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Why are b-strings so hard to get right?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by BadJazz, May 1, 2015.

  1. Carrots.

    27 vote(s)
  2. the string itself

    33 vote(s)
  3. scale length

    36 vote(s)
  4. electronics

    9 vote(s)
  5. amps/cabs

    12 vote(s)
  6. psychology

    22 vote(s)
Multiple votes are allowed.
  1. BadJazz

    BadJazz Supporting Member

    Nov 29, 2007
    Eugene, Oregon
    I've been a pretty active TB'er for years now and am compelled enough to finally ask about this. So many reviews/comments about b-strings being "weak" (and a handful of other terms). No matter the make/model/price/country of origin, this is one of the most common critiques I've read here. Weak, flabby, lack of definition/punch, etc.

    So my question: WHY is this such a common issue?

    My own example: I've owned 2 Pedulla 5's, a Godin 5, and currently have a G&L L25K. I've never noticed any discernible differences in the b's from the other strings. Amp to amp, room to room, live, studios, whatever.

    Anecdotal data, for certain, but I'd like to hear from you all about this issue. "Played great but the b-string was weak/flabby/punchless/lacked definition/too tight/too loose/etc." I've never seen anyone claim that the b-string was fine, but the e-string was weak/flabby/punchless/ etc. Why is this? Is there something inherent in b-strings that bass makers just can't solve? The strings themselves? Hence the thread and the poll. Thanks!
  2. Joce


    Jul 20, 2005
    Well, I think it has to do with the low frequency of the B. A strings fundamental frequency is a product of it's length, mass and tension. From here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vibrating_string:
    • the shorter the string, the higher the frequency of the fundamental
    • the higher the tension, the higher the frequency of the fundamental
    • the lighter the string, the higher the frequency of the fundamental
    So a B-string should be "long, loose and heavy". As the length of the string is limited by the playable scale length (notice, that some/most of the brands famous for "good" B-strings use a 35" scale length compared to the more common 34"), tension and mass are the factors which can be varied more freely. But still the fundamental has to be a low B, so if we fix two values the third is automatically determined. I think that, the physical "extremes" (compared to the other strings) of a low B-string along with the fact that human hearing in the low frequencies is worse and it's amplification is therefore more challenging, lead to the description of "Weak, flabby, lack of definition/punch, etc.".
  3. Zarathustra3


    Aug 21, 2012
    The truth is the scale length isn't long enough and the string isn't thick enough.

    Checkout circlekstrings.
    I use a .166 on a 35 scale for drop A.
    Fingerpickingood and Obese Chess like this.
  4. Gnal


    Apr 22, 2014
    You need an "all of the above" option in the pole :).

    Personally I think the definition of a great Low-B I is a little different from person to person. Myself, I've played 34",34.5" & 35" scale basses and used .128 - .135 strings.

    My favorite is 35" scale w/ .135 string... for now.

    That's not to say that the other size strings and/or scale lengths don't work, they can and do, but what sounds good to me may not sound good to the next guy.
    .BumeStik. and carsbybigd like this.
  5. Turnaround

    Turnaround Commercial User

    May 6, 2004
    Toronto Canada
    Independent Instrument Technician, and Contractor to Club Bass and Guitar - Toronto
    Plenty of comments on TB about E strings "lacking response", "dead sounding", "wooly", "dull sounding". Do a search.
    interp and Plucky The Bassist like this.
  6. bobcruz


    Mar 10, 2004
    I think it's mostly the string itself (type of construction, diameter and tension). Thicker, higher tension B strings aren't as likely to be described as weak and flabby, IMO. Then there are round wound vs. flat wound strings, and in between half rounds; and within each type, different brands will have different levels of "zing," so there are a lot of variables in the strings themselves.
    carsbybigd likes this.
  7. Zarathustra3


    Aug 21, 2012
    If any of you have never tried circle k strings, please try them. They have more gauges than anybody anywhere.
    Wolffgang and Obese Chess like this.
  8. lomo

    lomo passionate hack Supporting Member

    Apr 15, 2006
    This. The electric bass guitar in its' classic form/scale was not designed for a low B string. Longer scale would have been sonically better, but more ergonomically challenging.
    Bunk McNulty likes this.
  9. BadJazz

