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Strings for Arco on Plywood Basses

Discussion in 'Strings [DB]' started by SteveFreides, Feb 23, 2014.

  1. I have a theory - a carved top is stronger in the direction the strings pull, and therefore is a better match with a higher tension string than a plywood top, which is a better match for a lower tension string.

    All other things being equal, of course. ;):meh::confused:

    I'm asking only about arco because that's my focus and I'm content with whatever sound I get for pizz. My main "gig" is playing for free as a member of a local concert band, mostly arco, and my current Flexocors, not a string recommended for pizz, sound good enough for pizz for me.

    I was discussing my experience with strings on Friday afternoon with Jay Vande Kopple, who takes care of my basses. My bass, a plywood from Germany, 1940's, we think, which I really like, came with a very old set of Obligatos on it, and they sounded old but they sounded good. In particular, the lower two strings really spoke, and I am frankly interested in making as much sound as I can when I play arco.

    For a replacement set of strings, I followed my teacher's recommendation to try a set of Flexocors - not "original" not super-duper, just plain Flexocors, medium tension. And my bass doesn't speak as loudly. It doesn't sound bad, and it doesn't sound like a different instrument, but I liked the sound of even a well-worn set of Obligattos better.

    Which is what got Jay and I talking about the strength of tops and string tensions So, what say you about my theory?

    Recommendations for strings for me to try next? My obvious inclination is to get another set of obligatos (and if anyone has that they want to swap for what I have, let me know. My Flexocors are about 3 months old.) I didn't love the Obligatto's top two strings but the bottom two really worked - maybe a suggestion for a pairing with bottom two Ob and top two something else?

    Or other, lighter tension strings, e.g., a Flexocor in a lighter tension, or Evah Pirazzi weich? I've had EP weiches before and wasn't bowled over, but that was on another bass so who knows what they'd sound like here.

    Ah, so many choices. Comments on my theory (credit for anything good about the theory goes to Jay, and anything awful/stupid is my responsibility).

  2. JeffKissell

    JeffKissell Supporting Member

    Nov 21, 2004
    Soquel, CA
    Hey Steve,
    I've been trying out a set of medium Kaplans. My bass had been strung with gut for a while now and I'm really liking how the Kaplans sound. They bow well and don't have the whiney, mid-rangy quality played pizz that many steel core strings have. They are definitely higher tension but, so far, that hasn't been an issue... same volume and more clarity up higher on the neck.
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  4. Jeff, higher tension than what? Are you playing medium tension Kaplans?


  5. JeffKissell

    JeffKissell Supporting Member

    Nov 21, 2004
    Soquel, CA
    Yes, medium Kaplans, coming from plain gut D & G, Silver wound E & A.
    The guts are the most expressive strings I've had on this bass but I've occasionally felt the urge to try a more stable tuning, better bowing string set.
  6. I just did some poking around online - interesting that Pirastro Obligatos are listed as a Medium tension string.

    The Kaplans sound interesting - would love to hear from someone who's played Obligatos and those both.

  7. If you don't care about pizz, try regular Evah Pirazzi. Maybe also Flexocore DeLuxe or Kaplan medium.
  8. basscat35


    Mar 15, 2005
    I`ve been using BelaCantos G and D With Spiro Orch E and A on my Christopher Ply---pretty decent for Arco and Pizz. I have a set of Obligatos (had them on for a few months last year) and I`ve always wanted to try the Flexicors. PM me if your interested ---Phil
  9. bskts247


    Aug 16, 2011
    New Orleans
    A friend of mine used pirastro permanents and they sounded good for arco as well as pizz. She played both jazz and classical. I found the E string to be a little dead for pizz (coming from spirocores) so that's a thing to think about
  10. bskts247


    Aug 16, 2011
    New Orleans
    Sorry they were passione strings
  11. A fellow TB'er and I are going to swap - his Obligatos for my Flexocors. That will be my next step and, if his Obligatos sound like the older set I had on there, then I'll probably stick with the E and A and do some experimenting with the top two for something better for my bass.

  12. Just met Phil (basscat35) today - great guy, we had 4 basses to play on between us and more bows than that, was great fun and educational to hear someone else play my gear, and equally fun and educational to try someone else's.

    What a great place TB is... Phil, thanks for coming by.

  13. I just put my old set of Evah Regulars on my daughters Shen SB100 Ply and it is a cannon.

  14. What are they like tension wise? Do you think evah solo might work for orchestra pitch arco?
  15. I have Evah Weich (in the midle of Evah regular and downtuned Evah Solo) installed on my 110cm scale 4/4 5-string (high C with naked gut).
    I think this would be approximately the same tension as an Evah regular on a standard 105cm scale. This would work for Orchestra, but I wouldn't go lower tension fo the bow. At least not lower than Evah Weich on a 105cm scale which would be similar to Evah Solo on my long scale 4/4 bass.
    I think they will get too soft for bowing and you need a rather high action to avoid rattling sounds when playing a bit louder.

    But this depends on your bass, playing etc.
  16. It's a Czech plywood flatback with 108cm scale, 10mm on the G. I (would love to) do 70/30 jazz/section playing on it. I'm not really getting enough volume out of it for unplugged pizz gigs and the arco sound is poor. I don't like spirocore. haven't tried evah on it but honestly I'm not sure this is a string problem.
  17. The more tension the more volume (unless the tension is so high for a weaker top that the sound is chocked).
    Personally I don't like the Evah regular for jazz, but good for section playing. The Evah Weich are OK for jazz, only a bit dark in sound, which might give you problems with an amplified sound. Also not too loud. (Higher frequencies catch the attention more than lower ones.)
    A bit cheaper and not as stretchy as the Evah Weich are Innovation Braided (140B). I like them a bit more than the Evah Weich. Underrated strings, work for jazz and bow much better than Spiros (maybe the Evahs bow a bit better). Personally I don't like the sound of the Innovation Honeys, too less highs for my taste, rather old school jazz, not modern. A bit more attack power than Braided and Evah Weich. Bow better than Spiros but less good than Braided/Evah.
    But my current bass is a full carved one, my plywood was stolen years ago and I only used one set of string on it.
    Obligato might work too, but you might get the unpopular rolling lower string problem. They are at least a bit brighter than Evahs.
    I never tried the D'Addario Zyex, but the Mediums might be a good choice too.

    If it is not a string problem, it might be a soundpost (position) problem.
  18. Right, that's it in a nutshell, isn't it, that string tension needs to be matched to your instrument.

    But to contradict myself, I just switched from Flexocors to Obligatos - both sets are nominally medium tension and they both feel about the same tension to me, but the Obligatos sound hugely better for arco and for pizz on my plywood bass.

    It's black magic.

  19. seang15

    seang15 Supporting Member

    Aug 28, 2008
    Cary NC
    Obligato for me!!
  20. Eric Hochberg

    Eric Hochberg

    Jul 7, 2004
    Yes they do. Sound nice.
  21. Eric Hochberg

    Eric Hochberg

    Jul 7, 2004
    Obligatos have sounded very good on the student plys I've heard.

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