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High or Low Tension?


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Tension preference  

54 members have voted

  1. 1. Tension preference

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Within a certain kind of string construction (so let's say we're talking about Brand X's String Y), sizing up in gauge (and using an instrument of greater scale length) will increase the tension of the stretched string. Conversely, sizing down the gauge (or using a short scale bass) will decrease the tension.

 

While I have often gone for strings that had less tension (and were usually a bit smaller than average) in the past, lately I've been on a medium- to high-tension kick. Although it is natural for me to think that there are more possibilities for subtle changes of tone and attack with LESS tension in the string, in practice I am finding the opposite to be true. By increasing the string's resistance to my finger it puts the force needed to really dig in at a higher level and opens up a wider range of tones that I can access because now my finger doesn't have to act nearly as dainty and polite to get to them. Also I seem to notice more sustain coming from these larger/tenser strings.

 

Interestingly, Gary Willis also advocates bigger strings in his highly recommended (by me) instructional book 101 Bass Tips, because he claims that the pickup can "see" more so you don't have to struggle as much to make a note sound. He also says you can get a lower action with tenser/bigger strings because they don't flop around as much, which makes sense. Lastly, he is an advocate of a weak- or medium-strength attack as opposed to a high-strength one, citing string physics, and using higher-tension strings is supposed to complement this.

 

Thoughts?

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Since I tune down a whole step my string tension is a bit lower anyways... and after I put the new GHS B52's on a few weeks ago, I am noticing that even though the package says they are the same gauge as the old Fenders, they seem to be ever so slightly thinner with noticeably less tension... I'm actually liking this a lot. It feels better to me, and I seem to have more control tone-wise through my fingers... but not so much with a pick.

 

Good question...

 

DX

 

Aerodyne Jazz Deluxe

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I voted for lower tension because I'm going through that phase right now. I play a different type of string on each of my basses.

I have TI Jazz Flats on my Fender, D'Addario Half Rounds on my Yamaha TRB5 and something like an Ernie Ball .45 set of rounds on the Yamaha BB (they were on it when I bought it and I still like them).

The Half Rounds seem to have more tension than the others but they are also about 2 yrs old and the G is going dead, so I'm thinking of replacing them. I'll probably stay with the same brand because I like their sound on this bass and the new strings will probably have less tension for a year or so.

I know a guy whose had the same set of flats on his 62 Jazz for over ten years. Talk about tension.

 

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I know a guy whose had the same set of flats on his 62 Jazz for over ten years. Talk about tension.

 

I would think tension would decrease over time as the core begins to fail. Apparently Jamerson's LaBella flats began to fail after 5 years of use so that's the maximum amount of time I'd think you'd want them installed.

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My Aerodyne's strings were on there for about 9 years...give or take. I don't think there was much perceivable difference in the string tension but they were beginning to lose some life tone-wise.

They definitely had more tension than the Boomers I replaced them with. I was a little hesitant, when I saw that they were a bit lighter gauge than the Fenders, but after playing them for a few weeks I am very glad I did. I was afraid they would be too floppy tuned down a step, but they aren't at all. They may not last as long, but that's OK.

 

DX

 

Aerodyne Jazz Deluxe

Pod X3 Live

Roland Bolt-60 (modified)

Genz Benz GBE250-C 2x10

Acoustic 2x12 cab

 

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More than likely... I don't play nearly as much as that. I wish I did, but no chance of that ever happening in this life. Considering the playing time, 5 years is pretty long string life by any standards.

 

DX

 

 

Aerodyne Jazz Deluxe

Pod X3 Live

Roland Bolt-60 (modified)

Genz Benz GBE250-C 2x10

Acoustic 2x12 cab

 

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I've got various types of strings on my basses.

 

The sound is more important than the feel to me.

 

What is interesting is that four of my basses have DR High Beams and the tension feels different on all of them. All the basses are 34" scale and the string gauge is the same on all of them. Two of them are four strings, one is a five and one is a six.

