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B-string epiphany

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Toe-mas, Jan 28, 2006.

  1. Toe-mas


    Apr 24, 2004
    St Louis, MO
    Well, perhaps epiphany is too strong a word, but I did realize something interesting while I was noodling around on some basses at GC the other day. Warwicks have awesome B-string tension, even at a 34 inch scale and with bolt-on necks. The neck throughs are even tighter. Now, if one is brave enough to search the archives, there are several long threads on B-string tension, most of which come to the conclusion that the biggest factors are scale length (Dingwall), and the stability of the neck and it's connection to the body. The warwick has a HUGE neck which is awesomely stable, so it definately supports the going theory.

    Some guy brought in a bass he built himself with a Carvin neck that also had amazing string tension, and was also a 34 inch scale. The neck was fairly large in profile, but not like the warwick. The one thing that really made the bass stand out was that it was FREAKING HEAVY. This guy must have slain dozens of trees, it was amazing. Warwicks are heavy too, but this thing blew them away.

    It got me thinking though, that the reason we want a stiff neck is so it doesn't wobble along with the string, and that the two biggest factors that are going to affect that are it's stiffness and it's weight, as it takes more energy to set something heavier into motion.

    Anybody want to shoot this theory down? I'm curious if there is some bit of logic I'm leaving out, but it does seem to me that a heavier bass will likely have tighter apparent B-string tension, all other things equal.

    Also, Roscoe's are supposed to have an awesome B-string, but I've never hefted one...are they pretty beefcake?

  2. The tension of a string is a function of its tuning, length and gauge (and, of course core size and what not). The tension is not affected by the instrument construction.

    Every neck absorbs some of the energy from the string vibration. The frequencies that are absorbed are affected by the construction, stiffness, mass, and other factors. A more massive neck should not be affected as much as a lighter one in the lower frequencies. This is why massive necks have better sounding B strings. Of course, that's an oversimplification. There are many more factors.

    I think that when people say "tight" B string, they don't really mean "tight" tension-wise. Er, well some people probably mean that. Anyway, by "tight", I think we're talking about attack and sustain. On a well-constructed bass, the low frequencies are in phase with the mids and highs resulting in a "tight" sound. On a bass that absorbs more of the lows, the phase response of the B string may lag and result in a muddy sound without clarity.

    If you want a tight string, tension-wise, the only thing you can do is get a longer neck, a thicker string, or tune it higher. The instrument has nothing to do with it.

    - Dave
  3. hasbeen

    hasbeen Commercial User

    Sep 23, 2004
    Vice President, KMC Music. Warwick U.S. distribution, Ampeg distribution
    and, to confuse things more there is strings tension vs. stiffness. String tension between two different sets may be the same but one may be stiffer offering less side to side excursion.

    Some people claim that headstock angle and overall bass geometry (scale lengths being equal) will also affect "tension". I don't know if this is true or not but I certainly "feel" increased "tension" with angled headstocks vs. straight ones.

    The low B on my Zon is wonderful and its a 34" scale. Does it sound good to me because of the angle on the headstock or is it due to the composite neck? I don't have a clue. :confused:

    I do know this though: years ago I "knew" all these answers. Today I don't and I just approach each bass from "how does it feel and sound". I don't pay as much attention to "the numbers" anymore.
  4. Bassmanbob

    Bassmanbob Supporting Member

    I must disagree about the physical tension (lack of floppiness) of the B string. Let's call it tightness for this discussion to prevent confusion. There are many examples of smaller scaled basses (34" as apposed to 35") that have perfectly tight B strings. I play a 35", but because it's the instrument I like, but Ken Smith, Sadowsky, Zon and a couple other 34" basses I've played have nice and tight B strings. If it's an inch shorter, using the same strings, then how could it possibly have the same tightness. I don't have the answer, but it's got to be in the construction some how.

    Now having said that, I've also found that IN GENERAL there are more basses with tight B strings constructed with the 35" scale rather than the 34".

    This topic has been brought up in the luthiers' section a number of times. There was a TB member that had a very good article on the subject. It got into some physics, but not too deep. It was about two years ago I read it, and I can't remember who it was.
  5. Geoff St. Germaine

    Geoff St. Germaine Commercial User

    Since physical tension is defined as the force acting along the string, it is difficult to disagree with what Dave Grossman has posted. If you mean something else by physical tension, then perhaps you could be right, but then you aren't describing the physical tension. Two identical strings with the same vibrating length, tuned to the same fundamental frequency have the same static tension no matter what material they are anchored to.
  6. like it was said earlier, a 34 inch scale can have a "tight" sounding b string, but the string will not have the same tension as a 35 inch scale bass. This is why some 34 inch scale basses can sound nice even with the lack of tension. it comes down to construction.
  7. g00eY


    Sep 17, 2005
    Chicago, IL
    as far as sound, do flatwound B-strings usually lack the "tightness"?
  8. Bassmanbob

    Bassmanbob Supporting Member

    It's true that you can't change the laws of physics, but go to a store that has Ken Smith, Zon and Sadowsky 34" five strings and then go play a Music Man Sting Ray or Fender five string and tell me what you've noticed about the tightness of the B strings.

    I like MM and Fenders too, but not their B strings.
    John the Bassist likes this.
  9. Geoff St. Germaine

    Geoff St. Germaine Commercial User

    I've played all of those except the Zon and I can tell you that with the bass unplugged I can tell no difference in the tension. Power up an amp and there's a difference. If you want to figure out why the B's all sound different with the exact same set of strings on each bass then static tension isn't going to help.
  10. Figjam


    Aug 5, 2003
    Boston, MA
    I dont think comparing a Fender B string to a MM b string can be done. MM's have great B strings, I dont know what was wrong with the ones you've played..
  11. BartmanPDX

    BartmanPDX Supporting Member

    In these discussions, I think it's important to separate out the various factors that make a good B string.

