Bassists use different styles of strings and different gauges. The variety of strings is almost endless and I wanted to find out first hand what the benefits of these different string are regarding tone, play ability and their usefulness in group and solo performances
The string that I will be trying are:
Flat-wounds: these strings are unlike conventional round-wounds which are wound with a round wire they are wound with flat wire and have a very smooth, no friction kind of finish.
Steel round-wounds: A string wound with round steel wire. A lot more grip than Flat-wounds
Nickel coated round-wounds: They are wound with a nickel coated wire
Super light gauge steel round-wounds: which are conventional steel round-wounds but are a lot thinner that a regular size.
Each string type will be given the same treatment, they will all be used on my Fender Jazz Bass with both pickups on full volume, I will also try the the strings with the tone fully on and off. The amp that I will use will have all the controls on 50 percent, the volume of the amp will be set to 30 percent, although that may change depending on how loud it will be but each set of string will be played at the same volume through the amp. I will also try an assortment of playing styles on with each string set, I will try it with finger style, slap and with a pick.
Online there are many different articles discussing the benefits and draw backs of each different type of string. The most legitimate looking and helpful ones I've found are from fenderbassplayer.com and frudua.com, the former talks about the differences and pros and cons between flat-wound strings and round-wound and the latter does the same with nickel strings and steel strings. For a look on light gauge strings the bassist Mark King lightly touches on the topic on a you tube video by TC Electronic.
Fenderbassplayer.com describes in rather extensive detail the pros and cons and the different features for both the flat and round wound strings, it also gives some brief history on the strings and its popularity which isn't incredibly relevant to my research but the different string types popularity timeline lines up with when jazz was being overtaken in popularity by rock music. This may be because this change in music style influenced a change in strings or vice versa. According to this site flat-wounds were the original choice of string as they were the first string made for the electric bass and its use was dominant for the 50's and 60's but the first available set of round-wounds didn't come out until 1963, which took over as the dominant string in the 1980's. I'm assuming this length of time is purely because it would take that long for people to get used to the idea of the new string, tonally, play-ability and otherwise. I also don't think its a coincidence that the slap technique started becoming popular among bassists during the time when the round-wounds were lifting off as it is said that the round-wounds are much better that flat-wounds for slapping, which Fenderbassplayer.com touches on as well. Looking at the qualities they say round-wounds have like the brighter more aggressive tone and lower tension it makes sense. A big reason that the round-wounds wound become more dominant during the 80's may be because this aggressive tone is much better suited to the hard rock, metal and punk music which was incredibly popular in the time period. They would give a much bigger punch than the flat-wounds would do and would create a strong gritty base for the guitarist to work solos over. In jazz and blues and over music genres which are a lot more clean and mellow the flat-wound would be the safer bet though, especially if you wanted your electric bass to more closely resemble the sound of an upright bass. Fenderbassplayer.com also touches upon playing and how it actually feels to use the strings, they say the the flat-wounds are a lot smoother and have a lot less friction and grip than the round-wounds which would ate complete sense looking at their respective designs and how they are made. So as they said for something like a fret-less bass the flat wounds would be a wise choice as they wouldn't damage the fret board as much and slap would be a lot more with a fret-less anyway so one downside of the flat-wounds wouldn't be a draw back. The flat-wounds would also be kinder to your fingers and not wear the calluses nearly as much as round-wounds. The round-wounds do also wear down the frets a lot more but you wouldn't have to worry about that for a long time and if it does come to it you can re-fret your bass anyway.
Given the descriptions of the bass strings on this website I am not sure which one I will personally prefer, I know that I will prefer different string for different styles of music and different playing types but over all I have no idea. I personally enjoy a really warm mellow tone that I would get from the flat-wounds but I also love to mess around with and use the slap technique. But I am not sure if it will be to difficult to play slap on the flat-wounds because I have not tried slap on flat-wounds with a bass that can be easily used to play slap, I have used the strings before but the bass just didn't have the right set up or body to accommodate the use of slap. So to decide my preferred string I really will need to put it to the test and see which ones suits my taste in sound and my playing style better.
Frudua.com has a rather short description and comparison of nickel and steel strings, it really just hits the key point and doesn't go Into the history like fenderbassplayer.com did. After a brief description of the manufacturing of the strings the review split into two parts, the first bit focusing on sound and the second talking about the pros and cons of each string. They say the the steel strings have "more accentuated upper frequencies and slightly more lows" this is compared to the nickel strings which sound is more in the mid range frequencies. So the steel strings with a brighter tone and more range with frequencies means its good for rock and metal where a sharper and more powerful tone is wanted. the mid range on the nickel gives it a mellow vintage vibe like the flat-wounds are said to have so it would be a good choice for jazz and blues style music. The nickel strings are also like the flat-wounds as they are much less harsh on the fingers with its smoother coating. The steel is a more rough string to play but because of its brighter tone the string lasts longer apposed to the nickel.
I personally have never tried a set of nickel strings, at least to my knowledge, but by going on what Frudua.com says about them I feel I will prefer them to the steel. The tone that I enjoy tends to be a lot more soft and mid to low range rather that sharp and high. I'm not sure how different the tone will really sound to me as it sounds very similar to me when I've watched some videos on Youtube, but I don't trust the videos due to all the variables that could possibly distort the sound. The less course strings is a great bonus.
There isn't many articles that I've found discussing the differences on string gauges regarding bass, but there are a heap of gauge comparisons for guitar. Looking at some of the vague comments littered through bass videos on the internet and the bass guitarists that use different gauge and comparing some of those to guitar articles you can get a pretty good idea of the pros cons and different attributes of the different gauges. Mark King, the bassist for Level 42, has said that he prefers lighter gauge strings because he can bend the strings and pull them over the nut at the head stock creating a kind of whammy bar effect. Victor Wooten, bassist of many groups, is very technically savvy and does a lot of lead work compared to what a bass player normally does. Given how King and Wooten play the bass it seems that lighter gauge is their choice as it would offer more manipulation of the strings as there is less tension with the lighter gauges, thus allowing them to do more technical stuff in their leading bass work. A heavier gauge string string is really handy if the bass player wants a deeper sound or if they want to down tune some of their strings, this would be more common among guitar players but bass players still do it especially in the Metal and Djent genres. Heavy gauge strings are also really helpful if you wanted to down-tune your guitar. But a lot of bass players will just opt for a 5 string bass instead of having to constantly down-tune.
I've used heavier gauge strings but because I have a 5 string bass and I've used its low extra string, it does feel different to use