Ernie Ball Slinky Flatwound Bass Strings
By Phil O'Keefe |
Smooth feel, with a brighter sound
Some people believe "strings are strings," and there isn't a lot of difference between brands. Wrong. Savvy bass players know there's a wide range of string types available, and that different strings can change not only the bass's sound, but the playing feel. And of course there are other considerations, such as longevity and price. So, let's take a look at new strings from veteran string manufacturer Ernie Ball. Called Slinky Flatwounds, they're not your typical flats at all - so let's find out why.
What You Need To Know
- The world's first and currently only cobalt flatwound strings, the Ernie Ball Super Slinky Flatwound bass strings are made with a combination of iron and cobalt. They have a hex core with cobalt underwraps and a "SuperBright" cobalt ribbon wrap and are designed to provide the smooth playing feel of traditional flatwound strings while offering a brighter tonality that is closer in sound to traditional roundwound strings.
- These strings are offered in various string gauges, including Regular Slinky (50/70/85/105), Super Slinky, (45/65/80/100) Extra Slinky (40/60/70/95), Hybrid Slinky (45/65/85/105), and Power Slinky (55/75/90/110). A five string set (gauged 45/65/80/100/130) is also available. I tested the Super Slinky set on my Rogue VT-100 violin bass which has passive pickups, and the Hybrid Slinkys on my Ibanez SR1100, which has active EMG pickups.
- Ernie Ball's Cobalt strings offer great output - don't be surprised if you notice increased output level, power and punch from your bass after putting on a set of these strings.
- The overall sound is brighter and richer in overtones than what you may be used to from other flatwound strings, but they're not quite as bright as your typical roundwounds. They're somewhere in between. It's kind of like a set of roundwounds that has been played in, but not all played out; the initial zing in the top is gone, but there's still some brightness and articulation there - noticeably more than you'll hear when using traditional flatwound strings.
- Many bass players don't bother changing their strings as often as many guitarists do, so longevity is important. Some players of traditional flatwound strings basically never change them - James Jamerson being the classic example. While that's fine if you want a dull and dead sounding tone, you should change them occasionally if you want to keep the brighter tone that these strings deliver. Fortunately the string life is quite good with these strings. They retain their brightness better than nickel roundwound strings, although coated strings will still outlast them.
- The feel is terrific with these strings. Like you'd expect from a good flatwound set, your hands glide along the strings smoothly. It's great to have the feel of flatwounds with a brighter, more articulate tone. The sound of these strings benefits both pick and finger playing styles. The added brightness gives improved articulation and note definition to fingerstyle players, and the slightly subdued tone compared to true roundwounds gives pick bass a less clicky and more attractive tone.
- Ernie Ball Slinky Flatwound bass strings are not coated. Unlike many coated strings, the Slinky Flatwounds won't eventually start peeling and flaking, no matter how long you leave them on your bass.
- They are brighter than most flatwound strings and retain a strong emphasis on the fundamental, and while many people will prefer the improved definition and clarity compared to other flatwounds, some players may prefer the darker tone and fewer overtones that traditional flatwound strings provide.
- They retain their articulate tone for longer than regular nickel flatwound strings, but not as long as some coated roundwound strings. If maximum life is your sole string selection criteria you may decide on other strings, but the basic tone of these strings lasts longer than just about any non-coated bass strings I've tried to date.
I really like these strings a lot. While they're not quite as bright and articulate as full roundwound strings, they have a lot of a roundwound string's tonal character while maintaining the easy playability and smooth feel that many players love about flatwound strings. If you like the feel of flatwound bass strings but wish they were a bit brighter in tone, they're probably going to be right up your alley. As for me, the Ernie Ball Slinky Flatwound bass strings are now my preferred flatwounds, and I plan on continuing to use them on one of my three basses going forward.
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Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.