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The sound is more important than the feel to me.

 

Right, but couldn't they be related? Re: Gary Willis' mention of string physics, I wish I could post a pic of his diagram.

 

What is interesting is that four of my basses have DR High Beams and the tension feels different on all of them. All the basses are 34" scale and the string gauge is the same on all of them. Two of them are four strings, one is a five and one is a six.

 

Hm, that is strange. Are the nuts, bridge saddles, tailpiece break and headstock break angles all the same? If so that may not speak well of DR quality control (although I really like the Nickel Sunbeams I've played). Then again, they claim to be handmade, which is a high RSD* operation in making strings.

 

*relative standard deviation

 

 

Back to my experiences in the topic, I put a bigger gauge of ProSteels on my fretted bass and I am loving the big fat bottom end. I can gently pluck and get huge, resonating fundamentals that sound and feel great. If I dig in, the sound totally changes, becoming a lot more Entwistle-y. I don't dig in that often but it's good when I need it--like when I recorded a "guitar-esque" solo on my last GarageBand project using this bass.

 

It's a small sample but so far we're split 1:2 on high tension vs. low tension. Keep voting people! :)

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The Headstock break angles are different. Also the length of the string above the nut is different.

 

I've been using HighBeams for years. The quality control is excellent and the strings are extremely consistent from one package to another.

 

Yes, the sound is related to the feel. But I want different sounds on different basses. My P-bass copy has La Bella flats on it and my fretless has TI Jazz flats. They couldn't feel or sound more different and each bass gets the sound I want.

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Jeremy, you're right that each bass may be a different tool intended for something different, including feel.

 

I guess what I'm finding in my own experience (which will be limited compared to many who have more than just two or three basses) is that while I may want different sounds on each bass, partially accomplished just by using different wrap material, I really like having a taut feel to start with on all of my basses.

 

Ironically I'm just coming from the other end of the spectrum--I used to be a big TI nut, but I finally decided they were too floppy and undefined (YMMV, and I'm not trying to diss them either) and tried out the high-tension thing, which for the moment I am really liking. What cemented this for me was a recording session immediately after I made the switch: the tone was completely changed for the better, all the notes were clearer and well defined. This has just as much to do with me as a player as any other element, of course--yet another YMMV statement.

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I chose lower tension mainly because it's a tad easier to push down on the fretboard. I usualy pluck back by the bridge so the lower tension doesn't really efect my plucking. Really I suppose it doesn't matter about the tension as I could probably get used to either over time.

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Joshua - I experienced something similar. After playing TIs exclusivily for many years, I found that (in a Live environment) the low tension of the TIs was adding an element of compression. Granted, if I had been more disciplined in my attack it may have been a moot point. But, it is what it is - and the truth is I play 'harder' live than in practice or rehearsal.

Jim

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Joshua - I experienced something similar. After playing TIs exclusivily for many years, I found that (in a Live environment) the low tension of the TIs was adding an element of compression. Granted, if I had been more disciplined in my attack it may have been a moot point. But, it is what it is - and the truth is I play 'harder' live than in practice or rehearsal.

 

Nailed it! And the recordings I was doing at the time were being done live, in a lo-fi environment using shared room mics, and some of the takes just seemed undefined to me. The next session, I had put D'A Chromes on, and it was like a blanket had been lifted. Subsequent sessions in more hi-fi settings also got great results... so I stuck with medium- to high-tension strings afterwards.

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As a footnote -

My fretless 5 is strung with Infeld SuperAlloys. In a studio warm-up we ran through "(In a) New York Minute". The compression effect resulted in a delayed 'bloom' and subsequent slightly delayed 'mwah' that was more similar to Pino's tone than before. Granted, it was fairly non-detectable in the mix, but if you soloed the track it was evident. Not something I'd purposely aim for, but there non-the-less.

