Low tension strings for phenolic fretless board

Discussion in 'Strings [BG]' started by bass geetarist, Mar 5, 2014.

  1. bass geetarist

    bass geetarist

    Jul 29, 2013
    Hi all,

    Quick version - I need low tension strings that sound great on a fretless phenolic board (TIs have been tried but the sound did not work for this particular bass). Hoping for something easy on the fingerboard with nice articulate mids and highs.

    Long version

    I'm hoping all you knowledgeable folk can help me out with some recommendations. I have tried the search function and found some useful info, but ultimately have not solved my problem.

    I have a mm cutlass 1 with a fretless phenolic board (not sure if it was a factory fretless or a later de-fret, but either way it's well done). As many know, these graphite necked basses had no truss rod, and some ended up being problematic. My neck is not warped, but when using chromes or half rounds, I end up with more relief than I would like, and I fear leaving these high tension strings on will permanently bow the neck.

    So, I'm looking for a low tension alternative, and I want something that doesn't damage the fretboard, as there is already some marking on it (it had rounds on when I bought it), and I do not want it to get worse and would prefer not to have to treat the board on this rare bass.

    The bass doesn't have a lot of "mwah" to begin with (not sure if this is typical with phenolic or not), but it does have a nice clear, articulate, and authoritative sound (depending on the strings, see below).

    So far I have tried the following:

    d'addario half rounds - 105-45 - the best sounding so far (great, actually), but the tension was too high for the neck

    d'addario chromes - 105-50 - sounded good, though lacked definition, and put way too much relief into the neck

    TIs - These seemed like a good choice due to the low tension, and they put very little stress on the neck (very slight relief), but the tone with these strings on this particular bass is very dull and lifeless

    So far I'm thinking DR Legends, as I've heard they are lower tension flats. I've read that these are more "old school" type flats, however, and I'm hoping to find something with a more modern tone (a little zing and mid/hi definition would be nice).

    Thanks in advance to all. As we all know, strings are subjective and one brand may sound great on a particular bass and not so great on another. I'm specifically hoping for response from people with fretless phenolic experience, but any advice/recommendations are appreciated. :bassist:
  2. Gorn


    Dec 15, 2011
    Queens, NY
    If you liked the sound of the chromes but not the tension you could try the light set, 40-95.

    Labella makes white tapewounds. The 50-105 are extremely low tension and they're very bright.
  3. ArtechnikA

    ArtechnikA I endorsed a check once... Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 24, 2013
    I just put a set of D'Addario FlexSteel on my fretless and I'm liking them. It had Nickel Rounds before that and these are definitely brighter and with more mid-presence. Also lower tension.

    I've played TI's and HalfRounds when I was concerned about preserving an ebony fingerboard. The FlexSteels are not as flexible as the TI's but more than the HalfRound.

    The current fingerboard is Dymondwood, comparable to the phenowood.

    Here's the FlexSteel Thread:
  4. lz4005


    Oct 22, 2013
    You're way over thinking it.
    Get a lighter set of half rounds if you like how they sound.
  5. bass geetarist

    bass geetarist

    Jul 29, 2013
    Thanks all for the good and quick advice.

    Mr. Gorn - I've heard that those white tapewounds are good strings, but I didn't know they were lower tension. I'll have to seriously consider these.

    ArtechnikA - Those strings do sound like an interesting choice, but maybe not for this bass as I'd prefer not to go with rounds. They could work for one of my other basses, though.

    lz4005 - Yeah I'm not surprised by your response, I tend to overthink just about everything!

    As for the lower gauge half-rounds - I had thought of that before, but I was worried that the tension may still be too high. I've managed to find the D'Addario tension chart, however, and they do come in at significantly lower tension than the gauge I've already tried, so this may work.

    So it looks like either light half-rounds or the labella whites are the way to go. Thanks again for your input.

    Additional recomendations still welcome!
  6. Gorn


    Dec 15, 2011
    Queens, NY
    Lower tension than the TI flats, but manageable. I have them on my fretless. They're the smoothest strings you'll ever feel and probably the brightest of all the flats and tapes available. Zero fingernoise and mwah for days.
  7. Lo-E


    Dec 19, 2009
    Brooklyn, NY
    You might want to try the lowest gauge Ernie Ball Flats or Ken Smith compressors. Either might work out for you. Rounds are not likely to mark that board up all that much unless you dig in really hard, by the way.

    "Mwah" is most often a product of setup and technique, so once you get your action troubles worked out, the mwah will probably follow.

