Flatwound Bass Strings vs Roundwound: What You Need to Know – 2021 Guide

Craig
| Last Updated: March 20, 2021

It’s very easy to get carried away and think that something is wrong with the sound of your bass and that you need a better instrument.

But, you might be surprised what a set of good bass strings can do for you and especially if you shift towards premium flatwound or roundwound models.  

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What Are Flatwound Bass Strings and Why Use Flatwound Bass Strings? 

Flatwounds strings were the first strings ever made and their main characteristics are attenuated trebles which makes the overall sound more subtle, silkier, and sophisticated. 

When Were Flatwound Strings Created?

Back in the 1950s, double bass players had to accept the fact that the electric bass is the instrument of the future, and to help their transition, electric bass manufacturers decided to make their transition smoother by making bass strings flatwound. Fender kept flatwound strings as their factory default set up to 1983.

What Are Flatwound Strings Made Of?

In general, they share the same material as roundwound bass strings, but the winding is completely different. As its name says the winding is completely flat which creates a much smoother overall tone. They are so flat that you need to wipe them down before playing as they may leave you with black powder marks.

Best Types of Music For Flatwound Strings

The sound trait of flatwood strings makes them feel warmer and therefore ideal for genres such as jazz, R&B, blues, and even reggae. It may also sound interesting when combined with drive effects.

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What Are Roundwound Strings and Why Use Them?

While roundwound strings came after flatwound, they are the most frequent strings you will find these days due to their clean and louder sound characteristics.

Who Invented Roundwound Bass Strings?

Back in the 1960's John Entwistle, bassist of the band The Who, fell in love with Danelectro basses and as they didn’t have spare strings he was looking for a replacement that would match his playing preference as he was often going up the fretboard into a higher register. Britain's Rotosound company developed those strings for him and put them in mass production from 1966.

What Are Roundwound Strings Made Of?

All roundwound strings use steel core but there are different solutions for the material that’s been used for wrap-around and this material can give a distinctive tone characteristic.

So, for example, Nickel will have that typical bright and balanced tone you somewhat expect from a bass guitar, Cobalt will have a wider dynamic range with emphasized low end and trebles while the Stainless Steel will have a crispier and edgy sound.

Best Types of Music For Roundwound Strings

In general roundwound strings are ideal for modern types of music such as pop, rock, metal, or punk. It will sound natural to funk as well, especially if you tend to use the slap bass technique a lot.

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Flatwound Bass String vs Roundwound 

So, should you pick flatwound or roundwound strings? It’s pretty much up to you, but here are some of the most important similarities and differences. You will find that while they are used regularly on a bass guitar, differences are much more significant than you would expect:

Flatwound Bass String and Roundwound Similarities

Here’s what these have in common:

String Gauge

Regardless of the string type, the string gauges will remain the same creating the same intonation and very similar string tension.

Playing Techniques

Despite the significant difference in the sound aspect, there is no single playing technique that is impossible to play on flatwound or roundwound strings.

Sound Quality

While the initial sound quality is different, there is no “more professional” sound to pick from those two types. Both are capable of delivering the same sound quality, it’s just a matter of preference.

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What Is The Difference Between Flatwound And Roundwound Bass Strings?

Here are some of the most important differences between those two types:

Feel

Flatwound strings feel smoother and easier to play beneath the fingers and may require a bit less effort to play. 

But, due to the much louder sound than roundwound strings can create, you may end up preferring the roundwound strings instead of flatwound.

Are Flatwound Bass Strings Harder To Play Than Roundwounds?

Not at all. If you disregard the sound characteristics, the only part you would struggle with is to create that kind of brightness that roundwound strings create for you if needed. As a matter of fact, they feel a bit easier on your fingers.

Durability/Longevity

Flatwound strings are winners in this aspect. They are expected to last forever and you would probably break one eventually instead of having an urge to change them.

How Long Do Roundwound Strings Last?

This wrap-around material found on roundwound strings can wear after some time so the best way to change should be after 400 hours of playing or approximately 6-8 months of active playing.

How Long Do Flatwound Bass Strings Last?

Flatwound bass strings are supposed to last much longer than roundwound because they don’t wear out so easily. That’s why there is even a joke about the urge to change flatwound bass strings at any point at all. There is a rumor that some legendary players never changed his flatwound strings so you can expect a lot of years of playing before having any need to change them.

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Tone

Tone is probably the most important difference. Flatwounds have a warm and smooth sound, while roundwound is much brighter and punchier. Flatwounds’ warmth comes because they are lacking trebles so that mids and lows feel emphasized.

Based on the genre you’re performing you may prefer one or another.

