Are B strings floppier by design?
After studying GHS' bass string tension chart and comparing those numbers with the tension charts from D'Addario and Kalium/Circle K, I've noticed a couple of really interesting things:
- B strings, both in prepackaged sets and as highlighted in these charts, have a tuned-to-pitch tension that's typically 8-10 pounds less than the E string next to it
- In addition, the D string is frequently 5-8 pounds more tense than the E string, meaning that relative to a B, the D is 13-18 pounds more tense (um, wow!?!)
This really surprised me. Is this done because of tone differences relative to core/wrap type, etc? To enhance the playability of thinner gauges, depending on the plucking hand's method (fingerstyle/pick/slap-pop) or music style? What's the explanation? The only exceptions to this tend to be in flatwound-land, in which tensions tend to be lower across the board, but similar tension ratios apply relative to other strings in a set ...
... and the biggest thing to me: maybe for many of those who complain about "floppy B" syndrome, it's not necessarily your bass: it's the string and its tension, both on its own and relative to the others ... ?
Super stiff D strings and super floppy B strings are the two reasons I hate prepackaged sets. I now use custom balanced Fodera sets from www.bassstringsonline.com
Are floppy B strings by design? I wouldn't think so. I think people are just afraid of things they are not familiar with...such as the large gauge B strings it takes to be not floppy. But on the other hand I was quite shocked at the number of players here who choose .120 or .125 B strings on purpose so maybe the majority likes them that way? I have to wonder how many of those folks have actually tried a .135 or .140 though.
Regarding B strings: I've found the discussion at this topic really interesting:
What Gauge B String Do You Play?
It seems that those who've also noted this prepackaged-set phenomenon -- and/or those who care about tone and realize that the strings are a critical factor -- have also gone to using non-standard gauges for a B string. The breadth of apparent factors are eye-opening: everything from the obvious (gauge, metal/alloy, personal preference) to not so obvious (sustain potential/inertia, neck stability & nature/hardness of neck woods, genre played, darkness/brightness). Makes me wonder something else -- mixing brands/string types/metals, etc. within a set -- that I should probably ask about in a different topic a little later ...
... but back to this one: I'm really curious what string manufacturers' thoughts are on this. I guess it's partially a traditionalism thing, combined with some of the points you mention, mmbongo ...
B and E strings both are floppier by design - rigs start to crap out at or just below G losing 10 to 15% of their sonic power and having a looser string makes them louder compared to the thinner strings because they move more.
This is just fine if you are always playing through a rig. Not so good if you line feed or go direct to FOH
Mixing brands is a crap shoot - everyone makes them their own way and you will get sonic differences from one brand to the next.
Precisely my thoughts
Thanks for the points, knuckle_head (hear hear, Kalium!). And that's all part of why I think this discussion is fascinating, and why I'm amazed that virtually no single-string sales and prepackaged sets have been the industry standard for so, so long until recently.
Yes, E and B strings are usually 'floppier'. Part of the reason for that is they have more mass. More vibrating mass generally means more volume -- but only to a point, because as knuckle_head points out, volume can do different things in different situations (running through a rig vs. running direct to a board for recording, for instance).
I think playing style matters hugely as well. As a general rule, I play harder and 'dig in' on the thicker strings more than the thinner ones, and I imagine most fingerstyle players do that to an extent -- even though that flies in the face of what knuckle_head says about the volume rolloff at the G string. To compensate, the G string should be thicker for more mass and thus more volume -- but then tension goes up and the mass advantage is lessened because it can't move as freely. The converse applies to the B string, too.
One comment in the string thread I linked to above really got me thinking about the whole floppy B string thing. Why NOT put, say, a brighter-sounding stainless-wrap B string on a bass if you feel that the nickel-plated or all-nickel equivalent -- from the same manufacturer, plainly ... or maybe? -- is too dark sounding or doesn't articulate as well? And, ergo, why not use a nickel G string to keep things from being too bright on the top end of a bass otherwise strung with steels?
I guess I haven't found B strings to be "floppier" than any other of my strings. And lighter guage strings on the low B aren't floppier either. At least in my experience.
Obviously a lower tension string would be different from a higher tension string. But the notion that B strings are somehow different from the rest just doesn't add up IME. Lower notes vibrate in a bigger way obviously, but that doesn't mean "floppy" to me.
I play a G&L L-2500. I've tried TI Powerbass strings, Dr lo-riders and Sunbeams, and Sadowsky Blue Labels over the several years I've had it now. .119, .125, .130 guages. No floppy B here.
