How To Choose the Best Bass Strings For Your Style

by Dave Gagnon

Have you ever found yourself at the checkout counter of a music store, ready to spend upwards of $40 on a brand new set of, what the sales clerk said were the best bass strings they had, only to stand there feeling unsure about whether or not you are buying the right product for yourself? If you haven't experienced this awkward situation, more power to you, but for those of you that do know what I am talking about, here are some things to think about before spending your hard earned cash on some random lengths and thicknesses of metal wire.




Roundwound, Flatwound, or Halfwound:
This refers to the texture of the outermost part of the string (the winding). The different windings have completely different feels to the touch but they also have completely different sounds. Most people choose a winding based on the sound that they are going for.

Roundwounds are the most common string for the electric bass. Most, if not all of the bass guitars that you will find in the music stores will have Roundwound Strings on them. Roundwounds are the brightest sounding strings as compared to Flatwound or Halfwound. If you are looking to do any slapping at all, you are probably going to want Roundwounds.



Flatwound Strings are generally used by people that don't do any slapping and popping. The slap bass technique can and has been done on these strings but for the most part Flatwounds aren't designed for slapping. The advantage of Flatwound Strings becomes apparent when you are looking to produce a thick, punchy, Motown-like tone that doesn't have much high-end frequency at all.



Halfwounds are an in-between option for anyone wanting some of the benefits of both Flatwounds and Roundwounds.






Nickel or Stainless Steel:
This also refers to the outermost, or winding part of the string. The winding is most commonly made out of either Nickel or Stainless Steel. There are quite a few differences in both the sound and feel of Nickel compared to Stainless Steel. Players that use Nickel Strings report a smoother feel and a faster response while Stainless Steel players love the tone and don't seem to mind the coarser texture of Stainless Steel Strings.




String Gauges:
The standard string gauges for a four-string bass are 45-105. Standard five-string packs are either 45-125 or 45-130. If you have a six-string bass your options are even greater but the standard seems to be either 30-125 or 30-130.

Also keep in mind that heavier gauge strings will allow you to get a slightly lower action than lighter gauge strings but the light gauge strings might still feel easier to play.




Core Wire:
This refers to the center of the string or the part that the winding will wrap around. The most common core wire is called Hex Core (six sided). A newer version of core wire that is used on many DR String varieties is called Round Core.

Hex Core is more rigid while Round Core creates more "give" which results in a looser feel. A Hex Core string of the same diameter of a Round Core string will be able to be set up with lower action but the Round Core string might still feel easier to play.




Coatings:
Bass players that use coated strings report benefits of longer life and a lesser contrast of the sound of new strings compared to used strings.






Scale Length:
Some string manufacturers separate their strings into different lengths. Be sure to look on the front of the box to see if it specifies Long Scale, Extra Long Scale, or Short Scale. Most four-string basses fall into the Long scale range but if you have a five or six-string with a 35" scale you will need the Extra Long Scale. If it doesn't specify on the box than you can assume that it will probably be Extra Long Scale.




Warming Up Period:
This refers to the difference between the sound of a brand new string compared to the sound of a string that has been played on for a few hours. Some people like the brightness of a brand new string while others like them slightly worn in or completely dead.




Stretching Period:
Brand new strings will typically go through a period of stretching over the first few hours of playing time. During this time you might notice yourself having to tune the instrument more as the strings will slip out of tune if played aggressively or bended. To counter this, it has been recommended to change your strings at least 24 hours before a gig. It has also been recommended to play your bass for at least a half-hour before readjusting the intonation.




When To Change Your Strings:
Depending on the style of music that you play and your own personal taste, you can actually create a great bass tone by never changing your bass strings. Do you love the sound that flatwound strings make or are you searching for a low thud in the bass mix that you haven't yet been able to find? Old bass strings will produce far less overtones than new ones which will result in a sound that is very low end heavy. I've even heard rumors of people not changing their strings for over 25 years!



Be sure to check out our selection of Bass Strings in the Bass Store. I have included many of my personal favorite strings.




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