Light vs. Heavy tension strings

Discussion in 'Strings [DB]' started by Uncletoad, Mar 3, 2010.

  1. Uncletoad


    May 6, 2003
    Columbus Ohio
    Proprietor Fifth Avenue Fret Shop. Technical Editor Bass Gear Magazine
    Lots of things swirling in my head about this. My recent experiments with Evah Weichs on my ply bass have shook me from my steadfast committment to higher tension strings. It's clear to me that bass has great tone with those lighter strings, both acoustic and amplified. I didn't have quite the same experience with Spiro Weich or Solo at orchestra pitch on that bass so the string has something to do with it. Nevertheless I have noticed some value to lower tension strings I hadn't considered or discovered even in my experiments with Guts, the lightest tensions I've messed with.

    However it also seems that the lower tension strings with the darker core are a tad slower than spiro weich or least for me pizz. Unless you are playing with a bow where the lower tension strings start easier and seem to require less bow finesse or pressure.

    I notice that the ply bass has a much thinner and lighter top than my carved bass so under any string it responds quicker but also dies quicker than my thicker and heavier top carved bass.

    Lighter strings seem to drive the lighter top better than heavier ones. I don't think that's the case on the carved bass. The heavier strings bring out more guts and volume on the carved bass than is possible on the ply bass.

    Anybody wanna chime in on this? I'm not sure what I'm looking for here. I'd like to hear others thoughts and opinions about string tension high and low and it's relation to tone, volume, usability, amplification etc.
  2. JtheJazzMan


    Apr 10, 2006
    Ive recently gone back to the spiro solos. The first and biggest impression is that the various components and afterlengths vibrates far more with the lower tension strings. Much of that is down to a marvin tailpiece I have to admit.

    The fundamental of any note on the is usually quieter compared to weichs, but overall the sound is more complex with louder overtones.

    Will that be drowned out on a bandstand? I bet. Youd need to be playing a concert in a hall where everyone is paying attention to you.

    Curiously, the Solo A tuned to orch. pitch on my bass has taken on a more rounded, fat sound when played pizz. It reminds me of gut G strings. Its still undeniably metal, but its tone is much more different to the weich G. A lot of that seems to be down to the tailpiece afterlengths.
  3. Eddue


    Jan 12, 2006
    New Haven, Mich
    I think the laws of physics will play a big part of how a bass will play and sound with a set of strings. A thinner top will have less mass and require less energy to get it moving, the same thing applies to strings. Also the more mass string has the more it will continue to vibrate after the note is played, and the same thing applies to the top of the bass. How a bass reacts to the overall string tension is the biggest issue. Think of a guitar. When you change to a different gauge of string you often have to make adjustments to the neck and bridge to compensate for the difference. And sometimes it it can be too much for the instrument, like putting steel strings on a nylon string guitar. The guitar wasn't designed to take the tension. The neck on a double bass is the strongest part so any reaction to the difference in tension will be in the top and the rest of the body of the bass. So a bass with a thicker top was probably designed to be used with higher tension strings as a bass with a thinner top was designed to use lighter tension strings. There is probably an optimal range of string tension for any given double bass and going higher or lower will affect sound and feel. That's why I think that finding the right string is one of the main topics here on And since a bass is made of wood, which expands and contracts at times, that optimal tension will change

    It's like trying to hit a moving target, blindfolded!

    You just have to rely on your ears.

    AMJBASS Supporting Member

    Jan 8, 2002
    Ontario, Canada
    I think its definitely an interesting topic. Some basses respond well to low tension strings. However I am sure that you found this as well... You really need to change the way you play with low tension. You can't quite dig in as hard as it is a lot more easy to over play the strings. The Tyrolean bass that I have recently picked up has a very thin top, and I have Spirocore Weich E/A with Solo D/G on it right now. The bass sounds just huge and thick. It takes probably half the effort to play and get the same amount of sound as my plywood(which is a good sounding bass). I think the low tension strings also have a darker sound. A little less attack, and more "body". They respond a little differently through a pickup as well. Less direct sounding. More warmth to them. Obviously different basses will respond differently, but I go back to what Ed Fuqua recommends. Lower tension strings, a little higher up. I think if you want that "bounce", this will get it a lot quicker than higher tension closer to the fingerboard.
  5. George700DL


    Jan 9, 2009
    I use plain gut strings (only 3 total) on a carved top bass I built recently. At one point I weighed my top, just before some final carving and scraping, and it was 4.4lbs (including the bass bar). I was told this is on the heavier side, which makes sense, since I was paranoid about the strength - and it was my 1st bass.

    I often wonder how steel strings would sound on my bass, given their higher tension. But the guts are pretty much a requirement for the type of music I play.

    Every plywood bass I look at has a much thinner top than my carved one, and when I tap in various places, the plywood ones seem to always resonate more than my bass. But when it comes to actual playing (bowing, mostly), my bass is noticeably louder than the plywood ones (the plywood basses are also strung up with 3 gut strings). I don't have an explanation, just something I've observed.
    Here is my bass.


