How important are bass strings, really?
If awesome tone is what you’re after, slapping on a decent set of strings will make a crazy difference.
There are a lot of materials, windings and thicknesses to consider, all of which can turn an average bass guitar into a tone monster!
To help you explore the different options available, I’ve selected 9 of the most awesome bass strings for a close up review.
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Bass Strings For all music styles Reviewed
How to choose bass strings
There is a lot of science that goes into it. Whether you are a beginner or bass guitar ninja, it’s definitely useful to have a quick look at the most important parts.
Bass string sets come in different thickness (otherwise known as string gauge). Aside from playability, gauge also plays a crucial part in tone.
Let’s geek out for a second and look at some numbers.
String gauge is measured in 1/1000th of an inch. For example, 0.040 makes up the thinnest string and 0.095 makes up the thickest in a set of ‘super light’ strings.
Generally, the thinner the total set of strings, the lighter the gauge.
Bass necks come in different lengths, which means you need to know which strings will fit your model.
The most common 4 string bass measures 34 – 36” from the bridge to the nut (full scale). 5 string bass guitars might be slightly longer.
As a general rule of thumb, the other sizes are:
Bridge or Tailpiece
Where the ball end of Bass strings are connected. The strings could be attached directly to the Bridge or through the body.1 of 3
The measurement between the back of the Bridge and the Nut i.e. 34 Inches.
If your strings go through the body, add around a half an inch/one inch to the total length measured.
The nut floats the strings above the fretboard, and scale length is measured to this point.
String Gauge Playability and Tone
Lighter gauges are easier to play, but they don’t carry as much sustain or volume. They also produce a more ‘twangy’ sound and are more prone to fret buzz (especially if your strings are set ultra low to the fretboard)
Thicker gauges are harder to play, taking more pressure to fret, pluck and slap. But, they do produce a better sound with more volume punch and clarity.
Which string gauge should I use?
What are the best bass strings?
While there are a few interesting materials (chrome, titanium, cobalt, etc), the most common electric bass guitar strings are either a nickel/steel alloy or pure steel.
Acoustic bass strings are slightly different, as you’ll see below.
Acoustic Bass Strings
Coated strings include a polymer plastic thinly applied over the exposed outer layer which makes each string smoother to play and protects from corrosion (if you have sweaty hands, for example).
Coated strings are generally more expensive and not as bright sounding. But, they do last longer on tone than uncoated strings which may counter the higher cost.
If you’re keen to stand out and add some creative color to the mix, you could go for a set of NMCB-40 DR strings which glow under neon lights!
Core and String Winding Options
Strings are made up of two parts, an inner core and an outer winding ‘sleeve’. There are a few different cores and winding combinations which produce different sound characteristics.
Types of Core
The core is a single piece of metal wire in either a round or hexagonal shape. Most electric bass string cores are made out of steel. The majority of string sets are made with Hex cores as they’re easier to manufacture, whereas round cores have been around longer.
There are noticeable differences between the two. Hex cores produce a modern, bright tonality with more stable tuning. Round cores offer a warmer, vintage sound perfect for jazz and classic rock music.
Most bass players stick with hex cores which are cost effective and do a great all round job.
Types of Winding
Another important part is the type of outer wire which is tightly ‘wound’ around the core. The three most common winding methods are roundwound, flatwound and halfround which are different shaped metals that produce different sound profiles:
Bass Strings For All Music Styles
Now for the best part, let’s take a closer look at some popular string brands and versions which cover all styles and tones.
FYI – we may earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you) should you make a purchase through one of our affiliate links in the reviews below. Learn More
Top Pick: Elixir Nickel Plated NANOWEB coating
If you’re looking for a long-lasting, easy to play set, Elixer’s nickel plated strings with nanoweb coating are a brilliant option.
While they’re not the cheapest set, they do last a very long time. Some bassists get 6 months of hard gigging use, which is amazing compared to average 3 – 5 week lifespan of standard roundwound bass strings.