Jim

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I've never paid much attention to the tension off bass strings. I find nickel sounds better than stainless to me, and feels better on my fingertips, too. I have stainless on my 5 string right now, and after playing two gigs in as many nights, my fingertips were getting a bit tender. I'll be changing them before the next time.

 

 

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Interesting post. I play bass for pleasure and much prefer the experience of playing med/low tension strings, i.e. 40 60 80 100. I get better feel from them than I do higher tension strings, which then sustains my interest. If I pick up a bass that I have never played before and it has med or low tension strings I might get an immediate rapport, but if they are high tension I hand it back!

 

Davo

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This is a bit OT but within the realm of the subject: are there good resources available to compare tension values of one brand of strings to another, based on the way they are constructed? So you could theoretically say Brand Y's string of .045'' will be 1.33 times more taut than Brand Z's .045'' string based on differences in construction. Some companies like D'Addario and TI publish data about this and that makes them easy to compare--I have several Excel charts in which I have put together "low RSD" string sets from D'Addario, for instance. But I don't know of any other companies that publish these data, so I was hoping there was a player-made resource out there. Anybody know?

 

I'm interested because I'd like to compare more data regarding low B strings--I find a small amount of extra tautness especially valuable for E and B to get them to ring true. Here's an example of what I do on Excel: I use string tension values to calculate balanced sets that have an average tension high enough to my liking. (40-45 lbs is a pretty good range in my experience.) Recently, wanting to come up with a good BEAD set, I came out with this EXL Nickelwound set by D'Addario:

 

D: .055'' @ 34.7 lbs

A: .075'' @ 38 lbs

E: .105'' @ 36.5 lbs

B: .135'' @ 34.5 lbs

Mean: 35.93 lbs

StDev: 1.65 lbs

RSD: 4.6%

 

Now, the RSD is a very nice 4.6% (that's very little variance) but the mean value is a bit low for me (the mean of TI JF344's, for comparison, is almost exactly 35 lbs). Unfortunately this seems like the best I can do among D'Addario heavy-gauge strings, although I may be overlooking something. No other company I am aware of--besides TI--publishes tension values, so I won't be able to continue this kind of analysis if I look outside of D'A.

 

btw, the poll is now 1:1 excluding the tension-ignorers. Interesting because most of the vocalizers prefer low tension...

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Here's some stuff to go on, courtesy of greenboy.

 

Unfortunately, without detailed info like you've found from D'Addario and TI, there's no discernable way of knowing without trying them. Scale length of the bass you're putting them on, the pitch you're tuning it to and "Unit Weight" (relates to mass) are the deciding factors. Different methods of construction yield different results in tension due to varying the unit weight by the way they wrap the wire, the material used or the shape of the core (I'm sure there are other factors but those are the first that come to mind).

 

Try a Dingwall.

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Try a Dingwall.

 

You're probably tongue-in-cheek here in some form or the other but I honestly have no idea how Dingwalls relate to this subject. The closest I've come to a Dingwall: my former luthier, back in MO, had his custom Precision Bass/4004 hybrid's neck fretted by the guy who does all that for Dingwall (I don't if he "is" Dingwall or not though), some time within the last ten years. The fanned frets are great. Recently he had to get it refretted, I guess, but that was done in MO.

 

p.s.: Thanks to the link for Greenboy's Excel file, good stuff.

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There isn't a guy who does all that for Dingwall. That particular fanned fret system is licensed from Novax but everything is done in-house. Unless you mean he sent it in for Sheldon to work on.

 

It was only 1/2 tongue-in-cheek. If you try one, you'll understand. Among their other benefits, you'll feel the most balanced tension across the strings you'll probably ever find.

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Ironic, Rizzo. I actually like high tension for the same reason...?

 

I feel like it's too easy for me to "muscle it" with low tension. Medium-high tension strings seem to fit better with my range of attack, getting me a wider range of subtle tones. But YMMV. :)

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