What makes a B string good?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by count_funkula, Feb 19, 2002.

  1. There are so many different 5 string basses on the market these days and so many different opinions about which have a good B string and which don't. I was just wondering what goes into making a good B string. Some people say you have to have a 35" scale to get a good B. However, there are plenty of 34" scale basses that have a great sounding B (Pedulla, Carvin, etc.....).

    For example, a lot of people say the Fender
    5-string Jazz basses have a floppy B string. Why is it considered floppy and the Pedulla is not. They are both 34" scale basses, both have solid necks, both are well made (of course the fit and finish on the Pedulla is far better than the Fender but should that make a difference in "floppiness").

    An even better example would be a Warmoth Jazz 5 vs. a Fender Jazz 5. The deminisions are the same but I have never heard anyone complain about the Warmoth.

    How big a part do the pickups play in making a satisfactory B string?

    Lets discuss the joys of the big B.....
  2. RAM


    May 10, 2000
    Chicago, IL
    5 strings...hmmm...that's a tough one!

    I've tried several 5-stringers and found very few that had a "B" tight enough for me to even CONSIDER making a switch.

    Obviously, some luthiers seem to have just the right recipe for making a tight "B". Is it an exact science? I don't know. I'm still perplexed by the fact that a store here in Chicago has two MTD 535's, both from approximately the same time frame. One has the tightest "B" I've ever heard. The other sounds pretty floppy and doesn't have much clarity until you move up to a "D" (3rd fret).

    In these two cases, both necks are maple and the fretboard is maple on the one with the floppy "B", rosewood on the tighter "B". The body woods are the same: Mahogany with a maple top. The hardware's the same, and so are the electronics, obviously.

    The store claims to have the basses set up fairly regularly, with new strings, etc. But, every time I've gone in, I've found the same problem. The one with a maple fretboard, for some reason, is just not as tight.

    Another bass I was surprised about was a Spector 5-string. I played one at a store (not in Chicago) that had a floppy "B" string. It was a 35" scale. When Bass Player Magazine did their review of the NS-5 back in 1994 (I think), they said that the low "B" on the Spector, which had a 34" scale back then, was about the tightest they'd EVER seen on a bass.

    To me, the scale issue between 34" and 35" is more marketing gimmick than physics at play. I wish I knew more, but if I did, I'd probably have the market cornered as a luthier;)
  3. I consider a good low B to be one with lots of definition and lots of bottom. These are both functions of neck stiffness and contact area more than scale length. A neck that resonates at a low frequency (that is, isn't very stiff) is going to have a lot of treble and mid-frequency phase cancellations that make the B sound muddy. A small neck-to-body contact area is going to bleed off low frequencies that give the super-low notes the "oomph" they need. A 35" scale bass that has a floppy neck and a small joint (such as my old Dean) is going to have a weak B no matter what.

    I know what you're talking about, RAM; I've played Matt Pulcinella basses with identical neck/body/fingerboard woods and profiles, and the same strings, yet radically different low Bs. I think the composition of the wood has a lot to do with it. One of the reasons that Modulus and Zon basses are renowned for their Bs is that their carbon-fiber necks are almost perfectly consistent from one bass to another, whereas the vagaries of wood necks make every wood-necked bass unique.
  4. RAM


    May 10, 2000
    Chicago, IL
    I agree with you about graphite or composite necks' low "B". They do usually have very consistent and very tight low "B" strings. I'd be interested in seeing how much scale length really plays into this, however...I don't recall ever seeing a 34" scale 5-string with a graphite neck.

    Didn't Zon make 34" scales at one point? I don't think Modulus did, except on custom orders...

    Related note: I recently started a thread asking if anyone had ever played a 34" scale MTD 534 and asked how it compared to a 35" scale MTD 535.
  5. The reason I started this thread was my interest in a Fender Jazz V. I'm trying to figure out if the weak B string is due to poor design in the bass itself or is it related to the electronics.

    Since I got my Carvin LB75 I have changed my right hand technique to have a much more deliberate approach to plucking the strings. I used to really dig in all the time and that didn't work with the B string at all.

    The last time I tried a Jazz V, the B felt pretty decent but I did notice it was really bland sounding.
    If this is something that can be cured by an electronics upgrade I may invest in this bass.
  6. RAM


    May 10, 2000
    Chicago, IL
    I'd recommend following the old addage: if it doesn't produce the sound you're looking for acoustically, no pickups with create that sound for you.

    The best you could hope for with upgrading pickups is to maybe have a slightly tighter sound. New pickups will NOT, however, tighten the string itself.

    If the acoustic tone is fine, upgrading your pickups could benefit the tone a little. So could the pickup placement.
  7. geshel


    Oct 2, 2001
    Well, I know one thing that plagued me for a while, my pickups were too close to the B string, which caused it to sound bad. It would warble above the 5th fret, I figured it was the string. But I raised the bridge saddle when I re-strung last time and the warble went away. Sounds great now. :)
  8. The Fender actives are known for the less-than-stellar preamps. Pickup location is pretty much fixed unless you feel like routing out the body to move things around. I really doubt that is the problem. The crappy preamp can be solved with a J-Retro or other onboard type.

