If you’re considering trying flatwound strings, or are still new to them, here are some things to consider:
Benefits of Flatwound Strings
- Flats have less high end, good lows and a very different sort of attack or percussiveness to the midrange and overall sound. They can be thumpy, have less sustain and often have more string tension to a comparable roundwound string.
- Flats don’t sound their best brand new, so it’s a bit of a time commitment to give them a proper try. The more you play flats the better they sound so getting them broken in is key. I’ve left them on basses for years, and they sound better and better to me as time goes on.
Setup of Flatwound Strings
- String gauge and setup are really important. The flatwound tones you hear on older recording are often (but not always) a very heavy gauge. Still made today, this gauge (.052-.110) is really it’s own animal. They have very high string tension and a unique sound. There are also lots of medium gauge options that have a classic flatwound tone but with a more manageable tension and feel. There are some popular light gauge (example .043-.104) flatwounds as well. Those are a good hybrid in that they have the warmth and percussiveness of flats but are flexible with lower tension.
- If you’re trying flats for the first time you may need to adjust the setup of your bass because of the (possible) higher tension.
When to Use Flatwound Strings
- Naturally, they are a great choice for all sorts of “roots” music, but there is an overlap with a similar bass setup with rounds. Just because a musical situation would lend itself to using flats, that doesn’t mean rounds won’t work. There are lots of tones you can get with how you play, how you pluck the string and the tone knob. This applies in the opposite way as well. There are lots of situations where you may expect a roundwound bass tone, but flats could work really well and sit in the mix beautifully.
- If possible, having a couple similar basses setup each way can help illustrate the differences. This is what I did in this quick comparison video. Playing both side by side gives you a chance to get comfortable and to use each bass in different situations to see what works best for you. It also helps tune your ear to the different tones you hear on records and how to approach those yourself. After pursuing this for a while, you’ll have a good handle on all of the different sounds you can get out of your instruments by simply altering your approach and the setup.
Feel free to email with any questions, or we can discuss these sorts of gear options during a lesson.
This post is by Tim Marks, a Green Hills Guitar Studio bass guitar instructor.