Top Pick Between Flatwound Bass and Roundwound Strings

Hands down, the top pick is pretty much related to the music you’re playing and there is no clear winner except if you look at its genre related.

But, for the sake of the article, despite the trend of bass players preferring an overall darker tone, we would have to pick roundwound strings. Simply put, when you imagine the most typical bass sound, it’s pretty much a roundwound sound you have in your head. 

It’s a better all-around solution, especially for modern-oriented music production.

Also, it’s always easier to cut the brightness from the sound than to add it up if needed. Your mixing guy will be very pleased with the energy that’s coming from your bass thanks to these strings.

On the technical side, some playing techniques will simply sound much better and it will be a bit cheaper to you than flatwound.

This of course goes if you have a typical electric bass guitar. For the fretless bass guitars, we feel that flatwound is definitely a better option and it should fit the behavior of the instrument. This goes especially for the softer feel beneath your fingers so you will feel able to pull more delicacy when you play sliding notes.

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Conclusion 

In the end, it all comes pretty much to the one simple question - do you plan to play R & B, jazz, reggae, or soul music frequently? If you do, flatwounds are your strings to go. Otherwise, unless you want to experiment, you will be much better with the roundwound option.

People Also Ask

There are so many questions about bass strings. As they are more expensive than guitar strings, people tend to double-check the type they prefer before buying a string set. That’s why we will also cover groundwound and tapewound strings and break some myths around flatwound strings’ nature.

What are Groundwound Strings?

Groundwound or halfwound strings are polished roundwound strings. Think of it as some sort of middle ground between roundwound and flatwound strings which may be ideal if flatwounds are too dull for your taste while roundwound are too bright.

What are Tapewound Strings?

People tend to mix those strings with a flatwound, but the main difference is that they have a tape or a length of nylon wrapped around the steel core. Perhaps you can consider them as being even flatter than a flatwound string and closer to the sound of the upright bass and more comfortable to play.

Can You Slap Bass With Flatwound Strings?

Of course! It’s just a playing technique that can be pulled on virtually any strings. But, because of the flatwound string’s sound characteristics, the output might be a bit too dull and low-end oriented from what you may prefer. But, at least the thump part will make things move around you.

Why Do Bass Players Boil Their Strings?

Bass strings last much longer than electric guitar strings. This makes them more prone to dirt which eventually dulls the sound. So, while boiling strings can never bring them back to the state when they were new, it may prolong the need to change them completely.

Why Are Bass Strings So Expensive?

If you compare bass strings to electric guitar strings, you will notice the obvious difference - bass strings are much longer and thicker. So, simply put, bass strings require more material to be made. But, they are just initially more expensive. As they last much longer they may be even less expensive.

How Often Should I Replace Bass Strings?

It all matters how frequently you’re playing your instrument. For an occasional amateur bass player, strings can last even more than a year. Also, premium bass strings will last much longer than a cheap one. But, in general, check if your sound is dulled too much and expect to change about once a year.

How Long Does It Take To Break In Bass Strings?

Strings usually break in within a week. The more you play it, the faster the process will be, so, this will be a great time to mess around without the amp and do some boring but useful exercises. Pulling them reasonably upwards (like a slingshot) can also help. 

What Bass Players Use Flatwound Strings?

As already said, flatwound strings were the first strings to be used on electric bass, so up to the 1970s, all bass players used these strings. But, here’s a list of the well-known artists that used it regularly:

  • Paul McCartney
  • James Jamerson
  • John Deacon (Queen)
  • Carol Kaye
  • Klaus Voormann

Can You Play Rock Music With Flatwound Bass Strings?

Yes, you can play rock music. But, the sound might not have so much impact required from the modern music production standards. Yes, Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris plays flatwound, but he changes them for every gig so it could be used as fresh as possible.

Can You Use Flatwound Strings On Short Scale Bass?

Of course! They might be a bit harder to find, but in general, there is no reason why you shouldn’t use flatwound strings on short-scale bass guitars. GHS Precision Flats and LaBella 760FX seem to be the best choice for this type of string.

Are Higher Tension Flatwound Bass Strings Bad For A Bolt-On Neck?

While flatwound bass strings may require a truss rod tweak, they don’t produce any additional tension on the neck when compared to the roundwound bass strings. As a matter of fact, flatwound strings produce a bit less tension than roundwound in general.

Craig

Hi there, my name is Craig. I took over Gear Savvy in mid-2019 and have had a blast writing content about music ever since. My role here is to steer the ship and ensure readers have the best information available for learning a thing or two. When I’m not working on content, I’m a husband and a dad. I enjoy spending time with my family, playing guitar, or messing around in my woodshop.