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Guitars & Accessories

Best Bass Strings

Most bassists find themselves taking part in an on-going quest to find the best tone they can get out of their instrument. And while there’s a variety of factors playing a part in shaping the sound of a bass guitar, there’s nothing more crucial than choosing the right bass strings. Because certain players and styles of music call for different attributes, there are many options to choose from when shopping for bass strings, and sometimes it can get a bit overwhelming. We’ve outlined considerations you should take into account when purchasing new bass strings in our buyer’s guide listed below.

Rotosound RS77LD Jazz Bass Monel Electric Bass 4 String Set

Steve Harris, Oasis, and Roger Waters are just some of the players who have favored Rotosound’s Jazz Bass 77 flatwound strings. Made from 65 percent pure nickel Monel wound on stainless steel, there’s not much else that's known about the company’s rather secretive manufacturing process. But one thing that's sure is these strings feel smooth on the hands and provide a tone which has made them a winner amongst those players in the know. Bass Player Magazine even declared that these standard gauge flatwound strings are their favorites.

Thomastik-Infeld Jazz Bass Guitar Strings

It’s no secret that flatwound bass guitar strings are best suited for styles of music like jazz that require a smoother playing style, so one shouldn’t be surprised just how great the Thomastik-Infeld Jazz Flatwounds are. Warm and articulate tone meets up with comfortable, low-tension strings. The Thomas-Infeld Jazz Flatwound bass strings are probably the closest you can come to sounding like you’re playing a double bass when you’re actually using an electric bass guitar. They’re built to last with many players saying they've gone years upon years without ever needing to change them out. The strings’ steel core is wrapped with a silk inlay while the outer winding is a tribe ribbon flatwound constructed of a special nickel alloy. What does this all mean? A rich and versatile sound for those seeking to dive even deeper in the world of mellow, smooth-sounding tones.

La Bella Original 1954 Flatwound Bass Guitar Strings

You’re getting a little bit of history when you use the La Bella Original 1954 flatwound bass strings. After all, these were used on virtually every Motown record that was recorded in the 1960's. When esteemed session players like James Jamerson and Donald Duck Dunn have recorded hit after hit with these same strings, you’ve got to know that there’s some sort of winning formula going on with these puppies. Full and deep, much of their character can be attributed to their heavy gauge, although they are self identified as medium gauge. The sound that these strings produce could best be described as “old school".

Ernie Ball 2806 Flat Wound Group III Electric Bass Strings

The Ernie Ball 2806 flatwound bass strings are tin-plated and made from steel. These strings offer smooth high notes as well as clearly defined lows. Their smooth surface makes them very comfortable to play, especially for those with sensitive fingers. Just like all the strings that come through the iconic company, these Ernie Ball 2806s are made to last long and provide an optimum performance throughout their life.

D'Addario ECB80 Chromes Flat Wound Super Light Electric Bass Strings

D’Addario’s ECB80s stand as the company’s lightest gauge flatwound bass guitar strings. This makes them ideal for players who want to not just favor a brighter, more high-end favoring tone, but pull off bends and other string maneuvers that might otherwise be hindered by a thicker gauge. Because these strings are ribbon wound and polished, they feel smooth in the hands of most bassists, and provide a warm, mellow tone that’s perfect for jazz, pop, and R&B. These strings are also made to fit long-scale basses with a string scale length of up to 36 1/4 inches. Despite their light gauge, these strings are still more than capable of producing a deep low-end.

Rotosound Swing Bass 66

Rotosound first created their Swing Bass 66 strings in conjunction with The Who bassist John Entwistle. With his guidance, the company was able to create a roundwound bass guitar string that sports a bright tone that appeals to rock bassists, and honestly all bassists in general. Some of the more prominent proponents of these strings include Geddy Lee (Rush), John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin), and Billy Sheehan. Made from stainless steel, these strings are heavier than some of their peers but that’s all part of what makes their sound so thick and strong.

D'Addario EXP160 Bass Strings - Coated Nickel Round Wound, Medium, 1 set

The D’Addario EXP160 bass guitar strings are roundwound, meaning that they are ideal for nearly every type of musical playing style. Built for long scale bass guitars, these feature an ultra-fine layer of EXP coating that helps these strings resist corrosion and wear. In fact, the EXP160s last three to four times longer than most other bass strings. They provide a bright and booming tone that continues to sound new and fresh even after extensive use. Despite their coating, they are still very comfortable to play, so you won’t have any concerns about the build of these strings affecting your performance in a negative way.

Ernie Ball Power Slinky Round Wound Strings Bass

Ernie Ball has been on the scene since the early 1960's, constantly innovating and adding new string options for players across the board. Their Power Slinky roundwound bass strings are made from nickel-plated steel windings that are wrapped around tin-plated, hex-shaped steel core wire. This alchemy produces a serious punch that has earned it a spot in the hearts of rock bassists all over the world. These strings also sound great even when down tuned for heavier styles of music. Built to last, the Ernie Ball Power Slinky strings are a must-have for bassists both professional and amateur.

