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String tension, standard, balanced sets and setup - opinions

Discussion in 'Strings [BG]' started by Pier_, Sep 1, 2017.

  1. Pier_


    Dec 22, 2013
    Roma, Italia
    Hi there! maybe a few will find it interesting, but I'd like to share with you my experiences regarding this thing about string tensions.

    since a few years there's always this debate about balanced sets, string tension from string to string, discussions about how terrible are some standard sets and how these new "balanced" sets are the holy grail of strings.

    after years of changes, I created my own opinion, based on a lot of experiences with different sets or brands (it's been at least 6 or 7 years since I changed a set with the same set :p ).

    I'll probably row against the current, but I don't like the "balanced sets", and IMHO the best compromise are the "regular" sets with smaller lows, like 40-95, 45-100, 50-105, and I'll explain my reasons below.

    I've always found the "balaced sets" to be, well, "balanced" in terms of tension, but tension is not everything we need.
    the bass needs a setup, and the setup is also related to string action, and string action is related to the percieved tension.

    having, for example, the D and A with the same tension (usually they are the most "similar" strings in balanced sets) give me a lots of struggles with the setup, because they are not the same string.

    to match the tension usually I have to set the A string lower than the D, and this creates some issues with the buzzing and actual feel while fretting.
    even if the tension "at pitch" is the same, if the action is low the tension seems lower.

    this thing always created me issues in the setups AND playing, because at when I play, to have the right action I have different tensions.

    I also don't like the 45-105 (and similar) sets for the same reason. the worst part of a setup, IMHO, is the "D&A" area.

    with strings like 50-105 or 45-100 I can setup every string so that the action matches the tension, I can set the A and E a bit higher so that there aren't unwanted buzzes on the low strings.

    I have to add that I like low actions, very low actions :D a G should not be higher than 1mm at the last fret, and the E at a maximum of 2,5mm, but less is better, depending on the tension.

    my actual first discovery digs it's roots back in 2013, when after years of 40-100/45-105 sets I bought a 40-95 set of DR Hi Beam. I needed a set of new strings, and I was using the 40-100 set, but the shop was out of stock, so I bought the 95 one.
    after a small setup, wow... I felt better on that, it was more comfortable.

    when I switched back to a 45-105 set of Hi Beams I couldn't stand the hard A string, and then I realized that I needed a smaller A, like I had when I used the RS66LD set of Rotosound, one of my favourite sets of all times.

    my last experiences are with three basses:

    Sterling Sub Ray4, tried with Ernie Ball 45-100 and 50-105, D'Addario EXL165 (45-105) and Dunlop Super Bright 45-105; also with Thomastik Jazz Round 43-89

    Warwick Streamer LX4, tried with D'Addario EXL165, Warwick Black 45-105, Ernie Ball 45-100 and TI Jazz rounds 43-89

    Gibson Thunderbird tried with Rotosound Swing66 45-105, D'Addario EXL165, Ernie Ball 50-105 and TI Jazz rounds 43-89.

    the Sterling was perfect with EB's 45-100 or 50-105, too tight on the A with D'Addario, full of unwanted buzzes on the D and A with the Dunlops and a bit strange with TI.

    the Warwick was odd with D'Addario, tight on the A and E with the Warwicks and now sits perfectly with EBs since July.

    the Gibson was the hardest one! the bridge doesn't allow any movement except raising or lowering the sides, and the saddles are already "radiuses", so it should be set parallel to the body, or almost parallel depending on the strings.
    the only set I can use seem to be the EB's one, which gave me a perfect setup with the parallel bridge.
    didn't have to tweak anything or come to compromises.
    the TI couldn't do anything good, because the E string was too small compared to the A, and even with the inclined position of the bridge it was still full of buzzes. the G string was too tight compared to the D, and without the possibiliy to raise only the D I couldn't get a proper setup.

    so, I really don't understand "balaced sets", because they don't consider the action. also, the position while playing is important!
    a tight G string is still nearer to the hand and easy to press, while the E is distant from the hand and can be reached only with the fingertip, so you'll have less strenght to press it.

    if I have all the strings with almost the (virtual) same tension I then find hard to play, because they are unbalanced while playing.

    this is my experience, based on a lot of sets changed over the years.

