Please tell me how Super B Strings work

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by SuperDuck, Dec 18, 2005.

  1. SuperDuck


    Sep 26, 2000
    This is a spinoff thread from a discussion that popped in an SX thread.

    A lot of times we hear about the ever-elusive super B string. How Fenders have poor ones, Sadowskies have great ones, and all the other builders are able to make great or floppy B strings.

    Whenever the issue of what makes a good B string a good B string comes up, the stock answer seems to be "construction".

    This logic escapes me. It seems to me that the only real change of B string "feel" and "sound" would come from the characteristics of the string itself, not the bass construction. With the string we can talk about tapered and non-tapered, gauge, and scale length.

    Aside from scale length, I can't imagine what magic is happening from one builder to another. Let's take an example of the omnipresent-on-Talkbass Sadowksy to the also-omnipresent-on-Talkbass SX bass. If you have a five string version of each, both of which are 34" scale, where would the difference in B-string feel and sound come from? They're made from the same woods and therefore have roughly the same weight/density, (alder or ash bodies, maple necks) are mounted with the same two points an equal distance apart (metal at the bridge in both cases, bone or synthetic material at the nut), and have necks and bodies that are attached in the same manner (four bolts and a neck plate).

    In this case, where does the magic come from? Fenders are also constructed in the same way, but everyone writes off their B-strings, even people who have never played them!

    I hope I don't sound too combative here. I'm really just curious. I'm currently of the opinion that B-string "feel and quality" comes from the string itself alone. I hope somebody can convince me otherwise. :)
  2. karrot-x

    karrot-x Inactive

    Feb 21, 2004
    Omicron Persei 8
    I'd say the bridge has a lot to do with it, but I'm not even close to an expert.
  3. BruceWane


    Oct 31, 2002
    Houston, TX
    Well, I'm sure you can agree that a string won't vibrate very well if it's not held very tightly.

    If the structure of a bass is not very solid, it will bend a little as the string swings back and forth in its vibration. This little bit of "give" soaks up a lot of the energy in the strings vibration. The more "give" the bass has, the deader it will sound.

    And even if you don't understand or believe that, go out to a store and play a Rogue, then play a Modulus.

    Then you'll understand. :)
  4. BruceWane


    Oct 31, 2002
    Houston, TX
    Also understand that just because two basses both have maple necks, that in no way guarantees they will be equal - wood is a product of nature, and it's strength varies a LOT, even within the same species. A good piece of maple is a lot stiffer than a mediocre one.
  5. The ironic thing is that I was just thinking the same thing the other day . . .

    I was thinking that the tension on the string required to tune it to the proper pitch (which varies significantly among string manufacturer/models -- different string models require different amounts of tension to put the string in tune) probably matters a great deal more than the construction of the bass, provided similar materials are used at the crucial points (bolts, nut, bridge, neck/body wood types). Perhaps the better luthiers use higher quality woods, but bridges, nuts, and bolts are easily changed.

    Strings that demand a higher tension to stay "in tune" are probably less floppy by definition -- i.e. a string that requires a higher tension to be in tune as a low B would give a bass a "better B string." Obviously, a very poorly constructed bass (weak neck joint, etc.) would detract from the performance, and in terms of plugged-in tone, pickups are crucial, but it would seem to me intuitively (and I could be wayyyy off base about this -- I'm a history teacher/stay-at-home dad, not a physicist) that the string would be "where the rubber hits the road," so to speak, and be the largest factor in determining a good B string.

    One possible way to test this would be for someone who has a great B string (a Sadowsky owner) who also owns an SX, to get a set of high-tension strings (heavier gauge strings???) and put them on the SX, and see if that improves the B string, at least in terms of floppiness, not sustain, which is another matter entirely.

    I'll be interested to see how this debate shapes up.
  6. BruceWane


    Oct 31, 2002
    Houston, TX
    Take two identical sets of strings.

    Put one set on an Essex.

    Put one set on a Modulus.

    Take a wild guess which one's gonna have the better "B"...........
  7. embellisher

    embellisher Holy Ghost filled Bass Player Supporting Member

    The place where construction has a big influence is in the neck joint, and neck stiffness.

    A spaghetti neck will flex more than a good stiff neck, causing the B string to be floppy, and reducing sustain.

    A good neck joint will allow the transfer of vibration between the body and neck. A poor neck joint will 'soak up' the vibrations, reducing resonance, sustain, and fundamentals.
  8. It seems to me that there are probably two separate issues here:

    1) Floppiness -- this would seem to be largely a matter of string tension more than anything else. Low tension = floppy. Obviously, a poor neck joint could cause floppiness, but even on a well-made SX, this should probably be negligible compared to the role of string tension. Neck stiffness might play a role, but it would seem to me that any neck wood that would flex enough from the slight increase in tension from plucking the string to make the string floppy would be so flaccid as to be unusable -- "spaghetti neck" indeed.

