When it comes to the string on your guitar or bass, you probably have your preferred brand and gauge. You never stray too far from your chosen strings, if you stray at all.
And why should you? Strings are strings, right?
That is until someone referred to strings as roundwound and flatwound, piquing your interest. But what do these terms mean? What is the difference?
In this article, I want to go over the differences between these two types of strings, and how they compare.
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Before going into the differences, I just want to say that when we call strings flatwound, we don’t mean that the strings are literally flat. What we are referring to is the wrap around the string core.
It is the wrap that is flat, while the wrap on roundwound strings is round.
I think this is a misconception some might have, especially those not as familiar with strings.
So, what does having a flat wrap versus a round wrap mean? Well, basically, the surface of the string is covered in more string than a roundwound string.
When you take a closer look at the surface of a string, you will be able to see that there are small ridges on the string. A flatwound string won’t have these ridges, but rather look almost completely smooth.
Differences in Feel
As you might have guessed, this difference leads to the strings feeling quite different to the touch as well.
Because of the ridges on roundwound strings, they feel slightly rough. On the other hand, flatwound strings will, of course, feel smooth. Not only do they feel different, but this difference also has an effect on both your fingers and fretboard.
Due to the rough exterior of the roundwound strings, they are going to be much harder on your fingers.
If you are a beginner, this will make practicing a bit harder since it is going to hurt more while playing. The upside of this is that your fingers are going to develop callouses much quicker, and your finger tips will eventually be more resilient.
Roundwound strings are also going to wear out your frets much quicker than flatwounds. This isn’t such a big problem, though.
Guitars and basses come with roundwound strings as standard. The frets are also made to withstand a lot of wear and tear.
However, if you use flatwounds instead, you will likely notice your frets lasting much longer.
Differences in Sound
These two string types don’t just feel different, but they also have a slightly different sound.
It isn’t such a vast difference like you would find between humbuckers and single coil pickups, for example. But the difference is certainly noticeable.
While roundwound strings are brighter, they are a bit more balanced. They also have a bit more character with a lot more attack.
Roundwound strings are usually preferred by rock, pop, and metal guitarists and bassists. They cut through the mix better and work better when playing with distortion.
Flatwound strings are a bit more subdued. They are warmer, have more low end, and are preferred by musicians looking for a smoother sound like jazz and R&B musicians.
Because of the way these strings are made, there is also a noticeable difference in their lifespans.
The small ridges on roundwound strings allow for the oils from your fingers to get stuck quite easily. These oils cause your strings to wear much quicker, and not being able to get rid of all that oil can obviously cause damage over long periods.
Flatwound strings, with their smoother surface, doesn’t allow for so much oil to get stuck on the string. This, of course, means that the strings don’t decay as fast as roundwound strings.
Not only does this mean that you can physically play flatwound strings longer, but that they last longer tonally as well.
The main reason for this is their lower tone. Roundwound strings have a very palpable high-end roll-off after some time. They also need to be broken in before sounding their best.
Flatwound strings sound pretty much the way they should from the start, requiring less break in time. Since they aren’t as bright, they also don’t have that noticeable bright loss, meaning they can be played for longer.
Best Strings for Guitar
Strings are a very subjective choice. There isn’t really such a thing as ‘the best’ strings. There are a few well-known and highly recommended brands, however.
Ernie Ball is probably the most common brand of guitar strings, their Slinky range being very popular for their playability and price.
For roundwound strings, their Regular Slinky strings are your standard, middle-of-the-road set. Then there is the Super Slinky for something lighter, and the Power Slinky for something heavier. I prefer their Skinny Top Heavy Bottom since they are a nice blend of the two.
Best Strings for Bass
Fender’s Super 7250M strings are also surprisingly good. I don’t like their guitar strings that much, but they definitely got it right with their bass strings.
And there you have it, how roundwound and flatwound strings compare, and their major differences. I hope this article has given you a deeper understanding of strings in general, and maybe even inspired you to check out one or the other.