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What Upright Bass Strings To Choose?

So you need to order some new upright bass strings and you don't know what to order.  When it comes to upright bass strings, it's good to know that most all strings are designed or made for either bowing or plucking.  (Incidentally, the word plucking in Italian Pizzicato....is pronounced like a kid's favorite food, with a "cotto" at the end!)  Or, some just call them, "Pizz" strings when you call us.

What's really great for bowing, might in return be the opposite for "pizz" kind of strings.  Some are marketed as "hybrid" strings to imply that they are good for both bowing and plucking, but in actuality (in our humble opinion) there are only 2 or 3 strings that actually switch or actually do a decent enough job in both directions.  These strings that do, it seems was more accident than by design:  It just happens that a couple "bowing" strings work ok or well for jazz (pizz) playing as well.

First, let's mention these brands and get that out of the way:  Pirastro makes both Obligato and Evah Pirazzi.  Evah Pirazzi by far, are the most favored "hybrid" string.  It's important when it comes to stringed instruments and in particular the upright bass, that just about everything you add or take away creates a "tradeoff" somewhere with the bass.  With a bass, it seems as though just whenever something is improved on the bass, in either set up or tone, there will be some opposite effect or "tradeoff" taken from something else.  We'll get more into that in a bit.  Back to the strings....

Pirastro's Evah Pirazzi upright bass strings are a bowing type string that they made to mimic the way a gut string responds and sounds:  responsive and mellow.  Not bright or hard as some new metal strings are.  In fact, the Evah Pirazzi strings are made with a synthetic core, not metal.  Because of their synthetic core, sustain nicely like great jazz strings (pizz) will.  Truly, they are a "hybrid" string that works great on the bow and pizz.   Evah's come in solo, medium and light (or in German, called "Weich" which sounds, "Vike")  The Weichs are more popular.  Their diameters (string thicknesses) are more in line like the rest of the metal strings on the market and feel like the rest of the strings offered in general.  The medium gauge, also popular, are slightly fatter and might give the bass a little more depth or core. 

The number #1 upright bass jazz strings still....have to be Thomastik's Spirocore mediums. When you think of the late great jazz player Ray Brown, think Spirocore mediums.  A nice punchy 'pop' and then the growly sustain afterwards.  When comparing the Evah Pirazzi Weichs to the Spirocore mediums, the Spirocores are brighter and have more edge to them at the beginning of the note.  They also have a tad bit more sustain than the Evahs, but are pretty close....  Only a few people that play professionally in the world have a bass that can handle using a straight set of Spirocores on their orchestra set ups.  The bass has to be really soft sounding, and dark.  Then, the Spiros won't sound too bright or edgy with the bow.  For the same reason orchestra players might not want to stick out too much with the Spirocores, many solo players (classical) actually prefer using the Spirocore Solo gauges for their concerto and solo recital work.  They are bright and give more of a cutting edge that can be heard and differentiated more between their bass and the rest of the strings and or piano accompanist.  Also, some experienced orchestra players like putting the Spirocore E medium on their orchestra bass.  Often the E strings that come with the ordinary sets are weak compared to the neighboring A string and might drop off in attach or power a bit.  The Spirocore E string (for orchestra), give a little more kick on the spiccato playing and beginnings of notes.  Yes, that Spirocore E can sound a bit brighter in comparison, but mellows out a bit and usually works fine.  On some orchestra basses, that Spirocore is to hard no matter what. In this case, try the next responsive E string (with the bow) which is a Pirastro Permanent E.  A cheaper alternative to the Perm E is a Helicore E string.

What are the top bowing, orchestra playing strings?  There are so many to choose from, but here are some of the top choices and favorites with our orchestra playing customers:  By Pirastro, Original Flexocors, Flexocors, Deluxe Flexocors, Permanents, Passione, then Evah Pirazzi or Obligatos.  The number one orchestra string by Thomastik is their Belcanto brand.  (Belcantos would well be in the top 5 list for orchestra strings.)  Again, there is no "better" string, but depends on the player and the bass.