  6. TPJ


    May 24, 2007
    Wakefield, UK
    I currently run Innovation Honeys on my no name hybrid. These strings are described as medium tension. The D and G sound lovely but the A and E are weaker. I was thinking of a Spiro mittel E and an Evah orch A but I wonder if the weichs might be a better choice to attempt to get a more even sound. It would most likely be more even in tension with the weichs.
  7. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Don't lower tension strings become higher tension strings the higher you jack them up? This has always been my experience. In the end, when i have lower tension strings on the bass, I end up with them very high, and vice versa with higher tension strings. I think in some weird way my body wants the tension to feel the same so I can get the same basic sound and speed of attack. Interesting discussion.
  8. Uncletoad


    May 6, 2003
    Columbus Ohio
    Proprietor Fifth Avenue Fret Shop. Technical Editor Bass Gear Magazine
    There is a little more to that light strings jack them up thing. When you take light strings and raise the string height you do get more tension and I think shorter notes and less fundamental.

    So Spiro solos up high may have almost as much tension at a certain break angle as do Mittels but at that angle they have shorter notes, less fundamental but with increased attack or punch on the front of the note.

    When I mess with adjusters I'm trying to find the balance point between great pop off the front of the note and big round note girth and some length of note.

    I love Spiro Solos but I have to have them up to high to get the tension I'm looking for and if I leave them low they sound nice and full but have significantly less power than Mittels.

    Arco seems to need something different. Lower tensions seem to grab the bow better and drive the box with a richer tone, although there you are balancing across techniques like Spiccatto where you need some bounce and straight on the string stuff where lower tension just grabs better.

    ...or not. I'm not an authority there.

    Of course there are so many other variables that change all that. Thickness and stiffness of top, bass bar, soundpost etc. etc.

    It does make it a challenge to stay with one string one setup for everything a person plays on a bass.
  9. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004
    There seems to be no rhythm or reason here. I've tried a bunch of different strings (obligatos, eudoxas, doms, mittels, weichs, stark E, d'addario orchs, and evah regular) of all types (except gut) on my Shen and for some unexplained reason the Evah regulars just kill. They so far surpass the other strings that I think I've found the string I'm sticking with at least until you m*****f*****s make my kids eat Ramen again because dad spent all our money on strings again . To me they feel less stiff than mittels contrary to drurb. They amplify incredibly. They are acoustically loud. They have a click on the front of the note that mics pick up well live. Why? I don't know. It seems that in the strings I've tried I ran the gamut as far as tension. I didn't see and correlation between tension and top thickness or anything. I'm just gonna play my bass now and shut up. 'Til I break a string.

    I've resigned myself to never being able to get my two basses to feel the same so I try for the string height to be similar. Probably in the somewhere in the 8,9, 10 mm range. If they get much higher than that I just feel like I am working too hard. Lower and I can't dig in.
  10. Uncletoad


    May 6, 2003
    Columbus Ohio
    Proprietor Fifth Avenue Fret Shop. Technical Editor Bass Gear Magazine
    Yes, bass differences are profound and make generalizations very difficult.

    For instance, on Brian G's Prescott the Evah's were heavenly. Outstanding. I couldn't get them to sound like much on the Queen. Go figure.
  11. salcott

    salcott Supporting Member

    Aug 22, 2007
    NYC, Inwood.
    I tried Spiro mittel,weich, and both EP sets; they all felt and sounded great in the beginning and seemed to tighten up and get stiff as they settled in. The Clef guts (2P, 2W) combined with a bit of a soundpost tweak from Arnold, are sounding and feeling real good, both pizz and arco. Got some broken in Chordas coming, but will wait a while to install. Shen Rogeri, BTW; big bottom (8 3/4" at the endpin) bass.
  12. Taking for granted that some basses just work better with higher or lower tension strings, I think you have to be careful in making snap judgements when going from a higher tension string to a lower tension string. There is a learning curve as a player in learning to play different strings.

    For years, I was a dedicated Mittel guy. One time, I tried Spiro Weichs and found them to be way too wimpy and took them off within a couple of days. It was only after switching to gut and having to relearn my touch that it occurred to me that I was trying to play Weichs with the same touch that I used for Mittels. It just doesn't work or, at least, it isn't optimum for playing Weichs to hit them the same way you hit Mittels. You have to adapt your touch to the tension in order to get the most out of them and, even on steel strings, if you overplay them, they don't sound very good. It took a couple of months for me to really get the hang of playing on gut because I was reflexively pounding away on them as if they were Mittels. A habit that got worse as I got tired. I keep thinking that I might have liked Weichs had I been as self-aware of the process and figured out how to optimize my touch on them. Of course, I may have come to the same conclusion too.

  13. Uncletoad


    May 6, 2003
    Columbus Ohio
    Proprietor Fifth Avenue Fret Shop. Technical Editor Bass Gear Magazine
    Yes, Yes I can see that in my playing.