    In the long run, it will probably be worth your while to level the fretboard (or have it levelled) so you can use whatever strings you like. You may want to consult Gerry Dorsch at Graphite Guitar Systems in Washington state. He was at Modulus in the way back, and Modulus made those necks.
  8. henry2513

    henry2513 Supporting Member

    May 9, 2011
    Los Angeles, Ca
    I'd try Circle K strings
  9. JustForSport


    Nov 17, 2011
    Dean Markley NPS (round core) tuned a fourth lower (BEAD) on fretless phenolic board.
    Flexible ('lower tension' to some) for sustained 'mwah', and lower actual tension because of lower tuning on same gauge- less stress at pitch on neck.
    Sort of like using lower gauge, but more-so.
    Check the avail tension charts (D'Addario, GHS, Circle K) to compare.
  10. Mystic Michael

    Mystic Michael Hip No Ties

    Apr 1, 2004
    New York, NY
    A couple of points:

    1) Flatwound strings tend to be higher-tension than any other kind, generally speaking. My guess would be it's because there's more metal per inch than with any other kind, due to the structure of the string. Typically the lighter-gauge flats will have less tension - if you can find them. (IME, flatwounds tend to have fewer gauges available than with roundwounds - for some reason.)

    2) Phenolic material is just about the hardest material you can find for a fingerboard - similar to the stuff used to mold bowling balls. While your strings might lightly score the surface, they are very, very unlikely to do any real damage to the board. Unless you insist upon keeping the surface in absolutely pristine, mirror-like condition, wear and tear is functionally a non-issue.

  11. gary m

    gary m

    Jan 17, 2011
    Mid -Atlantic
    For my fretless, which has a phenolic fingerboard, I've used GHS Precision Flats, Pyramid Gold flats and the new Fender 9050L flats. All work well, with the Fenders having been the brightest and the GHS being the best feeling. The Pyramids were a good compromise of brighter tone and smooth finish.
  12. ixlramp


    Jan 25, 2005
    Use the D'Addario tension charts to build a custom set from singles in your favourite string: 35 50 70 95 is extra light and roughly equal tensions. I use ultra-low tension Chromes on an ebonol fretless board (high-compression laminate of black paper and phenolic resin). Many brands' so called 'super light' sets are usually not particularly light, i consider 40-95 medium tension. Check out www.bassstringsonline.com for an excellent range of singles.
  13. lz4005


    Oct 22, 2013
    If you want to do some math, you could detune the strings that are on the bass currently until you have the relief you want. Then, plug that tuning and those strings into a tension calculator to figure out the total pounds of force on the neck. That would tell you what to shoot for on a lighter string set to get the relief where you need it.
  14. 4-string


    Jul 23, 2006
    Some light Sunbeams might do the trick, sounds great on fretless IMO. I use the 40-95 set on my fretless J.
  15. Jaco who?

    Jaco who?

    May 20, 2008
    I use to have 45-100 Sunbeams on my mexican jazz fretless, switched to TI flats for awhile, and couldn't agree more with the "dull and lifeless" description - I went completely the other direction and strung it with 40-95 DR highbeams and couldn't be happier with the playability or the tone. I haven't noticed any additional fingerboard wear, but I've lightened up a bunch on my fretting technique, too.

    One particular guage flat that might or might not work are the Labella 760FX deep talkin' flats - sound clips reveal mostly multitudes of gripes from cravers of the thump sound about how modern they sound for flats, so I may try some of those. ;) Supposedly not much higher tension than TI flats.
  16. tylerwylie


    Jan 5, 2008
    Dunwoody, GA
    Fodera .040-.100, nickel or SS.
  17. bassfreakah


    Mar 26, 2011
    Endorsing Artist Ernie ball strings
    I wanted to check out a set of the flexSteels. I love steels and xl's are great strings as far as sound and tension. I like light gauge strings in general tho.
  18. Jay2U

    Jay2U Not as bad as he lóòks

    Dec 7, 2010
    22 ft below sea level
    Ernie Ball flatwounds come in a wide variety of gauges. They sound like Chromes. As a matter of fact, I can't even hear the difference. They can be bought as singles, so a light tension set can be composed to your liking.
  19. ixlramp


    Jan 25, 2005
    ^ what lz4005 suggested.
  20. jmlee

    jmlee Catgut? Not funny. Supporting Member

    Jun 16, 2005
    Halifax, Nova Scotia
    I'm guessing what you tried were TI flats. Try the jazz rounds. Very fine windings, low tension, brighter and more articulate than their flat brothers--and wonderful on my fretless.