    PS: one thing to consider is the habit. many don't consider it while talking about strings.

    for example, every time I switch to a different gauge, the first days are difficult, but after a while that set becomes the right one.

    after years of light strings, I switched back to heavy 50 (my main bass has the Labella Jamerson 52-110), and now they feel like regular light strings to me, I can also slap and tap on them.
    trying again some light strings was really odd and difficult.

    now that I said everything I think about this argument, I pass the ball to you all :D
    Arthur U. Poon likes this.
  2. ixlramp


    Jan 25, 2005
    Not sure i understand, do you mean 'perceived tension' here? and here you are talking about a set with equal scientific tensions?
    So if i understand correctly: you want equal 'perceived tension' across a set, but a set with equal scientific tensions creates unequal 'perceived tension'?

    I recommend that players experiment with gauges to find what is ideal for them. When i did this i discovered i prefer 'actual tension' falling from low to high, the opposite of traditional sets.

    Most importantly, don't accept being forced to use a particular combination of gauges, as pre-packaged sets do, each string gauge needs to be adjusted and chosen individually. Mail order and internet shopping is making building sets from singles easier.
    Accepting a particular combination of gauges is as weird as being forced to use that bass with that cable and that amp, all chosen for you, no-one would accept that.
    Every player is individual and has individual needs and techniques, and has an ideal gauge for each string on the instrument, that no-one else can guess or dictate.
    String manufacturers DO NOT know better than the player, however, many players are submissive and decide that string manufacturers know better and that they should accept the very limited combinations of gauges.
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2017
  3. Pier_


    Dec 22, 2013
    Roma, Italia
    exactly. each string needs a specific setup, because the diameter is different, the position of the hands is different while plucking ad fretting...

    FE: if I have a set with 40lbs of tension at pitch on every string I'm going to feel the A and E tighter than D and G, and I'm prone to lowering the action on those strings, creating a disbalance between strings on the fretboard.

    if the lower strings have less tension I set them in the standard way: http://www.guitarmigi.it/_Setup/varie/arco-sellette-corde2.jpg, so that the lower strings have a slightly higher action.

    with "balanced sets" I've never felt comfortable, even using them for a long time, because of these reasons.

    about it I agree at 100%. in fact many players choose the strings depending on the needs, like bigger lows, lighter highs for bending and ease of playing...

    on this part I don't agree. string manufacturers have scientific studies behing their production, and what we call "standard" today is the consequence.

    FE: if in the 60s Ernie Ball didn't start the production of the unwound G string on the guitar, today we'd probably still have the wound G as a standard, .012 gauges sets as "medium", and fewer guitar heroes with extreme techniques.
    now the standard is .010 with the unwound G, and few electric guitarists use heavier strings.
    the wound G and heavy sets are now only used by some jazz musicians.

    back in the 60s, again, the bass only had flatwound strings, and the Labella 0760M were "medium" gauge :p now they are considered one of the heaviest sets on Earth.
    how we managed to escape from that situation? because a bass player went to the factory and told that he wanted lighter and round strings to sound like a guitar, and Rotosound studied them.

    string manufacturers usually have players as heads, not just some enterpreneur trying to make money. and in fact even the biggest brands come out with new sets, new designs and materials.

    again, on this I 100% agree with you. in fact I've spent the last years trying everything, coming at the conclusion that I prefer mostly the heavy-top-light-bottom sets like 40-95, 45-100, 50-105, that I don't like te "balanced sets" proposed by most brands and that every bass and player is different.

    that's why I opened this topic :D
    bonruiz likes this.
  4. shawshank72


    Mar 22, 2009
    Until I found the 50/65/85/110 combination I have never been happier.
    I know it's not perfect balance wise but it's as close as I can get with heavier strings.
    I can't play strings that are unbalanced,
    It feels awful and is uncomfortable and takes away from some of the enjoyment.
    To me if listening to a recording you can't tell whether they are using 55/70/90/110 or 40/55/75/100 strings, to me it's all about the feel.
    My setups have never felt better to me since this also.
    bonruiz and michael_t like this.
  5. Pier_


    Dec 22, 2013
    Roma, Italia
    totally agree, that's why I never mentioned the "sound" in my post. I've used strings from 30-90 up to 52-110 flat, and except for the feeling, live and in studio I've never encountered so much differences.

    yes, some techniques are different on some strings, but look at Chris Wyse:

    he plays 55-110 :D who could argue!?
    bonruiz and shawshank72 like this.
  6. tallboybass

    tallboybass Supporting Member

    Feb 25, 2003
    Tulsa, Oklahoma
    What kind of strings? ^
  7. Pier_


    Dec 22, 2013
    Roma, Italia
    Prosteel by D'addario
    tallboybass likes this.
  8. Arthur U. Poon

    Arthur U. Poon

    Jan 30, 2004
    SLC, Utah -USA-
    Endorsing Artist: Mike Lull Custom Basses
    Pier, I haven't tried a set of Balanced Tension strings; Standard gauged sets work fine for me. I've experimented with different gauges of the same sets, but the only times I've noticed a difference that I can perceive is with my B-string.

