why do so many famous Elect. Bassists use such light gauge strings?

Discussion in 'Strings [BG]' started by Bob Dullam, Feb 18, 2009.

  1. Bob Dullam

    Bob Dullam

    Jan 17, 2009
    So,.. when I switched from guitar to bass, I checked out who uses what gauges, thinking the famous cats would know best. I found out that most (miller, wooten, berlin, feraud) use .40 on the G, and 100ish on the low E. I had emailed Bill Dickens, and he replied with a list of gauges that he uses, I tried them, and it they were so thin you couldn't believe it!.
    So then just this week, I went over to fender.com to check specs on the pastorious signature, much heavier. I tried those. What a massive improvement in tone, and with the right hand, I get so much more control, it isn't even funny. I use a ramp, and play much like Matt Garrison, with thumb down, and curling the index, middle and ring fingers. Also the harmonics are much better, stronger. I mean wow, even others in my band noticed immediatly and remarked how much better it sounds with heavier gauges. Intonation is better. I play a soundgear Ibanez 6 string, with a homemade ramp. I mean it's so much better in all ways it's laughable. I do my own fretwork and lowered the action, leveling the frets with the strings on in the playing position, so I can play super fast lines. Even two hand tapping stuff sounds better. fuller, more clear.
    So,.... the question is: what is the attraction for all these famous cats using such light gauge strings? I mean personnel preference aside, what on gods earth is the attraction? Someone please enlighten me!
  2. wingnut


    Apr 18, 2007
    Las Vegas Nv.
    Often times the smaller gauge strings will be faster and have more high end bite to them. I too have noticed that a lot of hip hop and funk players prefer lighter strings as do a lot of jazz players around here. That being said, most of the rock and blues guys prefer the heavier gauge strings. Sometimes certain basses just sound better with lighter strings. My p-bass is strung with heavy "low riders" and my jazz sounds better with light "sunbeams". Your instrument will let you know, trust your ears.
    bass-flyer likes this.
  3. I use very light gauge strings myself (D'addario Super light gauge extra long scale with added singles for both my B and C strings).

    I like the way that they feel under my fingers as opposed to thicker strings. I feel that heavier gauge strings can sometimes feel a bit chunky and clumsy to me.

    As well, it makes it easier for me to do things like double-thumping.

    I also have a ramp on my bass and I really just like the way that they feel. They move more naturally with the way my I play.
  4. On my main 34"-scale four-string I use the lightest gauge I can find. I would LOVE to use much heavier strings on it, but the neck is too prone to warping.
  5. jmceachern36

    jmceachern36 Supporting Member

    Nov 13, 2005
    Cambridge MA
    I'm guessing that you can find many many people. Famous or not, that use 45-105 or heavier. Jaco, J Entwistle, JP Jones, Flea all 45-105. George Porter Jr 50-105. J Jamerson of course, used massive strings. That's all I can think of or know of....I agree with you. You get a much nicer sound from a bigger string. Just my opinion.
    Arthur U. Poon and FunkyDigo like this.
  6. JTE

    JTE Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2008
    Central Illinois, USA
    I don't know about Marcus and Victor, and don't know who "feraud" is, but I know Jeff Berlin plays with a pretty light touch in both hands, a low action, and depends on his amp to make the volume and big sound. Gary Willis is another advocate of light strings/light touch. Pino Pallidino used really light Rotosound rounds on his StingRay fretless during the classic Paul Young session days. He uses big honkin' LaBella flats on at least one of his old Precisions (but it's tuned down quite a ways too).

    But others who are "famous" use heavier strings and higher action. I understand Wil Lee (Late Show, lotsa session work) uses 45-15 and fairly high action.

    Find what works for you, and don't worry about what someone else uses is my thing, especially regarding strings and action settings.

    Afc70 and FunkyDigo like this.
  7. Gubna


    Oct 21, 2006
    San Francisco
    I always used 45-105 gauge on my basses, but have recently experimented with some lighter strings.

    I used to only use the swing 66 Rotosounds because of the "famous" people who used them. chewed up my frets good and made my fingers really calloused - but the sound was very good for the music I did.
  8. I use light gauge strings for various reasons. Mainly , I suffer health issues with my joints so the light gauge strings were a no brainer, being a lot easier to push and move. Second, I found they were easier to record with and are usually better balanced. Also, fretless basses usually have more "mwah" sound with them.
    I have found them to be no less than the .45-.105 sets I used to use. They do require adjustments at the amplifier, but at the end of a long gig or practice session, my fingers feel much better and less stressed. They bend easier for me and are more expressive for my styles I play.
    The only disadvantage I have found in them is when I do drop D tuning on the E, it is not as full sounding. The bigger gauges last a little longer before going dead too.
    My advice is that whatever floats your boat, then do it. Don't worry what others think, but go with what is best for your sound needs.
    Arthur U. Poon likes this.
  9. BobXboB

    BobXboB Inactive

    Sep 25, 2007
    I remember reading Garrison used some pretty light gauges on his 5 string EADGC and would drop the E to a low A with a Hipshot, all on a 33 inch scale. When played with finesse instead of force I find light gauges to have all the low end I need.

    I've read, and tend to agree, that adding tension to a string decreases fundamental and increases harmonics. I've moved to lighter B strings and play them softer and have found the tone improved for me with better balance with the other strings.
    Marihino, Kaplan and Funkmabassup like this.
  10. I use 'em 'cos I like 'em . . .
    40Hz and bass-flyer like this.
  11. christoph h.

    christoph h.

