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basses (and many other instruments) have too much tension

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Wiremessiah, Feb 10, 2019.

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  1. Wiremessiah


    Mar 4, 2017
    This is a relic of the past, where acoustic instruments had the max amount of tension applied to them for the sake of loudness. And somehow the same tension got applied to electric instruments, and solidbodies obviously can handle more tension, but it's totally unnecessary, and negatively affects the sound IMO. I have an old hofner bass, short scale, with TI flats, and tuned down a half step. So there is almost nothing wanting to pull the neck into a bow, and the truss rod is completely loose, with the perfect amount of relief. While this may not be realistic for most, the instrument just feels much better than almost any bass I have ever played, actually I will say better than every bass I have played. While the average bassist would call my strings loose, I don't see it that way. i see them as perfect, and everything else is needlessly tense.

    While I didn't necessarily knowingly choose this particular tension, other factors and luck got me to it, and I love it. I play other instruments, so I can't practice bass all the time, but when i pick it up, even after days of not playing it, no warm up is needed, I can play absurdly fast without getting tired. And I push it to it's limit, so i am still feeling the same amount of impediment/tension that most people feel, I am just able to go far past what I could do normally. And the hof being a small thin almost acoustic instrument, the decreased tension is perfect for it, and I would recommend lower tension tenfold for acoustic instruments, which are always being incapacitated because of issues often due to the tremendous unnatural amount of tension on them.

    I have been watching videos on baroque instruments, such as baroque viola, cello, violin, and they all just sound better to me, other than the gut strings, just more open, mellower, and more pleasing to the ear, because of the decreased tension. Instruments with too much tension sound choked and harsh.
  2. JIO

    JIO Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jun 30, 2010
    Oceana (Pacifica) CA
    musician/artist/owner - Gildaxe
    good points and food for thought
    GentProvocateur and zon6c-f like this.
  3. Chrishi87


    Aug 17, 2010
    Always depends on the music style.
    For some blues or rock in the style of your avatar - where even my father was still liquid... you may be right.

    But with the modern style. Tension is very important for that speed up Riffs.
    sing-modulator likes this.
  4. In the 1960s when Eric Clapton etc started spreading the gospel of bent notes and wide vibrato, guitarists went all-in for lighter gauge strings.
    The Ernie Ball Slinky was born.
    Tension came way down.

    Decades later Stevie Ray Vaughn pushed bigger strings every which way with a signature tone that swung the pendulum the other way for many players.

    To each their own, and my preference is for balanced tension, which is why I use tapered bass strings in hybrid gauges from D'Addario and non-standard gauges on guitar.
    rockinrayduke, dabbler and JIO like this.
  5. JIO

    JIO Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jun 30, 2010
    Oceana (Pacifica) CA
    musician/artist/owner - Gildaxe
    I use/like the D'Addario BT strings also.
    smogg likes this.
  6. Wiremessiah


    Mar 4, 2017
    Light gauge vs heavy gauge strings on the same bass/guitar is like millimeters (or perhaps grams per square millimeter?) of difference. Having TI jazz flats (at the same gauge as long scale, with actually a smaller bottom string for hofner) on 30.5" scale tuned down a half step is miles different in tension than a 34" scale with average tension strings. While there is something to be said of the exercise you get from the resistance of tension, after years of playing, the improvement of technique, speed, and endurance (and sound IMO) from low tension is marked. Not to mention how less tension is better for the instrument.

    granted it won't make much difference with a big slab body with a graphite neck, but there is a tone difference, and control is also a huge factor for me. I like being able to grip the string and release it with high precision and speed, and my very low tension bass allows me to do this more, and for much longer, than any other.
    MattZilla likes this.
  7. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    It seems to me that the tradeoff is that the "floppier" the strings, the more relief you need in the neck to give them room to vibrate without fret buzz, and that means higher action. Personally I prefer a nearly flat neck with super-low action, which requires tauter strings as a simple matter of physics.
    soulman969, jonlimo, Charlzm and 15 others like this.
  8. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    I think we live in a great time for choices in every aspect if playing bass.

    You can choose your tone, aesthetics, style, and tension.

