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Why have flats become popular again?

Discussion in 'Strings [BG]' started by punkjazzben, May 9, 2012.

  1. punkjazzben


    Jun 26, 2008
    Hi all,

    Yes, it's another thread about flats!

    But that's kind of the point of my question. In TB world at least, it seems to me that flatwound strings have had something of a resurgence in popularity recently. Everybody wants to know which flats for their bass, which flats sound best, what do these flats sound like and so on.

    Do you think their current popularity is a) about blindly following trends, or b) about a serious desire of many players to achieve that classic flatwound tone for some new reason (i.e. industry standards, famous bass players/bass lines, etc.)?

    Or maybe you have another explanation. There's something in the back of my mind about soul/Motown-esque pop songs doing the charts right now, and I'm wondering if that has something to do with it. Lo-fi and vintage seems to be in.

    Or perhaps we're getting over slapping and tapping and are re-visiting an appreciation of good fingerstyle playing.

    For me, I switched to flats recently because I was seriously disliking my tone on a new bass, and realised it was because I prefer the dull sound of old strings to the 'zing' of a new set. I'm a fingerstyle player and am not particularly interested in slapping and tapping, or even listening to it, so I never cared much for a bright tone. Due to the flood of flatwound-related threads, I found out here that I could get that tone using a set of flats, so that's the option I took with a set of LaBellas.


  2. Because finger noise is a cardinal sin:smug:

    BASSDROID Commercial User

    Aug 22, 2007
    Port Huron, Michigan
    Educational Representative, Port Huron Music Center
    To me, flats seem to sit in any mix with more authority. I have reason to believe that the "zingyness" associated with rounds often gets lost anyway, as those frequencies are shared with guitars/pianos.

    YMMV, IME, etc.
  4. soulman969


    Oct 6, 2011
    If women are slaves to fashion then musicians are slaves to a trend. In the 60's when the Beatles and the Byrds used the 12 string guitar so effectively in rock every mother's son had to rush out looking for a "Ricky" 12 string so they could sound just like that.

    Of course most of them still didn't but that's wasn't the point. It was cool to have one to play one whether it sounded good and fit what you were doing or not. Twelve string guitars ruled the land and we all rushed out to buy one.

    Fender guitars were the sound of the early 60's but when Clapton, Page, Carlos Santana, and others showed up playing heavily distorted LP's and SG's man that was the way to go so we traded in our Fenders for Fuzz Faces and Gibby's.

    I'd say any recent trend towards flats is motivated by much the same. Some bass hero (or hero's in the plural) says his "signature sound" comes from flats and all of a sudden bassists across the land want to swith to flats and want to know "what's the best flat for..........." even if the best answer is "none". If pop music is featuring the sound of basses strung with flats then all that does is fan the flames and we see posts asking "how do I get this sound from my bass" with a link to the tune.

    Don't get me wrong, I started out playing on flats but that's because that's what came on the basses we all bought and that's what you hear on a lot of old recordings. Few of us even knew what a round wound was. If we did we didn't want to play them because they were "twangy" like guitar strings. We wanted that old big butted thump and mud you got from flats. Bass and low mids ruled the roost and slap style hadn't even been thought of yet, or at least not recorded until Larry Graham began to make it popular.

    IMHO It's just the pendulum swinging back in another direction as it always does. There are times when flats do the trick better than rounds and vice versa. There are basses that seem to sound better with flats and those that benefit more from rounds or hybrids like half rounds or pressure wounds as well as playing styles for each. Any experienced bassist will take all of this into consideration and try to match the "tool" to the job he's trying to do.

    If you can swing it having one bass setup with flats and another with rounds is probably the best way to go and if not then the type of string should match the tone you're shooting for. Or you split it down the middle and use a hybrid string that, within it's limits, can go both ways.

    FWIW that's my gray haired two cents worth. :bassist:
  5. Wade10987


    Sep 27, 2011
    Tallahassee, FL
    I feel I can give a decently objective answer. I have been playing for ten years. I play mostly rock, though I have always played a little blues, reggae and jazz too. Roundwounds were always my go to string. They are so common that I didn't think outside the box, it was just "roundwounds, OK!"