What are the top "pizz" strings?  The most popular Jazz strings would easily be the Thomastik Spirocore mediums, Pirastro's Evah Pirazzi Weichs and mediums.  Then the Velvet Garbo, Animas and Blues.  The Velvet brands are made with synthetic cores as well and tend to lean more to the loose 'gut' sound.  The Velvets tend to feel a little fatter in diameter, and would not be used for an orchestra kind of string. 

Rockabilly (Slap) style playing bass strings require them to be lower in tension and more resilient.  Metal strings are stiff (higher tension) and are not made to be pulled up (snapped) from the fingerboard.  Once in a while won't kill anyone, but you shouldn't buy metal if you are going after a loose slapping kind of Joe Fick action.  In fact, the loosest strings and the easiest strings to play Rockabilly type slap technique are easily the pure gut strings by Lenzner.   The pure guts are very elastic, low in tension so that it is easy to pull them up quickly with the least amount of work.  Guts lack power though and will not be a real punchy or powerful string nor will they bow that great (compared to metal or the synthetic Evahs or Obligatos.)  Guts are also expensive.  If you are looking for a decent string that won't break the bank, Innovation makes several brands: Silver Slap, Super Silvers, Rockabilly just to name a few and will be about $80-100 cheaper than a pure gut set.  The Innovation strings are wrapped in nylon.  They are also the fattest strings in diameter, but then again, they are designed specifically for slapping and that style of playing. Not a bowing string!!!

Steve's Favorite Upright  Bass Strings List.  I decided to list my favorite strings because as a professional player, I too, have my own ideas.  I list my favorites and try to compare them to others that you might be thinking of or haven't yet thought of yet.

Orchestra Upright Bass Strings.  My Italian bass is a very responsive, big sounding bass and its tone is dark(ish) as opposed to tight or bright.  I can use just about any string and the bass is still going to sound 'good'.  The "base" string that I always use to gauge how everything else will work is the Flexocor brand or the Original Flexocor.  (On my bass, the Belcantos are definately right in there somewhere with the Originals and the Flexocors as they would be with most other basses.)

On my bass today I have: a Spirocore C extension E (medium), Permanent A string, Passione D and G (both orchestra gauge, not stark.)  I like the kick and power of the Spirocore E and it is not at all that bright on my bass.  I used to use the Permanent E, but tried the Spirocore on a lark and well, loved it.  The Permanent A string "bridges" the tone gap and attack between the E Spirocore and the D Passione.  I tried the A Passione but it didn't feel like it had enough power as the Permanent A had.   I could (and have) used the Permanent EA with Flexocor Originals GD and would be extremely close to what I use now.  I switched to the Passione G and D because they sounded tonally just like my Flexocor Originals, but they "spoke" quicker with the bow.  Just a tad more, but I like them.  My stand partner in the Phoenix Symphony likes my bass, but feels that the G and D Passione "are too easy" to play on.  What?  Too easy??  In other words, he likes a little more resistance.  Strings that have a little more resistance to them also tend to be a little more powerful, but then the tradeoff there is that sometimes they can also be harder to bow.  I like easy!

Orchestra bass strings: Obviously anyone can use any string they want for any application.  This is just a rough guide to get you started and (hopefully) pointed in the right direction:

