Very-Low-Tension Strings and Hand/Finger Strength

Discussion in 'Strings [BG]' started by +6dB Dan, Mar 17, 2016.

  1. +6dB Dan

    +6dB Dan

    Dec 8, 2015
    Chicago, IL
    Hey Everyone,

    I put TI Jazz Flats on my Jazz Bass two months ago, and have spent a lot of time playing them since then. This is my first experience with either TI Jazz Flats or very-low-tension strings. Overall, the experience has been good: the strings are super comfortable to play, and I notice myself being able to play faster and more cleanly than before. When I switch to my other basses, which have Fender roundwounds and La Bella Jamersons on them (both much higher in tension than the TIs), I notice myself struggling more to play cleanly.

    Should I be worried about my hand/finger strength atrophying if I keep playing very-low-tension strings? Will playing primarily very-low-tension strings make it harder for me to switch to higher-tension strings in the future? I like the TIs but want to be able to play other strings proficiently too.

    Do any of you who play primarily very-low-tension strings make a conscious effort to rotate playing basses with higher-tension strings, for similar reasons?

    Thanks for your thoughts,

    nixdad likes this.
  2. +6dB Dan

    +6dB Dan

    Dec 8, 2015
    Chicago, IL
    In case it's relevant, some background about me as a player. I've been playing bass for about 5 years. I currently play in 2 bands and do some occasional freelance gigs. I currently practice about an hour a day and gig 2-3 times a month. My overall technique is decent, but I think I feel like I may need to build more hand/finger strength in general.
  3. shawshank72


    Mar 22, 2009
    I'm one of those people who feel that heavier gauge strings are easier to play than light ones.
    Low action, effortless fretting, and the feel of more string under my fingers for control.
  4. Gorn


    Dec 15, 2011
    Queens, NY
    Nothing's gonna atrophy, but I know I'd have trouble switching between low tension and high. For some people it's not a problem. People switch between shortcale and long without an issue but I can do that either. My playing experience has to be consistent or I get all discombobulated, but that's just me.
  5. Mktrat

    Mktrat Seriously, are we not doing phrasing anymore?

    Apr 9, 2013
    The Mitten
    discombobulated <~~~ First time I have ever seen that typed out. hmmmmm interesting.

    And now back to your regularly scheduled thread....
    +6dB Dan, staurosjohn and ShirazBop like this.
  6. Gravedigger Dav

    Gravedigger Dav Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 13, 2014
    Springtown, Texas
    I currently have Roto 77s on both my Ps, and GHS Boomers on my J. I don't feel any difference other than the texture of the string with my fretting hand. It takes more strength on the flats with my plucking hand, but it isn't an issue.
  7. FourBanger


    Sep 2, 2012
    SE Como
    It shouldn't become an issue. In reality you shouldn't have to press with much force no matter what tension and flex you play. If you are your bass is in dire need of a setup.
    pacojas likes this.
  8. I agree to a point, but certain strings are just uncomfortable to play for me exactly because they are stiffer and require more effort to pluck and fret, not at all relative to setup. I can have Labella FS and Chromes of the same gauge setup with the same exact relief and action on the same type of bass, and find myself moving toward the Labellas every time because the Chromes are so much more rigid and tire my fingers quicker. Some strings are just stiff.
    +6dB Dan and Keyser Soze like this.
  9. If I had two sets of strings of the same gauges but one is stiffer than the other, then I would lower the action on the stiffer set so they're not necessarily harder to play on than the other set.

    My 59-yr-old left hand doesn't like anything too heavy any more, but I actually find it easier to play on stiffer strings with a nice low action than on floppy strings that need to have a higher action to avoid the problem of fret buzz.
    petrus61 likes this.
  10. One has less to do with the other than some would think. Stiff strings are still stiff regardless of relief. They are easier to fret with lower relief, but that doesn't account for pliability, side to side movement or plucking action. It's not as simple as just dropping them to the deck. They're still going to perform differently from less stiff strings. FWIW, I use 45-105 Labella flats as low as they can go to the frets. If I throw on a set of stiffer Chromes or Rotos, my hands are still going to notice the difference. Personal preference notwithstanding.
    AngelCrusher likes this.
  11. You may have a point...

