To start off with a generalization, most players use mediums, in my experience selling strings. Does that matter to you? Probably not.
Some strings come in only one weight, but quite a few have multiple tension options. What's the diff? Simply, light strings have slightly less tension than mediums, and heavy strings have slightly more tension. Specifically, the strings have more or less mass, to require a few pounds more or less tension to create the specific pitch desired, which makes the strings feel "tighter" or "looser."
Those that offer additional string tensions usually designate the "standard" gauge as "Medium" (or "Mittel" if they're certain European brands), and then a "Light" ("Weich") and/or "Heavy" ("Stark") gauge. Though, some manufacturers designate them differently; Corelli's 370 Strings come in "Medium," "Forte (heavy)," and "TX/Extra Forte (extra heavy)," while Eurosonics come in "Medium," "Light," and "Ultra Light."
Because, that's what we need - more confusion.
Most of the various tensions are manufactured in pretty much the same way, but with more or fewer windings to change the mass, and therefore the tension. However, it is also true that sometimes the manufacturer will alter the design or the ratio of some ingredients to achieve the perfect balance; for instance, Corelli 370 strings may have varying levels of tungsten steel in certain strings to get the set to have the appropriate tonal and volume balance, depending on gauge.
Some sets do not have "Lights" but may have a "Solo" set
, which is designed for tuning up one whole step, which can be tuned to standard pitch and played as if it were a light string (Thomastik Superflexibles and Pirastro Obligatos are two popular examples.)
Reasons to change gauges? That's very subjective. The biggest difference is in playability. A heavier string will allow for a heavier plucking hand and will be more physically demanding to play; a lighter string will be easier on the left (fingering, sorry left-handers!) Some players prefer a lighter feel, while others like the strings to be harder, because it suits their playing style to pluck with more vigor. Some people can play amplified and let the amp do some of the work for them, while others people play acoustically on Bourbon Street as loudly as they can. Some people find that lighter strings bow more easily, while others play rockabilly slap-style on the weekend. Some feel that their tone comes from a light, deft touch – others beat the bass like it owes them money.
All else being equal, strings of different weights do usually sound pretty similar. However, there can be subtle tonal changes associated with different weights of the same string design. Heavier strings are usually less “elastic” and can have a subtly more full-bodied sound. A stiffer string will allow for playing with a heavier hand, and this can marginally increase volume and "power." Lighter strings can sometimes create more “growl” as they tend to lower the action (with the overall lessened tension) and they vibrate more widely, which causes them to interact with the fingerboard a bit more. But again, you’re talking about a small difference; the sound of the strings is generally about 95% alike (if you’ll permit me to estimate for the sake of putting it in simple terms.) Setup and tone color of every individual bass is different, and these minor changes may be too subtle to notice on your particular instrument, or with your particular playing style.
Put simply, everyone’s journey is personal, and there’s no “right” string for everyone.
Want to get a general idea of what a light or heavy version of your current string set might feel and sound like? The way to feel the approximate effect of the tension difference would be to do this: De-tune your medium strings by approximately 3/4 of a step (tune the G string down to about halfway between F and F#, and so on down all four strings). Now play; this will approximate what the lights would probably feel and sound like (at pitch). Conversely, tune the strings up about 1/2 step to get the approximate feel of the heavy strings.
Now, remember that every string set's construction is a bit different, and results may vary; this is a very general way to sort of "preview" what the other gauges could feel and sound like, but it's not exact.
If you're trying to figure out whether you should choose light, medium, or heavy (if available), we should address it on a micro level - and try to figure out which strings might be best FOR YOU. Can you describe the silked ends for me? Maybe compare them to the (limited) ones we have shown at this other FAQ
If we can figure out what’s on the bass, you can tell me what you DO and DON’T like about them
, and we can try to figure out the right string (and gauge) to suit your needs.