The Evolution of Double Bass, Acoustic, and Electric Bass Strings

The Evolution of Double Bass, Acoustic Bass,

and Electric Bass Strings

 

The Double Bass

The traditional Double Bass has long been a staple in most orchestra string sections and string ensembles. It is also commonly referred to as an Upright Bass, Stand-Up Bass, Doghouse Bass, Gut Bass, Acoustic Bass, as well as a few other colorful nicknames that are associated with these beautifully large instruments. While the strings of the double bass are often played with the fingers in a pizzicato fashion, they can also be played with a bow.

Double Bass

Double Bass – Strings By Mail

Historically, the original strings on the double bass were handmade from plain sheep gut (sheep intestines). To achieve the desired lower notes on the double bass, these gut strings were made extremely thick and were often difficult to play. There are still some varieties of gut core bass strings available for players looking for that historical and nostalgic bass sound similar to the early recordings. That authentic sound and feel is also very popular with players who use a percussive “slapping” playing style. These gut strings, however, can be relatively expensive – which lead some string manufacturers to begin making synthetic gut bass strings to achieve a similar gut sound.

As materials and manufacturing processes evolved, the larger diameter gut strings became wound during construction. This “wound” outer wrapping allowed for a thinner and much easier playing string overall. When these wound bass strings became more prevalent, many bass players had the necks reset on their older double basses so that the strings could be set up closer to the fingerboard. This allowed them to take advantage of the thinner and more easily playable steel wound strings which let them play the higher positions on the lower strings and bring forth new tonal capabilities from their old world instruments.

As the double bass grew beyond its familiar string orchestra territory and was beginning to be used for other developing styles of music with louder accompaniment, the need for the bass to also be louder became evident. Thanks to the advances with the steel wound bass strings, the playing style on the double bass also began to evolve during this time. Many jazz players adopted a percussive slapping method to better cut through the sound mix during live performances and on the early recordings.

That music of yesteryear evolved into yet even louder styles of music played for larger audiences and bigger venues – incorporating drums, big bands with horn sections, and the onslaught of the accompanying electric guitars. It was getting even more difficult to effectively amplify the double bass in this loud environment with the traditional microphones of the day. This need for an even louder bass, eventually lead instrument manufacturers to invent a new
interpretation of the bass.

The Electric Bass Guitar

The development of today’s modern mass produced electric bass began with Leo Fender back in the early 1950’s, with the invention of the Fender Precision Bass (P-Bass). The shape of this early P-Bass closely resembled Fender’s new Telecaster electric guitar, and had its own built in single coil bass pickup so that it could be easily amplified. This new mass produced smaller and lighter electric bass instrument made it much easier to transport for the traveling musician, and much more affordable for new players to purchase. As Rock and Roll music began taking over the world in the 1960s, more and more instrument manufacturers began making their own versions of the electric bass.

Electric Bass

Electric Bass – Strings By Mail

With these new electric bass guitars, the need for bass strings containing higher magnetic materials for the electronic pickups soon became the focus of string manufacturers. Originally, these electric bass strings were all flatwound bass strings, which were most often stainless steel wrapped around a steel hex core. Eventually roundwound electric bass strings became available, becoming popular with electric bass players because of the brighter and more powerful tonal capabilities that these roundwound bass strings offered. Half Rounds electric bass strings are another popular option, as they draw out some of the characteristics from both the flatwound and roundwound strings. Some other popular wound electric bass strings are nickel wound, and nylon tape wound (popular with Jazz musicians).

Today, most electric bass guitars still come equipped with the traditional 4 strings, but there are also many 5 String, 6 String, 7 String, & more string variations that are popular among bass players, offering them an increased range of lower and higher strings.

Bass guitars are traditionally tuned like the bottom 4 strings of a guitar, however these E, A, D, and G strings are tuned an octave lower. This lower octave playing range allows the bass guitar to help lay a deeper foundation of sound, which helps to blend and unify the drums and the guitars in a typical rock and roll setup.

Ongoing advances in electronics continue to have a big impact on electric basses, especially with the invention of active powered electronics, enhanced onboard EQs, and improvements in bass amps they are played through. Changes in instrument construction and design techniques have also brought some new changes to the electric bass, such as neck through body construction, the use of composite materials in the bodies, neck, and truss rods – all of which had a further effect on the sound and sustain of the instrument. Fretted and fretless necks also have a large impact on the sound and playability of bass guitars, as do the scale of the neck and the available number of frets.

Some other popular types of bass guitars are Acoustic Bass Guitars, and Electric Double Basses. Both of these variations of the bass guitar have their own special types of strings to bring the most out of these instruments.

What was old is now new again… and back to the double bass

As the retro sounds of R&B, Rock and Roll, Rockabilly, Jazz, Bluegrass, etc… have reinvented themselves over the years to almost pop music status today, the double bass has made quite a comeback recently. This resurgence brought about new ways to amplify the instrument by utilizing some modern electronic equipment. Piezo pickups and optical pickups are relatively new technologies that help bring a controlled amplification to the double bass, even on strings made with non-magnetic materials. Many improvements with bass amplifiers have also helped to bring forth more tonal possibilities from the double bass.

5 thoughts on “The Evolution of Double Bass, Acoustic, and Electric Bass Strings


  1. Flatwound strings are my favorite of electric bass reminiscent of the upright. I wonder what the next revolution for bass will be. Those new DR neons – can’t see McCartney playing those on his Hofner anytime soon!


  2. Are the acoustic bass strings magnetic as well, so that they can be used on basses that have an output for an amplifier/recording?

    Thanks,
    Floyd


  3. Most acoustic bass strings are made with Phosphor Bronze, offering a warm, bright & balanced tone. Piezo pickups are used on most acoustic basses that pickup and amplify the vibrations of the strings, vs. relying the magnetic properties of the strings used with magnetic pickups used in purely electronic guitars and bass guitars.

    Check out our inventory of acoustic bass strings.
    http://www.stringsbymail.com/store/more-strings-5/acoustic-bass-strings-24/



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