Photo by Francois Schnell
Q: I had a major breakthrough in part inspired by our visit. For the first time in years I’m playing normal, not light strings. I guess I thought all the pro virtuosos used G=40 strings. Victor does I think. Anyway when I stopped feeling like that was my path I tried the stiffer strings and paradoxically I can play faster on them. I can slap em too. And all my basses sound meatier with them. I think the easier playing has to do with their tightness. My right hand doesn’t have to chase them around. They don’t go awol flopping this way and that. It’s makes the biggest equipment difference I can remember in ages.
A: While not a question, you bring up a topic worth starting a conversation about.
There are so many types of strings, different gauges, materials, etc… that it can be daunting (and expensive) trying to find what suits your style and feel preferences.
Like you, as a young player, I thought that the lighter the string, the faster I’d play. Of course, I was young, I didn’t know what kind of sound I wanted, so tone wasn’t even in my thought processes yet. I just wanted to blaze. And, like you, I eventually discovered that there is something lost and gained with both light or heavy strings, and many points to balance in between.
Higher tension, thicker gauged strings:
You are right. More tension actually makes it easier to play fast because you don’t have to fight the string with regard to the amount of “give” it may have. This is why it’s also easier to play fast back by the bridge as opposed to closer to the neck. More tension = less resistance. Thicker strings also tend to have a thicker tone although string type and materials plays a major factor in that as well.
Lighter gauged strings:
Lighter strings tend to be more expressive (depending on your playing style) because they have more give and lend themselves to bending, expressive vibrato, slapping…
These days, many string manufacturers are helping players strike a balance by experimenting with different shapes and thicknesses at the core of the string. D’Addario Flexsteels and Dunlop Super Brights are just a couple of examples of new variations on a theme in the attempt to bring a wider variety of feels, tensions and intensity (brightness) to our string choices.
Of course, there are also flats, nickel, stainless steel, half-rounds, round wounds, tapered core, nylon wrapped, stainless steel/nickel coated… the list goes on and on.
And, while we’re at it, here’s another column which focuses different types of strings and what to expect!
I’d love to hear what you players out there use and why. Personally, I love the feel of the flex-steels but tend to prefer the feel of nickel strings, so I often bounce back and forth. I also tend to use a medium/medium light gauge string and, on my 6, simply use the thickest C string I can find with the thinnest B string as I’ve found that my sound tends to be more balanced that way across the fretboard. Please share your thoughts in the comments.