Review: thoughts on double bass strings 16

Picking the right set of bass strings can be a difficult and expensive process. Experimenting with a variety of brands is the only way to find strings that work for you and your bass, but each set of strings runs $150-200, which limits experimentation. Some (but not most) local luthiers will let you experiment with their old strings, so if you find someone like this, stay on their good side!

I should mention before getting into my string descriptions that I am a classical bassist, and what I use is not generally considered good for jazz and bluegrass styles of playing. For example, most jazz players I know consider Pirastro Obligatos to be the only acceptable jazz strings Pirastro makes, while classical players tend to favor many different types of Pirastro strings. I have not done much playing on gut strings, so I have not offered any opinions on these strings. It would be smart to do some research before buying gut strings since a set can easily approach $400.

  • Pirastro Permanent This is my current favorite string brand. A recent addition to the Pirastro line, they are powerful, medium tension strings that are quite popular on the audition circuit right now. Permanents to me are a great string to start your experimentation. They combine the free and open feeling of lighter gauge strings with the power of heavier gauge strings. They tend to work well on a lot of basses.
  • Pirastro Obligato These strings are a close second favorite of mine. They are a relatively low tension string with a great deal of flexibility under the hand. You can actually twist the string winding back and forth and feel it move. These are one of the few brands of strings that seem to work well for both classical and jazz playing. The response under the bow is excellent and they have that jazz “growl” when plucked. I have had great success with these strings on a wide variety of basses. They seem to work well on cheap as well as expensive basses. Since they are a lower tension string they can make a tight bass sound more open. If you are looking for a firm feeling under the bow, however, these may not be the best choice.
  • Pirastro Original Flexocor These strings are a classic favorite for orchestral section players. These do not make good jazz strings – in fact, they are the opposite of what a jazz player is usually looking for. They are a higher tension string with very little pizzicato ring. These strings tend to sound great with the bow. They have that “chocolate” sound prized by arco players, and they blend very well in a section. Since they are a higher tension string it takes more weight and energy to activate them. They can feel stiff under the bow, especially when compared to Permanents or Obligatos. It all depends on the player – some people really like that feeling under the bow. You can put a lot of energy into these strings and they will respond in kind. They are a darker sounding string and are therefor not appropriate for all basses. Also, they tend to sound very good under the ear and less good in a hall.
  • Pirastro Original Flatcrom These strings are as old school as you can find. They make Original Flexocors look wimpy in comparison. These strings are even higher tension than the Original Flexocor, and they are definitely only for orchestra playing. In my experimentation I have found these strings to sound great on very nice old Italian basses and terrible on just about everything else. They have even more “chocolate” in their sound, but they will only work well on certain basses, and solo or jazz playing would not usually be a good idea on these strings.
  • D’Addario Helicore These strings exploded in popularity in the mid 1990s, but I don’t see a lot of players using them now. Quality control at D’Addario seems to me to be shakier than it is at Pirastro. I have never broken a Pirastro string while playing, but while using D’Addarios over a three year period I managed to break three A strings. This was while playing arco, not pizzicato! These strings come in an orchestral variety, hybrid variety (good for both pizzicato and arco) and a jazz variety. They also come in light, medium and heavy gauges, so there are more customization options in your set up with these strings than there are with the Pirastro brands. I used two heavy gauge orchestral strings on the G and D strings and heavy gauge hybrids on the A and E strings. This for me was the best set up for my old Lowendal bass. These strings tend to be similar in sound to the Pirastro Permanents. All versions of D’Addario (orchestra, hybrid and jazz) sound brighter to my ear than Permanents, and not in a good way. I don’t see a lot of players on the audition circuit with these strings.
  • Corelli by Savarez – These are some strange strings. They come in light, medium, and heavy gauges, but even the heaviest gauge is extremely light. These strings come in nickel and tungsten varieties. I have only played on the tungsten strings, and I have not been impressed by the results. To my ear they sound light without any substance, and are disappointing to play. I have a hard time recommending them to anyone.
  • Spirocore by Thomastik-Infeld These strings are extremely popular for jazz bassists, but they can work quite well for classical bassists in some situations. They have a huge, powerful sound with lots of sustain and pizzicato growl. They tend to be difficult to bow, so a player playing primarily arco should consider this when thinking about these strings. They are very bright and clear. Their Wiech string variety is lighter gauge and easier on the hands while still retaining the power of the standard gauge. Many classical players use Spirocore solo strings. They tend to sound extremely bright up close but to sound well-balanced and clear in a hall, and they can cut over an orchestra better than most other brands.

I hope these descriptions will help people looking for strings to make a good decision. I welcome any feedback or suggestions on brands of strings that I did not cover here.

About Jason

An active double bass performer and teacher, Jason teaches double bass at DePaul University and served on the Board of Directors of the International Society of Bassists for many years. Jason is the current President of the Illinois chapter of the American String Teachers Association. Jason has been a member of the Elgin Symphony since 2000 and has played with the Midsummer’s Music Festival in Door County for the past decade. He is a past member of the Milwaukee Ballet and IRIS Orchestra, and has performed with the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Grant Park Symphony, and numerous other professional ensembles.

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16 thoughts on “Review: thoughts on double bass strings

  • oceanskies79

    I use D’Addario Helicore on my double bass and so far, it went alright on my double bass.

    I have yet to compare it with Pirastro Permanent strings though.

  • oceanskies79

    I had tried Spirocore by Thomastik-Infeld on one of the double basses in the orchestra. It sounded clear indeed.

