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Flatwound Strings - Not Just for Breakfast Anymore

Flatwound Bass Strings Audio Sample

Most electric bass players use roundwound strings. Pretty much any bass you pick up in a music store has roundwounds. Simply put, the core of the string is wrapped with thin wire. Run your fingernail up and down the string to hear it catch on the ridges of the wires. It's these ridges  that give the string some of its brightness.

Flatwound strings are wrapped with a ribbon rather than a wire. Since a ribbon is flat, there aren't really any  ridges - the string feels smooth.  Some people consider the sound to be more warm. Because there are no ridges, finger noise is greatly diminished. However, there is more friction as you slide your fingers because your fingers are sliding across the whole string rather than just the ridges. Because they are smoother, flatwounds are also gentler on your frets and fretboard. You'll have to experiment to find it if chrome, steel, or nickel strings are best for you.

Audio Samples (MP3)

The following clips were recorded on my Epiphone Thunderbird IV. The roundwound strings were a few months old, but haven't had heavy use. The flatwounds are a brand new set of D'Addario Chrome XL Regular Light Gauge.

Blues Audio Samples
Here's a little blues riff. Normally I would play this with very little movement of my hands, but I decided to play it by changing hand positions and sliding my fingers across the strings. See if you can hear it.
Arpeggio Audio Samples
In this riff I play an arpeggio using the second, third and fourth strings. I go from high to low on the neck. I also let the last note ring so you can hear the difference in sustain.
Walking Bass Audio Samples
I play a little walking bass here covering all four strings from the 9th fret on the G string to an open E. Again, I let the final note ring so you can hear the sustain.
Compression in the Mix
The next two clips include a drum track backing the above blues riff. You really need to hear it inside a mix to get a better feel for whether you like it or not. I applied medium/heavy compression (same settings on both clips). I think the compression brings out what I consider the best parts of the flatwound sound.


Bass Flatwound Strings Sustain

I would not say that flatwounds are dead, but there seems to be a bit less sustain. The following is a rough image of the wave form from the end of the arpeggio clips. As you can see the flatwounds die out a little faster (gets "thinner" quicker). A little bass compression could overcome that rather easily, but it still wouldn't sound the same. If you're into the flatwound sound, you probably wouldn't want to trying to increase the sustain anyway.


They sound different. They feel different. As a result how you play will be different (see my article on getting different  tones from your bass). Whether that's a good or bad thing is up to you. If you don't hate the sound, buy a set sometime and give 'em a shot. If you don't like what you heard here, so be it. Hopefully this article saved you a few bucks and a wasted afternoon!

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