1. Please take 30 seconds to register your free account to remove most ads, post topics, make friends, earn reward points at our store, and more!  

Tuning up an octave

Discussion in 'Strings [DB]' started by Common Tater, Nov 19, 2018.

  1. Common Tater

    Common Tater

    Jan 15, 2016
    After seeing the thread on "bumped" string sets I've thought some more on the possibility of tuning a bass up an octave. I've asked this question before but the discussion got derailed over two things. First was people suggesting solutions that did not involve a the selection of strings on a bass. Offering the use of electronics to get a different octave is off topic. Suggesting the use of something other than a "standard" sized double bass is also off topic. I pose the question here on how one might go about tuning a bass up an octave in the forum on double bass strings because I wish to tune a double bass up an octave and would like to discuss the choice of strings needed to accomplish this.

    The other thing that derailed the discussion last time was the fascination on why anyone would want to do such a thing. Well, think of a reason why someone might want to do this and consider that your answer. If you cannot fathom why someone might want to do such a thing then this discussion is not for you. We can discuss why so long as it does not distract from the question on how it can be done. If this bothers you that someone would do such a thing then I suggest you close your browser window and move on.

    I mentioned the use of a "standard" size bass but I'll define that further to avoid people suggesting I shrink a bass in the wash. For this discussion a "standard" size has a nut to bridge distance between 44 inches and 34 inches. This means a 4/4 scale bass on the top end on down to no smaller than something like a NS Design Omnibass. Anything shorter than 34 inches on scale length is not a bass or is a customized instrument and therefore cheating on the rules.

    The reason this came to mind again was not just the mention of "bumped" strings but also the mention of this set of strings from Superior Bassworks. The description on their website specifies that the set of six strings allow for tuning E1-A1-D2-G2 with different tensions on bass sizes from 1/2 to 4/4. Presumably these strings will hold up to standard tension so that they can be tuned to the original tuning instead of being down tuned a fourth. Six strings in the set allow not only a "bump" from an E1 string to an A1 string but a "double bump" from E1 to D2. Once at D2 then going to E2 means tightening up the tension a bit or going from a 4/4 scale to a 3/4 or 1/2.

    Presumably one could get a set of strings from Superior Bassworks and put in the proper selection of four strings from this six string set so that one could tune to E2-A2-D3-G3 and not over stress the strings or instrument. If this is somehow difficult to achieve with a common 3/4 scale bass (at about 42 inches nut to bridge) then a minor "cheat" to a 1/2 scale bass (about 38 inches nut to bridge) could help with this. If this is still not enough to reach the desired effect then one could choose a 1/4 scale bass for these strings. Going any smaller than that to achieve the desired tuning gets to some kind of hybrid between a double bass and bass guitar like the NS Omnibass. Any smaller and, again, is too much of a cheat that it breaks the rules where the instrument is no longer a bass and therefore outside the confines of this forum.

    Does this seem like a viable solution? Taking a "double bumped" set of strings but at "standard" tension so that the resulting tuning is one octave higher. Has anyone tried this?
  2. I would think the strings would snap if you tuned up an entire octave on a standard 3/4 bass. Let alone if you started playing it or the damage you could possibly do to the top, bridge, or neck joint. Whatever you experiment with, be careful. Good luck.
    Pbassmanca likes this.
  3. Common Tater

    Common Tater

    Jan 15, 2016
    Right. Perhaps I should have defined what a bumped set of strings were rather than relying on people to have read the thread I linked to find out.

    A bumped set of strings is "bumped" over one position so that the A string is in the E position, D in the A position, G in the D position, and a C string (from a 5 string set or purchased separately) in the G position. A bumped set is still tuned EADG except the strings are at a lower tension for ease of pizz playing. This technique is common enough now that manufacturers will create bumped sets to meet this demand. I'm proposing a "double bumped" set of strings, but not tuned down. This means the D2 string would be moved over to the E1 position. A "bumped" set would have this string with low tension to get the E1. I propose this instead be tightened up a bit to E2. This would increase the tension but I doubt it would to the point of being dangerous or unplayable.