  • Anonymous

    Totally agree – Pirastro Permanents are on my orchestral bass too with one exception – I’m currently using a Flexocor G. I’m using Velvet Animas on my jazz bass. I had the opportunity to try Rufus Reid’s bass (with Animas) before parting with the big cash. They are great!

    Donald M

  • Jason Heath

    I’ve always liked Flexocors, and for certain basses (particularly with bright upper registers) they can be the best choice. I’ve never played Animas, but if Rufus uses them they must be pretty good!

  • Anonymous

    It’s great you’ve started a players’ forum on strings. I recently did quite a bit of experimenting myself, looking for a better hybrid set than Obligatos (which doesn’t exist for my bass, I found). I wish I had read your post beforehand!

    I tried some gut core strings, Olivs and Eudoxas, and all the other Pirastros you mentioned. I found the gut strings to be very nice, very dark sound, you can really dig in with the bow, and they have a good jazz sound with a nice “puh” attack…especially the Olivs. The only drawbacks to the gut core strings is that they are expensive, they don’t sing in the solo register on my bass, and they lose some of the complexity of sound versus lighter tension strings like Obligatos.

    You jazz players should try out Permanents if you find that Obligatos are too light in tension. Permanents have much better pizz sustain than Flexocor and Flat Chrom, and they bow well and project like crazy.

    If you want to experiment cheaply, ask around for old sets, or just order one string from a few sets, especially if you find that one of the strings on your bass tends to be particularly problematic.

  • Kontrabass Violin

    I’d love to see a comprehensive chart of all of the colors on bass strings (maybe photos, some blues look purple, etc..) so we can all glance at a bass and tell what type of strings it has. The manufacturer’s websites are woefully inadequate. : (

    We could get a bunch of people to submit small photos (careful to check off the type of strings that have already been submitted)…

    Just dreaming. : )

  • Raymond Irving

    I recently had great success with Evah Pirazzi strings. My wife, also a bassist, has them on her old French bass also. Very dark and warm, the low C really sounds great! Bowing is a dream, and the pizz is rich and full. They are a bit pricy , but that’s what ya have to do sometimes for great sound.

  • Daniel Green

    I use VelvetString Animas on my only bass, for *everything*; pizz and arco, all music genres. My instrument just happens to like them (1870s vintage, good setup, etc.) Every bass will respond uniquely, depending on many variables, IMHO. Steel? Never again, for me. :-]

  • Stefan Werni

    I agree with Mr Green/Dec 26th:
    I´m a Jazz player and have Velvet Garbo gut strings on my 1963 Pöllmann for about ten years now. Compared to metal strings they opened up the sound of my bass, now it´s even louder with more “bottom”
    The secret of the Velvet strings is that each string has exactly the same pressure on the bridge which means that the transduction of sound from the bridge to the corpus is very balanced (same pressure on both “legs” of the bridge!). With these gut strings I have more possibilities in shaoing the sound quality of the tones and have generally a more “wooden” sound on my bass.
    For classical players I recommend Velvet Anima strings, they are better for bowing since every string is “manteled” (?) with metal.
    My father was a classical player in a German Symphony Orchestra and was very happy with them!
    Best wishes and remember:
    Bass is the place!
    Stefan Werni

  • Lancer

    This is a great post, I recently tried the Thomastik Belcanto strings. They bow well, but are a bit weak for Pizz. I would certainly recommend these for someone who doesn’t play Jazz. For classical, they have a nice light feel and a warm tone and they speak well under the bow. I just recently replaced them with the Evah Pirazzi strings, and I’m thinking of putting my Belcantos back on. The Evah Pirazzis are great, but I think I should have done a little more research on them before I bought them. They are heavier than the Belcantos and as a result, project a little better, but not enough to outweigh the disadvantage of playing on heavier strings. I think what I wanted, based on what I ‘ve read, is something more like the Permanents that have the same lighter feel as the Belcantos, yet give you a louder and more sustained pizz like the Pirazzis and still bow well. I play mostly classical, but the occasional jazz gig comes along and I need a string that can produce a nice pizz and still bow well.

  • Phrank

    I am looking for “used” double bass strings for experiment. Wanting to build a large outdoor wind harp. ‘Aeolian Harp’
    It will be outside to catch the wind, so not looking for anything real nice. I’m just playing around.
    good wishes, ~~~Ph

  • davidr

    So…I’ve had the same strings that came with my bass for a long time now, wanting a change. I play a Chinese bass, $3400. I’ve recently gotten more into jazz, and am wanting a new set that is fairly easy to play jazz with, but that you can still play arco in like a wind ensemble or when soloing and sound good. So which brand and type would fit my situation the best? and also, which gauge would be best, as I don’t want something too heavy, because of the jazz playing, but if I go too light, will that make it harder to play arco? your help is appreciated.

  • Ross Lemon

    Hey there Jason,

    What do you think of Belcanto strings? Any Thoughts on them. I have heard mixed reviews but your opinion will help me get off this pointy fence.

  • Korneel

    It would be nice to have this kind of comparison for commercially available gut strings as well. I often use gut even in the modern orchestra, not only in ancient music. Maybe a little bit more troublesome, but what a great sound in an ensemble…

    Korneel Le Compte
    Principal Bass
    National Opera, Belgium

  • Mike

    I’ve settled on the D’Addario Helicore Hybrid medium gauge now. Until I reach a point where I can have basses set up for both jazz and orchestral, these are doing the trick quite nicely. On an old German 1940’s bass that was setup with gut strings for Jazz, I was really reluctant to remove the gut strings because they just sounded and responded so well for pizz playing. The Helicores, while just slightly less responsive and resonating than the gut playing pizz but the difference when playing arco was amazing.