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Best strings for jazz AND orchestra

Discussion in 'Strings [DB]' started by mark10197, Oct 4, 2008.

  1. mark10197


    Oct 4, 2008
    I recently purchased an Engelheardt ES-9 swingmaster. Very pleased but it was used and it is 25 years old now and the strings gotta go. This is my first upright bass and I'm short in funds. (spent it all on the bass) and I need a good set that I can use in Jazz band and Orchestra
    Any help is greatly appreciated.
  2. Hey Mark....
    It's all a matter of taste. Check the strings sticky or better yet do a search for our resident string expert Francois.
    As you know, strings are very expensive. Look in our classified section for a used set maybe.
    If you have a player that you like in terms of sound, check on his or her choice in strings.
    For a longer sustain, Thomastik Orchestra strings are the most popular. These are what I use. You can hear my sound on the TBDB Sampler under the Recordings heading. If you like a less pizz sustain, look into gut strings mixed w/ steel strings on the A and E.
    Be sure to take advantage of the search engine on TB...it'll give you all the info you could hope for.
    If you have any questions for me, feel free to ask.
    I'm sure the other guys will chime in too.
    Best of luck man.
  3. Uncletoad


    May 6, 2003
    Columbus Ohio
    Proprietor Fifth Avenue Fret Shop. Technical Editor Bass Gear Magazine
    I am starting to develop the opinion that unless a person has specific tastes there are two string sets that will cover 90% of bass playing activities. For those that primarily play Jazz pizz with occasional orchestral work choose Spirocore Medium strings. Its the benchmark by which all pizz strings are measured. For those that play orchestral music primarily with occasional pizz demands the Flexocor mediums are king.

    If you have specific tastes then you are opening yourself to a large trial and error process that will become very expensive and often pointless. You may like me end up spending tons of money and using Spirocores anyhow.

    I suggest you stop reading here and go practice.

    Ok, here we go...Plywood basses can sound better than they are with hybrid strings. Pirastro Obligatos and Evah Pirrazzi, and the Thomastic Dominants are excellent plastic core steel wound strings that can enhance the sound of some instruments. They often have compromises in tone that are unpleasing to many players. Some feel they make their basses sound dull.

    Velvet strings, like the Anima are sitting squarely in the gap between arco strings and pizz strings. They are an acquired taste for sure and I wouldn't suggest them until one has spent some time with either Spirocores or Flexocors first to establish a baseline measure to compare.

    The Helicore strings can be pleasing to some looking for a hybrid string, generally they are darker than other hybrid choices like Corelli. All of the hybrid choices and these crossover strings are more arco friendly than spirocores tend to be however they suffer for some in pizz tone. If spirocores give you the pizz sound you are looking for then you can learn to play Spirocores arco. They do have a power and projection under the bow that is compelling.

    Other choices that are more arco focused like the Thomastic Belcanto or the Pirastro Flatchrome have hybrid possibilities as well and have some appeal to Jazzers. The top two strings of those sets especially can be mixed with spirocores to good result.

    Having said that spirocores below and a variety of arco or gut strings on top have been popular for a long time. Every player has different tastes for their strings and sounds. Mix and matched sets are a whole nuther bag of issues. Better sit down with a jug of coffee and a notepad before reading the years of posts on these comparisons.

    Ultimately if you abandon Spirocores and Flexocors you'll end up spending lots of money, time and energy to in the end gain 20% more something. It's probably not worth it but like me you may be compelled to do it anyhow.

    If so be sure to send me your lightly used Spirocores because in the end that's where I've come back to roost, thousands of dollars and years of messing around later.

    Oh and one last thought, if you can't get what you want out of your bass with Spirocores or Flexocors than you probably need to either practice more, have your bass repaired, or get another bass.
  4. Bobby King

    Bobby King Supporting Member

    May 3, 2005
    Nashville, TN
    You're asking an age-old question. You can get a lot of opinions in these forums. There are many different strings available. To try and keep it short I'll give a few recommendations: Pirastro Obligato, Thomastik Superflexible or Thomastik Spirocore. Spirocore is one of the most popular strings, some people find them better for jazz than orchestra. All of these strings will run somewhere in the neighborhood of $150 new. You can look for a used set. I'd stay away from used Obligatos, they have a synthetic core and don't take kindly to being taken off and put back on a bass frequently.

