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String gauge in relation to attack

Discussion in 'Strings [BG]' started by brushfirewolf, Feb 13, 2020.

  1. brushfirewolf


    Nov 12, 2016
    I wanted to perhaps start a discussion on the relationship between the gauge of your strings and your attack. Fingerstyle players- do you feel like you can play with a lighter attack on heavier strings and still get a good tone, or do you feel you're better off with a lighter gauge and light attack? How about a light gauge w/ strong attack?

    I think I've been teaching myself to dig in a bit too hard because I've always used light gauge strings. Usually it's 35-95 or 40-100s. I just picked up a Ray4 that had 45-105 and they felt super heavy but had a fat tone that I'm just not used to. I can play much lighter and it sounds fat but I lose the bright, poppy sound I get from the lighter gauge, especially when slapping. Can't decide what I like better. I guess I'll just have to buy another bass or 2 for options. :eyebrow:
    Al T. likes this.
  2. I've been exploring the lighter side of life lately by trying out lighter gauges than what I've been using for the last few years. And I'm really starting to enjoy playing with a lighter touch as it allows me to play more cleanly and with better control over dynamics. Besides, my 62-yr-old hands seem to appreciate the idea of not having to work as hard.

    One thing I can't stand is strings that feel too loose and floppy under my plucking fingers, so I tend to prefer hex-core over round-core to make sure they provide a degree of firmness. I'm currently using the GHS Pressurewound L7200 (40-54-76-96) for standard tuning and M7200 (44-62-84-106) for DGCF tuning and I find them both to be a good combination of being comfortable for the left hand and being firm enough for the right hand.

    Meanwhile, I don't feel I'm losing anything in terms of overall tonal quality by going lighter in gauges.
    Dragan and brushfirewolf like this.
  3. brushfirewolf


    Nov 12, 2016
    Interesting. It could be the bass for me. My main bass before this was a Fender Jazz but I've been missing the Stingray ever since I sold my special last year. Gonna have to upgrade the electronics in this Ray4 but that's a totally different topic.

    It's interesting that you say you enjoy playing with a lighter touch- I feel the opposite going from medium/heavy to light gauge. I naturally dig in harder. When playing on these 45-105s I attack much lighter. Maybe my technique needs work.
  4. I was just going to suggest maybe the "fat tone" you're talking about has more to do with the fact it's a Ray rather than the string gauges.
    David Jayne likes this.
  5. brushfirewolf


    Nov 12, 2016
    For sure, but I'd noticed a similar tone change when going from 45-105 down to 35-95 on my jazz.

    I see a lot about heavier strings being for harder attack/pick playing but I'm experiencing the opposite. I need to dig in much less with heavier strings.
  6. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Supporting Member

    this is way 'deeper' than the other thread about J basses! :laugh: i kid, i love that thread!

    IME: the string gauge influences the way i make the "attack," in context (say a gig), from one tune/style/moment to another, so: while i can play any gauge, theoretically, i've settled on lighter gauges (35-90, and 43-89) to do everything i like to do on my fretlesses. i think i have a light to medium "attack" with lots of digging-in for fun. of course, the digging-in experience is a little different from gauge to gauge, for me, YMMV, etc.

    :laugh: sounds like "the great TB plan!"

    if A/B comparisons are what you're after you may have to make some purchases --- don't forget the recording gear! :D

    if you use three styles of attack (say light, medium, heavy), and three kinds of string gauges (say light, medium, heavy), then how many possible, different comparisons can you make regarding the sound of an "attack? "

    i'll be back with the answer after this brief commercial message! ;)
  7. brushfirewolf


    Nov 12, 2016
    I've always gone with the light (or lighter) gauges because of the supposed ease of play, and because they seem to allow a lower action. I'm not so convinced anymore that they are easier to play. They definitely don't require as much effort to fret, but in terms of the right hand fingering I feel like I can lighten up quit a bit with a heavier gauge.

