Strings: Choices for Rockabilly/Psychobilly Slap
We talk to a lot of rockabilly players, and they're often looking for a new string that will give them "the sound" without turning their hands into bloody stumps. There are certainly many strings to choose from - we hear a lot about the "weed-wacker" strings, for instance (anything designed for cutting grass sounds like it will probably cut my hands as well!) The majority of players we speak to have decided that one of the string sets below has met their needs, so we've grouped them together as a "buyer's guide" to help you narrow down what will work for you. Some of the sets were purpose-made for rockabilly players, others are ones that players have tried and found to work for that unique style.
You can read the short descriptions here, and link to the set of your choice directly from this page. You can also learn more about a specific set you're interested in by clicking its link -- aside from more than just a simple paragraph of info, this may also provide other options, like different gauges or solo-tuning sets, five-string or extended E-string options, and more.
Pirastro starts with a plain gut D and G for the true "old school" slap vibe, and pairs them with a synthetic cored E and A string, wound in chrome steel, for a warm -- but full toned -- low end. Optionally, you can also get a synthetic version of the D and or G string. The result is a top-shelf tone with easy playability, great click, and organic sound. Developed together with Nicolas Dubouchet, and using proprietary synthetic blends, these strings were carefully developed to be the cream of the crop. Are they? Only your hands and ears can tell... but we're big fans, and they've been very popular with players -- even those who don't slap! Mark has had them on his bass for over a year now.
Some rockabilly-slapstyle players that want a more "metallic" click have found that they like the solo gauge Superflexibles - which were not purposely-designed for Rockabilly. For some, they're just a little bit stiffer to slap than non-metal strings, but for steel strings they're pretty easy on the fingers. They have a good bit more "clack" - but also more actual note - than plain gut or nylon, especially on the E and A; they will probably sound a little "twangy" until they break in (especially if you're used to gut or similar). But they're reported to have a long life, and they work quite well for "regular" pizz sound as well. And of course, these strings will work with a magnetic pickup like the Schaller or Krivo (while gut or nylon won't).
These strings are a durable alternative to more costly gut strings; they've developed a cult-like following with many rockabilly and bluegrass musicians. Their design is what sets them apart, their inner core is a braided cord consisting of steel and silk, which is then tightly wrapped with a blend of metal windings. Finally, they are wrapped with a special polymer, giving Eurosonics a unique, almost translucent look. They have a thick attack and less pronounced sustain than some other strings. Their unique Polyamide wrap makes for a gentle experience for both hands - which is great for slappers. The Ultralights are the best choice for 100% Rockabilly players - if you play other styles, the Lights may be a better choice so you have better definition on the low strings.
Innovation Rockabilly Strings were the first offering in their "Slap" line of strings and have a distinctive black nylon outer winding over a nylon core. These strings, designed specifically for the needs of rockabilly bassists, provide warmer, darker tone with decent volume, making them a great string for players who play predominantly slap-style. Their decidedly gut-like tone - and softness - makes them a great alternative to the expense and maintenance requirements of real gut strings. Players report that the Rockabilly strings are a good synthetic slap-style string - and they have the side benefit that they actually sound quite good for jazz pizzicato playing; they provide the player with enough sustain and growl to cover a jazz gig without changing to a different string. Note that most of the Innovation strings do not contain any ferrous materials; they are not suitable for use with a magnetic pickup.
The Silver and Golden Slap strings were designed to be an alternative to gut for players who slap; they have the lower tension and gut-like sound that traditional slappers prefer, with a more affordable price point and easier maintenance. They sound great amplified. Many players report that these strings are "close to gut" in playability and feel. The SilverSlaps and GoldenSlaps are essentially the same, with the exception of the color of the inner windings (which shows through the translucent outer wrap). Note that almost all of the Innovation strings do not contain any ferrous materials; they are not suitable for use with a magnetic pickup.
Similar to the Golden and SilverSlaps, above, but with a touch more tension and a slightly thicker gauge. They are better suited to someone actually playing the psychobilly style; with the rapid-fire speed and aggressiveness, a bit more tension is needed to keep the strings from "getting away from you." For "straight rockabilly," the slap is more of a passing accent - and the GoldenSlaps, SilverSlaps, or Rockabilly strings might be a better choice. The tone, when used for Psycho-slap, is very aggressive. Note that most of the Innovation strings do not contain any ferrous materials; they are not suitable for use with a magnetic pickup.
