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Pros and cons of lite gauge versus heavy gauge strings

Discussion in 'Strings [BG]' started by bcolins, Nov 17, 2008.

  1. I have had an old set of (unknown brand) light gauge strings that came on my Dynabass. They are a nice playing string (roundwound) but when I received my new Avatar B212 Neo Cab and found my Carvin B800,...I decided to install the new Elixirs that I had sitting around.

    The Elixirs are .050,.070,.085 and .105. They feel huge by comparison to what I had on before and feel quite a bit tighter tension wise and cant be easily pushed around.

    So, I am thinking that I need to spring for something else, I am not a slap player, traditional finger style at this point, might consider flat wounds.

    If I go to a lighter gauge string will I lose something in tonal quality?

    Brian in Austin
  2. Stumbo

    Stumbo Wherever you go, there you are. Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 11, 2008
    the Intergalactic Mind Space
    Song Surgeon sofware
    Flats are usually heavier gage as well.

    "Pushing around the strings" (aka, bending) is usually not a feature that's associated with heavy gauge strings.

    Lighter strings will sound, well, "lighter". There's less mass to move and generate a tone.
  3. seanm

    seanm I'd kill for a Nobel Peace Prize! Supporting Member

    Feb 19, 2004
    Ottawa, Canada
    If you find Elixirs high tension, you won't like flats. Except maybe TI flats which are more like rounds in tension.

    Will you lose something in tonal quality with lighter strings? I would say generally yes. Others would disagree. If you play with a light touch, you will probably need lighter strings.

    I know I am being a bit vague, but it really depends on the strings. For example, I dislike the Chromes in 45-100, love them in 50-105. But I am the opposite with LaBella flats; love the FL, not really happy with the FS.

    But generally, I prefer medium strings over light. But I don't want bridge cables ala Jamerson ;)
  4. Liko


    Mar 30, 2007
    Broad generalization: lighter gauge = brighter sound, less tension so easier to slap and bend, less sustain, less overall volume and "meat". Heavier gauge, exact opposite.

    Now, that's all other things being equal. Differences in core shape, wrapping gauge for a patricular string, wrapping material (and bass strings can have an inner and outer wrapping), etc can make as much of not more difference in tension and sound. A heavier-gauge all-stainless string will have no problem sounding brighter than a nickel-wound of lesser gauge.

    Other considerations have to do with string tension and nut size. Heavier-gauge strings, on average, have higher tension. Switching to them, or to any higher-tension set, will require an adjustment to the truss rod as the neck will have up-bowed, and vice versa when going from heavy to light. In addition, making a significant drop in string gauge, like going from 105 to 95 on the E, will cause buzz on open strings, as the nut slot for each string will be .05" too large. Going up in string gauge can lead to binding, which can present tuning problems, but that's generally a more serious problem on guitar than bass. Binding can also strip the coating from an EXP or NanoWeb, and that problem is significant enough to give thought to it.

    45-105 is a pretty standard gauge; heavier ones are often used to detune or for a very thick rock tone. 45-100 is also very common (I see them most often called Medium Lights, though every string maker's point of reference for light/heavy differs); you may have had 100s on there previously, which, though a small change, does make a significant difference in feel. If you're a slapper, you may even have had lights (around 40-95) which are VERY easy to play and favored by jazz/slap bassists.
  5. Gasman

    Gasman Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 9, 2007
    South Carolina
    The difference in sound is subtle. The main difference is how you like your bass setup. Lighter gauge strings will have less tension at a given pitch. This allows easier bending and fretting if you like higher action. However, the string will vibrate with greater amplitude (not volume) when struck, so you will get fretbuzz if your action is low and your truss rod is relatively straight. A light touch can overcome this, but heavy handed plucking will just give you tons of buzzing. The heavier the string, the more tension, allowing a straighter neck, if you like that intonation, and slightly lower action.
  6. dystopiate


    Feb 21, 2008
    New York City
    Endorsing Artist: Spector, Aguilar
    I've found lighter strings give me more "growl" and heavier strings tend to create more piano-like tones. *Typically*

    I generally play with what I would guess is a medium touch. Not as light as I can play, but much lighter than I used to play. I can also coax most tones out of most strings if I pay attention to my touch and technique, so it's more about finding the right strings for you, and there's, sadly, no really good way of doing that without spending some loot on strings and probably doing many setups as you string and re-string a bass.

    Potentially off-topic, I've taken to putting together sets of strings that are similar in tension, which typically means heavier gauge than typical on the lower strings, lighter than typical on the higher strings. Seems like most sets are based off of the 45-105 model which puts each string .020 away from the next. Unfortunately, that doesn't result in very uniform tension.

    What I *think* this gives me is better uniformity of technique and tone from string-to-string. I waited a long time before I tried this, but the tension difference between my E and D strings finally pushed me into buying single strings instead of sets. If you haven't tried it, give it a shot and let me know what you think.
  7. Have you tried any medium gauge strings? That's a rather heavy set compared to the light gauge (.40) and ultra-light (.35)

    Can't comment on tonal quality, rather subjective.
  8. I would generally say that the difference in tone for different gauges of the same string isn't worth worrying about. There may be a difference but the choice of string has far greater impact on tone. So find the gauge you are most happy with and stick to that.

    I've been playing 40 60 80 100 strings forever and I love the way they feel. DR Sunbeams are my fav. I play with a light touch and always feel robbed if I use a higher gauge string.

    So, find a gauge you like. Stick with it and try various strings.


  9. I agree.
    I use light gage strings, and have a light touch.
    This is what feels best to me.

    As for tone, and this will sound sarcastic, that's what all those thingies on the front of the amp are for.
    Light strings can sound just as full and sustain very very long if you set you amp right.
    They do make chord playing some what easier.
    A big plus for me is the ease of vibrato and added harmonic content light gages have.

  10. DavePlaysBass


    Mar 31, 2004
    45-100 is a gauge I keep coming back to. The 45 and 65 on the D and G seem fuller than 40 or 60. On the A and E I find 85 and 105 to be boomy relative to the 80 and 100. These are general statements and different strings do sound different. As for flats you got TIs and also Labella 760FLs are nice. They are a step between the TIs and a lot of other flats.
  11. branjubian


    Nov 4, 2007
    Right now I'm loving the sound of my bass tuned down a whole step, very deep and throaty tone.. slightly less tension.. would playing lighter gage strings possibly replicate this in any way, or am I out to lunch?