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Flexible Bass Strings for ERB

Discussion in 'Strings [BG]' started by SquimbellyToes, Jul 17, 2017.

  1. SquimbellyToes


    Jul 3, 2009
    Hello Folks;
    I'm looking for advice on Bass Strings. I've a neurological disease which is inhibiting the dexterity and strength of my hands (CMT Type-2A for the curious).

    Unfortunately, the Gods of Bass decided I should play a 7-String fretless.

    So, I'm looking for a set of strings that are flexible, maybe even to the point of feeling loose, but in the best case I don't want to sacrifice sustain or growl.

    Might anyone have some suggestions?

    Thank you very much,
  2. ixlramp


    Jan 25, 2005
    Roundwound or flatwound? steel or nickelplated? and what tuning?
    Obviously i would recommend choosing gauges carefully to find the optimum minimum tension *per string* for you, maybe you already have an idea of gauges you like?
    Due to your needs i would recommend building a set from singles so that you have complete per-string control over tension, and can perfect it with trial and error.
    Most sets are designed from rather traditional and subjective opinions about tonal balance, and do not put playability or body health first.
    It's important to distinguish tension / looseness from flexibility. Flexibility is stiffness independent of tension, how stiff the string is when it's off the bass and you try to coil it into a 6" sleeve.
    A more flexible string will, for the same tension, feel softer under the plucking hand, which i guess would be good for you, so flatwounds wold not be ideal, and roundcore roundwouds better than hexcore.

    For many years i've been reducing my string tension searching for an optimum practical minimum for multiple techniques, putting playability first over subjective ideas of 'how a bass tone should change across a set' (such as the hopeless quest to make high strings sound like low strings).
    For many reasons, including fundamental scientific ones, i am sure the optimum is tension falling steadily and gently from low to high, which interestingly is the opposite of tradition. However with 6 / 7 string basses this becomes inevitable for the thin high strings that cannot take as much tension as the low strings.
    The tone will still be fine (although the different tonal change across a set may take a little getting used to) and pickups can be tilted to tune the tonal and volume change across a set.

    Or, if you want a packaged set i recommend one with equal tensions as this maximises how far you can practically reduce tension: Most sets have the B looser than all other strings, so it's not possible to go very far in using lighter sets, and when you reach the limit of B floppiness the higher strings still have much more tension than they need to.
    There's only one company that offer multiple ERB sets with equal tensions, Kalium Strings, although see other threads here some customers have had problems with customer service and order delivery, even though the product is agreed to be excellent.

    For bass strings, if you are happy to play with a gentle touch, you really don't need more than 30 pounds of tension, which would be very roughly .125 .090 .070 .050 .035 .025 .019p (dependent on manufacturer, tension for a particular gauge varies a little between brands).
  3. Gorn

    Gorn Supporting Member

    Dec 15, 2011
    Queens, NY
    Maybe playing a seven string bass isn't the best option if you have an issue with your hands. Not that you shouldn't express yourself musically how you want to but sometimes realizing limitations isn't a bad thing.
  4. ixlramp


    Jan 25, 2005
    Yeah for your situation and with a 7 you really should minimise string tension, and i suggest a gentle fall in tension from low to high, especially if you tap, play chords or solo. Personally i find 30lbs B to 20lbs F enough.
    I would really recommend creating sets from singles and experimenting, seeing how loose you can go per-string, to find your ideal 'tension profile' across a set, while also playing more gently. Also this way you are not tied to one company or 'balanced tension' sets that may not be best for you.
    If in the USA www.bassstringsonline.com have a good range of singles, and the tension charts of D'Addario and Kalium are roughly approximate for any brand.
    Kalium chart for 34" http://store.kaliumstrings.com/TensionCalculator/tensionChart.php?scale_length=34
    You can change the scale if needed.
  5. onestring


    Aug 25, 2009
    Richmond, CA
    Are your hands equally affected? If you're worried about your left (fingerboard) hand, it's possible that heavier strings may help. Perhaps that is not intuitive, but you can set the action lower with heavy strings and play with a much lighter touch. Something to consider.
    el_Bajo_Verde likes this.
  6. ixlramp


    Jan 25, 2005
    If tighter and lower strings are no harder to play, i would still recommend something that is easier to play. I'm sceptical that tighter, lower strings are less stressful for the fretting hand, that wasn't my experience anyway.
    To clarify, when i suggest lower tension strings, i am not suggesting also raising the action (which would remove some advantage), but also plucking more gently so you don't have to raise action.
  7. Aidil


    Dec 4, 2014
    Jkt, IDN
    I've tried few sets on my 7er: two of high tension sets and another two of low tension sets, and I've come to conclusion that lighter strings are more preferred when I have that many strings to fret.
  8. SquimbellyToes


    Jul 3, 2009

    Hello Ixlramp;

    Thank you very much for your reply!

    I ordered two sets of strings from Kalium, one really light (BH-070, BH-053, BH-037, BH-026, BP-017, BP-012, BP-008) and one a little heavier (BH-110S, BH-082, BH-061, BH-045, BH-031, BP-020, BP-014).