Brand Name: Why I like them:
Flexocor (just plain Flexocors! These are the best strings to start with and they are right in the middle as far as what orchestra bass strings do.  Good to start with these then work your way around.  They play well and last a long time.
Flexocor Originals Tend to be a little warmer (darker) than the plain Flexocors.  At first the G sounds a little bright but settles down after a few days.
Flexocor Deluxe These are close to the Flexocors and Flex Originals, but they have a different attack at the beginning.  Again, it totally depends on the bass and the player, but if you like the tone of Flexocors (and the originals) and your bass is "tight", these might be a little more responsive or easier to start than the regular Flexocors.
Belcantos Very similar to the above strings.  On some basses, the Belcantos just respond a little quicker.  They can tend to be a tad bit brighter, but not huge difference. Some say that the Belcantos have a little 'pop' when starting the bow (in each direction), but that again depends on the bass and player.  Again, very close to the Flexocor brands.  Unfortunately, it's trial and error!
Passione These tend to be a little more responsive, especially on the higher two strings.  If you have a bright sounding bass and don't like what the other top 3 brands here, you might really like the Passiones.  They respond under the bow easily.  For instance, if you have a bass that the G is tight or wants to scratch more than the rest of the set, the Passione G might be just enough to 'speak' more easily, but blend in with the rest of what you are using.  I love the G string and use it on my own Italian bass.
Evah Pirazzi While these were designed by Pirastro as a bowing type genre, the jazz people love these too.  'Evahs' have a synthetic core and tend towards a gut kind of attack.  They won't pop out like the above 4 brands here, but work ok, especially if you are doing lots of combination bowing and pizz stuff.  This again is the number #1 "hybrid" string.
Obligato Similar to the Evahs, but I think for orchestra strings, the Obligatos might be better.  Less twisting with these and maybe a tad more attack or bow response.  These also work for pizz playing, but might not sustain as much as the Evahs do.
Permanent These are also by Pirastro.  Permanents are good strings and tend to be a little stiffer.  They will had more presence and power to the bass, but then with a stiffer string, the tradeoff (might be) a little less easier response.  This again is strictly depending on the player, his/her style of playing, and....the bass!  If you like the rest of the Flexocor sets, but not happy with the slow speaking E that comes with, try a Permanent E!  Lots of folks buy regular sets of strings, but buy the Permant E's with. For example: Flexocor Originals GDA and Permant E.
Precision or Chromcor You won't see these too much.  One brand is made by Thomastik and the other Pirastro.  These are meant as a bowing string, but I have to say, quality wise they are really pretty nice.  If you are trying to save money or just cannot pay for the more expensive brands now, I would try these.  Good quality strings.  They will be a little stiffer than say the Flexocor, but still a good deal for your $.  If you are a classical player and just cannot afford the more expensive ones that I list here...try these!

Jazz, bluegrass, folk..."Pizz" strings:  Bluegrass players, mostly you are plucking the string, but don't be afraid to have a nice sustain or growl on the bass.  Think of it as having a sports car.  Just because the car can go fast, doesn't mean you have to race at every stop light!  The Spirocores may be too bright or "growly" for you, but the Evahs offer nice sustain and who wants a "thuddy" no sustaining bass???  If you really want and like to "thud" then pick one of the "orchestra" type strings that we highlight above here that are actually meant for bowing.

Brand Name: Why I like them:
Spirocore Mediums (S42) These have been around for at least 35-40 years and they are still the number one jazz string.  They have lots of pop at the beginning and growly sustain after that.  A brighter, stiffer string will tend to do this.

The Spirocore Weichs (light) S42W, are similar to the mediums.  I have heard people say that the weichs are easier to bow than the mediums.  Perhaps so, in that they get the string to move easier with the bow, but will also sound even brighter than the mediums.

Evah Pirazzi These come in Solo gauge, Orchestra and light (Weich).  the most popular are the Weichs and then the mediums (Orchestra.)  Again, these are nicely sustaining strings.  If I were to scientifically measure the sustain length of the Evahs, I would say that they were just under the Spirocores and without all the growl (buzzy sound of the string) after the note is played.  These are darker than the Spirocores and again, if you do both classical and jazz type playing, these will work nicely for both.
Velvets Garbo, Animas and Blues.  These are meant as pizz strings.  If you play a couple of lines by bow, they will bow, but really not meant for that.  If you are working on the Bach Cello Suites now...don't buy these!  These are good strings though.  Sound and play loose like a gut string and they tend to be lower in tension. (These are also synthetic core strings.) 
Gut Strings Gut strings are the old standby ('old school') approach to playing bass.  Want to sound more like Paul Chambers heard on some of the old Miles Davis recordings?  Gut strings were pretty much all that they used back then. You can just hear how high the strings were when they played these on the recordings. Talk about dues!

