Gear Review: Rotosound Ultramag Bass Strings
The British string manufacturer Rotosound is perhaps best known in the bass community for its range of stainless-steel round-wound strings. These have been used by many legendary bass players including John Entwistle, Geddy Lee, Jaco Pastorius, Stanley Clarke, Billy Sheehan, and Paul McCartney. Rotosound has also been making nickel strings for some time, but these have perhaps been less well-known than the company’s other products.
In 2019, Rotosound began developing a new nickel string, the ‘Ultramag’, using the Type 52 Alloy (52% nickel, 48% iron), and although the guitar strings have been available for a while, the bass versions have only just reached the shops. I picked up a medium gauge 40-100 set and strung them directly to the bridge (rather than the through the body option) on my USA Jazz with EMG pickups.
They tune quickly, and only need a little stretching to bed down the windings onto the posts and achieve tuning stability. In use, they immediately felt very smooth to the touch, and they played easily, with a slightly lower tension than my usual brand. The only minor niggle was the taper for the E string was a little short and the thick part of the string reached the tuning post. This may have been resolved by using the through-stringing option on my bass.
I first used them at a brief jazz rehearsal, where they sounded warm, with a rich bottom end and a defined clarity at the top. They were easy to play, and walking basslines sounded very good, with a fairly even response across the strings. They feel ‘played in’ very quickly, and this promoted a fluidity to improvised melodic lines further up the neck.
The following day I played at an all-day rehearsal for a musical. With a more ‘rock’ sound needed for the show, I EQ’d in a little more of the high-mid frequencies, and this helped the bass to cut through the mix better, competing well with two loud guitars. Some of the songs in the show required playing with a pick, and the strings responded with more attack and definition. Part of the USP of the Ultramag range is a higher output, and I could perceive a little more ‘oomph’ than with other strings I’ve used.
The strings held their tuning very well throughout the day, and by the end of the rehearsal, I noticed less fatigue in my hands than I might have expected with my usual brand. The only slight criticism of the strings is that even though at times I played with a fairly forceful right hand on this rehearsal, it was difficult to get a really edgy sound, although this could have been due to the rather basic amp I was using.
A week later I played a covers gig, and when tuning up I found that the strings had only lost a small amount of pitch since being tuned seven days previously. This gig included country, pop, funk (slap) and rock songs and the strings sounded great on all the material. I got a few solos in the set, and the higher range notes were clear and warm.
At around the same price as DR nickel strings, Rotosound is aiming this product at the higher end of the market, and they compare favorably. They have great tuning stability, and this is gained quickly after stringing them on the instrument. They play very well, and the sound is warm and rich, with a well-defined top end. I’ve used nickel strings for many years and tried various brands, and these strings are certainly among the best I’ve used. I might not use them for a clattery punk or gritty metal gig, but if you want a classy sound, these are classy strings.