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STRINGS: What Gauge?
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I often get calls from customers who are all caught up in the gauge of the string. But really, gauge (sometimes) ain't nothin' but a number. DB strings have many characteristics that affect playability. This is perhaps because some of my customers come from an electric bass/guitar background, where gauge is the primary determinant of how "hard" or "easy" a string is to play. Unusual materials, radically different windings, etc - they're less prevalent in the "slab bass" world.

For Double Bass strings, however, the gauge (diameter) of a string might actually the least important factor, IMHO. Here are a few things that are more important, not necessarily in descending order:
  1. Core Materials (macro) - the core of the string may be solid steel (for example, SuperSensitive Red Label), stranded steel (Corelli 370), synthetic (Evah Pirazzi), real gut (Oliv) or even some combination or other material. As you can imagine, this has a big effect on the tone, feel, playability, and tension of the string. A gut string sounds very different than a solid-core string, and it plays differently too - gut is more flexible and soft, while the solid core would feel more taut and stiff. So even at the same tension weight measurements, strings with different cores could feel "harder" or "softer" to play in direct comparison. And you can bet that they will have a big difference in gauge. But the gauge doesn't tell us much; in the case of a gut E versus a Spirocore E, for instance, the gut string would have a much larger gauge, but probably have a lighter tension and softer, more flexible feel.
  2. Core Materials (micro) - even within similar construction, there can be differences; for instance, if you compare Thomastik Superflexible strings to Corelli 370's, you'll find that they have very similar construction (flatwound, rope-core) - however, the Corellis have a considerably thinner gauge measurement. This is because Corelli strings use a special blend of steel that has more mass than the more "conventional" steel used by Thomastik; this allows a string that responds like a "heavier" string because it has equal mass (more or less) despite its smaller diameter.
  3. Additional layers - some strings add layers of silk, thread, or other materials as an intermediate winding - this may be to "dampen" the response, shorten the sustain, darken the tone, etc. This adds "bulk" without necessarily adding tension.
  4. Outer winding - Windings can vary in material (silver, nickel, alloy, steel, nylon, perlon, etc.) and profile (wire, tapewound, flatwound, etc.) The varying materials, their thickness, as well as their winding design, can affect the playability/stiffness. For instance, a nylon tapewound string is not as "flexible" (imagine bending it like Superman bends a steel rod) as a wire-wound string. This, again, means that a string with nylon tape winding could be more "difficult" (stiff) to play than a wire wound string, even at the same tension (and gauge!)
All of that said... gauge can still be a factor in playability; the size of the string under the fingers can certainly affect how you approach playing the string. Some people prefer a big, beefy string that they can grab with their meathook fingers, others prefer a smaller gauged string and play with a more delicate, deft touch.

And certainly, tension is a very useful statistic to know - all else equal, a higher-tension string will be more physical to play than a lower tension string.

But as it pertains to the "feel" of a string, I just gently caution anyone against getting too focused on any one factor; as someone who pretty much talks about strings, all day, every day - I can tell you that it's a complex combination of factors that make the string "perfect" for a certain player (and hey, we didn't even get into timbre/tonal preferences here - that's the subject of a whole other conversation).






The Fine Print:

The information contained herein is based on what's in my brain — and/or my observations and opinions from my personal experiences (and those of Bob, before me) — as of this moment today, and is subject to change. I'm sure that a great deal more information and detail could be added — but the intent of these writings is to present easily understood, quick FAQs, to address common questions and improve the reader's general knowledge.

What's written here is by no means any kind of authoritative absolute answer, for I am not the world's greatest authority on bass (not even close), or on much of anything else, for that matter. So, by all means, get a second opinion, and know that all the information provided here is for general informational purposes only. I am not providing professional advice; be aware that, where applicable, any information acted upon is at your own risk.

I simply and sincerely hope the information and opinions here are helpful to you on your quest for knowledge about the bass and related subjects... that's the point!

I welcome email with dissenting and additional viewpoints/information/updates that help improve my personal awareness and these content pages. If you have a question that you think belongs here, please let me know.
Mark