    My son is a bass major at USC. He's in the jazz program but they do a lot of arco as well. The majority of the students there currently use Obligatos. Spirocores can sound a little scratchy under the bow, but they are great for jazz and last for years. Superflexible is somewhat like Spirocore but less bright and better for arco.

    Good luck.
  5. Hi Mark, and welcome on TB!

    Paul already gave many hints and suggestions.

    You seem to be looking for a hybrid string.
    A string which bows well and still have a nice pizz tone.
    In comparison, we could talk about "orchestral" and "pizz" strings.

    But a nice pizz tone is very subjective.
    If you want an old-school pizz tone, like gut for instance, you may be pretty happy with an orchestral string.

    A popular hybrid string is the Pirastro Obligato.
    It has a synthetic core, so its lifespan is shorter than a pure steel string.

    The Corelli strings are often used for hybrid playing.

    In the D'Addario Bass Helicore family, there are several choices too; Orchestral series, Hybrid series, Pizzicato series.
    Each one available in three gauges.
    Being made in the US, they're also more affordable than some imports.
    Some people here don't see their Hybrid series to be good for arco playing.

    Let me also suggest that you take some minutes and fill out your profile so we know more about your setup, gear, location, tastes, etc.

    It'll help us to better help you, and you may find yourself checking other people's profiles at times when they're asking for advice! ;)

    Best regards,
    TB mod
  6. jsbarber


    Jun 7, 2005
    San Diego
    Since you're just getting started, you're likely going to have to put a lot of time in with the bow. (If you haven't found a teacher yet, that should be your first step.) Working with the bow will help you develop the left hand technique you need to play the DB, regardless of what type of music you are interested in. So, IMO, you should be spending a lot more time practicing arco than pizzicato in the first year or two. That said, you may want to consider starting with strings that make your bass sound great when bowed; this will motivate you to practice more and more importantly, perhaps, select strings that sound pitch very clearly when bowed. This will help you hear the notes better, and enable your intonation to improve more quickly. I love the sound of Spirocores when played pizzicato for jazz. But, to practice on them with a bow every day - yuk.

    FWIW, YMMV, others may disagree....

  7. Uncletoad


    May 6, 2003
    Columbus Ohio
    Proprietor Fifth Avenue Fret Shop. Technical Editor Bass Gear Magazine
    Bowing is hard no matter what strings you start on.

    If you learn on Spirocores everything else is cake.

    It's jumping in the pool vs. using a life preserver in the shallow end. Different strokes....
  8. #1
    #4 And # 5!
  9. bribass


    Jan 25, 2006
    Northern NJ
    Endorsing Artist; Arnold Schnitzer/ Wil DeSola New Standard RN DB
    I don't know why players don't talk about Superflexibles more often.

    I find them to be a really good middle ground, all steel hybrid. Great for piz and arco. Being a Thomastic string they do have some of that Spiro punch and growl for piz with less annoying zing on the G string (a great substitute G for Spiro Med. G). They are more arco friendly than Spiros w/ better grip of the bow, especially helpful in starting the strings fast in the lower register.
    Since they are all steel (w/ a braided steel rope core) they are long lasting and do not have the plastic core issues of most other hybrids. Also warmer sounding w/ more "bloom in the room" of the notes.
    And all for less $ than Spiros and most other Thomastics and Pirastros. About $30-$35 less.

    Only trade-offs are a bit less of the flexibility and the ultra fast pitch modulation of Spiros and a bit more stiffness and tension.

  10. Johnny L

    Johnny L

    Feb 14, 2002
    Victoria, TX
    I've only seen one professional orchestra bassist using a full set of Spirocores, and that bass projected through the "mix" with quite a bit of bite and clarity...which I thought was very cool. But I'm a bass player and not a conductor who likely wants your bass to project bluntly and blend in behind all the other instruments.