    It looks like the string set from Superior Bassworks might allow a "double bump", even on a 3/4 scale bass. There's six strings in the set so a "double bump" should be possible. If there are similar sets of strings from other manufacturers then I'd be curious on what they look like.
  4. This is commonly done for "Jazz Cello". I believe Ray Brown and Ron Carter both did it. A Cello tuned in 4ths E-A-D-G.
    Pbassmanca, Seanto and Mushroo like this.
  5. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    Why not just play a guitar, which was designed for that range?
    Mushroo likes this.
  6. J_Bass


    Feb 7, 2008
    Porto, Portugal
    That seems like it would need new thinner strings.

    I believe what you are looking for is what we call piccolo strings for the electric bass. D'Addario makes them. That would be preferable to adding tension on the normal strings, which could damage the bass.
    MonetBass likes this.
  7. Whoever said that there’s no such thing as a stupid question was clearly lying.
    the_Ryan, longfinger, Seanto and 3 others like this.
  8. Common Tater

    Common Tater

    Jan 15, 2016
    That's quite possible. If I knew the proper name for this then that would help with my search.

    Do you have a link? D'Addario makes a lot of strings so if you could point to the needle in the haystack that would be helpful.

    The goal is to have as close to a 3/4 bass as possible. Using bass guitar strings means using a 34 inch EUB or maybe a 1/4 scale DB.
    J_Bass likes this.
  9. Ron Carter and Buster Williams have played on (acoustic) piccolo basses years ago.
    But these were small basses I think.
  10. J_Bass


    Feb 7, 2008
    Porto, Portugal
    Not only I have a link, I have a set.

    For 34'' electric bass:


    Bass Strings | XL Nickel Round Wound | D'Addario
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2018
  11. Carl Hillman

    Carl Hillman

    Jan 1, 2010
    I don't think a 3/4 sized double bass is designed to do that, even if you CAN find puny gauged strings that are long enough.

    You will probably have to pay someone (mucho dinero) to make a custom set of strings, then a luthier to cut a bridge and nut for the bass.

    Please make sure you post the video here of you tuning it up to pitch for the first time!
  12. Sgroh87


    Dec 4, 2012
    DFW, Texas
    The general "rule of thumb" is that if you move up by an octave, you halve the string gauge. An electric bass usually has around a 100-110 for the low E; a piccolo set of strings for an E one octave higher is around a 50-52. I don't think you're going to find bass strings that skinny without getting something custom-made.

    Second thing to consider is that acoustic instruments require a certain amount of tension and string mass to transfer energy to the top. Strings that skinny are going to have a tougher time transmitting enough energy to the top to get good acoustic volume and tone.
    matthewbrown, Dabndug and J_Bass like this.
  13. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    One crazy thought is you could replace your E and A strings with standard D and G strings, and experiment with tunings like D2-G2-D2-G2, D2-G2-C2-F2, or E2-A2-D2-G2 (carefully testing how your bass reacts to the changes in tension).

    This would give you immediate access to "octave up" on the lowest two strings, while you continue to research string options for the top pair D3-G3.
  14. Common Tater

    Common Tater

    Jan 15, 2016
    Finding a third string is trivial, it's only that fourth string to tune to G3 that would be a problem. Get a 5 string set, bump up the strings 2 places, tighten them up a hair, and there's the 3 low strings E2-A2-D3. I'll give D'Addario as an example since they were already mentioned.
    D'Addario Orchestral : Product Details : NS Electric Contemporary Bass String Set, 3/4 Scale, Medium Tension

    Using a 3/4 5-string set on a 1/2 bass might allow for a "bump" once by moving the strings over one position and another effective "bump" due to the shorter vibrating string length. It's obviously not a 3/4 bass any more but closer to the desired size than a 1/4 bass with piccolo electric bass strings.
  15. Common Tater

    Common Tater

    Jan 15, 2016
  16. Yes. Are you asking these questions never having bowed gut?
  17. dhergert

    dhergert Gold Supporting Member

    Jan 17, 2018
    Blue Zone, California
    Addressing the OP, as a regular user of SBW Deluxe strings, I can confirm that even the lowest tension "bump" from this set of 6 strings is not low enough tension to accomplish what you're wanting to do...