    Now I am building a fretless. I really wanted that bright, vocal, mwah sound. So again, roundwounds were my initial choice.

    I read many times that roundwounds were bright and snappy and flats were just smoother. IFFFF that's the deal, I will take the roundwounds.

    My epiphany was: one day I read (on here) flats were not just smoother, but ALSO darker and deeper in sound. That was a deal breaker. Until then, based on comments about flats, I just thought they were just more muted and smooth and laid back.

    But the truth is, there is a definitely a stronger dynamic balance in tone with flats. There is definitely an advantage for choosing flats. They aren't just smoother. They seem to have more presence. A little more body and "integrity". And to those who say "well I want a brighter tone", on a Jazz bass with tone all the way up, Thomastik flats sound plenty bright and snappy. Very clear but strong.
    So bottom line is, I always assumed flats were just bland and old fashioned. (that's because they seem to get a bad rep (here, there, and everywhere)) With a set of Thomastik Infelds on my bass, I am impressed by the clarity and straight forward tone, and it also has a strong/bold yet smooth sound.

    Ultimately, I feel like I JUST figured out that Flatwounds are the best bass strings. That's my opinion. So while I dig the bright clanky tone of new roundwounds, I really do think flatwounds are the bassiest strings. And we all play bass here, so what could be better than the bassiest strings? The power and sonic depth of flatwounds is VERY underrated.

    I still wanna buy some cool roundwounds to switch out strings and have versatility, but I really do think now that flatwounds are the strongest, bassiest strings. They are now my main go to strings. I strung a set of those 70$ TI flats onto my ax and I just thought "whoa...THIS is what I have been missing" Maybe not the best for everyone....but if you want a good strong tone and fundamental, I feel like flatwounds are the best choice.
    I played roundwounds exclusively for ten years, and after playing flatwounds for five minutes I was converted.
  6. Rip Topaz

    Rip Topaz

    Aug 12, 2005
    Willow Street, PA
    Beta tester for Positive Grid
    It's not that FLATS have become popular, it's that there has huge resurgence in P-bass players.

    We all know that P-basses sound best with flats, hence the resurgence of flat players.
  7. NicJimBass

    NicJimBass Is this thing on!? Supporting Member

    Nov 22, 2004
    Lancaster, OH
    64 Audio · DR Strings · Source Audio · Hipshot
    I started using them after I joined my current band and started killing sets of rounds after a couple shows. The tone works well with the music we do (hip-hop and R&B covers), so I lucked out there, but it was purely a financial decision for me. So far, it was a good decision, as I don't see a need to swap strings at any point soon.
  8. bjabass


    Jan 10, 2011
    Mountain South
    Because it was stated that Jamerson used flats and never changed strings.

    (I'm not Jamerson {MAN am I not Jamerson}, so I use rounds on my Precisions)
  9. Freight Train

    Freight Train Earth-based Alternative Scientist, Sex Researcher Supporting Member

    Feb 25, 2012
    Dallas, Texas
    I totally agree Droid. I've found that with flatwounds, I can play at a lower volume but punch through and be more present in the ensemble sound than I could ever even approach with roundwounds unless I just cranked up to stupid levels. You can eq up roundwounds until it sounds like you're part of the greatest grand piano on earth, but as soon as guitars and cymbals start playing, it washes totally out.
    Just my opinion, roundwounds work in three difference situations - #1 Recording, because you have total control of getting the bass and other elements eq'd so it has it's own space. #2 If you don't play in a band. They sound great if you're playing by yourself. #3 If you always have a really good foh engineer. Same as #1, if you have a GOOD set of ears on the mix that can get things eq'd right so the bass has it's space, then you can sound awesome.
    Of course certain styles more or less require the roundwound sound, like current metal and anything involving slapping/tapping, even though there's exceptions there too who use flatwounds. It all comes down to personal preference, there is no right or wrong. But from reading comments on these posts you can tell that a lot of the people who speak against them have either never tried them, or have never tried them in a band situation. Unfortunately about 60% or more of what you read on forums here are people who just want to be part of the most popular opinion. Offering such insight as "roundwounds rule!" etc.
  10. guroove


    Oct 13, 2009
    Buffalo, NY
    I can't say why anyone else uses flats, but ever since I started playing bass over 20 years ago, I have fought with the brightness and harshness of roundwounds. I would EQ out all the highs, and use my tone knob all the time. I tried GHS flats back in those days, because they were all I could find at my local music store. I didn't like their tension and lack of sustain, so I stuck with rounds.

