Phil's Strings

Phil's Strings

Postby Bassman » Fri Aug 26, 2011 7:26 am

Hey my brothers,
I am new here, I introduced myself over at the introduction thread. I play bass for HalfStep
a New York based Dead Tribute band. I have been with them coming up on about 10 months and I love it. I am 50 years old and majored in jazz performance at City College in Manhattan, and its just great to apply and sometimes not apply what I have learned throughout the years in the quest for the learning the language of Phil. I recently bettered my rig with a purchase of an Eden Wt550 along with 212 and 210 cabs, I can see why Phil and Mike Gordon use Eden. I just purchased a Carvin SB5000, its not a Modulus...but it is a very fine instrument....if all goes according to plan, I will be purchasing a new Q6 next spring....ALL this being said, I have been bouncing around looking for the right strings. When it comes to Phil's sound....my feeling is, what time period do I wish to attain, I am a big fan of his current Furthur tone, I also dig how his mid 80's - 95 was as well. I know that most folks say he used flats in the early days through late 70 and then he switched to Half Rounds. Then I read in the "Anthem of the Tone" article that he uses Ken Smith strings and after further investigation a lot of folks were saying he uses the Slick Rounds, which is interesting because in that mentioned article the gauges that "they" said he used don't match up with Slick Round gauges. I did try the Smith's and feel that was the closest I came to getting the elusive "IT".....I had stepped away and have been dabbling with SIT Silencers some nickle rounds made by a company called Circle K.
The rounds sound cool from where I am standing.....in front of a rig....but loose what I am looking for when the tone is projected in a large room.
So , my friends, "What is Phil Lesh's current string of choice?" I know for a fact Mike uses the Slicks, he even has a section on his personal site devoted to his gear. It seems he and Phil are often on the same page(not McConnel)with gear etc.
Sorry for the long ramble. Peace.
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Re: Phil's Strings

Postby ugly rumor » Fri Aug 26, 2011 8:16 am

My suggestion is that you seek YOUR sound, and get what YOU like. Don't let anyone else determine what you can or can't sound like, or play like. I got a fortune cookie once, perhaps the only one worth the meal, that said, "Don't let anyone else make your world for you; they will make it too small". What kind of musical world would we have if Phil tried to be someone else, or Jerry aped Charlie Christian, for instance? Music progresses only so long as we take our influences and give ourselves to them, not limit ourselves by them. See my previous expoundings on this subject by reviewing my previous posts, if you like.

Welcome to the forum, and happy bottom feeding!
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Re: Phil's Strings

Postby Rusty the Scoob » Fri Aug 26, 2011 8:23 am

Welcome to the forum!

I think you answered your own question.... Ken Smith Slick Rounds are by far the closest I've found to his 90's/Furthur sound. Not sure why the gauges don't match but as far as I know, that's what he's currently using.
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Re: Phil's Strings

Postby Bassman » Fri Aug 26, 2011 8:32 am

Thanks for the advice. In all my other musical projects, I totally follow my own "EARS". With so many influences out there...for me most of them are not even bass players, but guys like Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Miles to name a few.
The world of Grateful Dead tribute bands, especially the one I play in, prides itself on capturing the sound and musical language of the Dead. That is my intention for this group and this group alone. I play in a 2 or 3 other bands in which I let my voice shine. I do appreciate the concern though, I agree that one should try to find their own voice........being a full time working musician , it is a often question of balance.
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Re: Phil's Strings

Postby Bassman » Fri Aug 26, 2011 8:35 am

Thanks Rusty.......Scott Bardolf (rhythm guitarist for HalfStep) told me you were the man to seek out on this board. Thanks for the welcomed atmosphere guys.
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Re: Phil's Strings

Postby Rusty the Scoob » Fri Aug 26, 2011 11:55 am

Bassman wrote:Thanks Rusty.......Scott Bardolf (rhythm guitarist for HalfStep) told me you were the man to seek out on this board. Thanks for the welcomed atmosphere guys.


