Nylon flatwound strings on the Hofner Violin Bass

Although my blog is mainly about Land Rovers, any page mentioning this bass gets twice the number of page views than the closest rival Landy page, so here’s another for violin bass fanciers:

La Bella 760N FHBB strings – special scale made for the ‘Beatle Bass’

I’ve been telling everyone I’d spent £50 on a set of strings, it turns out from the email receipt from ‘Bass Direct’ that they were £40 delivered, but I won’t correct myself as it makes for a better story.

We had a dep bass player with The Motives just before Christmas, I was covering for the absent keyboard player but on guitar. I couldn’t help noticing the black strings on his expensive bass and really liked the sound of them, he told me they were La Bella which I’d heard of as I think Macca uses their steel flats on his bass. They are expensive but thought I’d try a set. I put them on in January but due to changing instruments I haven’t had a chance to try them until now (June).

Set up – neck relief, action and intonation

Fitting the strings was just like any other set. Once tuned to pitch I noticed that they are quite ‘floppy’ compared to normal steel strings. I assumed that they exert less tension on the neck but interestingly the neck relief didn’t change at all, it is still 0.012″ – 0.015″ at the 7th fret.

The action had to go up though, not much, but I noticed a little fret buzz over the whole fretboard on all strings, so I raised it, replacing the 2-per side washers in the bridge with the original thumb-wheels, screwed down flat to the base of the bridge, so it’s now a little higher than before, but as low as it can possibly go with the normal setup.

Raising the action doesn’t have any adverse affect with these strings as they are like silk to play.

The intonation was a long way out. Normally after a string change I can achieve perfect intonation by angling the floating bridge, but in this case I had to remove and re-position the ‘saddles’ (snippets of fret wire) in different slots. It seems that these strings are better balanced as they are more in a straight line than with steel strings.

Hofner bass with black flatwounds, bed linen by Lidl

Playing

Aside from the effortless feel, I noticed that the volume across the strings is close to identical. I’m assuming that the steel thickness within each string must be more closely matched, maybe explaining the more even intonation. I had really liked the sound of the flatwounds that I took off, and they were easy on the fingers, BUT I found them too smooth, with almost no friction, playing with the fingers, it was difficult to play fast repeated notes on the same string. These are just as easy on the fingers, probably more so, but they do offer more friction than smooth steel.

Close up: Texture of the strings. Photo taken before reinstating the thumbwheels

Another thing I notice as a substantial difference, if I fret a note low down and slide up the neck to a higher note, as this instrument has always encouraged, there is no loss of volume, even though plucking a normal note probably sustains less than before. Not that bass players want sustain normally. People don’t dance to sustained notes.

Dep on Bass with Kenny Lee and Hustler

We did a gig on Saturday with The Motives in Brandon so arriving home at 2.30am, as quietly as possible, I took the guitar gear from the car and swapped it for my bass gear. I don’t normally leave it in the car overnight but knowing I had to leave at 9.30 next morning I thought it would be one less thing to do.

Next morning, a few cornflakes and a cool bath to wake me up and I set off to Mulbarton Social Club, they were resurfacing the A140 roundabout of the A47 so I was still late arriving. It had been agreed that I could use my bass amp, as previously we could never get the bass to work through their no-backline system as Laurie, their regular bass-player is also their sole sound man. When I arrived though, everything had been set up ready and they said that the bass was working, they had got there very early especially to sort it. I was offered Laurie’s 5-string Status bass for the day but I thought it best not to as I’ve never had more than a few minutes on one, and I hadn’t played bass since new year’s eve. There was little room for my bass amp so I agreed to plug into their rack, I could JUST hear it, so hoped it would be OK.

Marc James

I was delighted to see that our fellow entertainer for the day was Marc James who I hadn’t seen for many years, we used to see and work with him quite a bit during The Foottappers days. He is a professional solo entertainer who travels the UK, specialising in country and Irish. He also possesses one of the finest Elvis voices I’ve heard and the ladies love him. Recently he has added guitar to his act. He produced a Squier Strat and proceeded to soundcheck with ‘Wonderful Land’ by The Shadows. He does it really well and had a great ‘Hank’ sound. We quickly caught up on old times and then it was time for his first set. It was an all afternoon fundraiser in aid of The East Anglia Children’s Hospice (EACH).

Marc James

Marc went down really well, then it was time for the band, I was quite looking forward to a brief return to bass. Unfortunately, on trying the bass, it was back to the old problem that only the absent Laurie could rectify – no bass through the fold-backs. We had to play on regardless of course but it wasn’t easy, the only bass I could hear was reflected off the end wall, a few milliseconds after hitting the note. The continuous, timed nature of the afternoon Marc, Compere, Band, repeat, repeat meant there was no time or space to rectify the problem by bringing in my bass amp.

Apparently it sounded great out the front and people danced throughout, but it was hard work. The good news is that I can report that even with soft fingers (no bass playing for months) I had no blisters whatsoever, and the La Bella nylon strings are a joy to play feel-wise. Sound-wise I have no idea!

Depping with Kenny Lee and Hustler

The only slight problem I noticed was that the bottom E string slipped off its bridge saddle a couple of times. It could be that with less tension I need to file a wider, deeper slot in that saddle, but I suspect it was due to hitting the strings too hard in an attempt to hear it so I will leave them as they are for now.

We played til just after 6pm, then hungry, hot and tired we sluggishly packed up and loaded the van. I got home at 8.15pm and called in to the chip shop and ate so much I felt ill until dinner-time Monday. What a pig! So although it was lovely to spend the afternoon with Kenny, Mick, Sonny and Marc plus all their followers, bass-wise it was a big disappointment. Never mind, the crowd loved it and it was a success for the band, the organisers and a very worthy charity.

 

 

2 thoughts on “Nylon flatwound strings on the Hofner Violin Bass

  1. Thanks for this erudite post Nige. Decades ago I used Rotosound black wound strings and found similar to your experience. But when I ended up playing bass in a trio I switched to roundwound to make more twang to fill in the sound. Good to see Mark and Hustler still treading the boards and you are looking well yourself despite the tech problems! All very nostalgic 🙂

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    • Thanks Mog, I really would like to do a normal gig through my gear on bass, or a jam so I can really see what they sound like, at least I’ve found a solution the occasional bass player’s blister problem. There’s definitely no twang with these strings. I always use Rotosound strings on my long-scale bass but with the tiny tuners on the Hofner you need the outer windings to end before entering the machine head. Marc sent you his best wishes.

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