Flatwounds vs. Roundwounds

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Which is the better bass string for you, flatwounds or roundwounds? For the last few years there's been a shift in the bass world with many players switching from the more popular roundwound strings back to the old school flatwounds.

So whats the difference between these two types of bass strings?

Flatwound Strings

The first commercial electric bass strings were flatwound strings introduced around 1951 by Fender for use on their new electric bass guitar.

Most flatwound strings consist of a high carbon steel hex core with a polished stainless steel outer ribbon wrap. Some flatwounds have round steel cores or outer nickel wraps.

The flatwound string was the staple of the electric bass sound all through the 1950's, 60's and into the 70's. In fact it wasn't until the 1980's that the roundwound string became the dominant choice among bass players and music producers.

In recent years however the flatwound has made a huge comeback in the music scene. Many young and not so young bass players are rediscovering the flatwound string, appreciating it's unique tonal characteristics.

Flatwounds have a deeper, mellower sound than roundwounds that suit all different types of musical genres. They have long been a favorite for bass players in reggae, country, blues, jazz, roots rock, and are now popular with many indie bands.

Because of their flat ribbon windings flatwounds produce very little finger noise (squeaking) while playing. Flatwounds are also much kinder to frets than roundwounds and fingerboards if you play a fretless bass. Flats are easier on the fingers than rounds and can last much longer. In fact to many, flatwounds sound better and better the older they get.

Many producers and recording engineers prefer flatwound strings because they sit better in the mix and are easier to control sonically in a recording than roundwounds.

The main problem with flatwounds for many bass players is that they just don't have the bright, aggressive tone that roundwounds can deliver.

Flatwounds generally have higher tension and can be more difficult to keep in tune than rounds. Most flatwound strings will cost more on average than roundwound strings, although they will last much longer.

Roundwound Strings

The first commercially available roundwound string was developed in 1963 by James How at Rotosound, a British guitar and bass string manufacturer. The basic idea of the roundwound string is that instead of the outer wrap being a flat metal ribbon material they would use a round steel or nickel wrapping that would greatly increase the treble tone of the string.

Very few bassists at first used roundwound strings, John Entwistle was probably the first and most famous user of the Rotosound roundwound. But gradually over time the roundwound would become the dominate string type in the bass marketplace.

Roundwounds have a much brighter and more aggressive tone than flatwound strings and they literally changed the way basses were played and built. By the 1980's the roundwound had become the industry standard in bass guitar strings.

In recent years flatwound strings have made a big comeback, gaining more popularity with young bass players, but the roundwound is still the most popular bass string type by far.

For a bright, clear and aggressive tone nothing can match the sound of roundwound strings. If you play slap bass or need a lead bass style tone than roundwounds are the way to go.

Most roundwounds tend to be less expensive than flatwound strings. Roundwounds are easier to keep in tune than flatwounds and usually have lower tension than flats of the same gauge.

Roundwound strings have a much shorter life span than flats. Because of the round outer wrapping, dirt and grime will accumulate in the grooves of the strings and eventually kill the brightness. Some bassists who need a very bright and cutting tone will change their roundwound strings every few days. By contrast a set of flatwound strings can last for many years. There are however some bassists who prefer the sound of dead roundwounds (I'm one of them).

Due to the rough outer wrapping, rounds can be tough on the fingers and will generate much more finger noise than flats. They also will wear down frets much quicker than flatwound strings.

The bottom line is that you have to try both and probably several different brands before you can be sure which is best for you. Many bass players like to have at least one bass with flats and one with rounds, and then of course there's also half-rounds, which are like a cross between flats and rounds.

My Favorite Flatwound Strings:

My Favorite Roundwound Strings:

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