    BadJazz Supporting Member

    Nov 29, 2007
    Eugene, Oregon
    Of that I have no doubt; I'm referring to someone with a 5'er (or more) saying that the low b is fine but the e is wooly/dull/etc.
  10. Pocket4

    Pocket4 Supporting Member

    Dec 9, 2013
    New Hampshire
    I'm thinking that if there must be sound at that B fundamental frequency, it belongs with the synth instrument. I'm a EADG 4-string guy by choice.
    bolophonic and Short-scale like this.
  11. taylor16


    Dec 25, 2012
    I lost any interest in 5-string basses when I realized that TO ME, B-strings sound most homogenous with the rest of the bass if 35" scale. This adds tension to the rest of the strings and alters their tone and playability. I've played Roscoe, Sadowsky, Lakland and Lull and there is limited space on the B-string where the tone sounds passable to me (3-7th fret).
    Aragorn35016 likes this.
  12. P. Aaron

    P. Aaron Supporting Member

    I am thinking about adding another cabinet to throw more B-string bass around. Don't have any problem with the tone, feel or overall note quality produced by my Fender or MM basses, it's just effectively smackin' the audience with the bowel loosening Baptist Church lows that I want them to hear.
    .BumeStik. and BadJazz like this.
  13. Obese Chess

    Obese Chess I'm Your New Dad Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2005
    Portland, OR
    Buy a Dingwall, problem solved. ;)
    Hank Scorpio, NaH, Andyman001 and 2 others like this.
  14. 35 inch scale helps some.
    Bigger string gauge with even tension helps more.
    Check out Circle K.
    Wolffgang likes this.
  15. My experience with failures and winners has led me to conclude that the construction of the bass neck is key. As said, your typical bass guitar form wasn't intended and isn't optimum for the B string. But stiff construction can make it work.
  16. BadJazz

    BadJazz Supporting Member

    Nov 29, 2007
    Eugene, Oregon
    I've mostly experienced exactly this hearing low B on bass. Don't know if it is because I rarely heard any in my more formative years of playing or what, but the first time I heard some crazy lows from King Crimson it just sounded kind of odd, although not bad.
  17. Bassmunnky


    Jul 3, 2004
    New York and Philadelphia
    Endorsing Artist: Ernie Ball MusicMan Guitars
    In my experience - it's based on what the speaker I'm using can reproduce-

    Crappy amp - crappy b string tone

    It ain't rocket science
    JustForSport and Fat Steve like this.
  18. Munjibunga

    Munjibunga Total Hyper-Elite Member Gold Supporting Member

    May 6, 2000
    San Diego (when not at Groom Lake)
    Independent Contractor to Bass San Diego
    You must be like me: "You're just not talented enough to perceive the difference." And now, just to teach you never to say never, I have fifteen 5-string basses, and the B string on each and every one of them is fine. Now you've seen the claim once, or fifteen times if you count one for each bass.
    jim nolte, Joedog, hover and 4 others like this.
  19. fakeneckplate'65

    fakeneckplate'65 Supporting Member

    Feb 4, 2014
    Columbus, OH
    I recently bought a 2012 Fender American Precision V & for the time being, I don't have any issue with the tension of the low B. Admittedly, this is the first 5 string I've ever played, alone owned. Soon, I intend on stringing it up with Labella DTF's to capture a sound similar to my existing 4 stringer with flats.

    I currently have the neck very straight with little to no relief & the low B, E, & A are riding the frets @ 4/64th of inch without any buzz.

    My only complaint is that the bass is very light, which most folks seldom find an issue.

    I play through my only amp, a SWR Strawberry Blonde & the low B sounds nice & full @ apartment practice volume.

    I would only sell it off if I fear my two basses have become too redundant. The new V sort of renders my old IV obsolete. I'll never sell my MIM Precision though, so the 5er may have to go.
  20. BadJazz

    BadJazz Supporting Member

    Nov 29, 2007
    Eugene, Oregon
    This was one of my first thoughts when inspired to post this thread. The energy and resources needed to fully produce sounds gets higher as the sound gets lower. I've played my fives (mentioned in the first post) through nothing but pretty damn good gear.
    Bassmunnky likes this.

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