    Myself, I've tried a lot of different strings on my own bass in looking for a decent bowing string that carries a lot of pizz sustain. Dominants offer that for me, but they also have a bit more sizzle compared to, say, Flexocores. I'm using them for my G and D strings right now, with Spiros on the bottom.

    I like the sizzle, myself. But like I said, they may not be for you or for your orchestra's temperament and vision. Worse, I read a while back in the ISB mag that Dominants don't last and are a disappointing string. That turned me off them until I read one of the admins here talk about them still being on his bass over a year now and still satisfying his jazz sensibilities. So I gave them a try and am glad I did.
  11. mark10197


    Oct 4, 2008

    I have been playing for five years now. I just used the schools bass and I just bought my own.
  12. "I don't know why players don't talk about Superflexibles more often."


    I am a VERY split jazz/classical player. I spend about equal time on both (I play in my college orchestra and practice solo works but I also play in a gigging jazz combo). The last string I tried before (now) trying helicore hybrids were superflexibles and I really miss them. (I'm thinking of going back before my hybrids fully die).

    As soon as I put them on, (albeit they were still stretching out) they sung with both the bow and pizz. The whole reason I got them was because I wanted a high sustain jazz string that maintained adequate bow response and had bowed spirocores and superflexibles on a couple basses within (Hammond Ashley) a violin shop and found spirocores to be unreasonably slow to respond--especially on the lower strings--but found the superflexibles to be adequate on the E and A (although not quite as fast as a purely acro string). The D and G were just fine for response on arco and sounded very operatically bright.

    Meanwhile, I was very pleased with their sustain and brightness with pizz. As bribass mentioned, they are not as zingy, in a good way, (notably on the G string) as spirocores.

    If there could be any more testament to these strings, my bass teacher, Clipper Anderson (who, if you listen to 88.5 KPLU in the Seattle area, is a decently recorded, as well as gigging, bassist) uses them set after set, even though he uses pizz by far more than acro.

    They're a good set.
  13. ronniequeue


    Oct 22, 2006
    Orlando, FL
    +1 on the Obligatos.
  14. bribass


    Jan 25, 2006
    Northern NJ
    Endorsing Artist; Arnold Schnitzer/ Wil DeSola New Standard RN DB
    While they do have a brightness under your ear while playing piz, out in the room the note blooms into a beautiful roundness. This is noticeable when you play in an acoustically nice room where you hear some reflection of the bass coming back at you. They amplify quite well too.

  15. I had a Superflex G for sometime mixed in with a set of Mittels. The feel just got too tight for my fingers.

    Just put some Helicore Hybrids on and I'm LOVING it. Clearer and WARMER tone than the Mittels and a softer finger/string feel.

    Good price at idealmusic as well 130 plus tax
  16. nathanmcnathan

    nathanmcnathan Banned

    Jan 25, 2008
    Barrie, Ontario
    A good idea is to look at everybody's recommendations on the 2000 other posts on this subject...
  17. Adam Booker

    Adam Booker Supporting Member

    May 3, 2007
    Boone, NC
    Endorsing Artist: D'Addario Strings, Remic Microphones
    Bass strings.
  18. Selim

    Selim Supporting Member

    Jun 2, 2008
    New York City
    "I don't know why players don't talk about Superflexibles more often."


    I'm not using them at the moment (I use Evah Pirazzi G/D and FlatChromesteel A/E), but I could never take Spirocore's exaggerated sound, and used Superflexibles (we called them "rope-core" back then) for many years. And I may return to them one day.
  19. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004
    weedwackers... definitely
  20. Johnny L

    Johnny L

    Feb 14, 2002
    Victoria, TX
    Yeah those are great strings for pizz/arco also IMO. The sustain and darker tone (two things that normally don't go together on the DB string lines) always takes me by surprise.

    I haven't bought strings in a while and just found out about the Pirastro/Thomastic price increase when I was looking at extended E strings (getting an extension put on in the near future).

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