    I'm most likely an odd bird amongst the majority of TBers; Besides tone, the thing I need the most from a set of strings is higher tension, mostly for my plucking hand. When I need to dig in, I want my strings to fight back.
  9. Pier_


    Dec 22, 2013
    Roma, Italia
    I understand you, I also prefer high tension strings.

    I've had my "thin string" period, and my teacher years ago warned me about it! ahaha!

    he told me that, in the late 80's and beginning of the 90's he started using 30-90 strings, slapping everithing and trying to fit in tapping and other techniques even in italian pop and folk music, where he used to work.

    then he met, at the time, one of our most famous bass players, and while playing each other's instruments, he told him that he prefer big strings for "working", because they are easy to control, to pluck and pick, and that when you play one night after another for a 2-hour gig, using the less effort to play and have all the dynamics is better.

    I, as a curious person, went through this path, or journey :D started out with 45-105, went up to 50-110 or bigger strings, wanted to learn more advanced techniques ad lowered the gauge to 40-100, 35-95 and then 30-90... for at least 4 or 5 years I've only used low tension, light gauged strings, even with low action and a lot of fret-smashing-sounds.

    then restarted the journey, because those light strings were not the best in live settings, in particular when I wanted and needed to "dig in" and play harder. they always sored my fingers and I couldn't get the "volume" out of them.

    came back gradually to 40-95, then 45-100, 50-105 and then strung my Jazz with 52-110 flats :D now I can't play anything smaller than 50-105.
    bonruiz and Arthur U. Poon like this.
  10. ixlramp


    Jan 25, 2005
    Seems odd, tighter strings are obviously not easier to pluck and pick or less effort to play, and are certainly not the healthiest for the body when playing a lot.
    I'm the opposite in that i went through my 'tight strings phase' and am kinder to my body now, and realise that what is called a 'medium bass set' is actually extremely tight and not healthy combined with the bad ergonomics of most bass guitars. It's no surprise so many bassists develop injuries.
    bonruiz likes this.
  11. tlc1976


    Aug 2, 2016
    I prefer an even tension for playing. I also think an even tension helps keep the neck straight over time (though standard uneven tension sets have been just fine for decades) it just makes me feel better. I think the goal of the standard set was to keep the low end not as overpowering, while keeping the high end not as tinny. I keep a roughly balanced set about 40 lbs on the 7 string and I like them, but it looks like 35 lbs is a little better feel and sound. It came with a set that went from 30 to 72 lbs, yikes, I didn't even want to tune it up that way.
  12. tlc1976


    Aug 2, 2016
    Tighter strings can be easier to play, if you don't dig in, just glide across them. And since they don't move as much that way, you can get away with a lower action.
  13. ixlramp


    Jan 25, 2005
    Yes i can see the sense in that, but i would say it's a case of technique, use a lighter technique to glide across looser strings, and this way you don't have to raise the action compared to a tighter set.
  14. Pier_


    Dec 22, 2013
    Roma, Italia
    the fact is that low tension strings are not easy for the plucking hand, because a rubbery string that bends under the figers don't help with the dynamics.

    when you play every night, you want to pluck with less effort getting all the dyamics you need, from the "almost silent" the "super loud".
    with low tension strings you can't get all the dynamics, because the strings won't make any resistance.

    you can get the idea by using different picks: a thin .50mm pick will bend "against" the string, and if you want more volume, an higher dynamic, you can't get it, because the pick bends.
    if you use a thick pick, like 1mm, you can play very loud without any fatigue, and go between loud and silent with ease.

    different thing is the fretting hand, and in that case yes, low tension strings are better, easier to bend, to press and everything, but while pressing the strings is just a muscle training, and you can easilly get used to light or heavy strings, picking them and getting all the dynamics is not a thing you can get used to.
    you can learn to use the dynamic range offered by a "bending" string, but you still have a limited range.
    bonruiz likes this.

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