AS A WEE BASS PLAYER, I REMEMBER GETTING HIP TO DEAN Markley’s Blue Steel bass strings courtesy of my trusty local music store salesman. “They’re designed to last longer than regular bass strings, so you end up paying less in the long run,” I remember him telling me. Cool. “They’re cryogenically frozen for stability and longevity, and the company is based here in the Bay Area,” he went on to say. Double cool! I sprang for a couple sets, and I considered myself a Markley man.
Looking back after 20 years—and countess other string sets—it’s pretty wild how much the string game has changed. Back then, coated strings were the stuff of science fiction. Neon strings? No way! Truth be told, I’ve been so distracted by all the various developments in string land that I’d not given much thought to Dean Markley, whose Blue Steels had served me so solidly all those years ago. So when I got my hands on a set of Markley’s new Helix Stainless Steel strings, I was eager to get reacquainted.
With its Helix string, Dean Markley has taken the concept of pressure wound strings—in which the outer wrap is flattened to make it sound and feel more like a flatwound—and turned it on its head, instead compressing the wrap lengthwise in a procedure the company dubs Hyper Elliptical Winding. As a result of the process, the string ends up having more winds per inch, something Dean Markley asserts makes for a louder, rounder fundamental.
To test the Helix SS strings, I strung up an active 5-string on which I’ve grown accustomed to playing coated stainless steel strings. It took a little while to get used to the feel of the Markleys, which I found much like most other, more conventional stainless steels—definitely a bit more rough to the touch than coated or nickel strings. Sonically, the Helix SS’s have chime-like sustain, owing in part to their taper-wound construction. The Helixes (Helices?) possess an assertive low-mid grunt and a highend bite that definitely brings me back to my bright and cheerful Blue Steel days. The medium-light set I tested (gauged .045, .065, .080, .105, .128) felt even across the 5-string fingerboard, and though the B string is a hair thinner than the .130s I am used to, those low notes felt nonetheless firm and focused.
The beauty of bass strings is that they’re a relatively inexpensive way to fundamentally change the sound of your bass. If the vibe you’re after is bright and forceful—whether for fingerstyle, slap, or pick playing—the Helix Stainless Steels are a good bet.
HELIX STAINLESS STEEL
STREET 4-string, $21; 5-string, $28