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Set up, string tension and me

Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by Chasarms, Dec 7, 2004.

  1. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Bettendorf, IA USA
    I have read a great deal of wonderful information about a great number of topics here at TB.

    One that really intrigues me is the subject of string tension, and more specifically, how string tension impacts the bass and its performance.

    There are countless threads here at TB that offer statements like "if your bass needs the extra tension . . . " or " less tension made my bass sound . . . "

    But try as I might, I can find a great deal of discussion related to more general ideas about tension and more general suggestions about what kinds of basses tend to behave in certain ways.

    For example, does a new ply TEND to behave better with high tension or lower? A hybrid? An old carved?

    Are there any particular design characteristics that TEND to behave better with higher or lower tension?

    Are there any particular setup characteristics that TEND to behave better with higher or lower tension?

    Or is it totally and absolutely a trial and error crapshoot with each individual bass?

    Even if so, are there tangible symptoms out there that help you understand things better. For example a bass better suited for higher tension but strung with lower tension TENDS to sound/feel/or otherwise behave like . . . or vice versa.

    It would be nice to have some sense of where to start when seeking out "that" sound.

    Many thanks and the one cent checks are in the mail.

    - Charles
  2. Charles

    This is very good question with no simple answer. That's why a lot of people just opt for the old standby original flexocor or spirocore weich and call it a day. Every bass is different. I can shed some light on the physics though. All things being equal, the greater the portion of the string tension directed downward into the instrument, the more the top will be excited. That means higher bridge, more engergy into the top, lower tailpiece, more energy, greater neck angle more energy. Here's the rub. The more total force on the top, the less the top can vibrate. How much force a top can take before it is choked vs. how much force is needed to get it vibrating well is the balance we try to achieve with different strings. One reason old three stringers sounded so full, was because they used obscenly large gut strings, but since they only had three, they had the same or slightly less force on the top, but much greater energy from each individual string when played. The same effect could be achieved by using three heavy guage steel strings on a four string bass with no bottom string. I bet in most cases the bass will be louder and more responsive.

    To over simplify, here it goes: Plywood louder midrange with heavier strings but better overall sound with lighter strings. New instruments generally can take heavier strings than old ones but it is also a function of the stiffness of the top, which is due to the wood, the shape, the thickness, and age. Thick tops need more tension than thin tops. Old master basses with fairly thin or weak tops by and large need low tension strings or a tension reducing tailpiece. The average run of the mill czech or german no-name bass could go either way and will need experimentation.