Photo of Rob Smith from the Solo Bass Arrangement of The Beatles’ “In My Life” video
Q: I’m looking for the brightest sounding flatwound strings I can find. I play a highly modded ’66 Jazz 5-string with Barto pickups and have used round wound strings consistently since 1972… yes, that long. The sizes I always use are 45 65 85 105, and 125. I want to experiment with the two-handed chordal technique used by Roscoe Beck first with Robben Ford as a trio. With round wounds, the upper neck double stops are jerky when sliding finger tips moving thru changes. I thought flat wounds that have a lot of character might solve that challenge. Your thoughts?
A: I don’t do much at all with two handed tapping so this might be another question that gets a lot of useful comments (readers, please share your thoughts!) I’ll give you my thoughts about strings and brightness in general.
If you are finding that round-wounds are too sticky and jerky when sliding notes with your right hand, I would experiment with a few.
These are round wounds that have been ground down a bit so they exist as an in-between for rounds and flats. It might give you just enough slide-ability!
Coated strings are much slicker than round wounds but are usually just as bright. They also tend to stay brighter for a bit longer.
A lot of string companies make round wound strings that have a nylon wrapping. They sound a lot like flats, but a little brighter and with a little more tonal character in the overtones (they are usually wrapped in a black nylon). They also feel pretty slick (I love them).
Nickel strings are not quite as bright as stainless steel, but nickel is much less “grabby” than steel. These are my primary strings. Once I tried them, I couldn’t go back to steel, as steel feels like velcro under my fingers now – with the exception of D’Addario’s “Flexsteels” or Dunlop’s “Super Brights,” which have a smaller hex core and are much more flexible than regular strings. The D’Addario’s are still steel, but for some reason, the extra spring in the string makes it fun for me to play. The “Super brights” can be found in Nickel which we’ve already stated is less grabby.
Aside from that, I can only recommend the oldest trick in the book: face grease. While Jeff Andrews licked his fingers often to slick them up, most players I’ve seen wipe their nose or forehead to get a little bit of friction-reducing sweat and grease on their fingers. I’ve heard that James Jamerson used to hate new strings and rarely changed them, but when he did, he would intentionally grease them up by wiping his hands (sometimes with the residue of some greasy food) up and down the strings. I don’t know if it’s true, but I can imagine it and a little burger grease could go a long way to deadening and slicking up some new strings. I’ll go the forehead sweat route, personally.
Let us know if you try some of these other string types and what results you get!
For those readers who do a lot of two-handed tapping, what do you recommend? Please share in the comments.