Unpackaged strings showing ball ends Rotosound

Anatomy of a Music String

When you spend time with your guitar or bass it’s more likely that you’re captivated by the music than by the construction of your strings. These humble lengths of wire have more to them than you think, so we’re lifting the lid on the various elements that make up our guitar and bass strings…

Round plain strings will only perform well up to a certain gauge…

Rotosound’s secret formula…is one of the things that makes them so prized

Why we need wound strings

You’ll have noticed that on a guitar, each string gets progressively thicker as its open note gets lower in pitch; i.e. the E string is thicker than the A, which is itself thicker than the D, etc.

Round plain strings will only perform well up to a certain gauge, beyond which, tension and rigidity affect the tone, sustain and decay. From this point on, the set uses wound strings made from a core wire wound with cover wire to add weight but still vibrate freely enough to retain the desired performance.

Core principles

At the centre of all our wound strings is a core (1). This is made from high-tensile steel with one end twisted around a colour-coded ball. The wire used for the core is exceptionally strong and has a hexagonal cross-section that prevents the cover from slipping, which could cause tuning stability issues.

Next, a cover wire—which contributes a lot to the string’s character—is wound around the core.

Rotosound bass guitar string core diagram
Bass guitar string diagram showing multiple covers over a core wire

Cover story

Cover wire comes in many forms, from magnetic for electric strings to non-magnetic for acoustic strings. Different materials impart various tonal properties—for example, stainless steel sounds very bright compared with pure nickel—and can help with durability or a smoother feel.

The cover wire is much softer than the core wire, which allows it to bend and bind effectively to the hexagon profile of the core. Because of its malleability, this wire is unsuitable for use as core wire or for plain strings.

For our lighter gauge strings, the winding process ends with a single layer of cover wire, but for our thicker strings, there is more to come…

Layer upon layer of tone

All of our heavier strings (above .060” or thick) receive another one (3) or more layers of cover wire (4). Our heaviest Swing Bass 66 string—a whopping .175” gauge—uses four layers of cover wire to allow it to keep the ideal tension and flexibility when tuned down to F#0!

The same goes for our flatwound strings, which have layers of round under covers under their monel or black nylon top covers. Even our heaviest electric guitar strings receive the multicover treatment.

Lastly, some string models are treated to a colourful silk tail, which not only looks fab but helps the string grip the tuning posts without damage.

Rotosound bass strings blue silk red ball ends
Red ball ends and blue silk tails

Our secret recipe

Why do Rotosound strings sound and perform differently from other brands? Well, different cover wire ratios and tensions. Because of this, each string manufacturer has a different formula for their wound strings, affecting tone and feel.

Rotosound’s secret formula has been kept in the family and is one of the things that makes them so prized, decades after they were developed by James How and John Entwistle in the 1960s.

John Entwistle and James How of Rotosound guitar bass strings best
John Entwistle and James How developing the Rotosound roundwound bass string in 1965

In conclusion

Although often overlooked, strings are what we transmit our musical expression through. So getting the best tone and performance from them is essential. For music strings to react to the player’s needs, decades of development have resulted in our choices of materials, gauges, and ratios of wires.

So, next time you pluck or strum your favourite instrument, consider the anatomy of your Rotosound strings and what goes into making them play and sound as good as they do!

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