As many of you know by now I a bit nuts in several regards. Tone being one of them. I really strive for hearing a bass’ tone come through cleanly, and understanding how it can speak, then manipulate it.
This may come from being a sax player, where your tone (or what they all call ‘sound concept’) is the single most important thing. The tricky part about sax vs. bass, is that you are part of the tone generation, so a setup that works for one person does not work for the next, based on throat, oral cavity and teeth shape. The shaping of tone on a sax primarily comes from the mouthpiece / reed combination. Sure the horn has a bit to do with it, but you can shape a horn’s tone almost infinitely via mouthpieces and reeds.
What I have come to learn on bass is that the mouthpiece/reed combo is very tightly correlated to the pickup/string combo (keeping all post bass processing, pre-amps, amps, cabs, etc). Having a good number of basses now and a drawer full of strings I am starting to learn what pickup/string combos work well, for me, on different basses.
This really showed itself on the two different colored Aerodyne Jazz basses I have with the stock DiMarzio pickups. These pickups are hot, very hot, and I had a really hard time dialing them into something I liked to hear. After a few iterations now I was able to find a string/pickup combos I liked, to no surprise, La Bella 760FS flats was one of them. I tired rounds of various mfgs, and also tried white tape copper strings, but the more I tired, the more I didn’t like any of it. I really wanted a jazz bass set up with rounds, but, for me, its not with these pickups. So, the pickups will get replaced.
The long story longer moral of the story here is…don’t discount a bass itself for tone, or the pickups for that matter. Before you start changing expensive things, try cheaper things. Strings are cheap in respect to pickups and basses. A great ask for holiday presents from friends and family, or to pick up with gift cards etc. Pick up some sets you normally wouldn’t buy to try, and, keep around if they don’t work on one bass. You never know where they will fit in, and they might stave off GAS pangs in the meantime. When you do try a combo, take notes or better yet record something without EQ. I have dozens of recordings of reed/mouthpiece combos on my phone from trials and boxes and boxes of reeds that did not work out. But the notes and sound clips really help when I am looking for something else in a sax sound.
If you do have strings that you absolutely hate on all accounts for whatever reason, consider posting them in the Gear It Forward thread so someone else might be able to find their happy place sound in the gear they have.
Hope this helps someone who is staring down at their bass and thinking they don’t like it when it could just be a string / pickup change that saves the day.