Those of you who do not cater to that THUMP THUNK THUMP THUNK flat wound type of tone for your bass know what Im talking about. I like some growl to my tone. When I play hard I like my bass to deeply growl and not just bark and bite. I like it to roar when I ask...check that.... COMMAND it to.
I do keep a bass or two with either flat wound or REALLY old strings on them for folks that hire me to play the non-growling, non-roaring, thump thump, amplified upright type sound. It has its place and Ill use it upon request.
It befuddles me on how many bass players out there "insist" on using dirty grimy moldy rusty old strings. Did you buy your bass that way? When you first played your bass, was that the tone you heard? Never mind tone for minute, what about what it feels like to play that "barbed wire?" And what is that DNA on the underside of your strings?
In my tenure in the retail music business I’ve had many a customer bring in their bass and want to trade it in because "it sucks." Maybe a third to half the time their bass genuinely does suck. and usually it’s because it’s had too many "modifications" done to it. But a majority of the time I recommend them to let me replace the strings on their bass and set it up. If they still want to trade it in after that, I’m more than willing to help them find a new bass. Doesn’t “initially” help with big money bass guitar sales but it does help make a connection of honesty and friendship with my customers.
It's funny that how many of you out there just accept your bass the way it is and you don't try to make it conform to you versus you conforming to it. It’s like buying a pair of shoes that look awesome but they hurt your feet. Why do that?
Its taken me many years to figure it all out and now YOU have the advantage of reading about my experience and hope that you gain something from it.
I’m going off on a little tangent here but when you go and try out a bass to purchase there’s a reason why you decided on it. Chances are it’s the feel and tone of it. A large percentage of that feel and tone are the strings.
For my students who are into sports that use a ball of some sort, I tell them there’s a reason why they always use a brand new ball every time. It happens In baseball usually every batter if not every other pitch.
Using a new ball is the only way you can have any kind of consistency of feel. It’s the same for strings. When they’re new there is a particular sound you get. Yes, it diminishes over time but the ONLY time you KNOW what the tone should be is when they’re new. Any other time and they’re just at some degree of worn out.
There are a couple of things I do when I begin to notice my strings are getting to the point of replacement. One is I keep dialing in more EQ. Usually it’s more mids and highs because that’s what goes first. Second is that my CLEAN fingers don’t quite glide over the strings like they usually do. That’s usually a sign that the strings are dirty. You can “surface” clean your strings but most of the dirt is actually in the windings where you can’t wipe.
There are good string cleaning solutions out there that do a real good job at getting most of the gunk out. You can even boil your strings. Actually, I recommend that you do boil a set of well used strings at some point just so you can see the amount of crud that’s not visible.
(NOTE: do NOT use your mother’s or significant other’s $100 Emeril Legasse sauce pan for this procedure unless you’re prepared to purchase a new one.)
Cleaning the strings usually gets at least another gig out of them but they quickly go right back to where they were tone wise. The reason for that is that strings are a metal on metal moving part. And metal on metal wears. That wear is effecting your tone AND sustain of tone.
Cure: Change your strings.
Another sign that your strings are done and are actually about to break are the little shiny wear spots on the underside/fret side of the strings. Again, this is a metal on metal wear spot. Seeing these spots are one thing but if you can feel them, the life expectancy of that string is very short. Its death will be of severe traumatic self-amputation or breakage.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound cure.” Change your strings.
What if the bass is just sitting and has not been played in months or a year?
IF the bass was strung, NEVER played and not exposed to the elements…. There’s a possibility that the strings and bass are actually playable. BUT, if it was played for any length of time and then put away, chances are the strings could just feel terrible to play. The reason for that are the oils and acids in your sweat got into at least the finish of the string. If you’ve ever left a finger print on a piece of chrome or silver you’ll notice that the longer its left on the surface, the harder it is to clean off. That’s because your oils and acids out of your skin are actually etching the metal surface. It is the same with strings.
That along with plain exposure to the environment corrodes and deteriorates string quality.
So pick up your bass. Play open strings and then some notes on 3rd and 5th frets. I like to do this sitting down with bass on my thigh and as much of the bass’ body up against mine. I look, listen and feel for that deep Grrrrowl. A large amount of the money you spent on that bass is the wood that went in to it. And those woods were chosen for its looks AND resonant properties. Resonance with NEW strings. Guitars aren’t built for old strings.
Some of this tone and growl you can get through your amp. Amongst other types of tones. That’s a blog for another time.
However, I will leave you with this:
Your amplifier “should” be just that: something to amplify an existing tone. Why amplify or attempt to amplify dead strings? Are you making your bass a Zombie by prolonging a false life after death?
Give those old strings a proper burial and replace them with shiny new ones. Everyone will be happier for it.
Change your strings
Bass be with you