Thanks, man! Not sure if I am or not but I've tried a few things out and don't mind sharing what I've learned.

I have the Slick Rounds on one of my 5-string backups right now... I bought a way cheap ESP neck-through 5-string, put good EMG soapbars and preamp in it and strung it with the Slick Rounds, and it's actually a pretty good bass! Plenty good enough for Phil's slowish style and sounds good too, if not exactly "magical" it certainly gets the job done.

I used it on 2 or 3 tracks at this show.... unfortunately I can't remember which ones. http://www.archive.org/details/Fennario ... ll.Seasons The rest were played on my regular 5-string, Warmoth neck, custom body, Bartolini soapbars and either D'Addario Chromes or Half-rounds, depending on when I made the switch. That bass'll be getting the Slick Rounds as soon as it needs strings.
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Re: Phil's Strings

Postby Bassman » Fri Aug 26, 2011 12:26 pm

Nice playing Man...very nice.
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Re: Phil's Strings

Postby seanc » Fri Aug 26, 2011 2:18 pm

I know this sounds like heresy and all.

But, while the strings definitely have a huge effect on your playing I have found very little actual difference in the end product sound when dealing with the modulus.
I have tried just about every string possible over the years and i have just never noticed that much of a difference in the sound. The modulus (and graphite basses in general) are just insanely bright. Add to that
the EMGs and the EMG pre amp and you have an insanely bright bass with extremely clean (some may say sterile) pick ups and preamp.
The result is pretty much the sound Phil has on all the modulus basses.

I have not found any string.. Ghs, D'Addario, Smith, DR, and maybe a couple of others where you put them on and say. WOW! that sounds different! Every time I have changed the result has been, sound the same as always, but they are new.

Not sure if that makes a lot of sense. But my experience has been that the graphite and EMG dominate any subtleties of string differences.
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Re: Phil's Strings

Postby ugly rumor » Fri Aug 26, 2011 3:34 pm

I have to say that I do notice a difference, both in tone and in longevity. I used DRs for years until changing several times and have used D'Addario half-rounds now for about 12 or 13 years. The DRs were bright and focused in tone, as were the roto-sounds, and held up very well. Fenders and Ernie Balls sounded great for about three months, then were flat or muffled in tone. I don't remember GH's, although I tried them, so can't give honest feedback, but must not have liked them at the time. I usually find what I like and stick to it. I know I was very happy when I found DRs, and used them for approximately 10 years. So, I stayed with DRs and D'Addarios, blasted through the rest, but did also like the rotosounds. For what it's worth.
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Re: Phil's Strings

Postby Bassman » Fri Aug 26, 2011 8:12 pm

I do not own a Modulus yet...but with other basses such as MTD, Sadowsky, and Carvin...I notice a difference with different strings....whether its steel rounds, nickel rounds , half rounds, flats....each has its own characteristics and I feel different brands make it even more complicated, because of what they may or may not offer. I have tried just about every type and/or brand of string this past 1 1/2. I actually like Circle K strings, found them on Talkbass.com, for a more modern...Marcus Miller/Wooten jazz/funk thing. But when it comes to playing in a Dead tribute situation, i am digging the ken Smith Slick Rounds...it is such a personal thing though, because many of us hear things differently....long as we play in the same key aye?
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Re: Phil's Strings

Postby seanc » Sat Aug 27, 2011 5:24 am

I would say between different types of strings, round vs flat vs half etc there is a noticable difference. But between round vs round, steel vs steel not so much. Maybe you have much better ears than I do.

I think gauge, tension, string and pick up height have far more effect. In all my years of working in music stores selling guitars, never once did I have a guitar player or bass player try out a guitar and say "OMG, I hate GHS!" or "these super slinkys are amazing". Too heavy, too light, too old, not old enough, sure. Never once did I ever have anyone try out an instrument and have an intense reaction to the strings (if they were reasonably alive). We would have tons of new and used fenders hanging on the wall right next to each other. strung with anything and everything. players going back and forth between 2 or 10 of the same model. In the end the deciding factor was always, set up, color and neck. If a string broke, we'd grab a single string from the box, try to get in a reasonably close gauge and put it back on the wall. nobody ever noticed mis matched brands or gauges.

