Best Strings for Slapping on Kay?

Discussion in 'Strings [DB]' started by Touch, Sep 29, 2002.

  1. Touch


    Aug 7, 2002
    Boulder, CO
    Hi Everyone,

    Been reading through the string archives (and some others) and thought I would post a question for all you DB string folks. The collective wisdom of this site is really impressive.

    I have two uprights. A 100 year old carved top. I have Helicore Hybrids on this and have the action set fairly low. I use this bass mostly for jazz gigs and when I record. I also have a 1942 Kay also set up with the Helicore Hybrids, action a bit higher. I use this bass for outdoor festivals and when I am on the road. Bowing depends on which combo I am in, but is never more than about 10%.

    I am joining a new group and will soon start touring with them. They play traditional, old style bluegrass. I have tried slapping both of my basses and do not get the results I think I should. I think I need different strings.

    I plan on keeping the Helicore Hybrids on the carved top and will switch the Kay over to more of a slap string (and raise the action if I must). It seems like gut strings or gut-like strings are the answer.

    So here is the question. Which string do you think is best for bluegrass/slap on the Kay and how high should the action be (and where exactly is this measured)?

  2. nicklloyd

    nicklloyd Supporting Member/Luthier

    Jan 27, 2002
    Cincinnati, Ohio
    I slap and play trad. music as well. E/A are Eurosonics, D/G are plain "European" gut from Lemur. They usually stock Gotz brand. I used to play roundwound E and A, but these Eurosonics feel better, don't chew up the board, and are louder.
    I get great comments from people on and off stage on my tone. (no amp) he guts take a little fussing now and again, but their worth it.
    The string heights are measured at the end of the fingerboard (where your right hand lies....or is it lays). I like 8mm on the G and 11mm on the E. Sorry, I only do metric....
    Play around with your heights, if you have adjusters. Your right hand should be comfortable, and relaxed. Use your whole right arm when slapping. It's a very fluid motion, not a quick, jerky one. The Ungentle Art of Slapping is a great video on Ridgerunner Publications.
  3. Kevinlee


    May 15, 2001
    Phx, AZ..USA
    I have been doing a bluegrass gig for about a month now and I am really enjoying it. It's much more challenging than I imagined. The music is simple in structure but the timing is very precise. Everything is on top of the beat. Push Push push...

    Anyway as for strings right now I'm using jargar dolce E & A and oliv D & G. Very warm trad sound.

    I play in a rockabilly trio as well and when I brought the slap technique from that style of music into the bluegrass it seemed it was a bit much. I find at times no slap is best for the bluegrass stuff, and when I do slap it is a slightly different vibe. You really have to be on top of the beats 1 2 1 2 1 2 etc.

    Hope this helps a bit
    Good Luck
  4. I've been using Velvet garbos for trad, rockabilly, manouche jazz, etc. Their tone is killin'. Although they're ground wound and a little rough, months of hard playing hasn't so much as scuffed my beautiful new ebony fingerboard. I took a suggestion from Mark Rubin and fabricated my own board from a chunk and left out the scallop on the backside. I get much more sustain and sweetness from the strings in thumb position and more "skronk" to the slap (as Mark puts it).
    Don't you mean 1 3 1 3 1 3 etc.? (the occasional 4 really drives the tune and cues the changes.)
    There's an anecdote that Bill Monroe cut the end of his bassist's fingerboard off so he wouldn't slap - truth or fiction?
  5. Kevinlee


    May 15, 2001
    Phx, AZ..USA
    What I mean is even though it's in 4/4 time for the most part, it seems the guys who wrote that stuff were thinking in two's. The way the melody riffs flow and where the turn arounds come it gives the impresion of 2/4 time.

    It will be riding on a G chord for 5 & 1/2 bars then there will be a 1/2 bar of d then right back to the G, things like that makes it feel like it's in two's.

  6. nicklloyd

    nicklloyd Supporting Member/Luthier

    Jan 27, 2002
    Cincinnati, Ohio
    Those are great pointers! The strict 'grass pickers usually rely on the mandolin chop for the offbeat. The bass slap mimicks/covers that beat. If I'm playing 'grass without mandolin (or a loud fiddle chop) then the slap works well. But, like Kevin Smith said, slapping is like holding a knife. You can use it, or you can hurt somebody. Mike Bubb's playing is prolly the tightest I've heard in a live concert. His slap will come out occasionally, but just for a turnaround or a solo.
    But, most of my playing right now is western swing, w/out drums. The slap really helps the pulse and feel of the music.
  7. Touch


    Aug 7, 2002
    Boulder, CO
    Well... I've done it. I bought the Eurosonics (on e-bay). Will try 'em out and report back.
  8. martinc

    martinc Supporting Member

    Pete O'Leary asked:
    "There's an anecdote that Bill Monroe cut the end of his bassist's fingerboard off so he wouldn't slap - truth or fiction?"

    The way I heard the story it was that Bill only threatened to cut off the end of the fingerboard. I believe the threat was made to the late Mark Hembree, who went on to play with the Nashville Bluegrass Band.
    Bill Monroe had a tough sense of humour sometimes and I am sure this was just his way of expressing his displeasure at something.
    I heard Bill introduce Mark on a show one time and he did it with a wry sense of humour. He must have liked Mark because he was usually very straight and brief in his introductions.

    Martin C.
  9. Francois Blais

    Francois Blais Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 1999
    Québec, Canada
    Did you finally try them?
    How are they on your bass?
  10. Touch


    Aug 7, 2002
    Boulder, CO
    Hi All,

    Sorry for the late reply. Seems like I have had shows for three weeks solid.

    Those Eurosonics are some crazy strings! The E string is about as wide as a guy wire. I can see why the rockabilly crowd is nuts about them.

    I've got them on a 1942 Kay. The action is WAY too low for these babies. I'm going to get a new bridge and some adjusters so I can get the action WAY up for better slapping. The Eurosonic G is a little metallic compared to the other three. The E sound is pretty "thwappy" (did I just type that?). No sustain to speak of (which is just what I'm looking for in this group).

    For bluegrass and slap, this is a reasonably priced set of strings. I would love to try the Velvet Garbos, but I just can justify the $$$.

    The next experiment is to string up the Pirastro Jazzers that I got from Chris Fitgerald. These are going on the carved top for the jazz trio. I'll let you know how this experiment turns out!

  11. I've just ordered a set of Velvet Garbos from Lemur, so will wait with baited breath for them to arrive.
  12. Marcus Johnson

    Marcus Johnson

    Nov 28, 2001
    Are you waiting at a sushi bar?