    The very light set didn't speak at all in a B-F tuning. In fact they barely spoke properly when tuned a fourth higher. the BP-008 broke before it reached pitch.

    So far, I'm liking the feel of the light set (BH-110S, BH-082, BH-061, BH-045, BH-031, BP-020, BP-014), but am still playing with playing techniques, equalization and compression to achieve a strong fundamental tone.

    I very much appreciate you sharing your experience. Thank you.

  9. SquimbellyToes


    Jul 3, 2009
    Hello Gorn;

    Thank you for your reply. I've thought about that too.

    But when it comes down to it, playing my instrument is a source of wonder and restoration for me. Even though I know I'll never again be able to play in an ensemble, nor play at a level that I would consider satisfactory.

    The point, for me, is that I still can play. There may come a day when I may not be able to - so why should I not suck every drop of wonder I can from the cosmos?

    dralionux likes this.
  10. SquimbellyToes


    Jul 3, 2009
    Hello onestring;

    It's very kind of you to reply. Thank you.

    Unfortunately, both hands are affected equally. CMT effects the entire body, but the distal regions (lower legs, feet, forearms, and hands) get the worst of it.

    Believe it or not, Michael Manring gave some like advice to me. I emailed him for advice, and he was kind enough to reply. He told me that part of his practice routine is to play with the least amount of pressure possible. Even if that means playing a single note for extended periods. I've incorporated it into my practice routine as well, and have started to see some changes in my technique I hope will elongate my playing time.

    Thank you,
  11. SquimbellyToes


    Jul 3, 2009
    Hello Aidil;

    I very much appreciate your comment - thank you.

    I'm working right now with a Kalium set (BH-110S, BH-082, BH-061, BH-045, BH-031, BP-020, BP-014), and am finding the tension nice to work with, but am missing the sturdy fundamental of heavier sets.

    I'm experimenting with compression and equalization to see what I can do to get a stronger fundamental out of them.

    Thank you,
  12. ixlramp


    Jan 25, 2005
    Wow if the lighter set was for B-F i'm not surprised it didn't work, even by my extreme tastes that's impractically light.
    The heavier set looks to be mostly around 26 pounds, i find that is roughly the limit of how loose you can go for the lower strings, i like a .080 for E and i know of someone who uses a .110 for B with good results.
  13. Aidil


    Dec 4, 2014
    Jkt, IDN
    wow... those are very low indeed. No wonder you loose the sturdy fundamentals that you get from heavier sets...

    The low tension set that I used before was Ken Smith Compressors 20p, 28, 40, 58, 80, 02, 125T and now I'm using GHS Pressurewound set of 20p, 28, 40, 54, 76, 96, 128. I tend to keep the tension per string in the 30 (below 40) lbs area. I use the same .020p high-F string for both sets as it would be just plain steel string.
  14. SquimbellyToes


    Jul 3, 2009
    Thank you Aidil;

    I'll try those strings too. What brand of string are you using for the .020p F string?
  15. Aidil


    Dec 4, 2014
    Jkt, IDN
    I think it's not going to be matter which brand you use for the plain high-F string...

    The current one I'm using is .020p plaing string from Ken Smith. IIRC it's from the Burner series. I bought it from BSO out of appearance only since it has the same purple silk like the rest of the strings, which at the time were Ken Smith Compressors.

    I still have the one that came with the bass, which is also a plain .020p string. But the difference is this one doesn't have silk thread. It's from D'Addario like the rest of the factory strings. I think they both are basically the same. They give the same feeling and sound.
  16. SquimbellyToes


    Jul 3, 2009
    Hello Everybody;

    Time for an update on my research.

    I've tried 4 sets of strings:
    1. LaBella BassRx (30, 40, 60, 80, 100, 118)
      These have been the least flexible strings I've tried.
      They've a very dead sound, with the low B string producing almost no articulation at all.
      That being said, they've got good sustain. So if you're looking for that Duck Dunn sound out of the box, these are the strings for you.

    2. Fodera Light Nickel Roundwound
      These strings are medium-flexible, and have a very nice peppery high end and nice mid growl for my fretless.
      So far, these are my favorite sounding strings, I just wish they were a little more flexible.

    3. Kalium (14, 20, 31, 45, 61, 82, 110)
      These strings are very flexible, as the gauge is very light.
      However, the Kaliums don't produce a nice growl on my fretless. Additionally, these strings were too light - they didn't quite speak
      properly, and in the higher register sounded like guitar strings.

      Finally, I had a lot of trouble keeping the .014 and .020 in tune. They kept slipping on the tuning peg.

    4. Kalium (8, 12, 17, 26, 37, 53, 70)
      The .008 F string busted before I could get it to pitch, and the .012 which was supposed to be my C string, only started speaking when I tuned it to F. In fact all the strings needed to be tuned up a fourth just to start speaking.

      But, again, the set was too light - the strings simply didn't speak correctly.
    I've got some LaBella Gold Whites, LaBella Copper Whites, LaBella Super Steps and some SIT Silencers on order from Bass Strings Online (the order has been back ordered for almost two months - I need to find a better string retailer). Once I put them through their paces I'll post my thoughts here.

