Why do strings effect tone?

Discussion in 'Strings [BG]' started by konaboy, Jul 19, 2009.

  1. konaboy


    Feb 28, 2009
    A beginner question here. I have tried a few sets of strings now and have reached the obvious conclusion that the type of string, and the age of the string also has an effect on the tone.

    I am curious why this is. A string is some wire that is vibrating in a magnetic field produced by the pickup. Does the vibration of the string change as it gets older? Do different makes of strings vibrate differently? What role does the string construction play?

    Can somebody point me to a good explanation?
  2. bongomania

    bongomania Supporting Member Commercial User

    Oct 17, 2005
    PDX, OR
    owner, OVNIFX and OVNILabs
    All materials vibrate a bit differently from each other. So then you can also figure that different thicknesses of one material will vibrate differently from other thicknesses, and that different combinations of materials (and thicknesses) will all vibrate somewhat differently together. Then you add the different shapes (round, hex), alignments (linear, wrapped), surface profile (round, flat, coated), and heat or chemical treatment of the various metals, you get a literally infinite array of subtle variations in how they vibrate, both "in the air" and as they buzz against frets and fingerboard. Strings are not "just wire", they are systems that are constructed of wire.

    Metal does change at a molecular and macro level as it ages, due to interaction with sweat and other chemicals, accumulation of dirt and oils, and crystalline realignment over the course of years of vibration.
  3. +1 bongo
  4. konaboy


    Feb 28, 2009
    thanks! it amazes me that the rather crude and primitive pickup (a magnet with some wire coiled around it) can detect these subtle differences in string construction.
  5. Phalex

    Phalex Semper Gumby Supporting Member

    Oct 3, 2006
    G.R. MI
    An entire bass is just a vehicle to allow a string to vibrate and to control the frequency at which the string vibrates. The string is really the thing. The bass is just a means to manipulate it.
  6. lmfreeman9


    Sep 1, 2007
    Exactly right, it is the strings. The bass is just a block of wood with pickups. If you had the most expensive bass in the world with the cheapest, deadest strings how would it sound? It is like a race car with bald tires. Strings are where the rubber meets the road. And the good news is it is a lot easier and cheaper to replace strings than the bass.
  7. UncleBalsamic


    Jul 8, 2007
    What about slick tyres? :D

  8. PSPookie


    Aug 13, 2006
    Albuquerque, NM
    Nicely done, Bongo.

    Also, the various alloys have different magnetic properties, affecting the way that the pickup senses the vibrations.