The type of strings you put on your bass can have a huge impact both in how it sounds and feels. It can often be quite overwhelming when looking to buy a set and seeing such a wide range of brands, product names, categories and descriptions. This guide will give you a better understanding of the basic construction-based categories of strings that essentially all sets fall under, regardless of brand or name. Additionally, it will help you decide what type of string to get based on the sound you like as well as feel.
Roundwound Bass Strings
Roundwounds are very popular today because of their versatility, as well as clarity. This is where metal is wrapped around the core of a string and not smoothed out, meaning you can actually feel the metal ridges.
When you look at roundwound strings, they will say either nickel or steel. This refers to the material wrapped around the core that you actually touch. You probably will not be able to tell the difference by feel, but most likely will by sound. Nickel wound strings tend to have a more mellow and smooth sound relative to steel, which is about as bright and clear of a sound as you can get from a string.
One thing to be aware of with these strings, especially steel, is that they can be a little rough on your fingers as well as the frets on your bass. Playing with rounds, you will need to develop a callous to play for any length of time, as well as keep an eye on your frets for any wearing down or cutting into the fingerboard.
Many of the bass sounds you are familiar with come from roundwound strings. Most modern rock and pop music that has bass guitar uses them. If you listen to harder rock or metal and can really hear the bright, edgy sound of the strings hitting the frets and cutting through the mix, that is generally roundwounds played with a pick. Most slap and funk styles are these strings played with the thumb. Jaco Pastorious’ legendary sound is the result of rounds singing against a fretless fingerboard. You cannot get the same degree of brightness or edge without them, so if this is the direction you want to go in, such strings are a must.
If you have ever played a bass with totally smooth strings that felt good underneath your fingers, those are flatwounds. They generally have a much darker, thumpier, sometimes more “dead” sound to them than roundwounds. However, some flats especially when new can have a surprising level of brightness. Because they are smooth and do not have metal ridges, you do not hear the sound of them clicking against the frets. There also is much less finger noise in general, but of course this the result of sacrificing some of the high end.
Flatwounds are a great sound. A lot of classic rock sounds use them, and perhaps most popular is the Motown bass sound. Much of this is from renowned bassist James Jamerson who played on the vast majority of those classic recordings. They can have a very strong attack with a more round, smooth tone. It blends very nicely with the bass drum and often has a more transparent, blending sound rather than cutting through and sticking out in the same manner.
You can of course slap with flatwounds or play them with a pick, it just has a much different character to it than the qualities you are probably more used to hearing with roundwound strings.
Halfrounds are a nice middleground between round and flatwounds. These are essentially roundwound strings that have been smoothed out a bit. You can still feel some of the metal ridges, but they are much smoother. The result is a string that has some of the tonal characteristics of roundwounds, but a bit more mellow, as well as some of the finger and fretboard friendliness of flatwounds. They can be an ideal solution depending on what your tastes are. However, it is not automatically a best of both worlds. If you want a true roundwound sound especially for something like hard rock with a pick, you are probably not going to be able to truly recreate it. Still, there are some great halfrounds on the market that can give you an extremely broad range of tones.
If you study the Teach Me Bass Guitar course, you will learn many different ways to approach the instrument to get different sounds as well as how to play in a variety of styles. The course also contains some discussion about equipment and gear. The playing ability and knowledge comes first, but understanding a bit about strings will really help you go deeper into getting the exact sound you are hearing in your head to come through your instrument.
Filed under: Bass Guitar Lessons
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