Soundroom: D'Addario Balanced Tension and Dunlop Heavy Core Strings

July 25, 2013
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ROUNDWOUND, FLATWOUND, TAPEWOUND, HALFWOUND, COATED, COLORED— bassists are blessed with an abundance of options for the quickest, cheapest, easiest way to chase the dragon that is the ultimate bass tone: by swapping strings. This month, we look at two new alternatives to your basic, run-of-the-mill tone twine: D’Addario’s Balanced Tension XLs, and Dunlop’s Heavy Core bass strings.

GAUGE INTEREST

For years, the string stalwarts at D’Addario have printed string tension as a spec on the packaging of their string sets. For those who have despaired that, for example, their D string has a string tension of 51.3 lbs, while their E string measures a floppy 36.5 lbs, D’Addario has the answer: Balanced Tension strings. By essentially keeping the highest string (on bass, G) as the benchmark for their standard sets (Super Light, Regular Light, Medium, etc.), they’ve tweaked the gauges of the remaining strings to equalize tension across the fingerboard.

To test the impact on tone and playability, I put a Balanced Tension set of .040s on a Warwick Stryker I keep set up with light strings. As I’ve come to expect from D’Addario, the strings themselves sounded punchy and pianistic. I imagine the effect of balanced tension might be more noticeable on guitar (that B string is always a troublemaker), but it did indeed noticeably lower the tension of my bass’ D and A strings, which are normally each .05 thicker. Whereas bends and vibrato normally take far more effort on my D and G strings, the D’Addarios level the playing field for a more constant sound across the fingerboard.

CORE VALUES

Relative newcomers to the string game, Dunlop have been winning favor in recent years for their nickel-plated and stainless steel roundwounds. Recognizing the need for strings gauged specifically for drop and low-tuned bass (and guitar), the company has developed its Heavy Core line. Featuring a thicker core and overall gauge compared to conventional strings, Dunlop offers Heavy, Heavier, and Heaviest gauges, aimed at Drop D/DGCF, Drop C/CFBbEb, and Drop B/BEAD tunings, respectively.

Stringing a Fender American Vintage ’74 Jazz Bass BEAD with the Heaviest set, I was pleased to find that I didn’t need to make any modifications of the bass in terms of nut slots—all four alloy allies sat groovily in their grooves. Perhaps the very process of down-tuning brought out my inner beast, but I couldn’t help but dig in hard on the strings. There was considerable clack and clang with these freshies, and I loved every bit of it. As I plumbed the depths of the B string, I couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps not all 4-strings are built for this kind of thing, as notes started to sound a little murky. But there was still enough note definition to keep from bumming me out, so I bashed on. Note definition was even across all strings when unplugged, so I suspect the murkiness had more to do with the pickups than with the strings.

Just few years ago, anyone wanting to tune their 4-string BEAD would have to essentially buy a 5-string set and toss the useless high string. For doing their part to reduce the cost (and waste) of that practice, kudos to Dunlop. Those demanding the range of a 5-string and the size/style/playability of a 4-string have a new friend in Heavy Core.

SPECIFICATIONS

D’ADDARIO

BALANCED TENSION XL STRINGS
Street $20
Pros Consistency of string tension across the fingerboard.
Cons None
Bottom Line D’Addario proves that math is your friend by calculating string tension and sets with uniform tension across all strings.
Contact daddario.com
Construction Hex-core roundwound
Composition Nickel-plated steel
Wrap length 47.25"
Total length 47.75"
Gauges (as tested) .040–.055–.070–.095

DUNLOP

HEAVY CORE BASS STRINGS
Street
$20
Pros Brings that elusive low B to 4-string without any modification necessary.
Cons None
Bottom Line In the arms race of downtuning, Dunlop has introduced artillery powerful enough for total low-end domination.
Contact jimdunlop.com
Construction Hex-core roundwound
Composition Nickel-plated steel
Wrap length 46.75"
Total length 49.5"
Gauges (as tested) .055–.075–.095–.115

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