  17. ixlramp


    Jan 25, 2005
    The tone may be different but there's no loss of fundamental, lower tension strings have more fundamental relative to the higher harmonics.
    It's a myth that light gauges 'lose' low end or fundamental, they just have a darker and different tone.
    That's really not low tension, more medium.
    There's a trick for that, plain strings are not rough enough to be strung up like wound strings. You need to create a 'self-locking loop' that wraps through the slot in the tuner post, it's hard to dscribe but search for plain-steel stringing advice for guitars.
    Yes .028, .040, .060, .080, .100, .120 is not low tension, but since you found the Kalium .110 set too light how about trying a set inbetween?
    The choice for low tension 6 or 7 string sets is very small, if you build a set from singles you will have so much more choice and can fine tune it per-string. These sets you are trying are either equal tension or traditional tension, the higher strings don't need as much tension as the low ones, you can make chords, soloing, tapping, bending easier while preserving the tension of the lower strings.

    A good set is .018p .025 .035 .050 .070 .095 .130, the B is equal in tension to the E then tension falls steadily and gently from E upwards.
  18. SquimbellyToes


    Jul 3, 2009
    Okay Folks - time for another update. Here are the strings I've been experimenting with:
    1. Ernie Ball Slinky Bass
      These strings have an interesting property where they're easy to depress, but more difficult to bend.
      The sound is metallic and bright - to my ear a very rock n' roll sound.
      They've got a very nice even response and nice fundamentals. Good choice for a low-tension set if you're needing a rock sound.
    2. IQS Strings
      These strings are definitely a low-tension, and very nice.
      The Nickel Plated have a nice earthy tone, and the Stainless Steel are not too bright with a nice mid range.
      The only thing I dislike about these strings is that the B string doesn't produce as tight of a fundamental as I'd like.

      There are a few things to be aware of with IQS:
      a. Not all the strings shown on the website are available at their shop
      b. They're in Italy, so shipping is expensive. The shipping for two sets of strings costs almost as much as the strings themselves. So, if you can, find these at a local retailer. I'm in America and couldn't find any American online outfit carrying them.
    3. LaBella White Copper Tape Wounds
      These things are an engineering wonder. They've got a solid fundamental note, a tape sound and feel, and sustain.
      If you dig that tape sound, but want a little more transients on the attack and more sustain, you need to buy these.
      Very playable - but funnily enough with my ongoing neuropathy (due to the CMT - see my first post), I cannot feel the strings in under my fingers.
      Finally, being a tape string ghost notes produce more of a bass drum thump than a snare rimshot sound one gets from a metal string.

      For my ear, I like the transients in a metal string - so these are not for me. This is not due to any shortcoming in these strings - simply my personal taste.
    4. LaBella Gold White Tape Wounds
      Again, these things are an engineering marvel - just like the White Copper Tape Wounds.

      The Gold White Tape Rounds have more mid to them and a bit more transient on the attack, making them closer to a metal string. Ghost notes are more of a bass drum to floor tom thump.

      The same as the Copper Tape Wounds, they are very playable and I'm unable to feel these under my fingers as well.

      I would very definitely encourage tape string players to check these things out.

      Again, not my taste, but excellent craftsmanship on these things.
    I've got more strings coming, and when I'm done experimenting I'll post further results here.

    Aidil likes this.
  19. SquimbellyToes


    Jul 3, 2009
    Hello Folks;

    Sorry for the long delay. This will be my final post in this topic - I do hope this investigation is helpful to others who stumble upon this.

    The final set of strings I've experimented with are made by Jim Dunlop:
    1. Dunlop Super Bright Bass Strings
    2. Dunlop Nickel Tapered Bass Strings
    Both of these sets of strings have a very low tension, and have a nice solid low B string. The Super Brights are just that - very bright, but not tinny sounding. The Nickel wound are bright for nickel wound strings, but less so than the Super Brights.

    In my experience these strings are equal in playability to the Fodera strings, but lack the "pepper" mid range of the Fodera's. However, they have a stronger fundamental on the E and B strings than the Fodera offer.

    Finally, throughout this investigation, I've been experimenting with F strings. I've finally settled on the Ken Smith Burner wound .020. It's bright and has a nice sustain and playability. That being said, whenever one mixes and matches a set of strings, the tone varies. For us folks who play a bass with more than 6 strings it's frustrating that we have very limited choices in obtaining a 7 string set from a single manufacturer, without placing a custom order that can get quite expensive as the string manufacturer needs to make it worth their while to construct the strings.

    May the Bass be with you,
  20. Aidil


    Dec 4, 2014
    Jkt, IDN
    In case you haven't noticed, just recently Dunlop has new Super Bright tapered low-B .125T and .130T strings in both nickel and stainless steel:
    Dunlop Super Bright Bass Strings from Bass Strings Online

    As for now, the tapered low-B is only included in the Super Bright 5-string sets. But IIRC you could purchase Super Bright high-C single string from BSO.
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