Whether you play acoustic or electric, light or heavy gauges, stainless steel or nickel-plated, coated or uncoated, or in the case of bassists, roundwound/flatwound/tapewound/groundwound/god-knows-what-else-wound, one truth is more or less universal: a new set of strings will not stay in tune until you’ve given them a good stretch and played them in a bit. The problem is variable, of course, with thinner strings tending to be worse for it than thicker strings, and this is certainly less of any issue for bassists than for lead guitarists (or it may just be that fewer people notice when the bass has slipped out of tune). Nevertheless, if you’re changing your strings regularly, it’s a fact of life you learn to live with.
Or is it? Lay’s SIT Strings, an American string manufacturer based in Akron, Ohio, claim to have developed a technique, described as “fusion winding,” which all but eliminates this problem. “SIT” stands, appropriately enough, for “Stay-in-Tune,” and they promise to cope far better than their competitors with the general abuse wrought upon guitar and bass strings over the course of a live set. They got in touch to ask me whether I’d be interesting in testing and reviewing a set of their bass strings. (You can probably infer from the existence of this post that I replied in the affirmative.)
To make such a test fair, of course, I needed the set that was the closest match to my normal Rotosound RS66s: roundwound, .045-.105, for a long-scale (34″) bass (I’m familiar with the convention that 34″ is long-scale, and anything over that is “extra-long-scale.” If any extra-long-scale players believe this is inaccurate or outdated, do let me know). SIT therefore sent me a set of their Rock Bright (RB) strings: stainless steel rounds, but wound according to their patented technique, and available in a wide variety of string gauges.
The first question that jumped out at me was whether their biggest claim held water…and I knew I’d only have one chance to test this properly. I put the strings on my Thunderbird, tuned up, plugged in and “played the strings in” for a few minutes. Would they still be in tune after five or six minutes of playing? In the video below, the strings had barely been on the bass for ten minutes before I started playing, and had not been pre-stretched:
The verdict? Pretty impressive, if you ask me. The ‘E’ had slipped a quarter-tone flat; the other strings, even less than that. Normally I’d have expected a new set of strings to be up to a semitone flat by that stage, and for the bass to be audibly out of tune. SIT bass strings do appear to stay in tune.
The next, much broader question, is how they compare to other bass strings I’ve used in the past. One of the first things I noticed was a slightly different feel under the fingers. Personally, I’m used to roundwound strings being quite harsh on the fingers, and I won’t be the only bassist whose fingertips have been worn smooth by years of playing them. Rotosounds are occasionally derided as “cheese graters” by some players, and I’ve found a similar feel from Dunlop and Ernie Ball rounds. The SITs, by contrast, felt smoother. Certainly not as smooth as flatwound strings, but noticeably less abrasive than other brands. I’d even moved over to nickel-plated Rotos, which are slightly easier on the fingers than the stainless steel ones, but I found the stainless SITs smoother even than those.
The let-down, at least for me, is the tone. Now I won’t argue that the tone in the video above is a nice, well-balanced bass sound, but I’ve got the tone all the way up on that Thunderbird, and a fairly bright sound dialled into the amp. In hindsight, I should have thought to record the setup with the knackered old set of Rotosounds that were previously on the bass, in order to provide a comparison. For a set of Rock Bright bass strings, they seem to lack brightness. I’m accustomed to a certain amount of “clank” or “honk” from most roundwound strings, and I just couldn’t get that from these.
Some might cry unfair, and rightly point out that Thunderbirds are fairly dark-sounding basses, and that Ashdowns can produce a lot of “woolly” bass if one hasn’t mastered the EQ, but they’ll have to take my word that I was getting a satisfactory amount of aggressive mid-range out of the setup before. In fact, I’ll freely admit that I normally like to temper the “clank,” and roll the tone off a little on the bass, but it’s nice to have that headroom to brighten up the sound.
This is not, I should stress, to say that it’s a bad sound. I can see that a lot of people will enjoy this rounder, warmer sound, just as many people will appreciate a set of roundwound strings that don’t shred the ends of your fingers as you play. I’ve certainly found that different brands of bass string offer differing tones, and different levels of brightness therein. My personal preference is normally for a brighter-sounding set than these, but plenty of people would find my “satisfactory levels of clank” to be offensive. Different strokes and all that. So whilst I probably won’t rush to buy another set myself, I would recommend these to anyone who’s after a warmer-sounding roundwound string that doesn’t feel like you’re fretting a lemon zester. And credit where it’s due – they do stay in tune!