    One of them is sound. This is a function of the pickups, the wood, the construction, the neck joint, the player, and about a dozen other things.

    Another of them is feel -- some B strings on poorly constructed basses "feel" floppy. B strings that are a lighter gauge string will also tend to be floppy. Don't believe me? Try tuning the E string on your bass down to a low B and see how it feels. Strings DO matter -- some of them take higher tension to be tuned "up" to a low B, which may make them seem tighter.

    By differentiating the various aspects of what makes a good B string, I think we're more likely to identify what makes some basses have better B strings than others.
  12. bazzanderson


    Oct 7, 2002
    Austin, TX

    I think we need to all agree to disagree and drop the damn subject. K?! (my best Bill Hicks voice)

    Seriously...there's been so many damn threads devoted to the argument of scale length, construction and string gauge affecting tension or "tightness". Inevitably the threads get a little snippy (kinda like the tone I'm using now). Let's just use our hands and judge each bass by it's own merits....I guess I'm just kinda sick of people going into great detail (with slide rules and mathematical formulas) telling me one thing and my hands telling me something else. I guess I'll just trust my hands. End of rant :) ....and Flame on!

  13. bucephylus

    bucephylus Supporting Member Commercial User

    Aug 18, 2002
    General Manager TecPadz LLC
    Here are my 2c:

    It is a fact that tension for a given frequency is a function of mass and length; at least that is what the Physics text books will tell you for the undergraduate survey classes.

    However, when you get a little more sophisticated, you find out that the relationship is a bit more complicated when you have energy loss at the ends of the string. This is a pretty big concern on lower strings because the displacement or excursion in the vibration for lower frequencies at equivalent volume is larger than for higher frequencies (that's why we need to use larger power amp sections than the guitar pickers). That larger excursion translates into larger forces at the witness point. So, the lower strings carry more force in their vibration at the nut, assuming equivalent signal volume, and are more prone to energy loss at the witness points.

    35" scales absolutely do have a higher line tension for the same string, same tone.

    But, the sensation of "tightness" is, I believe, a strong function of the lack of loss at the witness point. So, what you will find is that the 34" scale basses which have a higher break angle at the nut will have a sense of greater "tightness." because there is a larger force imposed on the string perpendicular to the fingerboard at the witness point. Basses with the Fender style straight headstock require hold-downs close to the nut to make the string break at a larger angle over the nut. You will notice, for example, that Roger Sadowky's 5's have this engineered correctly. The stock Fender 5's, originally issued, lacked the proper hold down, and produce the "flabby B" sensation; mainly because the string is wobbling around in the nut as it vibrates.

    "Oh, but when you stop the string on a fret, the nut is not involved, so that can't be it," you might say. Not so; the string on the other side of the stopped section also vibrates. Things get pretty complex explaining that interaction. So, I'll just stop and say that you'll more likely find the correlation to "tightness" on a 34" has to do with the break angle than neck thickness. Of course, that assumes the neck is properly designed from a stiffness perspective - which gets into dimensions, yes, but also modulus of the materials of construction. Examples of very tight B's with thin necks would be the Pedulla and early Tobias instruments.
  14. Moo

    Moo Banned

    Dec 14, 2002
    Oakland, CA
    Ever notice that when people talk about which brand of bass has the tighter B they never tell you the brand, style and gauge of the string? It's like it's not even considered. Just the brand of the bass.
  15. Figjam


    Aug 5, 2003
    Boston, MA
    Yes. Gauge very important. I like a .125 B string..
  16. ...enjoy the attached photo!

    Perhaps these types of conversations should be relegated to the "Ask the luthier" section. They're the ones that know what they do, why they do it, and how it works.

    All strings not only have different gauges, but also different tensile strengths. As for the physics, the more tension placed on a neck by the sum of the strings, the more the strength of the neck joint becomes important (all you bow hunters, think of your bow). You can have the top four or five strings (in the case of a 6) put a significant amount of pressure on the neck. If the B string isn't up to "pulling its weight," then a floppy B will result.

    I have a floppy B on my six string fretless 34" Brice strung with D'Addario flatwounds...no one's ever complained about the sound being uneven.

    Attached Files:

  17. Bassmanbob

    Bassmanbob Supporting Member

    I must admit that the various basses I've tried probably had different strings on them. If the string has a thicker diameter, it will feel tighter for the same frequency (note). This may have been possible when I played those various basses. Moo also brings up this point and should be commended for it too.

    It would be interesting to do some research with various 34", 34.5", 35", 36" and 37" basses, using the same brand and guage of strings, string them up and use some type of scale to measure string tension, tightness or tensile strength or what ever you want to call it. The results would answer these debates for good.

    And yes. We are beating a dead horse, but yet I continue to do it.:eyebrow:
  18. Geoff St. Germaine

    Geoff St. Germaine Commercial User

    You should ask Sheldon Dingwall about this. He does this all the time on a neck he has rigged up with a moveable nut.
  19. Bassmanbob

    Bassmanbob Supporting Member

    I agree if done with the same bass, but it would be interesting to do the experiment with the different brands and models of the basses. That would give you more of an idea in regards to construction technique, materials, etc...
  20. Geoff St. Germaine

    Geoff St. Germaine Commercial User

    Here's an article about damping in a stringed instrument. It's for a guitar and compares a nylon and steel string.


    These two papers talk about tension modulation and how the string goes out of tune when plucked due to this effect amongst other things.



    It seems likely that someone could do a Master's or PhD. based on modelling these systems. Anyone? ;)