    Yet another ****ing learning curve....
  14. See my last post. There is a strong tendency to try to replicate the sound and feel of the strings you are used to which begs the question, why change strings at all if you want them to sound and feel like the ones you already have on? (You don't need to answer that one. We all know why we experiment with strings). The real experiment is to try lower tension strings, and instead of jacking them up, just relearn your touch which, btw, is a LOT of work. The rub is you lose some of the fun things you can do with your current strings but it opens up another world of things you can't do with your current strings. Speaking from recent experience, there is an uncomfortable transition period where you don't have a whole lot of new stuff yet and your old stuff doesn't work all that well which can lead to frustration and a quick reversion to your old strings.

  15. Bobby King

    Bobby King Supporting Member

    May 3, 2005
    Nashville, TN
    On my Shen plywood bass, Spirocore Weich seems to get a punchier tone than Mittel, particularly on the low strings. If I play a low G on a Mittel E it will sound choked, but the note will sound fine played on a Weich. I like to be able to keep the strings higher to get a little more thump, and the Weichs are surely easier to play at a higher height. I also think that Weichs bow easier.

    On the flip side, I like the tension of Mittels better, the dig in factor. Weichs can feel mushy. Mittels are louder unamplified, and they seem to get more upper mid and treble frequencies, which can be good or bad depending on the music you're playing.

    I've been experimenting with using Weichs for the E&A and other strings on the D&G. I've had good luck using an Original Flexicore G string. It has enough brightness to blend with Spiros but is not whiney, and it bows great. The tension works well too. I haven't found a D that I'm totally sold on yet. A Superflexible D isn't bad, it has a little more tension than a Weich, less than a Mittel. The Weich D is particularly light feeling on my bass, but I think I like it's sound better than the Superflex. Any other suggestions for a steel D with tension between Weich and Mittel?

    I can definitely relate to the whole problem of wanting to dig in and play hard, but realizing that it doesn't produce the best tone. This is true on electric too.
  16. Just wanted to add my 2 cents. Iv'e been a Spiro guy for as long as I've played double bass. Certainly I've tried lots of strings but always come back to Spiros. I almost started to go the gut route but then decided my problems had more to do with right hand technique and less about the any particular strings. On the little 3/4 carved bass I got from Lemur, I've found that it sounds best to my ear with 3/4 Spiro Weichs on the E, A and D and a 4/4 Mittel on the G. I've always been less than ecstatic with a Weich G string. (Please, lets refrain from the cheap G string jokes). For some reason the Mittle G doesn't sound thin or twangy. It's a bit thicker than the Weich and it has a very solid fundamental to it. The tone is rounder and fuller and the string speaks way better in thumb position where I like to hang out from time to time. I may try a Mittel E just to see if that makes any difference. Anyway, for how I play and what I like to hear (currently) This string combo sounds and feels great. I think this just goes to show that string are very player and bass specific!


  17. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    I hear you. Like you said in the beginning of this post and like Trey said in his post, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. I actually don't experiment with strings unless I have to (and then only because some expatriate Yoda-figure-of-the-bass-who-shall-remain-nameless likes to borrow my bass burt likes different strings and my Dominants break when I put them back on. But who can refuse to loan a bass to their spiritual Jedi master?). I like Spiros and/or Dominants with a Stark E, period. If anything else is on the bass, I'm wishing it was that, and trying to make it feel like that.

    I respect guys who use all different kinds of strings, but Yodasby wanting his own string vibe on my bass and recording a beautiful record on it where he sounds exactly like himself playing his own bass kind of seals the issue for me. :)

    You said it! Mark and Marcus (see the connection there?) have found their gut thing and prefer it but can also play spiros. I could play different strings and have, but prefer the ones I have as do you. String and let string!

    AMJBASS Supporting Member

    Jan 8, 2002
    Ontario, Canada

    Different strings respond a bit differently too. I think the diameter has a bit to do with the sound as well as tension. I have to say though, I don't play with a high string height. I am probably at about 5mm on the G for both of my basses. However the low tension strings on my old bass give me a lot more open and dark sound with plenty of volume. I like the sound that lower tension strings give. However I am more into a big acoustic sound rather than a big amp sound.

    I don't buy the argument(when speaking of older basses) that some basses were designed to use with high tension strings, when every bass before mid 20th century had gut. I can see how a thicker top will respond better to high tension strings though. Its too bad that every bass responds differently...
  19. Uncletoad


    May 6, 2003
    Columbus Ohio
    Proprietor Fifth Avenue Fret Shop. Technical Editor Bass Gear Magazine
    I put the Evah Weichs on the Queen and they sounded like poop. Plastic, dull and lifeless. Spiro Solos sounded better. That bass is dark and when wearing spiros it projects and is articulate and still sound dark. On the Cleveland the Evah weichs are perfect. On there they are punchy and fat and sing. Spiro Mitts sound great on there too but they are almost to bright until they get stupid old. I think the lower tension brings out a better balance and more Poof on that bass. The end result is they sound closer to each other than you'd think they should. At least until you draw a bow across the Queen and discover why it's in a whole different league.

    AMJBASS Supporting Member

    Jan 8, 2002
    Ontario, Canada
    Phil have you tried Regular Evahs on the "Queen"? I wonder if their tension would respond well. I love those strings. They just seem to have a really fat presence acoustic and amplified.

    I'd love to try out Evah Weichs on my Hofner. Might have to wait until the spring...
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