Bass strings hit the high notes

Tuesday 17 March 2020

Close up of guitar strings

From John Paul Jones to Flea and Kim Deal the sound of the bass guitarist has been the pumping heart of rock and jazz music for decades.

However the full range of the instrument has always been limited by the thickness of the strings – until now.

In a breakthrough which could revolutionise bass playing, Dr Jonathan Kemp of the University of St Andrews’ School of Physics and Astronomy, along with the University’s Music Centre, has developed a design of bass string that can extend the useful range of the instrument.

“Normal bass strings can be played far up the neck but the lowest pitch strings sound bad and are poor at harmonising with higher notes,” Dr Kemp said.

“My new strings allow for improved tone when playing high up the neck of the instrument. The lumped construction technique used has only been applied for piano strings before.”

In a paper published in the journal SN Applied Sciences, Dr Kemp found that bass guitar strings have significant inharmonicity when fretted higher up the neck and that strings with tapered designs (with low mass per unit length near the bridge) have even more elevated inharmonicity:

The research found that raising the mass near the bridge produces a string with close to zero inharmonicity for low mode numbers (as predicted by modelling) and this is found to reduce pitch glide in addition to having benefits for musical harmony that can be seen in action in a video featuring Gus Stirrat of the award winning band Fat Suit:

Lumped Construction Bass Strings by Kemp Strings demonstrated by Gus Stirrat

Lumped bass guitar strings from Kemp Strings – Low B string sound examples from the SN Applied Sciences journal paper, presented by Dr Jonathan Kemp

Lumped Construction Bass Strings by Kemp Strings demonstrated by Gus Stirrat of Fat Suit playing the band’s track Mombasa

Dr Kemp sells guitar and bass guitar strings online under the trademark Kemp Strings and his previous research includes developing electric guitar strings that equalise the sensitivity of strings to pitch bends and allow chord bends to be achieved that were not previously possible on standard guitars.

Category Research

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