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Bass Strings?!


Ryanne

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I've been playing bass for about 6 months now, and when I bought my bass it had new strings on it, so I haven't needed any. But now I am feeling that I might... so I have two questions:

 

1. How do you know when you need new strings?

 

2. What kind of strings are there? I mean are there different kinds? And what is the best kind?

 

Sorry if I sound ignorant... that's because I am. ha. But my only true love is playing bass... and I would like to know more about it and not be ignorant forever. So help me out! :)

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Well, lemme give it a shot.

 

1. How do you know when you need new strings?

You'll know. Basically, if they sound not

bright. Flat, if you will. If it sounds like

a thump, instead of the normal new-string zing

that you should have, they are dead. Try

slapping the lowest string. If it doesn't

sound like something you'd hear Vic Wooten or

Les Claypool play, then it's dead. Depending

on how oily/sweaty your hands are, six months

is a long time to have strings. Of course,

Jamerson (I think it was Jamerson) would only

change strings when they broke.

 

2. What kind of strings are there? I mean are there different kinds? And what is the best kind?

There are many kinds of strings; flatwounds, roundwounds, compression wounds, and groundwounds...possibly more. There are: nickel-plated steel; solid nickel; steel, etc., etc., etc. Some have hex cores, some round cores. Some steel cores, some nickel cores. There's a huge variety, and unless you're rich, you'll never try them all (ok, maybe so...). Best thing to do is search on the forum, there are pretty vivid descriptions of many strings.

 

As for there being the best, there really is none. You have to look around, try different brands, as well as different varieties. There are some kinds that suit different styles of music better, but there are always those rogues that use something out of the norm (cough)Jaco(cough). Just look, listen and feel. Wait, that's CPR, but it'll work for this too. Have fun, and welcome to the forums.

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Ryanne,

To some degree, when a player feels he/she needs to change strings is a personal choice.

If you like a piano like, semi-modern sound with lots of springy, ringing punchy qualities and clear chimey harmonics, then you should change "round wound" strings when those qualities are fading or gone for your taste.

 

I prefer roundwould strings for the above qualities. "Flat Wound" strings are totally smooth to the touch and have a generally "thuddier" sound-a bit more like an acoustic stand up bass. They fell out of popularity for quite awhile but are now making a "come-back".

 

I don't know your age or what groups/periods you're familiar with so forgive me if I sound too condescending.

The best way to hear the difference would be to check out recordings by:

Jaco Pastorious. He played on several Joni Mitchell albums. I recommend the live concert CD "Shadows and Light". He had a stupendous solo debut album but it's jazz fusion/funk and don't know what you like to listen to or style you play so I'll recommend Joni.

 

To hear flatwound strings try any Motown song from the '60s. The Supremes, The Temptations, are two of those hitmaking groups. There were tons!

 

Jack Bruce of "Cream" played flatwounds as well. He sometimes used a fuzz effect also.

Paul McCartney of the "Beatles" played a rather bright sounding brand that became extinct after the '60s. I think they may have been called "Gold Prisms"?

 

My advice would be to try both if you can. If you can't find flatwounds on a bass anywhere then try roundwounds first. I think they'd fit most styles/bands whereas the flats sound may not... I like

D'addario nickel round wounds for any style or Dean Markley steel strings for a harder/rock sound. They're available most anywhere and long lasting. Maybe six months to a year or more. An every night gigger might go through them in two weeks!

 

Ok, there's more! There are also "ground wounds" and "compression wound" strings. These are basically round wounds with pressed or otherwise rounded off edges.

They'll give you a sort of round wound sound with less finger squeaks.

 

Then there's the issue of whether you prefer a "tight" feeling string when you pluck it or a looser feel. Hexoganal cores are usually tighter tension whereas round cores are generally looser/floppy. Nickel rounds are probably the most popular string used but Steels can be pretty popular for hard rock/heavy metal. Stainless steel is complicated and I won't "go there on this go-round"...

 

Good luck. Welcome to the world of bassists and don't hesitate to ask questions. Nice folks here.

 

I always hesitate to recommend another forum here, but www.talkbass.com has a VERY extensive strings forum and you'll learn more there than you'd ever want to know! (All stainless steel secrets will be revealed!)