I actually started the "What Gauge B String Do You Play" thread as I was looking for a new set of strings. Over a year ago, I put on a set of strings with a .135 B string and through it was too stiff and a little difficult to fret at the lower frets. I switched to a .125 and it was just too muddy for me and sounded kinda "fart-ish". I just tried out some .125 stainless strings wound on a hex-core but ultimately decided to go back to a .135 B for the sound and feel.
The .130 works ok for me. I agree that the heavier gauge B strings are a bit to dark to my ears. Lighter ones are just to floppy.
rydin: you say 'strings'. I'm guessing that you've experimented with full prepackaged sets. What I wonder is: to potentially brighten the sound of a dark B, why not use an all-stainless steel B string while keeping the others nickel- plated? Like, say, A GHS Super Steel B and Bass Boomers on the rest?
Or, for a stiffer but still-fret-able B: A DR Lo Rider (hex core) B, with DR Hi-Beams (round core) on the rest?
What I find the problem with most B-strings is that they are much stiffer that the rest of the set (I'm talking about before you even put them on). If the string is stiff how is it suppose to sound out notes with any stability or sustain?
The D-string being a higher tension inhibits playable and sounds more stressed than the rest of the strings.
If balanced tension is not the answer at least pick a direction and no big jumps in tension.
BTW I order singles from that Circle Kalium place. I'm a picky bastard.
I tried a stainless low B to go with a nickel set, twice: once with flats, once with rounds. Both times it did improve the feel, however the TONE was all wrong. You could immediately hear a jarring difference in tone when going between the stainless and nickel.
Granted this is just subjective, anecdotal, limited sample size, etc. But I think it's reasonable to expect similar results generally.
"Are B strings floppier by design?"
B strings are floppier by physics. The issues that string makers face are twofold; tone and feel. String makers are limited in what they can do to change tone drastically. The type / content of the material the string is made of, core, windings, layers under windings; all these can change the tone to some degree. These can also change feel. After strings, there are dozens of other variables to adjust tone; pickups, preamps, amps, speakers, effects, etc....
Feel is another thing altogether. The "feel" of a specific string is definitely variable based on setup of the instrument, but all the other stuff that affects tone doesn't change feel. To get the feel somewhat balanced, the string tensions won't be identical. A .130" B string at 50 lbs tension isn't going to feel the same as a .045 G string at 50 lbs tension. Also, the excursion (distance traveled back and forth when plucked) and the sustain of a B string @50 lbs tension vs a G @50 lbs tension is going to be a lot different due to mass. That would make the volume, sustain, and tone different between the two (already explained in other posts). The overall diameter of the strings also play a primary roll in "feel".
So, the string makers do this "balancing" act to get strings to have a certain feel & have a certain tone. That requires some compromise in both items to achieve the goals, whatever they may be.
A final thought; with today's technology, it is not difficult to make a set of strings that have identical tension on each string when tuned to standard pitch. So, why don't all string makers do that? The multiple answers to that question is why a B string feels floppy.
^^^ This. Well said, Remus.
Bongo: figured you, of most of us TBers, probably experimented with this at some point. :)
Interesting tidbit about RT's sig set. I had no idea ... and so there's a pro/celebrity precedent for what I'm talking about ...
Please keep in mind that I'm partially playing devil's advocate here. That's a big part of what I do for a living ... I like asking questions. :eyebrow:
I tune my bass to CGDA, and I can only get good tension on the lowest string if I go with a .145 gauge.
I guess they can be. I tried a set of LaBella Super Steps in the mid 90's (I can't remember which gauge and if they were an exposed core or taper core back then) and I absolutely hated their feel. They felt like soggy noodles, although I dug their sound.
I used a D-Addario XL's with a .130 B-strings for quite a few years after that and loved the tension, which to me, felt fairly balanced to the rest of the strings. I stuck with .130 gauge B-strings convinced that that was the way to go.
My Ristola-6 came with a .125 gauge D'Addario XL B-string, and I honestly couldn't feel or hear much, if any difference from it and the .130.
I'm now using T-I Superalloy's with a .125 gauge B-string and IMO it's great, as are the rest of the strings in the set.
My experience with the either exposed core or taper core LaBella's scared me away from that type of string, although I'm sure almost 20 years after the fact, there are many brands of exposed core and taper core B-strings that are fantastic.
I'm just more of a creature of habit, I guess.
depends on the string. when I switched to Lo-Riders I never had a floppy .125 B-string again.
Is the B string on the Labella Deep Talking flats (.128) tapered? How does the B sound on that set? I'm very familiar with their 4 string sets, but have never used a 5 set.
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