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Noob question: flat vs. round strings?

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  • Noob question: flat vs. round strings?


               What is the difference in terms of tone and in what musical context might you want to use one instead of the other?


  • #2
    Flats are typically sound warmer and deader than rounds. Think "boom," while rounds have more of a "grrrr" sound.

    It's really all preference as to which you use. However, for years the only bass strings were flatwound. All those old Motown, Sound City, and Beatles songs were done with basses strung with flatwound strings. So if James Jamerson, Carol Kaye and Paul McCartney are your references for bass tone, you might have better luck with flats. They also feel smooth and are easy on the fingers.

    Rounds have more attack and are brighter sounding, and tend to cut through the mix a little more. John Entwistle is usually credited as the first bassist to use rounds exclusively. Most bassists since about the mid 70s or so have used rounds. So if you prefer bass tones like the Who, Yes, Flea, or Marcus Miller, you'll get there more easily with roundwound strings.

    You should try both to get a better idea. The nice thing about flats is that you pretty much never have to change them, they just sound the same once they break in. So you could buy a set of expensive Thomastik-Infeld flats once, and potentially never restring your bass again. If you just want to try a set, the D'Addario Chromes are a pretty popular, cheaper set of flats.
    Play more bass.


    • #3

      Flats, generally speaking, will emphasize the low end a bit more with somewhat fewer highs and high-mids than rounds.

      People tend to use flats for old-school Motown or country type sounds, or if they want to emulate an upright.

      They're also stiffer (harder to bend) at the same tension than roundwounds.

      I use flats on my fretless with piezo pickups because they feel and sound better to me for sliding up and down the neck.

      edit: Burster posted while I was writing. Funny that we said most of the same things, in different ways.


      • #4
        Flea used flats for a lot of Stadium Arcadium.


        • lz4005
          lz4005 commented
          Editing a comment

          arock0627 wrote:
          Flea used flats for a lot of Stadium Arcadium.

          John Entwhistle recorded My Generation on a J bass with flats. There weren't any rounds available at the time other than the stock strings on Danelectro Longhorns, and he had already purchased and broken all of them in the city.  

          The difference in sound isn't as dramatic as people sometimes think it is.