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Bass Strings for Playing Bluegrass music

Discussion in 'Bluegrass [DB]' started by born2glf, Jul 18, 2005.

  1. born2glf


    Jul 17, 2005
    I was wondering if someone could suggest a good string for a upright bass playing bluegrass. I am new to the Bass and just learning. I have a older bass and have no idea the last time the strings where changed.
    Thanks in advance for any help.
  2. Bobby King

    Bobby King Supporting Member

    May 3, 2005
    Nashville, TN
    While not all Bluegrassers use gut strings, the majority probably do. The gut string sound is especially appropriate for Bluegrass. The tone is thick and punchy and they're great for slapping too. I'd recommend a set of Efrano, Lenzner or LaBella guts. Keep in mind that these will cost you about $200. Available from Lemur Music, Quinn Violins, Upton Bass. etc. There are also custom gut stringmakers like Dan Larson and Damian Dlugolecki, but their strings are ridiculously expensive (good though!). All gut strings are sensitive to temperature changes, they stretch quite a bit while being broken in and need to be tuned frequently.

    Many people also use gut for the top two strings mixed with a steel or synthetic string on the bottom, The wound gut E&A strings that come with standard sets tend to be rather thick. Some people also want lower strings with a little more sustain.

    There are also synthetic, gut substitutes like Supernil, Eurosonic or Innovation Rockabilly which are cheaper than real gut, more stable tuning-wise and are capable of producing a gut-like sound.

    Simplest answer: Try a set of Efrano ( sometimes called "european gut") from Lemur Music.
  3. In addition to Bobby's excellent post, you may wish to browse the newbie links post at the top of the forum.
    Several threads may interest you.
    Of course you can also search the archives with keywords like 'bluegrass' etc.
  4. mpoppitt


    Mar 28, 2005
    Austin Texas
    you might want to give Barefoot Larry's nylon slap strings a try, if you want to test the waters without actually spending $200+ on a set of guts.

    They sound and feel pretty close, and are $20 a set. I use his D&G on my bass.

  5. I think a lot depends on your style and playing situation. If you plan to go to alot of jams where there are 4 mandos, 6 banjos, countless guitarists, some fiddlers, accordians (!) etc, and you plan to last more than an hour, softer strings might be for you. If you slap at all, softer strings will help you avoid injury. If you play with a tight band, or a polite bunch of folks, spirocores might be the way to go.

    Years ago I ran into my favorite bluegrass bassist on line. He recommended spirocore E and A and golden spiral D and G. At the time it sounded pretty esoteric to me, but I really trusted him and wanted to sound like he did on the recordings. If he'd told me to stand on my head an hour a day, I would have done that. My bass responded well to that combination. It suited my playing well, and has likely had impact on the development of my style. It allowed me to play in 8 hour outdoor jams without injury and sounded good on stage.

    Go to some festivals this summer. PLay some basses. Check out strings, set up options etc.
  6. born2glf


    Jul 17, 2005
    Thanks to all for your help,
  7. Paul New

    Paul New Supporting Member

    Jun 1, 2004
    deepest alabama
    The set I`ve finally settled on (for now) is plain gut G\D with Helicore orchestra lights E\A. The helicores mix with guts much better than spiros IMO, although spiros are good too.

    My experience with the golden tones a few years ago was that the gut tends to thin in a non-uniform manner within that sythetic wrap and intonation goes to crap fairly soon. On the other hand, I`ve a couple of plain gut (LEHAR,i think) 3 years old that still sound good and intonate well.
  8. Bobby King

    Bobby King Supporting Member

    May 3, 2005
    Nashville, TN
    I agree that I'm not crazy about the nylon wrapped gut strings like Golden Spiral. They tend to have low volume, they're floppy and very thick. No chance of bowing them either. A plain gut is a better choice for the G&D. Louder, more durable, more focused pitch.

    IMO, mixing gut with Spirocore E&A is a real mismatch. Spirocore is one of the most bright, sustaining, "mwah" strings, sort of the opposite of gut.

    Helicore Orch. would be a better match. Some others I've used for E&A that worked well are:

    Pirastro Pizzicato - these are semi-flatwound silver wrapped gut. Much better than roundwound gut, more sustain, better pitch definition, and much more durable than other flatwound gut strings like Olive and Eudoxa. Not good for arco though. Also, pretty expensive.

    Thomastic Superflexible - A darker steel string than Spirocore. Very affordable. Still a little bright against gut for me.

    My current favorite for E&A are the Innovation 140H. These are a flatwound metal, synthetic core string. They have punch, sustain (not too much), comfortable tension, they bow well and aren't too expensive. I'm currently using them with the 140B (braided core) on the top. These are a little darker and less sustaining then the H's for the top. I'm really happy with this combo and can play a wide variety of music, including Bluegrass. But the 140H E&A would mix very well with gut tops, IMO.
  9. Touch


    Aug 7, 2002
    Boulder, CO
    I'm a pro bluegrass musician so I'll jump in with my 2 cents.

    Gut strings aren't nearly as popular as they were a generation ago. Plus out here in the Rocky Mountain West, with all the temperature changes they can be really difficult to work with. I agree that nothing sounds like gut, but for me they are just too unpredictable.

    First of all, every bass is different. What sounds great (IMHO) on my bass may sound horrible for you. Another question is "Where are you playing?" If you are playing outside at jams with banjos and fiddles, you might want a "louder" string and higher action. If you are playing in clubs with a pick-up and an amp, the acoustic sound may not be so important compared to how you sound through your rig.

