Bass guitars are the driving force behind those deep lows that bring that music to life. So it's imperative to make sure you have correct strings on your instrument so that it sounds perfect! What's generally neglected is a fact that a bass's strings can make a big difference in the tone of a bass. Some strings are brighter and deliver a punchier tone that is ideal for rock, country, pop, and more. Other strings are warmer and more subdued, but offer a fuller, fatter bottom end that’s perfect for jazz, reggae, and that old-school rock and Motown sound. Strings are an important part of finding the perfect bass sound. But with so many choices on the market, it can be confusing as to which set you should buy. A keen examination of few parameters will help you find the right strings for yourself.
An important element in both the tone and playability of your bass, string gauge (how “heavy” or “light” your strings are) can make a real difference in your sound. Gauge refers to the thickness of the string. Usually players will refer to the size of the fourth string (the low E in standard tuning) when referencing their gauge preference. For example, a player that says, “I use 105s” means that the gauge of the fourth string is .105.
So how does gauge come into play when you’re choosing strings? Typically, the thicker the string, the more string tension; the more string tension, the harder it will be to fret. Some players have been known to use unusually large strings, but it’s not advisable to jump up to one of these gauges until you've played for a while and developed calluses. And it should be noted that switching gauges can cause your bass’s neck to need adjustment due to more or less string tension.
However, a lighter gauge strings will feel comfortable but sound a little shallow and warm, whereas a thicker strings will feel a little stiff but sound much richer and brighter.
There’s really not a whole lot to a bass string, but all the individual components come together to create the lifeblood of your sound. Running through the middle of the string is a metal core wire. The core wire is affixed to a brass ferrule (commonly called the “ball end”), and the ball end is what typically holds the string on to the bridge. Around the metal core wire is another round wrap wire, which is the part that your fingers press against the fingerboard. All of these pieces combine to produce the type of sound that the different kinds of strings can make. More on that later.
The typical bass string core is made from steel. The core is the centre of the string. Windings go around the core to create larger, wound strings. The two basic cores are round and hex. Round cores offer a fatter, vintage-like tone that is balanced and more flexible. Hex cores, the most common type of core, “hold” on to the windings better giving you a brighter sound, more consistent performance, and stiffer tension.
Bass strings aren't that different from guitar strings except that they’re bigger. They are available in both nickel/steel or pure steel configurations, and roundwound and flatwound styles are available. Roundwound strings are the most common, used for anything from rock to jazz to country. But in the bass world, flatwounds aren't uncommon and are found more often than they are in the guitar world. Flatwound strings are great on fretless basses, both sonically and because they cause less wear and tear on the fingerboard. An anomaly in bass strings is the tapewound string, where a nylon wrap is put on the string over the normal roundwound wrap, giving the string a shorter decay and more “thud.” Like acoustic and electric strings, coated bass strings are also available.
The two main types of electric bass strings have windings made from nickel/steel alloy or pure stainless steel. A nickel/steel alloy string has a slightly more subdued sound than a pure steel string, with steel typically being brighter. These metals are used for electric bass strings because the metals are ferromagnetic, which means that their vibrations will be detected and transmitted by a magnetic pickup. In recent years, some manufacturers have begun making strings from cobalt and other materials, which reportedly provide more output and clarity than a nickel/steel or pure steel strings.
Coated strings are also available, which simply means that a super-thin coat is applied to the string to help prevent corrosion from sweat and oils. Coated strings tend to last much longer than uncoated strings but are also more expensive.
Scale length refers to the relationship between the length and diameter (“gauge”) of the strings and the pitches they produce. Short-scale basses are generally defined as having scale lengths between 30′ and 32′. Long-scale basses conventionally have a 34′ string length. Remember that we are talking about string length – the distance between the bridge and the nut – not neck length, although one affects the other.
The first and most obvious reason to use a short-scale bass is physical size. With their shorter necks, less distance between frets, and more compact general dimensions, short-scale basses are a good choice for young players and anyone challenged by the extra reach a long scale instrument requires.
However, many studio pros have long known a secret about the sound of short-scale basses. The shorter strings demand lower string tension to be properly tuned. This gives the strings a kind of soft and floppy feeling, but it also creates fatter, “blooming” low notes and what musicians perceive as sweet upper notes.
This is a question with a different answer for almost every bass player. Some players find that once or twice a month is often enough, while others may go a year or more without requiring a change of strings. While on tour, many bass players will change strings every day! It ultimately depends a lot on the individual’s preferences. If a bright, glossy “zing” is what you’re after, then you’ll probably change strings more often. If you typically set the tone control on your bass guitar or amp to dial out the high end, or “darken” your tone, then you’ll probably need to change less often. Each bass player produces salts, acids, oils, and a wide variety of other chemicals normally released in sweat, so if you’re frequently playing onstage in hot clubs or halls, then you’ll probably have to change strings more often than someone who only plays in a studio environment. Veteran players always wipe down the fingerboard well with a dry cloth after every gig to help extend their string life, and they always carry several sets of new strings with them.
Determine if you need to change strings. Few of the tell-tale signs include:
Determine the optimal Gauge
Lighter gauge strings are easier on your fingers, which is especially important for newer players. If you’re going to move up to heavier gauge strings, be prepared that you might need to adjust your action to compensate for string tension. However, a lighter gauge strings will feel comfortable but sound a little shallow and warm, whereas a thicker strings will feel a little stiff but sound much richer and brighter.
Try out different materials, coating and different wound strings to get the best sound out of your bass.
Watch the video from D'Addario to know more about the process of making bass guitar strings
Visit our collection to find the perfect string for your Bass guitar.
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