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String Tension vs. Volume, plywood bass

Discussion in 'Bluegrass [DB]' started by Tim Skaggs, Sep 29, 2002.

  1. Tim Skaggs

    Tim Skaggs

    Sep 28, 2002
    After 20 + years of playing electric bass, I bought a new DB this year. I’m playing Bluegrass exclusively.
    I've read several posts trying to find some information about string tension, gauge and acoustic volume. I'm trying to obtain the most volume possible without sacrificing playability.
    Is string tension directly related to volume, that is, does higher string tension always equal more volume, or are other factors such as string mass involved?
    I'm playing an Englehardt EM-1 which has the original strings (Super Sensitive, I think). I'm looking to change the strings to achieve more volume (pizz only) and try to maintain or improve playability. The string on the bass now seem to have "medium" tension, and not a lot of volume.
    My goal here is to obtain info from experienced players about which string (type, manufacturer) which will provide me with good volume and decent playability on my bass. I realize there are a lot of other factors to consider, but any general information will be greatly appreciated.

  2. olivier


    Dec 17, 1999
    Paris, France
    The highest volume I ever got was with Helicore hybrid medium. My experience is that their "hybrid" epithet is quite misleading since their are rather un-recommendable for arco playing. However, when pizzed, they produce an impressively long and LOUD sustain.

    Is it what you want for Bluegrass or would you rather have less sustain ?
  3. There's an ideal belly pressure where your instrument will have the opportunity to sound the loudest. You'll have to find it by yourself. Each instrument is different.
    Beyond that pressure, the belly's tone volume will start to decrease.
    On some older instruments, gut strings with their low tension, is the only way to go, but on modern instruments, you may have to try a few sets to find the best one.
    Following Olivier's suggestion:
    I also found out that Helicore Hybrid mediums were the loudest string ever.
    But your instrument could rather have Lights or Heavies instead.
    Heavy gauge strings also have the drawback of more difficult playability.
    I'd start with mediums and judge from that reference point.

  4. olivier


    Dec 17, 1999
    Paris, France
    Salut François, maintenant on a le droit à ton minois ! The heat is on, and I guess I'll have to get my .... together to become a member. In the meantime I'll make the board believe I have an ugly face !
  5. wjgbass


    Mar 20, 2002
    I too am a bluegrass only player. I have tried Thomastic dominants, Helicore pizz medium, Labella black nylon wound steel, and Thomastic Spirocores medium. I have a 4 year old German plywood that is just starting to come in to it's own. Far and away the best string for loudness and tone are the Spirocores, on this bass. I am using a Golden Spiral G on this setup for easier playability and sound. Marshall Wilborn uses E & A Dominants and the Lemur D & G gut on his Kay. Of course he is amped. I think it is critical to find a good luthier and get your bass set up properly. A luthier can help you determine what sting best fits your individual bass for the style you want to play and bring out the maximum potential of your instrument. I use Mike Shank in Elizabethtown, PA. Most bluegrass bass players don't know what you are talking about when you mention setup. People desribe my instruments as "cannons" in a jam situation and this is what I am after for this bass. Hope this helps.
  6. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    Playing a lot and having to produce a lot of volume is the ultimate answer that you're looking for. Living in the The Big Hassle I play about 80% ampless or more, and the longer I do it, the more volume I get. Some of this strength, I'm sure, but I think there is as much 'know-how' (read: self-defense).

    Back to you other question: Two answers, first I agree with the Francois about different basses responding differently to strings and height. As far as strings on three different basses; plywood, decent wood, and great wood, my personal experience is:

    -- Spiros -- genenrally the loudest that I've had. You can over-play these. After a certain point they will start to just 'flap' instead of ring. You're pulling pretty hard if you can get to this point.

    -- Dominants -- seemed similarly loud to me and had a much darker tone. They seemed about as loud as Spiros. I couldn't overplay these things on a bet, and got rid of them as they were chewing my hands to shreds. Bowed like a dream.

    -- Weichs -- darker, lower in volume, and bow nicely.

    -- Solos -- I don't think you'd be looking for these at all for what you're doing.

    -- Obligatos -- pretty nice all around, not as loud as Spiros. Get you a nice, woody sound in the right room. Pretty easy to overplay. They actually seem to be both louder and get you a fuller sound if you don't yank on them so hard and play a bit further from the bridge with your right hand. I have a set of these on now but will probably have Spiros back on when I they die.

    D'Addario -- Don't like them at all, so can't help here.
  7. This underscores the point about strings playing differently on different basses. I tried the regular Spiro orchestras for a week. It was like putting a mute on my bass. I've had weichs on for 2 months, they're much louder and clearer on my bass.
  8. Tim Skaggs

    Tim Skaggs

    Sep 28, 2002
    Thanks to each and every one of you for the replies so far! I found out more here in 24 hours than I have in 24 days around local music stores.
    Western Arkansas is certainly not a mecca for DB setup specialists, so I'm doing my own. I've done my own fiddle, acoustic guitar, electric bass setup for several years, and I'm reading up on DB setup. I'm playing a NON adjustable bridge now and I think I'll stick with that situation.
    It appears that Helicores or Spirocores would be a good starting place for my bass. As I play more, I can tell I'm getting better at technique and gaining some strength. My bass is also starting to open up a little bit, even though it's only about three months old.
    As far as Bluegrass and volume, I also play about 80% unamplified, so I'm looking for the most volume and sustain I can get. (I can't believe banjo's are so loud!)
  9. Hey Redbone, My Brother was a Music Major at ATU in Russellville "spelling". He Majored in Double Bass. You may can contact them and find a Luither. Not sure where you live exactly. I once lived in Subico. All well, my 2 cents


    If the world didnt suck we would all fall off.....
  10. jimclark68


    Dec 16, 2000
    Morganton, NC
    Hi Remus,

    I play trad. folk/bluegrass on a relatively new Engelhardt EM-1 as well. You definitely need to toss the strings from the shop. My bass was shod with LaBella 610s, navy windings. I have tried Corelli 370TX, Spiro Weich, and Spiro Medium, which I am currently using. Besides the fact that it is new, the Engels have a shallower neck angle (hope I'm using the right terminology) and therefore the strings do not put as much pressure on the table as a better bass. There is a good recent thread on this topic in the Setup subforum. The higher-tension strings help make up for this. I have also done quite a bit of experimenting with string height, and have found (as many others, notably Don and Ray, have described) that you can set the action much lower with the Spiro Mediums due to their higher tension and have a very comfortable setup with ample volume. And I love the sustain of the Spiros; you don't have to work as hard, especially in unplugged settings.

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