    2) Sustain -- this would more likely be related to the quality (mass, stiffness, tightness of neck joint construction) of the bass itself. A really solid bass would have longer sustain. My all-graphite Steinberger XL-2 has the most sustain of any bass I've ever played -- no neck joint, and the graphite is far stiffer and less absorptive than wood.
  9. Eric Cioe

    Eric Cioe Supporting Member

    Jun 4, 2001
    Holland, MI
    The biggest load of crap I see when I read about B strings is that if you place the B tuner further away from the nut, the string becomes tighter. Wrong! If the string were tighter, it would be higher in pitch. Same goes for thru-body stringing.

    34" basses and 35" basses both can have good Bs - how? If the neck is well constructed. If it doesn't flex at all, it will be the "tightest" B you've ever played. If it does flex, it will sound like yit, no matter how long the scale or where the tuner is.

  10. Why? Try to make a guitar string tune down to a low B. It has to be extraordinarily loose to vibrate at that pitch because the distance (nut-bridge) is so short.

    Pitch is a function of tension in the string, as well as the length of the string.

    EDIT: I misread his post -- I read "bridge" instead of "tuner" and thought he was saying scale length didn't matter. :bag:
  11. Actually, despite what people think, string tension does not end at the nut or at the bridge saddle. A longer string, as seen by a 35 inch scale, requires more pressure to get it up to the same tension. Though points of contact normally signal the end of tension, this is not the case in a scenario in which the tension continues after the contact points.
  12. Geoff St. Germaine

    Geoff St. Germaine Commercial User

    The string loses energy to the body/neck structure. The way that it loses energy depends on many factors, but one big one would be through the vibrating string causing the neck to flex. A string driving a neck into vibration is going to lose more energy than a string that is on a more rigid neck that cannot be vibrated by the strings, or at least one that has lower amplitude vibrations. Other things that can effect it would be the resonances of the body/neck, which contribute to things like deadspots.

    Also, just picking up my Dingwall here and plucking the B and C strings, it is obvious that the B string induces larger amplitude vibrations in the neck and body than the C string does. This would seem to indicate that the B string is losing more energy than the C (I'd have to do some actual measurements to be sure, but it seems that it is). This makes some sense based on the fact that the B has significantly more vibrating mass than the C string. If it is the case that the larger, lower pitched strings lose more energy to the body then construction would seemingly play a more important role as lower pitched and heavier strings are introduced onto the bass. It seems to me that the B string seems to be the start of the area where the contruction seems to make a larger difference.
  13. Better yet, try this experiment:

    fret a note at the 3rd fret, and pluck the string.

    Now fret a note at the 5th fret and pluck the string again. It's a higher pitch, right?

    What's changed? Not the string tension, or the stiffness of the neck joint. Only the distance has changed. The only way to make the second "pluck" sound the same pitch as the first is to lower the tension, making the string more floppy.

    Therefore, distance DOES play a major role in floppiness of the string. That being said, I've played 34" scale 5-string basses (including my Tacoma) that have B strings that aren't floppy in the slightest. (I've stayed away from playing a Sadowsky until I can afford one -- I don't need uncontrollable GAS). :D
  14. Geoff St. Germaine

    Geoff St. Germaine Commercial User

    What? Could you please go into more detail on this?
  15. Many people argue that string tension ends from nut-saddle.

    This is not true.

    This WOULD be true if the tension differed after the nut or saddle, but it does not. Because of this, the string length and angle from tuner-nut is just as important.
  16. Geoff St. Germaine

    Geoff St. Germaine Commercial User

    That's his point. If we invert your statement then the tension is a function of the length of the string, the frequency of the fundamental and the mass density of the string. The length of the string is the scale length. His point is that the length of the string does not include the distance between the saddle and the ball end or the distance between the nut and the tuner.

  17. These are excellent points.

    However, I still think there are two separate issues here: sustain, which you have described accurately, and floppiness, which seems to me to be largely a result of a too-low-tension string on a too-short distance. The latter is probably why there aren't any (that I can think of) good 5-string basses that are under 32" scale.
  18. bad_andy


    Sep 21, 2005
    Omaha, NE
    What you're missing is that the string can be under greater tension and have a the same pitch because these techniques increase the total length of the string that's under tension. Here's a simple B string trick that Gary Willis mentions in his tips book. Cut a 1" metal sleeve that's larger in diameter than the B string but smaller than it's ball end. Thread the string throught the sleeve, then through the end of the bridge, install it in the tuning post and bring it up to pitch. Voila: a B string with better tension. More of the string is under tension without the scale or pitch of the B string changing. :D
  19. Geoff St. Germaine

    Geoff St. Germaine Commercial User

    No I'm sorry but you are wrong about this.
  20. I misread his post. :bag:

    I thought he was saying that the scale length was not important, not the distance between the nut and the tuner.

    (I read "nut to tuner" as "nut to bridge") :bag: