Flatwounds vs. Roundwounds

I’ve spent some time, and money, holding my own flatwounds vs roundwounds experiment over the years, and I can say confidently which strings I like best. However, the sound you get from your bass is a really personal thing. So, 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 bass guitar strings back to the old-school flatwound strings.

When looking at flatwounds vs roundwounds, there are several interesting things to look at. From the history of the bass guitar industry to the musical style of individual bass players, the different types of strings have also played a big role in shaping the sound of each artist.

So what’s 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 bass 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 bass guitar string was the staple of the electric bass sound all through the 1950s, ’60s and into the ’70s. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the roundwound string became the dominant choice among bass players and music producers.

Flatwounds Today

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

Flatwounds have a deeper, mellower sound than roundwound bass strings, and they suit all different types of musical genres. They have long been a favorite for bass players in reggae, country, blues, jazz, roots rock, and they 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, or fingerboards if you play a fretless bass. Flats are easier on the fingers than rounds and can last much longer. For many bass players, flatwound bass strings sound 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.

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

Flatwound strings generally have higher tension and can be more difficult to keep in tune than roundwound strings. Most flatwounds 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 bass guitar 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 bass strings, John Entwistle was probably the first and most famous user of the Rotosound roundwound. But gradually, over time, the roundwound would become the dominant 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 1980s, the roundwound had become the industry standard in bass guitar strings.

Roundwounds Today

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

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

Most roundwounds tend to be less expensive than flatwound strings as well. 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 lifespan 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).

It took a bit of time to really get used to flats though. I didn’t take to them immediately. You can check out a bit of that story in my flatwound odyssey story.

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 hold your own flatwounds vs roundwounds experiment, 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, of course, there’s also half-rounds, which are like a cross between flats and rounds. But we’ll go over those another time.

My Favorite Flatwound Strings:

Fender 9050 Stainless Flatwound Bass Guitar Strings (0739050406)
La Bella 0760M Original 1954 Flat Wound Stainless Steel 52-110, Perfectly Balanced Sets, Heavy Tension - Perfect for Professional Bass Players
GHS Strings M3050 4-String Precision Flatwound, Stainless Steel Flat Wound Bass Strings, Long Scale Plus (.045-.105)
D'Addario ECB82 Chromes Bass Guitar Strings, Medium, 50-105, Long Scale
Fender 9050 Stainless Flatwound Bass Guitar Strings (0739050406)
La Bella 0760M Original 1954 Flat Wound Stainless Steel 52-110, Perfectly Balanced Sets, Heavy Tension - Perfect for Professional Bass Players
GHS Strings M3050 4-String Precision Flatwound, Stainless Steel Flat Wound Bass Strings, Long Scale Plus (.045-.105)
D'Addario ECB82 Chromes Bass Guitar Strings, Medium, 50-105, Long Scale
$27.84
$38.95
$26.77
$39.99
Fender 9050 Stainless Flatwound Bass Guitar Strings (0739050406)
Fender 9050 Stainless Flatwound Bass Guitar Strings (0739050406)
$27.84
La Bella 0760M Original 1954 Flat Wound Stainless Steel 52-110, Perfectly Balanced Sets, Heavy Tension - Perfect for Professional Bass Players
La Bella 0760M Original 1954 Flat Wound Stainless Steel 52-110, Perfectly Balanced Sets, Heavy Tension - Perfect for Professional Bass Players
$38.95
GHS Strings M3050 4-String Precision Flatwound, Stainless Steel Flat Wound Bass Strings, Long Scale Plus (.045-.105)
GHS Strings M3050 4-String Precision Flatwound, Stainless Steel Flat Wound Bass Strings, Long Scale Plus (.045-.105)
$26.77
D'Addario ECB82 Chromes Bass Guitar Strings, Medium, 50-105, Long Scale
D'Addario ECB82 Chromes Bass Guitar Strings, Medium, 50-105, Long Scale
$39.99

My Favorite Roundwound Strings:

Fender 7150 Pure Nickel Bass Strings
Fender Nickelplated Steel Roundwound, Long Scale, 7250M 45-105, Bass Strings
DR Strings Lo-Rider - Stainless Steel Hex Core Bass 45-105
Fender 7150 Pure Nickel Bass Strings
Fender Nickelplated Steel Roundwound, Long Scale, 7250M 45-105, Bass Strings
DR Strings Lo-Rider - Stainless Steel Hex Core Bass 45-105
$20.63
$17.98
$22.94
-
-
Fender 7150 Pure Nickel Bass Strings
Fender 7150 Pure Nickel Bass Strings
$20.63
-
Fender Nickelplated Steel Roundwound, Long Scale, 7250M 45-105, Bass Strings
Fender Nickelplated Steel Roundwound, Long Scale, 7250M 45-105, Bass Strings
$17.98
-
DR Strings Lo-Rider - Stainless Steel Hex Core Bass 45-105
DR Strings Lo-Rider - Stainless Steel Hex Core Bass 45-105
$22.94

Last update on 2021-06-17 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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