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© Peter Morgan 2022


Strings and Set Up 

I don’t know why I’m even attempting to tell you these intimate details, I should probably preserve my dignity and keep them to myself. The thing is I can’t help myself, I just have to tell someone.
Well first of all, I’m a wimp, I experimented early on with heavy gauge strings and high string heights but it was never going to happen for me. Although I must admit a Thomastik Spirocore Stark E string is a deeply sensual thing of beauty. (1)
I even recorded using the above string (2) and it sounded amazing, but as a day to day practical option I just couldn’t do it.
Incidentally the above recording found its way on to a compilation album, but my glorious one off sound was falsely attributed to another player, so no recognition or dosh for my one foray into Stark territory, such is the music business!
So heavy gauge strings were never for me, I always felt I could use bright light gauge strings with a low action on a flat (I mean without a scoop) fingerboard and make them work for me, even without an amp. If I played without an amp I simply wound up the string height until it was loud enough. I experimented a lot but I liked Spirocore and La Bella 7720 Solo Tuning tuned down to orchestral pitch the best. An inherently bright solo tuning string when tuned down has a distinctive sound which I like.
Bit by bit though, everything changed for me, I had an old Ampeg Baby bass for a while and I found the pizz sound really profound in a jazz context. It made me want to play simply and concentrate on making the music swing. It wasn’t practical in other ways but it really got me thinking. The change finally came when I started using a Ubass though. I purchased a Kala bass ukulele and used it when I had to travel by train, plane or if the bandstand was too small for a double bass. It was a revelation, amplified it sounded more like a double bass than my double bass did, oh dear!
If I could have used a bow with my Ubass I might have given up double bass there and then! It was a shock and I had to completely change everything to make my amplified sound more natural.
Since then I haven’t used steel strings at all on my double basses. I didn’t want to use gut because I’m a vegetarian (of some 40 years). I know, I know about the animal glue in my basses, but it was a step too far. The horse hair in my bows is a big problem for me which I have to deal with on a day to day basis. Anyway I’ve been experimenting with nylon strings of all types ever since.
Of course none of them really sound as I would like, or feel as I would like, but I think I’m too far down the road to go back to steel. I particularly like the way nylon instantly reacts to the bow and I like the feel of a much thicker string under the fingers. Most players like to use their adjusters for micro adjustments to compensate for varying conditions but I’m looking for a setup where I can have the lowest action possible for amplified work, but then I can take the strings way up high with adjusters for a big acoustic sound. I do that all the time.

At least I’m not as bad as the late great Ron Mathewson who had been known to adjust his bridge as he played!

As I’ve got older I’ve suffered with a lot of genetic hand problems, but I’ve been able to keep playing, practicing and working because of the low tension set ups that I now use.

I’ve also always been happy to fit and adjust my own bridges and sound posts, so I’m confident to do a lot experimental setup work

We often talk about the sound we hear in our head and in the past mine was nearest to Scott La Faro’s tone on the amazing Victor Feldman album, “The Arrival”. I think at times using Innovation Honey strings with a very low action I got passably close. These days I hear Jimmy Blanton and that’s what I strive for.

What a player he was and what a magnificent sound he had.

(1) For a great illustration of the Spirocore Stark E string sound listen to Chris Fitzgerald’s playing

(2) I used the lot on this recording, Stark E, Mittel A, Weich D, Solo Tuning A tuned down to G.


Using the bass uke has been interesting in all sorts of ways. Even these days I think people listen with their eyes. As long as it looks like a double bass then everyone’s happy, it might sound like an electrified lawn mover running down an escalator, but never mind, it looks right. If it looks like something that Tiny Tim played then forget it.