    Having said all that, I have a couple of basses and play both at acoustic gigs, bar gigs and festival gigs. When I'm lucky and have time I sometimes get to play in the campground.

    I just had some bridge and neck work done on my '42 Kay plywood bass. I installed some Obligato Solos (tuned down to orchestra) and have been REALLY wowed by the acoustic sound. The Obligatos are metal wound on nylon. I have had Spirocores, Helicores, Jargars and Pirastros on this particular bass. However, now with the Oblis on it, I am getting a really loud, pleasant bluegrass bass sound. Not a ton of sustain naturally, but this kind of roots music works better with a moderately quick release (in my opinion).

    On the carved bass, I'm still using Pirastro Jazzers, but I'm more interested in the sustain for this application.

    Tell us more about who your influences are, what kind of bass you have and where you're likely to play.

    Have Fun!
  10. I am planning on getting a upright bass in the not-too-distant future, and would be playing mostly bluegrass with it. I've heard that D'Addario Helicores have the tone of gut strings, but aren't as fickle weather-wise. However, I have no experience with their volume, tone, feel, etc. Does anyone have any views on these strings?

    Davis Goertzen
  11. I would recommend the Eurosonic strings, particularly if you are going to be doing some slap bass. Good soft strings, easy on the hands for beginners and a nice alternative to gut strings.
  12. godoze


    Oct 21, 2002
    I also like oblis (the older the better) and a high string height for grass...
  13. mchildree

    mchildree Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2000
    I was a Helicore Pizz user for a good while, and recently when to Obligatos on my NS Cleveland...I REALLY like what they did for my bass, more volume, fatter tone.
  14. Freddels

    Freddels Musical Anarchist

    Apr 7, 2005
    Sutton, MA
    You should try the LaBella 7710's (the black nylon wrapped). They sound great. I like them much more than the Obligatos.
  15. tellier


    Dec 29, 2002
    Edmonton, AB
    Touch said "I installed some Obligato Solos (tuned down to orchestra) and have been REALLY wowed by the acoustic sound. "

    What does "tuned down to orchestra" mean?

    I use Thomastic SuperFlex with a med-high action and find them quite playable with a decent sound.
  16. Solo-tuning is a whole step above orchestra pitch, thus:
    F# B E A
    Solo-tuning strings are therefore thinner than orchestra-tuning's.
    You can tune them at orchestra pitch to get an extra-thin string, with lower tension.
  17. oystein


    Sep 15, 2001
    Norway, Leikong
    I had a bluegrass gig last weekend, the first in years. Everybody commented on how well the bass sounded, I have Velvet Anima on my bass now. I also think spiros are a good choice for bluegrass.

  18. M Ramsey

    M Ramsey

    Mar 12, 2005
    North Carolina
    I'll be out the door within the hour to do 4 sets of Bluegrass on my old American Standard. Right now, I have 2 Golden spirals (G & D) and 2 Red o Rays (A & E) and am having a wonderful time re-visiting gut strings.

    The Velvet Garbos are a pretty good alternative to guts, but cost about the same. I played them for 2 years and they are very stable after they finish stretching. I have a set of Velvet Animas which I haven't had the chance to try yet.

    I hope to try some gut strings on my other Standard bass.

    For this type of music, guts are the bomb! If the mandolin, guitar, and banjo can have time to tune, I think the bassman ought to be afforded a bit of tune time as well. The sound, tone, and the feel are worth any tuning problems I might have to endure.
  19. Funny how a different bass and a different player can change everything around, because my feeling is exactly the opposite. I had Oblis on and thought I'd try a steel string. Went with the 7710's for a few weeks and while I like them...I think the Oblis are better suited to my bass. Which is why they're back on and doing fine. :smug:

  20. JJBluegrasser

    JJBluegrasser Wannabe Snazzy Dresser

    Apr 17, 2003
    USA, Raleigh, NC
    I'm not a pro by any means, but I played 50 dates last year and recorded on an album. I play with Spiro Orchestras and I love them. Mike Bub (formally of the Del McCoury Band) plays all spiros, and I believe Barry Bales from Union Station does as well. All of the best players I know in North Carolina play with them too.

    I slap with mine as well (so does Mike) and I much prefer the sharp 'click' of the Spiros as compared to the dull (in my opinion) less focused 'thud' of the guts. With the wound core in the Spiros, these steel strings are actually more flexible than some might think. Kind of like a compound bow that responds stiff at the beginning of the draw, but less so on the follow through. Don't set your action 3" off the fingerboard and they work great.

    When playing straight pizz, the Spiros are markedly punchier and more driving than guts. The attack of the note is exactly where you want it, which is very important in bluegrass since timing is the whole game. They cut through better in a live setting as well, although they can sound a little 'electric' with a bad sound man.

    I actually converted the best gut slapper in the area to Spiros last summer at a festival. We had never spoken before and he heard me in a jam and talked my ear off about them for about an hour.

    They are definitely not as easy to play. If that's your goal, then guts are a great option. They sound warm and 'thick' and you can play for hours. In my opinion, if you want to drive a kickin' bluegrass band and get the best sound you can...you need to play spiros.

    IMHO, FWIW, and all that;)


    PS. Who do you play with 'Touch'?

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