Players still buy these and love them. Gut strings are lower in tension and besides being more expensive (a lot more) and more trouble to keep, they have a unique sound that only pure gut strings will give.  These are favored with hard core Rockabilly players and jazz players that want to play in an older style.  Gut strings require just a bit more of attention before you install them.  A wider nut grove and angles should be checked.  Hard angles or pinching the string anywhere will cause it to break much earlier.  We'll often sell Spirocore E & A strings, with Pirastro's Olive Gut G and D.  For all just pure guts, the Lenzner brands make the best quality gut and are more affordable.  A set of Lenzners might be around $220 where a set of Chorda can run over $400!

Hybrid Bass Strings, for both plucking and bowing. Strings that are favored by players that both bow and/or do a fair amount of plucking. Not shown here, but a alternative idea is to mix your sets.  It is not uncommon for someone that is a busy jazz player to also be playing and working on other genres in their practicing or work schedule.  It's ok to buy a Spirocore E A with a darker, less edgy bowing G and D, like Flexocor Deluxe.  The Flex's will not sustain quite as much as the Spirocores would, but the higher pitch strings, combined with the typical amplification systems, blend nicely and not that noticeably different.  On the bow though, a huge difference. So if you are working on some nice classical solos, this might be a nice way to go for a while.

Brand Name: Why I like them:
Evah Pirazzi Orchestra and Weich gauge Evah Pirazzis are made for the bow, but just happen to sound pretty good as just pizz strings.  These are truly a hybrid string.  Not sure if I would take a symphony audition with Evahs, but I use them to play the Eccles Sonata on our bass videos page on a nice G.B Rogeri bass.  They are mild, warm strings with a bow (not bright!!) and sustain for pizz nicely.  I put the Evahs on that day, because I thought that maybe one of the other jazz players might need to use it for their set.  The one player that plays the jazz tunes, chose another Roger bass that already had the Spirocores on it.
Obligato Another hybrid type string really.  Though you will see more orchestra people using these.  Before the Evahs came out, Obligatos tended to be more for bowing/jazz players.
Flexocor Deluxe! Whaaat???  Yes, we've noticed that the Flexocor Deluxe strings feel kind of 'loose' jazzy with pizz playing.  Though they are more for bowing, if you are mainly a orchestra/classical genre player, but looking for a string that might be able to handle some walking bass lines, the Deluxes work ok!  Not as much sustain, as the Evahs, but they respond much better under the bow.  These might be a great "hybrid" string for say...70/30 or 80/20 (classical/jazz).

Rockabilly bass strings:  Strings that are loose enough to quickly get under to pull up and a quick rate and do not require a lot of power to do so.  These strings will be not be powerful in the same way metal strings are.  Have you seen our videos of Joe Fick playing on his Thompson bass?  Talk about slapping the bass!

Brand Name: Why I like them:
Gut Strings If you don't mind paying the price, pure gut strings are the easiest to play and have the best response of any other slap style string in the world.  Lenzner versus Chorda: Hey anyone want to A-B these for us???  We'll give a special price on both sets, but you have to buy both and you have to write a detailed review.  If you want to take this on, call us.
Innovation These are the cheaper alternative to buying the guts.  They are fat strings (with round wound) nylon wrapping around the core.  These are really the only other slap style stings that are loose enough to get up and around on.  Because of their diameter, they are just a little bit more akward if you have been using regular metal strings thus far.  You get used to them, but really, these should be for players that want to beat the crap out their basses are not worried too much about feel or dexterity.  The nylon wrapping can be hard on the right hand as well.   Another reason why the guts are so popular this way is that they are easier on both the right and left hands.

Anyhow, these are just a basic, rough idea of how these strings are used and compared.  Ultimately, it will always depend on the player: They're needs and styles.  The bass: how the responsive it is and where in the tonal spectrum the bass falls within: from tonally bright to dark sounding (or all the in betweens!)  On this page we at least hoped to help players and give the general directions.  There is though no substitute for actually putting them on your bass and seeing first hand how they will work.  If you are confused or uncertain which direction you need to go, you can certainly call us and ask. We're happy to help!