    Come to think of it, my personal preference regarding the stiffness of the strings actually have more to do with how they feel under my plucking fingers rather than for fretting. Fretting action is something that can be adjusted according to how the bass is set up, but how a set of strings behave for your right hand is not something that can be controlled quite as easily.
    Clutchcargo, Eikari and petrus61 like this.
  12. ixlramp

    ixlramp Guest

    Jan 25, 2005
    Seems you're realising the advantages of low string tension. My feeling is that instead of worrying about losing strength, worry about the stress on your body by playing high tension strings (the fact is, so called 'medium' or 'standard' tension bass strings are actually very high tension) and feel good about the health benefits and reducing the chance of injury. I would encourage you to move to looser strings on all your basses, as this seems to work better for you.

    Low tension strings do not necessarily need to have higher action, as long as you reduce the strength of your technique, which is therefore good for your right hand too. I use ultra-light tension strings with action low enough for tapping, this forces me to use a very light touch when not tapping.

    In terms of tension, most basses are still, unfortunately, electric contrabasses and haven't evolved to be more playable and actually be 'bass guitars'.
    AngelCrusher, +6dB Dan and interp like this.
  13. I'm another light gauge & light touch player. I have delicate, weakling, office-worker hands.

    And I disagree with the notion that lighter strings always need a higher action. Light strings and low action can coexist if you have a light touch.

    EDIT: BTW I play punk and rock. Exclusively finger style, and sometimes even with a fretless Jazz. No heavy strings and no picks for me. I play with a light touch and let the amp do the work. There are no rules in punk! My back can handle the weight of a heavy bass, but I know that 2 hours of playing heavy strings is beyond the limits of my poor weak hands.
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2016
    +6dB Dan likes this.
  14. kalanb


    Dec 17, 2012
    I put TI flats on my main bass and love them. I set it up with low action, for a 7.25" radius at least, and love how effortless it is to play. I have another P that I put DR lo riders, which are pretty high tension for rounds, and couldn't swing going back and forth, so I wound up putting sunbeams and now have 2 basses with low tension strings and low action. Love it.
    +6dB Dan likes this.
  15. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Yamaha, Ampeg, Line 6, EMG
    At worst, higher tension strings might become a bit annoying to you after using low tension strings, but you don't have to worry about atrophy unless you quit practicing. Besides, strength has nothing to do with being able to play. If it did, I'd be dead in the water. It's about agility and accuracy, not strength.
  16. CatSquare


    Mar 7, 2014
    I'm curious what the difference would be/is?

    I'm also a super low tension player (TI Flats tuned to B), I don't have issues playing higher tension basses, but at the same time, I don't really enjoy it.
  17. BassFishingInAmerica


    Jul 24, 2014
    This has nothing to do with the OP, but being an English major, I thought I would just leave this here:
    Google Ngram Viewer
  18. Afc70

    Afc70 We’re only immortal for a limited time Supporting Member

    Feb 2, 2004
    Northeast Arkansas
    I use 45-130 gauge strings on my Modulus Q-5, and 40-120 on my other 5'ers... I play w a nimble, light touch and all of my instruments are set up w/ very low action and no fret buzz. Playing w/ a light touch is liberating, i never feel like I'm fighting the bass, I'm able to enjoy the music and be relaxed.
    matdras likes this.
  19. flam


    Sep 20, 2010
    Tempe, Arizona
    I have trouble switching. Normally I play low tension strings, but I can actually play faster/ more accurately on high tension strings because I don't have to move my fingers as far.
  20. physics


    Aug 7, 2009
    Berkeley, CA
    I prefer higher tension strings, with a very low neck relief and string action, and like playing with a light touch. The strings seem well-controlled and my hand muscles and tendons don't seem to mind the extra tension.
    shawshank72 and matdras like this.