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This question discusses the differences in sound between flat/round bass strings: Flat-wound vs round-wound strings

However as someone who doesn't yet play bass this doesn't help me too much. Are they simply a question of taste and/or the musical style being played, or would one or the other be better for someone starting to learn bass for some reason(s)?

Do most players use one style over the other or is it roughly 50:50? Do most beginner-level bass guitars tend to come with one or the other?

For completeness, I'm a guitarist looking to play on the bass for fun at home. If I ever was to play with a band it would be in the context of my church band which I suppose is a typical soft-rock setup - typically acoustic guitar lead with bass, drums, and sometimes keys and/or one electric, but certainly not a loud electric-lead feel.

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Flat wound strings tend to sound less bright than roundwound. If you're concerned about finger wear, then I suppose flatwounds are a little kinder, although I use roundwound on most of my basses, and still have all my fingers - and no callouses!! I have a couple of fretless, and to me, they are made for flatwounds. The other slight problem is that flatwounds will go even duller, as there are more bits of metal for dirt, sweat and grease to infiltrate.

As most bass guitars have roundwound, and one day you'll be asked to play someone else's bass, it makes sense to get used to playing with roundwounds from the start. To answer your 3rd para., most come fitted with round, and I guess that maybe 80+% players prefer them to flatwound. Also, I'm pretty sure roundwounds are a fair bit cheaper...

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    Sounds like "go round until you know enough to choose otherwise" is the take-away from that, thanks – Mr. Boy Jun 7 '16 at 10:38
  • @Mr.Boy - O.k., but to know enough you need to experience both, but the recommendation is roundwound. – Tim Jun 7 '16 at 10:47
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    I would think flatwounds would be less susceptible to dirt infiltration because the surface is smooth compared to roundwounds where there are grooves for the dirt and grime to collect. Did you mean to say "roundwounds will go even duller"? – Rockin Cowboy Jun 7 '16 at 20:12
  • @RockinCowboy - way back in the '60s I used to use tapewound, which I think is virtually the same, albeit on 6 string guitars. They went dull far quicker than roundwounds, so I applied the same logic here. Maybe flatwound and tapewound are different? – Tim Jun 8 '16 at 5:30
  • Tapewound completely different. Google tapewound bass strings and click "images" then do the same for flatwound bass strings. There are no visible grooves in flat wound guitar or bass strings. They feel perfectly smooth (no bumps or ridges to feel). – Rockin Cowboy Jun 8 '16 at 17:47
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Most beginner basses come with round-wounds because these strings are more common (and therefore cheaper, supply and demand or something like that, the kids all want to play rock and roll with twangy sounds).

For jazz/musical theatre I will usually use flat wounds and for anything wanting a little more bite then steel round-wounds. Obviously, as with guitar strings, the tension of the strings makes a huge difference to your sound, as does the material the strings are made from, so you might consider these too. This page is informative, see the paragraphs below the main graphic (I do use D'Addario myself, but other brands are available! Ernie Ball, Martin etc.).

Returning to one particular factor: price. Certainly in the UK (where I am based), flats can be up to twice as expensive as rounds. If you won't be changing strings often and can afford it then go for flats. If you'll be playing a lot the consider low-tension, nickel rounds, which might sound quite smooth but be cheaper than flats. Of course, you might find great deals on the internet somewhere, but I like to go to my local guitar shop.

Fun money-saving tip - you can boil your strings in a saucepan to get rid of dirt and grime and you'll get another couple of months out of the strings.

Finally, let me draw your attention to 'half-rounds', which supposedly give you best of both worlds (flexibility of a round-wound string with the warm sound of flat-wounds). I have never tried these so would be interested to hear anyone's opinion!

To answer the question, if you are a beginner, buy nickel roundwound strings as these are flexible (being round) but warm (being nickel), allowing you to play a variety of sounds. They are also a bit cheaper

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I find that flatwounds can, in most circumstances, help you deliver a more solid low-mids tone that works in a band environment. The flipside is that for home practice you miss the 'zing' of roundwounds for a while. I play in a band with two electric 12 string guitarists, so I never really needed good biting high frequencies: your experience may be different.

From personal experience, flats will still impact on your fingers if you play fingerstyle. Imagine rubbing your fingertips on any hard, smooth surface for a while, especially at speed, and the wear will become apparent. I've had issues with blisters from playing gigs with flats, perhaps because they don't encourage callus growth.

Finally, I've found that string tension, and tone consistency across strings, can vary more with flats. The string manufacturer Pyramid are famous for their 'Gold' flatwounds, but these are notable for having an E string that is far duller sounding than the other three. I've found that Fender's 9050 flatwounds are surprisingly high tension, though apparently they are still slacker than La Bella strings.

Flatwounds make you consider basslines differently, and maybe even how you play with others. You might fall a little behind the beat whereas the aggressive ring of roundwounds makes you subconsciously sit on or ahead of the beat. You won't know until you try!

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As a certain footwear company would say, "Just do it".

The vast majority of basses will have roundwound strings on when you buy them, so play them for a while. When you're beginning bass, the important aspect is locking in with a drummer, and although there is a sound difference between roundwound and flatwound strings, you'll never hear it in a band setting.

The take-away is do it, but get into a band as soon as you have some basic ability; you'll improve rapidly once you're playing with people.

fwiw: I use flatwound in a Christian band, but that's because my playing style is more 1960's. Used roundwounds for years, but prefer flatwound because I get less finger noise.

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