So you’ve got a new acoustic bass guitar and wonder about what kind of strings you should try? It all depends in the sound you are looking for, really. I know it seems obvious but read along to see the differences between the many acoustic bass strings you can find on the market.
What sound are you looking for?
That is the first questions that pops into my mind. Every one has an acoustic bass player in mind who has that exact sound we are looking for. Even though the strings won’t make you play like Esperanza Spalding, you can start by identifying what you like about it. Ask yourself these few questions:
What did you like and dislike about the strings you have used before and are you searching for a change?
What kind of music do you usually or would like to play? Are you looking specific sound? Try to define whether it is damp, dark, bright, gutty, mutted, or a lot of sustain.
Are you looking for a low tension and soft action feel or would you rather go for thicker gauges and higher tension?
Fretless bass or fretted bass?
Let’s start by saying there is certainly a difference of sound between the fretted bass and the fretless. Depending on whether you have one type or the other, the strings and the techniques will modify the sound you will get. The way you can play the fretless bass, using vibrato, sliding or muted changes completely once you hop on a fretted one. Therefore, with the instrument you own, you have got different options:
If you are not new to the bass, I am sure you have tried some different strings from different materials. What is your experience with nylon, flatwound strings or roundwound, nickel, phosphore, or the black nylon taped bass strings?
Flatwounds strings are -well, you all have guessed- flat! They produce a darker, maybe more smacking tone. Depending on the type of bass, they do bring out an old school sensation. Flatwounds will not damage your fretboard as much.
Stainless Steel or Roundwound strings
If you are looking for a bright sound, these are the ones! Since they are the hardest, be careful as they might end up marking you fretboard badly. Especially if you are using an acoustic bass guitar. They do sound great on a fretted bass!
Nickel strings are not as hard as the steel and sound maybe a tad less “obscure” but they will be hard on your fingerboard too. Some people feel they are not as “velcro-y” as the steels and do not stick to your finger as much.
Phosphor Bronze strings
Phosphor bronze strings are basically rounwounded string but their exterior wound is made of copper and zinc and, to my ear, they produce a richer and warmer sound than the nickel strings. They might not work very well with magnetic pickups.
Generally, coated strings are made to last longer. They show a bit of a sweeter tone than the nickels and the steels and feel a bit smoother to the touch, due to the coating, I’m guessing.
Half rounds are between the flatwounds and the round steels. In fact, they are wound and then they get grounded to make then flatter. Regarding their tone, you will find they also are in between the rounds and the flats. They seem to gouge less your fretboard.
Tapewounds or black nylon coated strings
They produce that muted and darker sound that we all like in the older songs. These are the closest to the sound of a double bass, in my opinion. They are easier on the fretboard, too! You will find much less tension on the strings and the touch is smooth and slick. Basically, tapewounds are steel strings which are then protected by a flat (black) nylon tape. A good thing is they will work with magnetic pickups. Some people use the black nylon strings on their fretted acoustic bass, too.
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