I think the feel of the string has far more effect on the player than the actual sound of the string.
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Re: Phil's Strings

Postby Bassman » Sat Aug 27, 2011 7:07 am

Yeah....I have come to the conclusion that I was becoming a little obsessed with strings....sound....feel...it has really come down to "just shut up" and play.... listen to the other musicians try to create something that is musical. I went through a period of trying strings, changing gear, switching basses and have had the realization that 90% of it is in the hands...creating music comes from within and expresses itself outward to the listeners. At times it easier said than done.....but it what I do try to return to, especially when you get the great input and feedback on a cool forum like this one.
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Re: Phil's Strings

Postby Lunchbox16 » Sat Aug 27, 2011 7:36 pm

seanc wrote:I have tried just about every string possible over the years and i have just never noticed that much of a difference in the sound.


Does this include flat wounds vs. round wounds? Because I notice a HUGE difference between the two. I put flats on my Jazz bass and doubt I'll ever go back to rounds.

seanc wrote: The modulus (and graphite basses in general) are just insanely bright. Add to that the EMGs and the EMG pre amp and you have an insanely bright bass with extremely clean (some may say sterile) pick ups and preamp.


Perhaps this is heresy, but this is exactly what I DON'T like about Phil's sound in the late 80s/90s. Sterile is the precise word I use to explain it.

While I certainly appreciate and respect the folks who try to attain Phil's sound and style, and as much as I appreciate the man and his music, that's not something that I would personally want to do. Personally, I just want to know what he's playing in certain points and then mess around from there, but with my own rig and the tone that I prefer.
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Re: Phil's Strings

Postby Rusty the Scoob » Sun Aug 28, 2011 8:58 am

About strings I tend to agree that I can't pick up somebody else's bass and judge the strings adequately - if they're light gauge I'll have troubles with it, if the setup is bad I'll have troubles too, but if not, I'm more inclined to pay attention to the bass and electronics out than the strings themselves. But on my personal basses I do notice a difference... a Blue Steel stainless roundwound will feel and sound very different than a Rotosound or a Sadowsky (my personal favorite roundwounds) etc. Even among flats I find huge differences. But that being said, I still haven't changed the hated Pyramids off my Starfire even though I have a replacement set ready and waiting. I find myself spending time relearning an instrument after a string change.

About sterile vs. warm tone, I think the venue and band's mix play a HUGE part in which tone is best. A nice warm tone in your living-room will often sound indistinct and muddy in an arena. A nice clear powerful tone in an arena will generally sound sterile or brittle through a practice amp in your living-room. It's all about finding the tone that's the best compromise for the situation. I prefer wood necks with graphite or steel reinforcements as the best mix of tone and reliability, although I haven't owned a Modulus (yet!).
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Re: Phil's Strings

Postby seanc » Wed Aug 31, 2011 1:42 pm

Rusty the Scoob wrote: a Blue Steel stainless roundwound will feel and sound very different than a Rotosound or a Sadowsky (my personal favorite roundwounds) etc. (yet!).


Here is a LOT of the problem with strings.. Ken Smith, Alembic, Fodera, Sadowsky, Gibson, Fender, etc... Don't actually make strings. they source them from the string companies.

There are very few string makers anywhere in the world. GHS, LaBella, D'addario are the big ones that supply everybody the smaller companies: Vinci,DR, pyramid maybe one or two others I am missing that actually make strings.

They sell them in bulk to these other companies that then repack them with their labelling and packaging.

My understanding is the vast majority of the private label strings, Smith, Sadowsky, Alembic, Fodera all come from LaBella.
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