"When people hear good music, it makes them homesick for something they never had, and never will have."

Edgar Watson Howe

"Don't play what's there. Play what's not there" Miles Davis

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The best way to tell when you need new strings is when they stop sounding good to your ears. Duck Dunn had the same strings on his bass for like 20 years or somehting. My newest strings on any of my basses is about 2 years (except for the new bass).

 

I personnaly like Elixers for most applications. I have a '78 P bass with flats, just to get that old school sound. Experiment, and you'll find something you like.

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It's a personal choice as to when to change strings. I change the strings on my main instrument before every show, "demoting" the removed set to my back up.

 

This is an expensive venture, but when you get paid 150 a show, you should do it.

 

We don't play music for the money - we play it for love!

Check out my work in progress.
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Ryanne,

 

I'm assuming, per your post, that you're still using the string that came on your bass 6 months ago.

 

My advice: It's time to change 'em, now that you've developed a familiarity with your current sound and will be more able to hear the "better" or "worse" sound that your new set of strings WILL give you.

 

I personally use DR "Fatbeams" (Marcus Miller signatures) on my G&L. Everyone will give you a different solution on which is the "best" simply because everyone here has a slightly different opinion of what sounds good and what doesn't.

 

By the way, whereabouts are you in Kentucky?

-Mike

...simply stating.
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It's true what was said about everyone having different advice, but the good point was made earlier that if these are the original strings on your bass, go ahead and change them now. Pick something that you can afford, or maybe one of the sets posted by the players in this forum, but change them. You'll now be exposed to a different sound on your bass and will probably be liking it.

 

It does come down to what your ear likes best, and it will take time to decide that. So go ahead and pick a set and have a ball!

 

Personally, I have two basses with strings well over a year old, as I like that sound. When I do country or blues, the older strings give me the sound I want. My third bass is what I'm using with this current band, and I keep the strings pretty fresh, as the brighter newer sound compliments the music we're doing. And they're just an inexpensive Fender 5 string set.

Bassplayers aren't paid to play fast, they're paid to listen fast.
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Everyone used flatwounds in the early and mid-sixties....that's all there was.

 

The first roundwound strings were made by Rotosound and used by John Entwistle.

 

It still took until the mid-70's for them to become more common than flatwounds.

 

By the 90's flatwounds had virtually disappeared and then at the end of the 90's they started making a comeback.

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I have used countless strings in the past but I swear by Elixers now. A little expensive but they maintain their sound for so long that it is well worth it.

 

I would just change your strings when they no longer sound good to you, that's what I have always done. Sometimes that means once a month, sometimes it means once a year. With the Elixers once a year is all that is necessary for me, they sound exactly the same for countless hours of playing.

Discipline is never an end in itself, only a means to an end.

--King Crimson

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In reference to Adrians post about how long Elixers last, it's very true.

 

A friend of mine ordered some for his dad, but they were the wrong gauges, so he asked if I wanted them. Cool, I'll try them. Those two sets lasted well over a year, never losing much in sound quality. Really impressive.

 

Just too expensive for me....but as I think about it, it'll probably be cheaper to buy one set of Elixers than many sets of el-cheapo strings. Methinks I should rethink this and start buying Elixers again... I'm not critical about how strings sounds (I chased my tail about 'The Sound' for a number of years), but for longevity, Elixers do the job.

Bassplayers aren't paid to play fast, they're paid to listen fast.
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i never leave the music store with a new bass without new strings. the strings on there have been played to death and need changing. not to mention that manufacturers don't always use the finest product out there.

 

as for picking a string, i find the biggest factor is how much tension you like across the string, everything else is brand preference and needs experimentation with different things to pick one you like. if you like a tight string (like i do), get a very heavy guage. if you like a looser feel, get a light guage. once you've settled on a guage stick with it as it's bad for the nut to keep changing guages. then keep experimenting with different strings until you settle on your favorite. keep at least one extra set around whenever possible.