    There is a clear loss of brightness and pop with the heavier strings though which I may not be content with.
  8. Heavier gauges = more mass for the pickups to interact with. So, they don't need to vibrate as hard to produce the same amount of sound as lighter strings with less mass. Does that make sense?
  9. brushfirewolf


    Nov 12, 2016
  10. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    Aha, thanks for the explanation! I've always wondered why my E string is twice as loud as my G string. More mass. ;)

    Last edited: Feb 13, 2020
    31HZ likes this.
  11. onda'bass

    onda'bass Supporting Member

    Sep 5, 2010
    Buffalo Ny
    Light is life ymmv
    brushfirewolf likes this.
  12. mattj1stc

    mattj1stc Gold Supporting Member

    Jan 13, 2009
    Dallas, TX USA
    It's an interesting question. I've usually thought about it from the other way around. I have a very heavy touch when I play. As such, I have always been drawn to the heavier gauge strings. I started with the Jamerson flats when I played 4 strings. I now use Kalium balanced strings (.045-.150) on my five string. I used to believe that thick strings equaled big tone, but I've used some La Bella flats that were not very thick or stiff, but still had a big tone. The only trouble is that they felt so floppy, I really struggled to play them. It may make a difference which brand you're using. The only downside I could see if you're going from lower gauge to higher gauge string would be that your hands might get tired if you're trying to move the thicker strings as much.
  13. micguy


    May 17, 2011
    I like the sound of strings flailing away, grinding on the frets a bit here and there - not all the time, but (usually at the climatic moment in a set) when I dig in I want that sound. I've had wrist issues - I lost a decade to a wrist issue, and though it wasn't repetitive stress, I don't want to risk that - I had to learn to play again from scratch. So.....I don't want to have to use a lot of force to get that sound. Hence I use very light gauge strings.

    It is true you can get more output with heavier gauge strings, but for more output, you do have to hit them harder. I have volume controls on my electronics and pedals that turn up, so if I want louder, it's available via another route.
    e-flat and mikewalker like this.
  14. micguy


    May 17, 2011
    This is Talkbass. 'round these here parts, if we start thinkin' 'bout 'sperimentation, we don't up and buy no 2 basses. We buy 7.
  15. Cutter8

    Cutter8 Supporting Member

    Feb 4, 2018
    I was starting to dig in too hard and thought it had to do with string gauge, but in my case, that wasn’t the cause. For me, the root of the bad habit turned out to be practicing unplugged (which I didn’t realize had a downside until after I had been playing for about 6 months) or playing with the volume set too low on my amp. That may not be any part of the issue for you, but I thought it could be worth mentioning. Consistently playing with my amp turned up fairly high has lightened up my touch and improved my speed, dexterity, dynamics and endurance immensely.
  16. Practicing unplugged was exactly what I was doing at the beginning. Then when I finally was able to set up a decent home practice rig, I realized my hands had been working so much harder than they needed to. I also find it easier to work on developing good techniques when I'm not trying to play so hard by fighting with the strings.
    Cutter8 likes this.
  17. Tekkers


    Dec 16, 2018
    This sane thing happened to me; spent a while practicing unplugged when I wasn’t able to use an amp at home due to living situations, and wasn’t playing in a band.

    When I first plugged into an amp and played at gig volume, I was amazed at how hard I was hitting the strings, without realising.
    I play with a lighter touch now and will practice with headphones when I can’t plug into an amp, but just worth reiterating the importance of being able to hear yourself properly to avoid getting into bad habits.
    brushfirewolf, Cutter8 and michael_t like this.
  18. chaosMK


    May 26, 2005
    Albuquerque, NM
    Too much hip thrust
    If I am playing br00ts I use a fast percussive attack. I like mediums (.125 B) and use Hex Core Lo-Riders on a 35" scale bass. Basically it's a little more effort to play (I can snap around with my FS on a 34" scale) but the stiffness keeps things very tight and under control. I slap on the B a lot and like it super tight, and also tap quite a bit and use harmonics (Hex helps with them). Attack comes down to your touch more than tha string gauge.
  19. 40Hz

    40Hz Supporting Member


    It’s not the mass. It’s the string’s excursion that the pickups react to. The greater the excursion, the more voltage (signal) generated.

    Lighter gauge strings will tend to have a greater excursion than heavier gauge strings when played with the same amount of force. Which is why lighter gauges often sound punchier than heavier strings all factors being equal.

    But it’s also not easy to generalize since string tension also affects the range of a plucked string’s motion. So a heavier gauge with lower tension can have a greater degree of excursion than a high tension lighter gauge string.

    Either way, a pickup doesn’t sense or interact with a string’s mass.
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2020
    brushfirewolf, Kenova, e-flat and 3 others like this.
  20. matante


    Nov 3, 2003
    Los Angeles
    My experience as a pick player is the opposite. I like to use a thin pick and using thinner strings is has helped my tone. I like articulation and I get that with thinner strings.

    For starters, thinner strings are less bright than thicker ones. You don't lose brightness with thicker strings. Downtune your A string to E and compare your two E stings. You'll find that the thicker one is brighter.
    David Jayne likes this.

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