Okay, almost all the strings mentioned above compare themselves to gut. Here's the real thing, if you're looking to take the plunge! For some, there is no substitute for the soft feel and organic sweetness of true gut strings. The lowest strings have a nicely distinct but warm tone, which is an improvement over the guts of "yester-year." Gut strings do require a little maintenance; it is advisable to gently clip any "hairs" (hair-like little strands of gut that that develop with play). You may also want to oil them (walnut oil, most pure vegetable oils can do, but we also sell an inexpensive kit) for the longest life, especially if you are in a dry climate or go through dry periods. Also, the plain gut (unwound) E is quite thick and "flubby" if you play any other styles but slap. But if you want the sound of vintage, all-natural bass, you'll want to consider these. For lots of rockabilly bassists, true gut is king!
Bumped Set Options
What the heck is a "Bumped" set?
A bumped set, simply, is a custom set of strings with SUPER-light tension.
It is traditionally created by substituting a string designed for a higher pitch for each string on your bass; commonly, this means using an A-string for the E, a D-string for the A, a G-string for the D, and a High C-string for the G. Thus, you're "bumping" each string down one position on your bass, but - and this is the key - you're still tuning it E-A-D-G.
Wow - that sounds like the strings would be really light, doesn't it? Why would anyone do this?
When it comes to rockabilly bass playing, sometimes ease of play is paramount. Many players find that standard string sets are just way too stiff to play 3+ hours of non-stop slap bass on. And, since most of those players use amplification to accommodate the higher volume needs of the style, the acoustic output of the bass isn't as important, so the tension to create acoustic volume isn't crucial. Thus, a bumped set can be a happy medium between the extremes of higher-tension "real" upright bass strings, and the tonal compromise of putting weed-whacker line on your bass (no, seriously).
Previously, "bumping" a set might require that you purchase a whole set (plus a high C) -- and you end up paying for an unused E string that gets thrown in a drawer somewhere in your bass den. We thought that stunk, so we've put together some popular bumped sets to help you out.
This set, which we're specially sourcing direct from LaBella (and which is exclusively available at Gollihur Music), is a bumped, ultra-low tension version of the Supernil set - and by substituting the special production 100% nylon low string, we're providing a set that is fully nylon from top to bottom (the regular Supernils have Silver-Plated Copper Windings on the A and E string). The high (G) string is a solid nylon, while the other three strings have the characteristic "roundwound" sort of finish that the Supernils are known for. Their pitches can be - ahem - less than definite, but this can be an asset in aggressive music where the pitch can be almost secondary to the percussive element! And of course, they have an attractively low price. Provided exclusively by Gollihur Music
These strings have been made for decades; they have a nylon core, which is flatwound with nylon on the C, G and D strings, and with monel (a nickel alloy) on the A string. The strings have a comfortable soft feel, with a lighter tension than most steel strings, and good tone and volume. These strings have a larger diameter than most steel strings which gives them a more natural feel as a bumped set. Very popular choice!
Recently, some rockabilly-slapstyle players have found that they like the Superflexibles - which were not purposely-designed for Rockabilly. For many, they're just a little bit harder to slap than non-metal strings, but for steel strings they're pretty easy on the fingers. They have a bit more "click" - but also more actual note - than plain gut or nylon, especially on the E and A; they will probably sound a little "twangy" until they break in (especially if you're used to gut or similar). But they're reported to have a long life, and they work quite well for "regular" pizz sound as well. And of course, these strings will work with a magnetic pickup like the Krivo (while gut or nylon won't).
These strings have a solid synthetic core with a very thin metal wrap. They were designed to emulate gut strings, so their attack is "old school" with a more blunt and thicker, warmer hit, with a little less sustain than more modern jazz strings. Their very smooth surface is kind to the fingers and delivers a nice old-school thump. They actually don't hold up super well to heavy slap, so I'd only opt for these if you play occasional slaps as an accent, not full-on psychobilly.
Thomastik Spirocore: Spiros are a longtime favorite for jazz and other genres, and they have been a popular string (regardless of style) for many years. They have great sustain and a great big sound; good for many styles. If they were good enough for Milt Hinton towards the end of his career, they're good enough for me