GHS Medium Light Bassics Electric Bass Strings

Although GHS Bassics bass guitar strings can be found for quite an affordable price, that doesn’t speak detrimentally to the degree of quality they provide for bassists. These sound full and are built to last. Essentially similar to the brand’s highly-esteemed Boomers brand, the key difference in the Bassics is that they lack the silk at the end. These nickel-plated strings are wound entirely on automated machines to ensure a consistent and precise tone. Available in a range of gauge sizes, the Bassics continue the GHS tradition of providing quality sound to players of all styles.

Ernie Ball Super Slinky Nickel Round Wound Electric Bass Guitar Strings Set

Ernie Ball’s Super Slinky bass guitar strings offer a lighter gauge experience to bassists who want an even easier playability to great sounding strings. These strings are used by the pros and hobbyists alike. Roundwound and built from tin-plated hex steel cores and nickel-plated steel wrap, they sound bright and vibrant. They are also built to last a long time, so you can be sure that when you pick up your axe (even after it’s been a bit since you’ve changed strings) they should still have that encompassing glow to make your playing sound great.

Buyer's Guide

 

Bass String Buyer's Guide

Much like guitar strings, bass strings come in many different configurations. There truly aren’t any bad choices one can make when selecting a set, but what’s most important is to determine what type of sound and style you’re going for. Being aware of your playing style as well as what genre you are primarily going to play as it can make a huge difference in narrowing down the best options.

Of course, there’s no greater test one can do than actually trying strings out for yourself and experiencing what they feel and sound like firsthand. However, here are a few basic concepts you should be familiar with before taking the plunge into the deep end of bass strings.

String Gauges

The diameter/thickness of a string is what we call a string gauge. The heavier the gauge of a string, the lower and richer the tone. Conversely, because these strings are thicker and heavier, they also require more physical exertion from a bassist’s fingers. For this reason, it’s often better for beginners to start off with a lighter gauge.

String gauges are messed in thousandths of an inch. Ultra/extra light string sets run between .090 and .030, whereas extra heavy sets are between .115 and .055. If you’re unsure about where you personally stand in the range of options, it’s advisable to start out with the standard medium gauge, which runs in between .105 and .045. Also be advised that changing bass string gauges will alter the tension in the neck of your bass guitar, so you may need to have your instrument adjusted when making the switch.

String Windings

Like guitar strings, most bass strings are made from either steel or nickel/steel hybrids. However, the way in which bass strings are wound can make a significant difference in the sound that they produce.

Roundwound Strings
The most common type of windings, and they offer a brighter and louder sound that is more ideal for bassists who play lead lines or utilize pop/slap techniques that are most frequently used in funk music. This type of string is also prevalent in rock music and also usually produces more finger noise as players shift around the frets on their instrument.

Flatwound Strings
These produce far less finger noise and are typically favored by jazz and soul bassists. They have a warmer and more mellow sound, and favored for fretless bass guitars due to their smooth finish which causes less wear-and-tear on the fretboard. This type of string winding is also prevalent in other genres such as blues and country.

Other String Windings
Tapewound bass strings offer a nylon wrap around the steel strings, producing a more muted tune with a shorter decay. Groundwound strings are also referred to as half-round, and are pressed to create a more flattened surface that reduces finger noise and fret wear while still maintaining the louder, brighter sound of the roundwound string. 

Scale Length

A bass string’s scale length refers to the distance between the bridge and the nut on a bass guitar. This distance can determine both the tone and pitch of an instrument. But more importantly than that, certain models of bass guitars are set up for specific scale lengths, so it’s important to make sure that you’re picking up the right one for your particular axe.

Bass string scale length is typically divided into four different categories: short (30-31 inches), medium (32-33 inches), long (34-35 inches), and extra long scale (35-36+ inches). The most common scale length for electric bass guitars is long-scale – models such as the Fender Jazz Bass would fall into this category. Gibson EB basses, which are visibly smaller than the aforementioned type of brand, utilize a short scale. Basses with five or six strings usually have extra long scales.

Changing Strings

There isn’t a set standard as to how often you should be changing your bass strings. How often you play (and in what sort of environment) can make a huge impact on how often it’s necessary to restring. For instance, bassists who typically only play in studio sessions and other more controlled environments are less likely to sweat as much (and consequently provide wear and tear to their strings) as bassists who play on stage in hot clubs or venues every night. To that end, some bassists change their strings every night while other bassists go years without changing their strings.

It’s also worth noting that making the decision to change strings is also dependent upon what kind of tone you’re looking for. Some bassists like the clean and “popping” tone best produced by freshly changed strings, whereas others prefer a deadened, deep sound which is accumulated after months (or years) of playing with the same strings. It really all depends on what you are looking for.

Keep in mind that when you do change your strings, the sound may be uncharacteristically bright to the point where it may come across as undesirable. Before you throw your instrument out the window, allow for a few playing sessions to work the strings in as the tone will shift after being used consistently.

Sean Kramer
I'm a guitarist/music producer with 18 years of experience playing on-stage, in the studio, and everywhere in between. I have toured and recorded on projects both independent and major, in styles such as rock, pop, funk, hip hop, electronic, and more. My axe of choice is probably always going to be the Fender Stratocaster, but I've been known to pick up other guitars when the music calls for it. I'm a big fan of using a multitude of effects (both hardware and software-driven) to manipulate the sound and atmosphere of an instrument. In addition to playing on records, I have also contributed to the score/soundtrack for shows and spots on MTV and ESPN, as well as for a variety of independent films, web series, and television shows.
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