One of the key indicators that a player is moving up the instrumental maturity scale is when they start getting serious about their strings. It takes good ears, a sensitive touch, and a nuanced understanding of tone to make an informed decision between Brand X, Y, or Z. It takes an even deeper level of all those things to get tweaky about tension and materials. Yet, even when these senses are finely honed, when it comes to roundwounds, finding the perfect string for each bass is still daunting. There is a glut of options, and since strings aren’t cheap (at least relative to guitar strings), auditioning every set takes months or years. By which point a new slew of models has debuted. That’s why most of us find a few brands we dig and stay loyal.
The flatwounds framework, however, is entirely different. While most of the big manufacturers make a set, the options are much less diverse, and because of flats’ uniquely desired thump, they are replaced far less frequently. The result is that there is an informal collective consciousness among flatwound users about the idiosyncrasies of nearly every available set. This info is passed among players on gigs, at meetups, and online. You want a super-tubby treble-less set? Look at La Bella Jamersons. A plush and low-tension set with a thick bottom and sweet top? Try some Thomastik-Infelds. All-purpose with a taut feel? Take a look at D’Addario Chromes or Fender 9050s. Whatever your predilection, the odds are good that there’s a set out there that has you covered. Well, almost. With the arrival of Ernie Ball’s Slinky flats, a new category has seemingly opened up. Made from a cobalt alloy on a hex core, the Slinkys have a singular sound and feel that presents an exciting new option for flat fans.
First, kudos to Ernie Ball for offering the Slinkys in such a broad array of gauges. I checked out a 5-string set (.045, .065, .080, .100, .130) and a 4-string set (.040, .060, .080, .095), but could have made use of a host of other gauges, including the set with a .055 G string! To test the strings, I used a pair of Moollons, a P Classic and a J Classic V, both of which essentially get as close to vintage Fenders as contemporary basses can. Interestingly, Ernie Ball includes a little one-sheet detailing a slightly more involved method of wrapping the string around the post, likely to prevent slipping, an affliction that more commonly affects flatwounds than rounds.
The strings were especially shiny and had a tacky feel over the first few days of use. This tackiness mellowed over time and is likely a byproduct of the manufacturing process. I spent a fair amount of time with the strings, playing them on a pop session and on a couple of R&B gigs. They are seductive, offering the thump and low-end authority most players want from flats, with sparkle and sheen up top, yet not at the expense of gorgeous, well-balanced mids. They zing with the tone knob full up, but mellow beautifully with a darker setting. All in all, they’re among the most balanced and flexible-sounding flats around, with a medium-stiff feel. Whether this is a good or bad thing depends largely on how much you want your flats to be dark and brooding, and how much of that rubber-band vibe you dig. If dark and chocolaty or gooey and flexible are your jam, there are better options. If instead you want a poised set of flats that stakes out a deliciously tuneful territory all their own, look no further. I’d add that the 5-string set has the only legitimately kick-ass-sounding B string I’ve ever heard from a flatwound set. Excellent pitch definition and growl.
Slinky Flatwound Strings
Pros Balanced tone that nails the flatwound vibe while offering extra high-end sparkle; lush midrange
Bottom Line In the flatwound pantheon, just a few sets stick out as iconic. The Slinkys might make it into that elite group.
Construction Cobalt alloy ribbon wrap over cobalt underwrap and hex core
Made in U.S.A.