 

as for when to change, jesus, i can never figure that out. our tone is so dependent on so many things like pickups, on board active preamps, how fresh your battery is, preamps, how clean your power amp is, etc, etc, etc. i never notice until i change and say "wow that's bright." usually if i'm feeling abnormally depressed i get picked up by a change of strings. the brightness cheers me up. kinda like bass sds.

Eeeeeehhhhhhhhh.
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Originally posted by Bastid E:

as for picking a string, i find the biggest factor is how much tension you like across the string, everything else is brand preference and needs experimentation with different things to pick one you like. if you like a tight string (like i do), get a very heavy guage. if you like a looser feel, get a light guage.

What Bastid says is generally true, but read the fine print. Some manufacturers use special materials or processes that alter the relationship between gauge and tension. TI (for one) has strings that are thinner, but stil have as much or more tension than other, fatter strings. D'Addario is good about publishing the tension ratings so you can see how different shape/material cores affect the tension.

 

Originally posted by Bastid E:

as for when to change, jesus, i can never figure that out. our tone is so dependent on so many things like pickups, on board active preamps, how fresh your battery is, preamps, how clean your power amp is, etc, etc, etc. i never notice until i change and say "wow that's bright." usually if i'm feeling abnormally depressed i get picked up by a change of strings. the brightness cheers me up...

Yeah - this happens to me too. Fortunately my body chemistry (and limited playtime) means I'm easy on strings. But it also means the change is so subtle that I don't detect it. Now I try to change them every year (whether I need to or not :eek: ). I may change the strings on my Kinal sooner. One downside to changing infrequently (the strings, I mean) is that it's harder to compare different brands and gauges.

 

Tom

www.stoneflyrocks.com

Acoustic Color

 

Be practical as well as generous in your ideals. Keep your eyes on the stars and keep your feet on the ground. - Theodore Roosevelt

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Yeah, just ask me about how often some people change their strings...look at my credit card bill...sheesh. I've tried everything from D'Addario, DR (where I'm at now), Ernie Ball, Dean Markley, Fender, etc., etc., etc.

 

Just about everything, really. I've pretty much decided upon the D'Addario EXPs, but I sidetracked this one time to go with some DRs just for sh*ts and giggles. There's this annoying buzz at the 5th and 6th frets on the E string, but it might just be the string or something, cause it's never happened with the D'Addarios.

 

Just go around and see what you feel plays right.

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I found this thread just in time. I was just talking to a friend about going to a lighter string and lower action while I'm learning as I seem to be straining too hard to fret. Any thoughts on that?

 

And I just noticed something else.. Am I concerned about tension or gauge or both?

 

Also how do I know what length to buy? My Johnson has a 34" scale. Is that medium or long?

 

thanks,

David

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change strings? What? You need to change strings? I havent changed strings in at least 5 years! :D

Barely even need to tune the damn thing!

 

:freak:

 

Definately change them if they are rusty. Or go out of tune easily. or just don't sound right.

llornkcor rocknroll

http://llornkcor.com

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:rolleyes:

My Johnson has a 34" scale. Is that medium or long?

:D I'd say that's pretty darn long. :freak:

 

I mean, uhhh. 34" scale is your normal scale, basically most basses have it, all Fenders have it. As for the lighter guage, you will have LESS tension across the entire scale, which will be much easier to fret. I'd recommend keeping the action fairly medium...not too high or low. For heavier guage strings, you'd want to keep a lower action because the strings won't flop against the frets as much. But starting out playing, I'd go for a lighter guage and a medium action. Take it by the place you bought it, they usually will resetup pretty quick and cheap.

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Originally posted by wannabeabassman:

Thanks Hemp. I appreciate it. So a 34" Johnson would be a medium. :cool: I think the best thing to do for the first set of strings is to go into a local place rather than just buy on the net. Once I find what I like I can look for it cheaper then.

 

David

No problem. Yes, a 34" Johnson would be medium, standard really. Basically, you'll be confronted with a wide variety of strings. Ask the guy behind the counter what he thinks, depending on your musical stylings, how hard you play, how high (or low) your action is, etc., etc., etc. It might not be a bad idea to bring the bass along so that they can set it up and show you the "correct" way to install new strings. There are many ways, apparently. They should be uber helpful, and get right to it. If not, tell me, and I'll take care of it.
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