The evolution of Markbass from bass amplifier designers to all-round bass artisans has delighted many a bassist, including myself. As a result of their recent acquisition of the renowned D’Orazio factory, they have now released their very own, original set of bass strings. I’ll be talking about the Groove Series in particular for this review, but before I jump into the strings themselves, it’s worth talking about the history of D’Orazio as well as the region of Abruzzo in Italy where they’re based.
The art of string making was born in Abruzzo, a region whose artisanship for strings has been celebrated for centuries. In fact, most of the string distributors in the world today can probably trace their own origins back to somewhere in Abruzzo. D’Orazio were one of four families based near the town of Pescara, responsible for establishing the craft of manufacturing strings for musical instruments over 200 years ago. In the 1820s, the D’Orazio family began by producing strings and wires made out of sheep gut; these were used not only for musical instruments such as violins and double basses, but also for surgical purposes. By the 1920s, D’Orazio were exporting their gut strings worldwide, and come the innovation of electric instruments in the 1970s, the brothers began manufacturing metal strings for electric guitar, electric bass and so on. Markbass — in its quest to become a more all-encompassing bass manufacturer — has not only acquired the D’Orazio string factory, but with it centuries of priceless inter-generational expertise.
The Groove Series Strings I will be reviewing are a set of five, at medium (045 - 130) gauge. They’re made of high quality selected nickel plated steel wire, hand-wound around a hexagonal carbon core. These are long scale strings, which I had the pleasure of playing on the Markbass Kimandu 5 Richard Bona Signature.
I thought I’d mention a few of the general advantages of using nickel plated strings. In terms of sound, nickel plated strings will give you noticeably more warmth and articulation than the comparatively brighter stainless steel. Some bassists will attest to nickel being slightly louder and fuller, as well. Another known benefit of using nickel plated strings is that they don’t leave behind the same level of fret-wear as do stainless steel plated strings. One of the main reasons I’ve personally erred towards nickel plated strings on my basses is because I’ve found them to be easier on my fingers. Even with the many hours’ worth of callouses that have now numbed my fingertips, I still find playing with stainless steel strings to be a tad labour-intensive.
I have to say, the nickel plated Groove Series really gives you all the perks of your typical nickel plated string, and lots more. In terms of playability, these have to be some of the most comfortable strings I’ve ever played on a bass. Fretting with my left hand feels virtually effortless, despite it being a medium gauge string. Plucking with my right hand, I don’t feel the any of the slackness I’ve encountered with lighter gauge bass strings in previous instances. One of my favourite things about the Markbass Groove Series strings is how easy it is to slide, hammer-on and pull-off. While ripping through one of Bootsy Collins’ Funkadelic era bass solos, I was astonished at how clean the hammer-ons and pull-offs sounded: somewhat of a bow and arrow of the Bootsy Collins arsenal.
The gauge of this set of Groove Series is another quality worth exploring. The general rule of thumb is that heavier gauge strings (0.050 - 0.105) have a richer bottom end, but require more finger strength than lighter gauge. Those who tend to rely on slap and pop techniques generally favour lighter gauge strings (0.040 - 0.095), while the pocket players will tend to utilise a heavier gauge for a beefier tone. The best thing about the Markbass Groove Series is that it’s a medium that gives you the best of both worlds. There’s just enough give for some slapping, while also bearing enough tension for the funky pocket players. One slight obstacle with the hexagonal core string is that this causes the wire trappings to ‘bite’ into the core a bit more. This means that the string is under more tension than your normal roundcore string, which, depending on your bass technique, may make it slightly harder to fret at first. This is generally something most bassists quickly become accustomed to, however.
The Groove Series Strings are yet another solid effort by Markbass: the sheer artisanship that has gone into carefully handcrafting these strings is almost palpable. At their current price-point, these strings may seem a little pricier than other sets of five on the market. However, it’s important to remember that these strings are made by humans, not robots on a production line. Also, being nickel strings, they are guaranteed to hold their tone longer than most other bass strings on the market.
Hits and Misses
Ideal for plectrum, slap and fingerstyle players
Sustain makes for very clear slides, pull-offs and hammer-ons