John Powell


The Future of the Bass Guitar


The trouble with bass guitars is that they are so damn heavy. If you’ve ever put one around your neck you’ll know that within thirty seconds the guitar strap starts cutting into your shoulder – and, if you’re right handed, a couple of minutes later it’ll cut off the blood supply to the left hemisphere of your brain. This is the side that contains your speech control centre – which is why some bass guitarists speak only in short sentences such as ‘Where’s the party?’ or ‘Is your boyfriend here?’


The reason bass guitars are so heavy is that the strings need to be much longer than normal guitar strings in order to produce those low notes. On my bass guitar the string length is 35 inches, whilst on a normal guitar the strings are more like 25 inches long. My bass strings are also a lot thicker and heavier than standard guitar strings.


The first person to give any serious thought to string length and weight was a Parisian monk called Marin Mersenne who lived from 1588 until 1648 – a time when the choice of careers in Paris was limited. Either you entered a monastery and prayed seven times a day - or your life was a continuous cavalcade of sword fights as one of the three musketeers. Mersenne chose the quieter of the two lifestyles. His research proved that strings vibrated at lower frequencies (and therefore gave lower notes) if you increased their length, decreased the tension on them, or made them from heavier (denser or thicker) materials.


If we want to regain the blood supply to the left hand side of our body we have to make the bass lighter – and the best way to reduce the size of the instrument is to reduce the length of the strings.


We could use short, slack strings – but this makes the instrument very difficult to play because slack strings slap against the neck of the instrument when you pluck them. So the best answer would be to use strings which are short and heavy. We usually make guitar or piano strings heavier by wrapping wire around them – but if we used normal steel wire to thicken up a 25 inch long bass guitar string it would be very thick, stiff and difficult to play.


So the best way to make short, reasonably tense bass guitar strings would be to use a much denser metal than steel.


Gold is the obvious choice – it’s over twice as dense as steel – but it’s so 1970’s, so flashy and vulgar. No… I think the only sensible way forward is Plutonium strings.


Plutonium is, like gold, just over twice as dense as steel and, if you do all the calculations it works out very well – your new, shorter, denser strings would be about the same thickness and the same tension as a standard bass string.


So, the future beckons – lighter bass guitars – more loquacious bass players – what could possibly go wrong?  


Finally, as the founding director and CEO of the newly formed ‘Los Alamos Bass Guitar Strings Inc.’, I would like to state clearly that our products are 100% safe for general use by heavy rock bands – as long as the audience remember to carry out a full service on their lead lined Hazchem suits before the gig and, of course, remain at a reasonable distance (17 miles*) from the band.


Plutonium – now that’s what I call heavy metal.


*19 miles when using our new round-wound ‘Weapons Grade – Rolling Thunder’ products.

By John Powell