    Now that I can order strings online, and can afford to try out different strings, I have finally settled on a string that I like after 20 + years, and they happen to be flats. As an added benefit, a lot of the skin problems I had with my fingers has gone away with my switch to flats.
  11. Duckwater


    May 10, 2010
    USA, Washington
    I like a bright and aggressive sound, but rounds just get completely lost in the mix of my heavy band. The flats I use aren't dead and muddy, they're full and clear sounding with a huge midrange presence that I can't get with roundwound strings. I can slap them and they sound great, and they keep their tone forever.
  12. meursault42


    Jun 21, 2006
    IME, it helps that companies like D'Addario have come out with flatwound sets like the Chromes, that are a good mix of warmth & clarity, and that are still quite "playable". Otherwise, I think it's just like any other technological trend...people are rediscovering the older technology and finding some things about it that are really great/usable and integrating those things into their playing. This is how art evolves.
  13. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    My explanation for the resurgence:

    Pre-internet, I selected strings by going to the music store and buying what they recommended. This was invariably roundwounds that Daddy's sold in high volume (like GHS boomers, I remember those being incredibly popular in the late 80s/early 90s when I was starting out).

    Now that the internet exists, I can actually get good advice from excellent bassists all around the world. So I can get string advice from bassists who are actually gigging and recording in the styles I want to play. :)
  14. corinpills


    Nov 19, 2000
    Boston, MA
    I've been using them exclusively since about 1995 when I realized that all my favorite bass players from the 60s used flats. I got a lot of immediate encouragement form soundmen and recording engineers we worked with that found them really easy to fit into a mix.
  15. FunkMetalBass


    Aug 5, 2005
    Phoenix, Arizona 85029
    Endorsing Artist: J.C. Basses
    In short, it's because dead rounds sound terrible and the economy is in the tank. Bassists are spending money on a set of flats that will last them years and sounds just slightly better than dead rounds.
  16. low2groove

    low2groove Tyranis 4 / Lower Groove Guitars

    Jan 21, 2007
    I don't know but I don't want em!

    Dead rounds sound like new flats, ha!

    I keep pretty fresh strings on my main basses and almost always have a freash set on for live gigs and especially studio.

    The way I look at it. The strings, along with my bass, pre, power amp, speakers and fingers are all part of my sound, yes, my sound.

    If my strings are dead then so is my sound. I want consistensy in my sound.

    I can only assume more people use flats because they have a consistent sound and don't need to be replaced as ofter, thus saving money in the long run.

    If I had to use flats because thats all there was I'd either put up with a dead sounding bass or probably just give up.

    More power to a new set of rounds as far as I'm concerned.
  17. funkinbottom

    funkinbottom Supporting Member

    Apr 23, 2006
    Northern CA.
    Ive been using flats since I started playing bass in '71.
  18. mongo2


    Feb 17, 2008
    Da Shaw
    Flats have been a favorite of mine since the late '60s.
  19. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    Speaking only for myself, I choose flats for most of my musical projects, NOT because "I like the zingy sound of fresh roundwounds but can't afford to change them" but rather because they are the "right tool for the job" much of the time.

    If I were more of a Victor Wooten type of player, yeah, I would definitely prefer roundwounds! But guess what? :)
  20. idoker

    idoker Supporting Member

    Apr 7, 2008
    Charlotte, NC
    MTD Basses
    I like flats also... Chromes specifically. And if it wasn't for the fact that I do make use of slapping techniques frequently, I would use flats exclusively.

    However, I have yet to find a brand of flats that will produce the tone desired for slapping. So the multiple basses strung differently is my solution at the moment.