengths
    - String Gauges
    - String Windings
    - String Cores
    - String Coatings

    So here goes nothing...



    String Lengths

    A few odd people (like Samuel and Jester 8:) play medium scale 32" basses but really, 34" is the most common scale used. 35" is not uncommon for five and six string basses. 30" (short)scale basses are a rarity.

    These are the string lengths as usually indicated on the package:

    30" = Short Scale
    32" = Medium Scale
    34" = Long Scale (most common)
    35" = Extra/Super Long Scale

    * Rule of thumb: If you're not sure, get long scale strings. You can always cut off a few inches for better fit. Better safe then sorry eh?



    String gauges

    String gauge is the thickness of the string. Widely used gauges are 0.040, 0.045 and 0.050 sets of strings. These values indicate the thickness of the G string in inches. Most widely used are 0.045 sets (the E string usually being 0.105).

    Lots of manufacturers think up names for their various gauge strings but keep in mind there is no standard to the naming scheme. Extra light, Extra heavy or whatever can mean different gauges with different manufacturers.

    Bare in mind that lighter strings generally means lower string tension and lighter playing. Thicker strings will bring out more low end and higher string tension but you will need more stamina to play them. If you plan to tune down your bass (drop D for instance) do not go for light strings.

    When buying new strings of a different gauge then your old ones, accordingly adjusting the trussrod in your neck might also be required as the tension on the neck will be different from your old strings. If you never adjusted a trussrod before please do get someone involved who knows how this is done.



    String windings

    The windings of your string come in different shapes and materials. The winding on the string has the biggest influence on its sound. These are the types of windings and their characteristics:

    Roundwound - Most widely used, modern sounding. Read on below about different types.
    Flatwound - Oldskool, reminiscent of upright double bass sound. Think motown tone.
    Halfwound - Partially ground down roundwounds. Feels like flats, tonally between flats & rounds.
    Tapewound - Used with piezo pickups and acoustics. Much like flats but darker/warmer tone.

    As stated, roundwound strings are the most widely used for electric bass. Generally there's two types of roundwound strings; nickel wound and stainless steel wound.

    Stainless steel will usually give you a more aggressive sound, more finger noise and rougher feeling strings then nickels will. Not all stainless roundwounds will feel equally rough on the fingers though, some actually feel a lot like playing nickels but still give you the nice aggressive tone.

    * So why are you not telling us about taperwound Marco? -> They are roundwounds. Taperwound just means the ends of the strings are tapered thus might sit better on the tuning peg and bridge saddles. Switching from normal to taperwound strings will require adjusting the height of your bridge(saddle).



    String cores

    There are two widely used types of string cores: hexacore and roundcore.

    Hexacore strings are generally stiffer feeling strings with a higher string tension while roundcore strings feel less stiff. If you like to play hard and slap/tap a lot with low action try hexacores. Roundcores will be smoother sounding and give you more sustain.



    String coating

    Many manufacturers sell "coated strings" nowadays. The coating is applied to extend the lifespan of your strings. When you play your bass, dirt and sweat will work its way into your strings. The coating is there to keep the stainless steel/nickel from deteriorating too quick. Coated strings cost little more then non-coated ones and last a lot longer. Downside of coating strings is they will feel different to your fingers and the big question is whether or not you will like this.



    Thoughts

    First and foremost, as a beginning bassist you will need strings that make you feel comfortable while learning to play the instrument. As the experience, strength and stamina in your fingers increases you can probably pick strings on sound characteristics alone.

    Choosing the right string for you and your instrument depends on quite a lot. The words I typed above only tell you specifics about the strings themselves and that alone gives you a lot of options with all the parameters (gauge, winding, material, core shape, coating) having their impact on the sound, feel and tension.

    The instrument you own will have its own characteristic sound. A Streamer LX and Thumb Bass for instance are much more aggressive sounding then a Streamer Stage 1 or Dolphin Pro 1. Would you string an aggressive sounding bass with even more aggressive sounding strings? Your mileage may vary depending on what sound you are looking for. Often shortcomings in a certain instrument can be more or less fixed (and strengths emphasised) by choosing different strings.

    I hope some of your questions are answered by me posting this. Any questions about specific string brands will still go okay on the forum but I think you will understand the basics after reading this.

