For the longest time I was very unaware of the different types of bass strings and their influence on the sound of the instrument and playability. About 4 years ago I began researching and experimenting with different strings (as I was financially able!). This was probably one of the most eye-opening experiences I’ve had in the past several years, and it’s still a bit of a journey for me. Here are some reflections on what I’ve learned:
Several variables will affect the sound on the instrument: gauge or thickness, tension, dampening which relates to sustain, and type of core (steel, gut, synthetic, etc.)
These are some of the combinations I’ve had over the past several years- Kolstein Varicor, Thomastik Spirocore (extended E), Pirastro Original Flatchrome, Pirastro Permanent (extended E), Pirastro Permanent Solo, Pirastro Flatchrome-steel, Pirastro Flexocor (G & D), Pirastro Original Flexocor (A & extended E), Pirastro Flexocor Solo.
Aside from the obvious bias towards Pirastro for most of my orchestral and solo playing, I’ve definitely witnessed my instrument change a lot depending on what kind of string I was using. The more robust, darker orchestral strings (Flexocor’s and Original Flatchrome’s) tend to be a bit stiffer and require more bow arm weight, but they have the best orchestral sound. In my opinion they are much more difficult to play solo because of the resistance in the upper positions, and they tend to fatigue my left-hand in thumb position. Alternately, the Permanent and Flexocore Solo strings are clearly easier to play in the upper positions and project better in the higher range of the instrument. The sound, although brighter still remains quite balanced and can be very effective whether accompanied with piano or full orchestra.
I don’t have much experience with some of the newer hybrid strings (such as Obligatos or Evah Pirazzi), but I’m excited to give them a whirl when I’m ready. I haven’t talked about gut strings, and for good reason- they are a completely different kind of string. Some jazz players and more early music players tend to use gut strings, although the price and fluctuating nature of gut strings (tuning instability) tend to be some of the obstacles with owning and maintaining gut strings.