    Mar 26, 2001
    The "light touch" part is correct, but in his book "101 Bass Tips" Gary Willis writes that "Bigger Is Better", especially for the B string. He uses a .135 B.
  12. rapidfirerob

    rapidfirerob Fusion rules!

    Hadrien Feraud, amazing French fusion bassist, toured with John Mclaughlin last year.
    I love light gauge strings myself. I play fusion, jazz, Allman Bros. It is just preference, like most things in life.
  13. Bob Dullam

    Bob Dullam

    Jan 17, 2009
    Interesting. You know I originaly thought that lighter strings meant being able to play faster, better double thumping, etc.. And I think that would be the case if you do a traditional type setup.
    So what I did was to do a fret job WHILE the strings are on and in tune, and IN the playing position. My whole goal was to get the action down as humanly possible without much, or any buzz. So having done that, the left hand is not much of an issue regarding fretting easily. And the two hand tapping thing actually sounds better than it did with lighter strings. i.e. I wanted the full body tone from thicker strings, but also to be able to articulate as if I had lighter gauge strings. I think I did it. i.e. I want it all. I want speed, accuracy, full bodied harmonics, the better intonation from thicker strings, no buzz, be able to left hand hammer/pull off with ease. etc.... I also set the ramp height up according to the thickeness of the tips of my fingers. low enough to get in there pull a string hard if I want, but high enough to let my fingers easily rake over the strings. I want it all guys.

  14. Mikio


    Feb 21, 2009
    Santiago de Chile
    I like them for a 5 strings, cuz the space is too narrow, and well, they sound very good for what I used to play and that's the reason I started using them [prog metal], but for a 4 strings, specially playing with a pick, I'd go for heavy strings xP
  15. Alaska Bass

    Alaska Bass

    Dec 31, 2006
    Seattle, WA
    I prefer lighter strings because of several reasons. The first is the ability to play with a lighter touch, I have my action extremely low and prefer a super light touch. Second, the tone I get from the strings is less heavy handed, more nuances come through IMHO. The bass I play already puts out a phenomenal tone and that is something that I don't want to mask with oversized strings. If I need to adjust some tone balance, I will use the tone controls. The lighter strings will tend to brighten the tone of signal coming out, so you do have to adapt if you are playing certain styles, but to really nail the sound of most modern music, you have to adapt your instrument and playing style to what is the current trend; hate it if you want to, but it is true.
  16. Billy Low

    Billy Low

    Apr 14, 2003
    Sandberg Guitars
    I personally have a preference for lighter gauge strings when performing (35-90), however I like to practice with a medium gauge (40-95) to help build stamina and speed. More important than the gauge for me is feel of the string and string tension. I don't care for high tension strings or strings that feel rough on the finger, This makes playing very uncomfortable. There can be differences in the tension levels of the same gauge strings between different manufacturers.

    Some believe that there are sonic losses with the lighter gauges, I believe it's more associated to the composition of the string versus the gauge itself. There is a certain TB'er that plays with an .80 E string that feels like a gut punch if you're close enough. I have a very light touch and I am a firm advocate in letting my amp do the work, not my fingers! If there is a loss due to my playing w/ a lighter gauge string I just simply dial it out (that why the knobs are on the equipment and not the string)!
  17. edwinhurwitz

    edwinhurwitz Supporting Member

    May 13, 2003
    Boulder, CO
    Endorsing Artist: DR Strings, SMS
    I like lighter strings because I think the harmonics are more in line. With a thick string, it resonates more a like a bar than a pure string. This means that the tone is more clangorous than the pure harmonic series that a perfect string generates. The added flexibility of a lighter gauge also means that I can pull more tones out of the string. I find it easier to vary how high the up harmonic series each note can have. I also like the bendability.

    YMMV, etc, etc.

    japhy4529 and Kaplan like this.
  18. spectorbass83


    Jun 6, 2005
    The other day I was in the music store and picked up a 5 string Ibanez that was tuned CGDAE with a light gauge set. Wow! I actually really liked the way the strings felt!

    I'm thinking about trying a lighter gauge for my Lakland 55-01 but keeping the tradidional GDAEB tuning, but my current band plays 1/2 step down.

    Do you guys think that a lighter gauge on my 5 string Lakland will sound a little too floppy and loose if it is tuned down a half step?
  19. WalterBush


    Feb 27, 2005
    Yuma, Az
    Full disclosure, I'm a certified Fender technician working in a music store that carries Fender, Yamaha, and Ibanez products among others.
    I play with light strings now due to a medical condition in my hands; for years I played the heaviest strings my bass would take.

    My hands are slowly getting better, but I'm staying with light strings. I'm able to go from a gentle stroke to a good yank to slap/pop/double thump much more easily with them, and they seem to pick up more nuance.

    In the transition, and in the process of finding the best strings for me again (I'd used DR only for years), I've formed the opinion that it's metal content, core shape, winding shape, size and consistency, and overall tension that matter more than guage.
    Aish likes this.
  20. cowsgomoo

    cowsgomoo gone to Longstanton Spice Museum

    Feb 8, 2003
    I think 'stunt' bass players or bass players who are the centrepiece of the band probably would be more likely to use lighter strings... usually they're playing more notes and they're probably hogging more of the mix than a 'normal' bass player would ever get to hog... so the relative lack of 'beef' in the lighter strings isn't an issue

    those guys are part of a tiny, specialized percentage of professional bass players... I'd be surprised if a majority of other pro bass players use light gauge strings

    a handful of virtuoso 'featured bass players' are probably not always the best role models for deciding what equipment to use
    bassrique, RubyTuba and Mikaelbass like this.
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