    Cheers, Marco
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 11, 2011
  2. The ShadowKnight

    The ShadowKnight

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    nice writeup, I like it :)
     
  3. DiMarco

    DiMarco nutcase Good Vibe Sponsor

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  4. jester

    jester ocdemon

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    Great stuff Marco, many thanks!
     
  5. siderocks

    siderocks Fatass

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    Thanks Marco!
     
  6. Florin

    Florin Warwick Forum Administrator Staff Member

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    Thank you Marco!!!

    On thing should be added I guess. In the end experimenting is the best way, so a good tip is to buy once 4 different sets, and then do AB tests. You just teste them all new, don't wait until the first set dies, because you will forget how they were new. Take your time, and test them for one day. Then do this again with different gauges of the desired brand. It worth the effort, bacause you will stick with those strings.
     
    Timothy John Plog likes this.
  7. me552

    me552

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    Great information-thanks!
     
  8. naetog

    naetog

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    That's a great tip. It took me a long time to find strings I really like because I would wait until the set I didn't like died before I would buy a different set to try. Factor this into a new bass purchase and it really won't seem like much money when you eventually find "the" string for you.
     
  9. Shoewreck

    Shoewreck

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    Don't try that with a Fender. Thanks to Warwick bridge, we can even change strings back and forth between songs.
     
  10. Florin

    Florin Warwick Forum Administrator Staff Member

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    I actually did :) If the strings are properly cut, it should not be too difficult to change them.
     
  11. Mr Praline

    Mr Praline Forum Silly Person

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    I am in love with roundcore strings. I will probably never play anything else again :d
     
  12. StoneAje

    StoneAje Warwick Endorser

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    Great write up. The only thing I can see missing is string tension balancing and stuff like that. I just started looking into that recently, I bought a set from circle K that are balanced perfectly in drop B. Kind of complicated though, out of my league lol.
     
  13. azzyrazzy

    azzyrazzy

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  14. AKFuzzyDice

    AKFuzzyDice

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    Time to rotate the tires?

    I came to the forum today looking for string info, so THANKS!
    How often should strings be changed out, and how can you tell if string are getting old?
    I was sitting in on a tutorial session and had a pro immediatly snap his head around and look at me when I started to play. He asked how long I was planning on playing old strings...
    He heard it right away, and I have no idea what to listen for.
    :confused:
     
  15. DiMarco

    DiMarco nutcase Good Vibe Sponsor

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    "How long they last" depends on a number of things.

    First factor is how much do you value the crisp sound of new strings.
    If you do not care much why bother putting on new ones very often?

    Also important is how many hours do you play a week and how sweaty your fingers are. These things play a big part in the longevity of your strings. There's a lot of people who clean their strings after playing. This lengthens the lifetime of your strings a lot if you have sweaty fingers...

    And then there's brands/types of strings that last longer then others. If you need your strings to last a loooong time try Warwick EMP or Elixirs.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 13, 2011
  16. Florin

    Florin Warwick Forum Administrator Staff Member

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    Hi James,

    They should sound like they sound when new... After that they lose harmonics and sustain, feel more rubbery. Also intonation goes a little bit off.

    How often do you change them? I dunno it depends of strings, your skin, and what you need them for.

    The strings are coated and non coated. Coated ones last a lot more than regular ones... I can keep coated strings up to 3-4 months of gigs, but let's say 6-7 days of studio, because I want my best sound there.

    Regular strings - I keep them 2--4 weeks for gigs, but around 2 days of studio use.

    Let's say I have a regular skin. I've seen guys that can play a new set longer, and I've seen guys that can ruin a set of EMP in 5 minutes.
     
  17. Spyral

    Spyral

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    Great stuff, but I have a question.

    Where do nickel-plated steel strings fall tonally? Closer to nickel or steel? How do they feel?
     
  18. Nachobassman

    Nachobassman Bass, Tapas, and Rn´R!

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    Those strings are made to sound like steels and feel like nikels.
     
  19. Spyral

    Spyral

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    And how well do they succeed in this endeavor? Do some brands leans more towards one than the other in terms of sound?
     
  20. Hutton

    Hutton

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    Has anyone tried flats on a Streamer LX4?
     
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