Flatwound strings aren’t for everyone. Roundwounds have been so common for so long now that the very feel of bass playing for most musicians involves a bit of fretwear and finger ache, both worth enduring for the zingy top-end tone that roundwounds enable us to achieve. That said, perhaps it’s time that more of us ‘went flat’, just because of the sheer, slinky joy to be had in playing them – and if you’re concerned about lack of top end, well, there are dozens of ways around that, right?
The fact that Steve Harris of Iron Maiden only plays flatwounds, and yet has one of the most zippy bass tones in the business of heavy metal, speaks volumes. Listen to any of the early Maiden classics, from ‘Phantom Of The Opera’ to ‘Run To The Hills’ and what have you, and his twinkly fingerstyle zing is all over the songs. Of course, the fact that he was the band’s founder, primary songwriter and boss helps to explain that the bass features prominently in the overall mix and also that there are a ton of fancy fills, but there’s no getting away from the fact that, in Steve’s case, flat equals treble.
His latest set, a 50, 75, 95 and 110 gauge affair as per usual, has – according to Rotosound – been improved thanks to a new burnishing process. While the only way of reliably checking this would be to compare the old and new strings side by side on two identical basses, plugged with identical cables into identical amps with identical speakers and identical EQ settings, life is too short for that by some distance. What we can say with confidence is that these things play like butter.
After a career of roundwound finger abuse, it’s refreshing to let your fingertips nip up and down without a care. The West Ham colour scheme looks pretty too. There are downsides, of course. It’s weird not to be able to bend the strings as much as you’d like to. Flatwound strings are more rigid by their nature and at times they feel a bit like railway tracks. Also, a large part of ‘Arry’s tone is achieved with his fingernails, as he explained to us in a recent cover feature, and unless you have a good few spare millimetres of nail to pluck with, you won’t get the tone that he does. All this aside, the comfort of these strings, as well as their convincing mids and low end response, makes a convincing case for picking them up.