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DB String Gauge -- i.e., Its Effect

Discussion in 'Strings [DB]' started by pbasswil, Dec 7, 2011.

  1. pbasswil


    Feb 17, 2008
    Perhaps a naïve question:

    I understand that a fatter string gauge (of an otherwise identical string model) = higher tension.

    But what else does a bigger gauge yield:
    - More sheer volume? Invariably?
    - Any predictable change in tone? e.g., brighter, duller, bassier?

  2. pbasswil


    Feb 17, 2008

    Can anybody fill me in on the audible effects of larger or smaller gauge on otherwise identical strings? (See above.)

    Thanks in advance.
  3. Michael Glynn

    Michael Glynn

    Feb 25, 2004
    I think heavier gauge strings of a given type will generally sound brighter and have a more percussive attack. I would guess this is related more to the difference in tension than gauge. A change in volume depends, as some basses/setups sound louder with more or less tension.

    Of course, this assumes that all aspects of the string are the same from gauge to gauge, and I'm not sure this is always the case. For example, I would guess that the thickness of the winding material is usually the same between different gauges, so the ratio of winding thickness to the thickness of the interior components would likely be different between a light and heavy gauge string. Manufacturers might introduce other differences as well to get the sound they want. I guess the purest example would be plain gut or weedwackers where the material is consistent all the way through.

    Finally, in addition to the inherent sound difference between gauges/tensions, different feelings of tension and gauge can make one play the strings differently, which can have at least as great of a change on the sound.
  4. pbasswil


    Feb 17, 2008
    All excellent observations, Michael, thanks a lot.

    Not least of which: that we play different when our strings feel different to us; I can vouch for that.

    I had no idea thicker tends toward brighter; good to know.

  5. I would say thicker string sound less bright but fuller.
    The reason is that thicker strings don't bend as easily as thinner strings (higher stiffness), so the higher frequencies are more damped.
    It also has more mass so the force of the vibrating string on the bridge is higher and the bass will get louder. Of course you need to put more power into the string, but this could easily be done with a thick string where a thinner string might "give up" (limited acoustic output). It depends on the playing style (heavy pizzicato, less or no amplification) if you can detect this or not.

    Otherwise I find Michaels answer very good. Specially the comment on playing the different strings.
  6. calebbarton


    Aug 25, 2007
    I manufacture for several companies including but not limited to: Bridge City Sound, Catalinbread, more.
    I play DR .110-.50 strings (hi beams) in standard tuning. I would agree that a tighter tension would create a little more brightness but I think its mostly due to the stainless steel strings. I tend to play a hell of a lot lighter with tighter tension than with regular tension. From my point of view, this creates a better (cleaner maybe) tone because you don't get as much slap against the frets, attack or irritating string buzz. For me it works out really well. I am very pleased with my overall tone and it has changed the way I play.
  7. Lol ^
  8. icecycle66


    Feb 4, 2009

    C'mon man.
    Leave the poor guy alone.
  9. iiipopes

    iiipopes Supporting Member

    May 4, 2009
    First, a correction in the intial statement. It is not increased diameter, per se, that gives greater tension. It is increased mass for a given pitch and mensure. Because of the different types of cores, solid, rope, braided, steel, silk, gut, synthetic, etc., and how much damping material is added, strings can have varied diameters and still have the same mass, therefore the same tension, or have the same diameter as measured with a caliper, but different tensions.

    Next, unlike an EB where more string mass over the magnet has greater interaction with the magnetic field and therefore more output, a DB has a dynamic top, working against itself. Up to a point, more tension on the strings, which translates to more downforce over the bridge, will drive the top more and get a little more volume and response, but only up to a point. Beyond a certain tension point, excess tension then starts damping, or "choking" the top and a player can find his/her bass actually having less acoustic output with too heavy tension of strings.

    And then, depending on the construction of the strings, tension may have absolutely nothing to do with flexibility or feel, due to the nature of the outer wraps.

    Sometimes it just takes some experimentation, after consultation with a good luthier or some thread research about other peoples' experiences, to try to narrow down the universe of strings and basses to a few combinations that meet the needs of the player.

    Finally, to actually answer the question: it depends on all the above.
  10. pbasswil


    Feb 17, 2008
    Excellent, an engineer's perspective! Thanks very much.

    Yeah, it does seem like there are too many variables to make simple assumptions about different gauges of the same string model.

    In the time-honored DB tradition, I'm just going to have to start filling my own string drawer with trials. The strings that work for me will stay on the bass.

    Thanks everybody! And hi from Montreal.

  11. iiipopes

    iiipopes Supporting Member

    May 4, 2009
    I got lucky. I got a CCB, all my budget could afford at the time, and after working it over, it works for me. Then, after really digesting the forum, I got a set of used S42 Spiro Weich, being what was most talked about for a "standard" jazz/dance band gig playing 99 44/100 pizz. It's working for me for the forseeable future.

    Of course, if I start going after arco gigs, then it will be like Pandora's box....

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