    Low tension strings would be useless for me. The higher/tighter the better for me.
  9. Wiremessiah


    Mar 4, 2017
    Doubt it. As I said, my truss rod is completely loose, and the action is as low as it gets, zero buzz. And even if there was a little buzz, it wouldn't come through amplified. Personal preferences often arise out of arbitrary circumstances. Mine did for sure, as I have the same TI flats as when i bought the bass 10 years ago, having never before used them, and tuning down a half step came from the best tuning for my other instruments, particularly drums. But the super low tension allows me to do things otherwise I couldn't, at least with the same endurance. And they sound incredible, increasing the small amount of sustain I have to the perfect amount and the bass feels much more open even than normal tuning.

    I would try TI flats on a short scale, they sound second to none and are much easier to play. It's almost like cheating.
  10. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    Which is why there are different strings and gauges - different strokes and all. I tried Sunbeams and loved the sound, but hated the (lack of) tension.
  11. Wiremessiah


    Mar 4, 2017
    I don't get why one would hate lack of tension, especially as meager a discrepancy as with sunbeams on a presumably long/regular scale bass. Other than just not being used to them. It's like running with weights on, yes they help you build strength, but if you are actually racing, don't you want them off? Ease the tension baby, it's all in the hips.
  12. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    Personally, I just could not used to that degree of tension. It works for you, not for me.
  13. Wiremessiah


    Mar 4, 2017
    That's like saying you couldn't get used to playing the bass before you started playing. actually much easier than that, since you already play.
    TrustRod likes this.
  14. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    Whatever stiffens your spaghetti. Somehow, La Bella flats (high tension) are still selling. So are Lo Riders and Rotosound swing steels (medium tension).
  15. Chrisk-K


    Jan 20, 2010
    Maryland, USA
    it’s just the OP’s opinion.
  16. Eminor3rd

    Eminor3rd BLAAAAARRGGHH!!

    Feb 10, 2008
    I know that for me, one of the quickest ways for a bass to feel 'bad' is if it has lower tension than I expect. Higher tension gives me the option of digging in more or less while maintaining a consistent point of string contact and without it affecting my intonation.
  17. 40Hz

    40Hz Supporting Member

    Whole lot of personal preferences being voiced here.

    And that’s a good thing. But it’s not a sound basis for extrapolating universal truths from.

    tl:dr - Like what you like, play what you like. :thumbsup:
  18. Wiremessiah


    Mar 4, 2017
    I don't get this at all. I can dig in much more with low tension, with zero intonation issues. In fact more tension adds to intonation issues the further up the fretboard you go because of the higher gap and thus more string bend, which is more pronounced with higher tension. Like i said, our preferences are often arbitrary, and when i was playing a long scale solidbody, I would have justified them the same way, just because that's what i had. I just recently bought another bass after 10 years, and it has la bella flats, still short scale and tuned down a half step, but the tension/stiffness is like triple or more than the TI's. The speed, agility, and control of articulation on the hofner is just superior because of the string tension/looseness. I didn't choose that tension, it kind of chose me, but it is just way better.

    Also another factor to consider is in my OP. And that's loudness. The reason so many instruments have such huge amounts of tension is because of the need for brighter and louder instruments. But when dealing with electric instruments, or even miked acoustic ones, loudness and brightness are not a factor except for those who don't understand mixing, live sound, etc. Which is quite a few musicians, even the best. I recently mixed live sound for musical theater, and the piano player who is pretty accomplished, had zero understanding of how live sound works, and didn't even understand the concept of stage monitoring vs mains mixing. While not every musician can also be an engineer, it pays to understand audio because, as i have seen countless times from even high level musicians, they are subject to myths and misconceptions. That need to "cut though the mix" with loudness and brightness is a natural inclination, but ultimately the wrong idea.
    Luigir and Son of Wobble like this.
  19. Element Zero

    Element Zero Supporting Member

    Dec 14, 2016
    To each his own. I think hofners and similar small hollow body basses are the absolute worst playing and sounding basses that have ever been manufactured. I don’t see how anyone could play one “absurdly fast”... although some say the same about 19mm spaced 5 strings.
  20. jd56hawk


    Sep 12, 2011
    The Garden State
    Yet he questions the opinion of others.
    soulman969, Plake, jonlimo and 15 others like this.

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