SOAKING SETS IN ALCOHOL, BOILING the buggers, scrubbing ’em after every session— tone tweakers can get carried away making sure our beloved bass strings stay bright as the day we first plucked, picked, pounded, or popped them. When Elixir introduced the first coated bass string in 1997, it brought welcome relief to those who would rather spend time and money in more productive ways. By glazing each string in polymer, thus covering the crannies where vibe-dampening detritus doth go (we’re talking dirt, dust, dandruff, and other mucky stuff), Elixir hit upon a formula that prolonged string longevity in a pretty profound way.
Elixirs have long been a top choice for bassists going the coated road. This year, after consulting more than 1,000 players and processing their feedback, the company is expanding that low road in a big way. Elixir’s comprehensive bass string redesign involves changes in construction (winding formulas), composition (now in both nickel and stainless steel), and coating (new Nanoweb for Bass). To get hip to Elixir’s new trip, we checked out a medium-gauge set of its new stainless steels (.045–.130).
The new coating gives the stainless steel Elixirs a feel that’s smooth, but easy to grip. String tension on the set I put on an active 5-string felt familiar and comfortable. Uncoated stainless strings can feel rough to my tender tips, especially when I play slapstyle; after several hours of play, the Elixirs felt no more punishing than non-coated nickel-plated strings. Sonically, the Elixirs have a little less bite than uncoated steels, but still maintain a satisfying toothiness that cuts through clean and clear. Notes sounded fat-bottomed and well endowed with upper partials, and the strings rang clearly all the way down to the open B. After about six weeks and approximately 20 hours of play (30% of which with a pick), the string coating showed no signs of flaking, a testament to the set’s durability. Throughout testing, changes in the strings’ sound and feel were negligible.
The issue of string construction and composition poses a Goldilocks-like conundrum for many players: stainless steels sound bright, but feel rough to the touch; coated strings last a long time, but many have a peculiar finger feel and muted highs; standard nickelplated strings are “just right” to some, but have short, dull lifespans in the opinion of others. Perhaps there’ll never be a string that satisfies every bass player’s thirst for tone. But by creating a long-lasting coated string that sounds lively and feels smooth, Elixir has hit on a recipe that’s sure to thrill throngs of thumpers. Cheers to that!
ELIXIR STAINLESS STEEL STRINGS
Street 5-string, $45; 4-string, $40
Pros Bright sound, smooth feel