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
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
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
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
||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.
||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.
||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
||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
||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
||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.
||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.
||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
|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
||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
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.
||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
||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 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
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
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.
||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.
||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
||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
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
||Why I like them:
||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.
||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