Best Strings for Two-Handed Tapping?

Rob Smith - two-handed bass tapping

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.

Half-ground strings

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

Coated strings are much slicker than round wounds but are usually just as bright. They also tend to stay brighter for a bit longer.

Wrapped strings

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

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.

Have a question for Damian Erskine? Send it to [email protected]. Check out Damian’s instructional books, Right Hand Drive and The Improviser’s Path.

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Share your thoughts

  1. I’d recommend trying Status Hotwire halfwounds- feel like flats but sound like round wounds that have been on for a few days, much brighter than most flats :-)

  2. Marco

    I have heard that steel are brighter than nickel with my fretless i experienced it the other way round.
    But i am happy now with my Rotosound RS66’s and i cange them every one to one and a half month to get the best sound out of them. When i put on knew one’s on it takes about two days playing until they sound like i want them.

    “The grid keeps the funk” – James Jamerson

  3. I use Rotosound Swing LD666 roundwounds. Very bright sound, very audible with light touch. Having action as low as possible without buzz is also paramount.

    I play a fretless though, so your experiences with jerkyness may not apply.

  4. LaBella Quarter Rounds are a decent compromise. Less grabby than the various half-rounds I’ve tried but still brighter than flats. The other thing I do with round wounds is to slide a long piece of cloth (or a half-dozen paper towels, flat) under the strings and then spray them with silicone. It seems to be less tone dulling than “grease” but still lets you glide with less noise.

  5. Mike Matthews

    I’d recommending checking out the Flex Steels (D’Addario) and if you’re not digging those, move on to some quarter rounds. You’ll probably need to check out a few different types until you find what works for you. Enjoy!

  6. Grady Patterson

    I currently use GHS’s “Pressurewound” strings on my Musicmaster short-scale: I found them to be only slightly less bright than nickel, and very playable – almost no finger-grab.
    They are similar to half-ground strings, but rather than grinding the wrap, they cold-roll it into an oval cross-section before wrapping the core.

  7. Steve

    “The grid keeps the funk” – James Jamerson” ?? I thought it was:

    “The gunk keeps the funk”
    Or maybe
    “The fried chicken grease – keeps the round wounds at peace – Jaco” Rotosounds after a bucket of extra crispy KFC is the secret to true fretless tone
    “Half-rounds for tappin’, round wounds for slapin'”
    “If the glove fits, you must acquit” – Scott Devine

    • clive

      I love my bass too much to cover it in KFC crap. . .. . . .

    • Barry Bass

      I thought it was “If the glove DOESN’T fit, you must acquit.”
      Given the context, it makes more sense. (I think.)

  8. I recommend Steve Harris SWING BASS FLAT WOUNDS very crispy for finger tapping. As to make strings more slippery instead of spit, nose or forehead grease, USE FAST FRET, WIPE ON STRINGS AND FINGER TIPS. your fingers will never stick again and last along time….

  9. I definitely recommend lighter guage strings for 2 hand tapping. I personally like D’Addario Balanced Tension 40-95 and I use a 130 for my low B.

  10. I also have to give my opinion on your current string gauges. I think 45 65 85 105 125 is an absolutely awful set of gauges and I have no idea why any string maker would use those… Here’s why:

    The tensions are no where near balanced. They look balanced since you’re going up by 20 each string but you actually have to increase the thickness more for the lower strings to get a similar string tension.

    For Example – a 65 tuned to D is around 51 lbs of tension and a 125 tuned to low B is only around 31 lbs of tension. That is an enormous difference and results in a B string that is very floppy compared to your other strings. You need a least a 145 B to go with a 45-105 set.

  11. My experience with D’addario is quite good. I use both a medium and heavy gauge set of Prosteels (45-105 or 50-110). They are great for every style of music, including tapping (which the harmonics of the strings are great for this application). If you are going straight from a flatwound to roundwound, the transition would be a tad rough on the hands, but the tone is something that flatwounds can’t accomplish( with ease). D’addario does a great job at creating strings, from a texture standpoint. I switch to D’addario strings after using GHS Boomers, and the D’addario strings left my hands feeling worlds better than GHS strings did.

  12. jesse

    didn’t jaco said he liked chicken grease ? i always thought he was joking :)

  13. Jack-Rufus

    I play Thomastik Jazz flats. They have a super slinky low tension and are very crisp, brand new they have some serious grumble/twang, but the clarity never ends mine still sound fantastic nearly a year on! They also have an unusual gauge; 43-100/136 ! Worth a look!