Piano strings on bass guitar and EUB

Discussion in 'Strings [BG]' started by Melissa Cue, Nov 13, 2017.

  1. Melissa Cue

    Melissa Cue Guest

    Nov 8, 2017
    Hi, I thought piano strings would be interesting on bass guitar and EUB. I am listening Chick Corea and he makes wonderful growling sound with mallet on piano strings. May be its time to invest on new ideas . If you agree with me please tell which strings are suitable to above instruments.


  2. jwilson67


    Jun 2, 2015
    San Dimas, CA
    I think actual piano strings would probably snap a bass neck. They are a completely different design than bass guitar strings. Look into the Rotosound PSD strings.
  3. GK Growl

    GK Growl Inactive

    Dec 31, 2011
    I think that a bigger problem with actual "piano strings" is that they would not have the magnetism needed for the pickups to produce proper sound.
    gebass6 and jwilson67 like this.
  4. trothwell


    Apr 9, 2008
    I once read that, in the less lucrative pre-Beatles days, McCartney would sometimes replace a broken bass string with a piano string. I got the impression that it worked well enough for his purposes, but was very rough on the fingers. (This also might have been a myth, a joke, or an exaggerated story, but it was presented as factual...)
  5. jwilson67


    Jun 2, 2015
    San Dimas, CA
    Well actually the Helpinstill company makes magnetic pickups that were used by most of the big touring acts in the 70's (Elton, Queen, etc.). That being said there must be some magnetism to piano strings.
    Helpinstill Piano Pickups, Piano Microphone
  6. Melissa Cue

    Melissa Cue Guest

    Nov 8, 2017
    I have visited the helpinstill site and my impression is magnetic pickup not installed under strings but iron frame , lot easier
  7. Marko 1

    Marko 1 Supporting Member

    DR Jonas Hellborg signature strings are made similarly to piano strings, core gets larger and only one wrap per string. (They were made by DR for Jonas Hellborg, then after some years they made them available to the public.) I have them on my four-string P that I don't play anymore, and if I could get them in a five-string version I think that's all I'd use. Some people don't care for the sound of them, but in a mix they're incredible.
  8. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    As far as I know, piano strings are similar in construction to normal stainless roundwound bass strings. Like Marko said, most are larger diameter core and single wrap, so they will be stiffer, higher tension and brighter than normal bass strings. But, they will work fine with magnetic pickups. The problem is that piano string wire isn't available in very many sizes (gauges, diameters). If you look inside a piano, they don't use different gauges for each tuned note. The strings for the notes are different lengths instead. That is, groups of keys all use the same gauge string, but at different working lengths. A true multi-scale!

    So, if you go to a piano tuner shop, they will have spools string wire, but only in a limited number of gauges. On an electric bass, you are trying to tune strings to different notes, but all the same length. Trying to get the tension and feel similar between them means more fussing with gauges.
    Last edited: Nov 14, 2017
    gebass6 likes this.
  9. ixlramp

    ixlramp Guest

    Jan 25, 2005
    Piano strings won't necessarily 'snap a bass neck', that depends on how tight you tune them.
    They are designed to be used at a higher tension so have bigger cores and are stiffer, so are very inharmonic, generally not a good thing. They are not inherently 'higher tension' because the tension depends on how tight you tune them.
  10. lz4005


    Oct 22, 2013
    Right. But to get the actual "piano" sound out of them they would have to be at a very high tension.

    Overall it's just not worth the trouble. You would have trouble finding the right gauges, as noted above, and then you'd have to strategically unwind parts of them to go through the tuners, since they don't have a taper. All to end up with very rough, inflexible strings that wouldn't sound much different than normal ones.
  11. Geri O

    Geri O Endorsing Artist, Mike Lull Guitars and Basses Gold Supporting Member

    Sep 6, 2013
    Florence, MS
    Ahh, being a piano tuner-tech, I may shed a little light one this...

    Piano bass strings are copper wire wound onto a steel core. And they are made for size and length since the piano bridge(s) vary in length for every string or set of strings (they go from single to bi-chord, or two strings to a note, to tri-chord, or 3 strings to a note). So you have the size of the core, the size of the copper wrap, the length of the copper winding of the string, and the string's entire length in play. For this reason, piano strings are most always custom-made for a particular piano scale (and mostly by our friends at Mapes Piano Strings Company, more on them later). So you won't just find a set anywhere, even at the piano tech's shop. Some of the piano houses offer a generic piano bass string that can be cut to length, but those sound like garbage and I keep them only for the crappiest of pianos that need a replacement bass string and tone quality isn't even a consideration.

    I havne't measured the tension, but after dealing with the piano bass strings, I'm not sure how you would construct a piano bass string for use on a bass guitar. I remember many years ago, D'Addario offered a copper-wound set of bass strings that supposedly offered the piano tone. However, I don't remember a big difference in the tone, they would go dead very quickly and that would happen about the same time my fingers would turn GREEN from playing them. After two sets, I stopped trying to use them.