    The ear on the wood thing sounds like a good idea to me. My RB5 sounds beautiful this way. I've always had a suspicion the 5-string Fender necks were of lesser quality than the RB5 necks, so I've avoided them.
  9. Zon still mostly makes 34" scale basses. I have played 34"-scale Zon 5s and been blown away by the immense power of the low B.

    For what it's worth, the best B I've ever played just happens to be on the FBB 5 I own. The neck is maple with thick bubinga stringers, so it's got an enormous amount of clarity, and (even better) the fundamental frequency sustains. I can't wait to get it out on a live gig and liquefy the contents of someone's bowels... :D
  10. The acoustic sound test is of course the real way of knowing what it is going to sound like. Maybe I will get a chance to to look at one when nobody else is in the store. Nothing worse than trying out an instrument when someone is in the store playing "Crazy Train" through a Marshall stack.

    Thanks guys!
  11. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Saint Louis, MO USA
    Hey RAM, Zon still makes 34" 5 string basses. And 35s.

    My take on a good five string:

    It has to be a five string. Not a four-plus-one string. My MIA JD5 and even my L2500 had B strings that were very different than the other 4. You had to treat them differently and expect different things from them. I really liked both of those basses, but the Fender B was poor and the L2500 was only good.

    My Q5 has a fully usable, just-one-of-the guys B string. You can play any note on that string and it sounds right. The tone, sustain, color and resonance of the notes on the B are perfectly integrated into the rest of the scale.

    It is completely yet simply an extended scale bass. The movement to and from the B string is really not even noticed.

    As for your thoughts on upgrading the Jazz, I don't think you'll be completely happy with it. I second the thought that it starts with acoustics.

    I LOVED my MIA JD5. The look, feel and playability of that bass were wonderful. But, you could play the bass unplugged, even with your ear against the bass, and easily notice the difference in the B string.

    Plugged in, with the EQ flat, it was noticably less audible. With the bass boosted, it was muddy.

    As far as feel, it was as tight as the L2500. So there is more to it than perceived tension.

  12. RAM


    May 10, 2000
    Chicago, IL
    I haven't played that many Zon's lately...only 1. It was a 5-string. I noodled around the fretboard through an Eden combo for about 5 minutes before I put it down. It sounded good...very good. I don't remember the scale length. Since my hands are not that familiar with 5-string basses, it felt weird, regardless of what the scale length was.

    But, that's good to know, that a 34" 5-string can still sound good. How about one that's not graphite or composite?
  13. depends a lot on the strings too..

    Generally it's like this : thick string with lots of " pull " means it has a good " B ", coz the tension is high..
  14. I wouldn't say that. Ken Smith B strings are extremely high-tension but still sound like crap.
  15. Harpo


    Feb 1, 2001
    Kings Park NY
    I have one thing to say "Stinray 5 " the best B string on a 34"" scale Bass .
  16. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Saint Louis, MO USA
    Ken Smith basses are 34" scale and every one that have ever played had nice sounding, well-integrated B strings.

    I had an LB75 that was pretty good also. It had a 5-piece neck. The other LB75 that I had without the lamenated neck had a sloppy B. (along with a myriad of other problems)

    I think the trick is a stiff neck. The 34s that I have played with nice Bs usually have a a five-piece neck. Sometimes a 3-piece, but usually a five.

    The only oddball being the EBMM 'Ray 5. That bass has a very good B string for its price range and neck style.

  17. The Sting Ray 5 does have a wicked B. It doesn't have much variety but what it does have it has in by the truckload.

    I'm really getting the urge to buy something new. I'm sure everybody is familiar with the "urge". Maybe it's GAS......excuse me.....

    I have always been a "one bass man" but the problem with that is the same sound gets old after a while. Sometimes a man needs variety.

    I may run to some music stores tonight and start sampling their wares.

    I'm going to check out the Fender Jazz, G&L L-2500 and anything else that catches my eye.
  18. Harpo


    Feb 1, 2001
    Kings Park NY
    I have Both a Stingray5 and L-2000 I was very suprised the sounds I get out of my Ray the secret is the 3 band eq and the 3 way switch .
  19. I think a rigid neck and a solid bridge will help contribute to a good B string.

    the Fender RB5 has a heavy Gotoh bridge, while the US Jazz and Precision Deluxe 5 string models have lightweight pressed bridges.
    all have graphite reinforced necks of similar dimensions (or is the RB5 neck thicker?), so I suspect the difference in B string quality comes down to the different bridges (Roscoe Beck himself said in the BP interview that the Gotoh bridge "cleans up the sound a lot" when compared with the vintage pressed bridge.

    also the Squier Precision Special has a heavy bridge, and a huge, chunky (and therefore rigid) neck, and has a clear B string, accoustically, at least (with decent pickups a good amplified B string sound too).
  20. i've also heard a lot of good things about the
    G&L L-2500's B-strings.

    Dang I love G&Ls!
  21. Primary

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    Here are some related products that TB members are talking about. Clicking on a product will take you to TB’s partner, Primary, where you can find links to TB discussions about these products.

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