    We're talking about string tension, not gauge, although there is a relationship between tension and gauge depending on the line material being used. In order to accomplish what you're talking about doing, you probably will need to experiment with a number of different line materials that are not associated with music, in order to find something that will deliver approximately 100% of the tension of normal strings at tuning a full octave higher than with normal strings. So really you're looking for normal DB length strings that are rated at 50% of the tension of normal DB strings at normal tuning -- which as you know doesn't exist as a set.

    There are things you can try. I'd be looking at electric guitar flatwounds if they were long enough but I suspect that they are not. I'd also look into guitarrón strings. Realistically based on my own experience, I'd be looking at different pound-test spooled line materials like reinforced weed wacker line, insulated cable, or even high tension abrasion resistant fishing line and/or leader material. From personal experience doing this kind of experimenting with other instruments, I'm guessing that you will probably end up with at least 10 to 20 spools of various line material before you find something close, but if it's worth the cost and space to store the spools, you'll probably find something.

    Regarding tension rating of normal DB strings, keep in mind that the tension ratings provided by DB string producers are not necessarily the same as the pound-test ratings of various line materials that are available on the market, so again you'll need to experiment.

    Lastly, as you look for this, keep in mind that tone and playability may not be pleasant on a standard DB with whatever materials that you come up with, and the mechanical usability may also fall short. This includes working with standard DB tuners, nuts, bridges and tailpieces. The instrument we know as a DB evolved along with the commonly used string choices and tunings that we see today for definite reasons.

    Good luck with your string and tuning experimenting! It is an eye-opening experience.

    Edit: Related to existing bass string sets, if you really want to experiment with the SBW Deluxe set, I'd suggest starting with using the lowest bump tension SBW Deluxe D string tuned to your E2, the lowest bump tension SBW Deluxe G string tuned to your A2, to start. Going to the higher strings from there you'll probably have to look at some of the other spooled line materials listed above. Or, you could tune to your projected D3 and G3 to D2 and G2, keeping their normal tuning, resulting in E2, A2 D2 G2 with normal fingering but a different sound. Again, good luck!
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2018
  18. I thought Ron Carter's 'piccolo' bass was tuned A D G C... I may have remembered that wrong though.
  19. J_Bass


    Feb 7, 2008
    Porto, Portugal
    I don't have a clue. I'm in my second month of playing double bass.

    The piccolo stings are for one of my electric basses.
  20. Sean Riddle

    Sean Riddle Supporting Member

    Aug 11, 2013
    Ventura, California
    From what I understand about Ron Carter’s Piccolo bass is that it’s tuned A D G C, which is also eastern Europe’s solo tuning (Bozo Paradzik uses this tuning).
    If you want to have double bass strings tuned up an octave, ala piccolo electric bass, really the best and only option is to get a cello and put Daddario’s cello strings tuned in 4ths on it, which is what Oscar Pettiford did for his jazz cello. You could use the E and A from a solo tuning set as the bottom strings, but you would need to find a string maker who could make the higher strings in order to be used on a 3/4, 7/8, or 4/4 bass.
    A double bass can’t handle standard strings tuned up that high. My luthier was pissed when she got a bass on consignment where the owner would tune standard orchestra tuning strings up a whole step. I can’t imagine a luthiers reaction if they see standard strings tuned up a 5th or more.

Share This Page

  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.