    There's a lot of factors in play contributing to the piano bass tone, most of that in the acoustic realm. The tone we hear from a bass end of the piano comes from the length and construction of the string and its speaking length on the piano, the construction of the hammer that strikes the string (way more consistent and adjustable than fingers or a pick), the soundboard of the piano that the strings' sound is reproduced and acoustically amplified by. And even then, these qualities vary wildly in different pianos (grands, verticals, piano brands, etc.). All these factors can't be reproduced on the modern bass guitar. Which isn't necessarily bad, lots of basses have a great open, ringing tone in the lower registers, just un-piano-like.

    I don't claim to be any kind of expert on piano strings, but I've tuned, repaired, and rebuilt pianos for over 30 years and I'm stating mostly my observations on the subject of differences in piano bass strings and bass guitar strings.

    And for the record...

    There's been soooo many occasions when I'm tuning a 7ft or 9ft Steinway, Yamaha, Kawai, or Baldwin grand piano and just sat there noodling with the bottom two octaves thinking, oh, it would be soooo awesome to bottle this sound up to use on bass. Yes, it's kinda available on the better sampled grand keyboards. But there's nothing like the low end acoustic sound of a concert grand piano rolling at your face.

    Oh, about my friends at Mapes....
    Everyone has seen their name on bass strings here and there. For a while, some of their strings had real issues. Well, they heard about the issues and sent me some recent examples of their offerings. I gotta say, I tried them and didn't really warm up to them, but they had a great sound and are definitely worthy of being tried as a choice of strings. As for their piano bass strings, well, they make strings, for nearly every major piano maker in the world and have been since 1955 when they built the current wire factory in Elizabethton, TN. they moved into the steel wire used in treble strings for piano shortly afterwards. There was a fellow I used to deal with in the 80s and 90s when ordering strings, but he retired, and if I have the genealogy right, I deal with that fellow's son these days.
  12. Root 5

    Root 5

    Nov 25, 2001
    I wouldn't try it. The core wire is made of extremely hard spring steel and extremely difficult to bend and cut. It's so tough because it must be able to withstand ~ 250lbs tension.
    Geri O likes this.
  13. elgecko


    Apr 30, 2007
    Anasleim, CA
    For piano-like tone, I break out my Modulus Q5 with SS roundwounds! :cool:
    Geri O likes this.
  14. Aberdumbie


    Jan 22, 2016
    South Carolina
    I love this post. I am an old guy now and remember back in my rock & roll days my search was for that perfect Steinway bass tone.... So now I play bass in my church and just the other week was talking with our pianist while staring "under the hood" of his piano... All the while the kid in my head was just drooling over those fat windings in his piano and concocting just such a scenario..... I needed this post to keep that kid in my head from causing me any trouble.... :D
    Root 5 and Geri O like this.
  15. Geri O

    Geri O Endorsing Artist, Mike Lull Guitars and Basses Gold Supporting Member

    Sep 6, 2013
    Florence, MS
    Man, thanx for responding! Made my day. I still imagine that tone from a bass when I'm tuning to this day!
    Aberdumbie likes this.
  16. ixlramp

    ixlramp Guest

    Jan 25, 2005
    Not a completely hopeless dream, a longer scale length will help, 34" was a compromise for playability even before the low B.
    But it's difficult for mainstream bass to progress. One company is making significantly longer strings and basses. This is tuned F#BEAD (so the 4th string he plays is a B) and has a good tone:
  17. moonshinegtrs

    moonshinegtrs Inactive Commercial User

    Jan 28, 2009
    White Bluff,Tn.
    Owner: Moonshine Custom Guitars
    Dude kills me... He's color coordinated with what ever instrument he's playing.

    Moonshine :bassist:
  18. walterw

    walterw Supportive Fender Commercial User

    Feb 20, 2009
    that B does indeed sound great, much more like a "normal string" than typical 5-string basses (where the B is never quite as good as the rest of the set).

    what bugs me is dude did not once play a single note on the F# string below it! that's what i really wanted to hear.
  19. ixlramp

    ixlramp Guest

    Jan 25, 2005
    Sound recording is bad but here's another Quake tuned low to high G# C# F# B, top string is bass B. Lowest is G#00 13Hz. You'll need a good sound system or headphones, but obviously it's a very different experience in person feeling it through your body.
    Same guy is building a 60" scale upright electric tuned to the next lower string D#00, sub-10Hz.
  20. saved


    Aug 14, 2012
    I hope not being to late..
    Athe first weekend of februar,i will go at an expo with agricultural machines and equipment.
    I need 3 hours to see everything.In the same city is a piano builder (handmade pianos) who also building strings for pianos (also builds and "laterna" a greek "instument" like the lucky luke pianos who playing by themshelfs)
    In his website said "call for werkebd factory tour".I called him and he said i can go and take a tour.
    I will talk with him for all these about piano strings to