The super light gauge (.040 .060 .075 .095) make these suitable for beginner bass players who are still developing their fretting techniques, while also looking to get a consistently great sound.
slap and funk: D'Addario EXL220
The EXL220 range are some of my favorites. The tone quality is nice and bright. Perfect for slap bass and funk, while also having plenty low end growl.
Although these are the super light gauge (.040 .060 .075 .095), I personally don’t find they lose too much sustain or volume.
The big advantage with this string gauge is how easy they are to play, making it suitable for beginners too.
Typical of uncoated roundwound strings, you get a good level of grip (quite rough to the touch) which produces more fret squeak as you slide from note to note.
But, if you are looking for an inexpensive, easy to play string set, the EXL220 makes for a great option too.
Best heavy gauge: GHS BASS BOOMERS H3045
If you’re a metal or hard rock fan, you’ll probably love the GHS Bass Boomers string set (.050 .070 .095 .115).
These are aggressive, power strings which give off a ton of sustain, brightness and deep bass tone.
As there is a lot more tension across the neck, drop tuning is really easy to do without getting any unwanted fret buzz or twang.
I wouldn’t recommend using these bass strings on any vintage bass guitars or weak necks which require lighter handling.
If you are a beginner, you might find heavy gauge strings difficult to play at first. But, with enough practice, you’ll get into it.
Best medium gauge: Ernie Ball Regular Slinky
The regular gauge Ernie Ball slinky bass strings (.050 .070 .085 .105) are a nice balance between tone and easy playability.
The winding is made up of a nickel plated steel over a hex core which provides well rounded level of crisp brightness and deep low end.
The big positive of medium gauge strings is the versatility to play a wide range of music styles comfortably.
If you have your strings set low to the fretboard, you’re also likely to get less fret buzz and twang.
Best hybrid: D'Addario EXL165
What if you are looking for a fat bottom end with a sharp and crisp pop?
D’Addario EXL165 bass strings provide the best of two worlds with a mix of light and medium gauge bass strings that provide a wide range of tonality (.045 .065 .085 .105).
Lighter strings are much easier to ‘pop’ when getting your funk on. The heavier bottom end are not too hard on the fingers either, but produce a much better lower end thump.
If you’re a beginner looking to explore tone and slightly heavier gauges, a set of hybrids are a great option to try out.
Best coated: DR NMCB-40 DR NEON
If you’re looking to get a set of long-lasting bass strings which also get a lot of attention, the DR Neon’s are an awesome option!
But, they’re not just for show, the light gauge (.040 .060 .080 .100) gives a decent bright tone with a good level of warmth.
If you are a beginner, you’ll also find the lighter gauge makes for easier fretting and playing.
The string texture is similar to standard roundwound strings, but a lot smoother with the added coating.
The tone may be on the warmer side, but still works perfectly well for a wide range of music styles.
And who doesn’t want to glow in the dark!?
Best acoustic: Elixir 80/20 Bronze NANOWEB
To get a rich, bright and punchy tone from your acoustic, a set of light Elixer bronze strings are a great option.
Even though these strings are coated, they are a lot brighter than you might expect with a decent level of mellow warmth.
The coating keeps the strings fresh for a long time, which means less bass string changes required.
The smooth texture also gets rid of fret squeak which you normally get on standard roundwound strings.
As with all light gauge combinations, the Elixer acoustic range (.045 .065 .080 .100) makes these strings easy to fret and play, overall a great option for acoustic lovers.
Best flatwound Bass Strings: Rotosound RS77LD
Rotosound flatwounds produce a rich warmth with a good level of brightness.
These are also potentially the best strings for fretless bass, allowing you to slide up and down with no fret squeak.
Although coated roundwounds are smoother than normal, flatwounds are completely silky smooth end to end. The tight spacing between windings also extends the life of the strings as it’s much harder for dirt and moisture to get through.
Even though these are a light/regular hybrid gauge (.045 .065 .085 .105), the neck tension and gauge ‘feel’ with flatwound bass guitar strings will be a lot higher than roundwounds of the same thickness.
Best steel: D'Addario EPS170
When it comes to delivering bags of brightness and low end punch, a set of pure steel strings is another awesome option.
Steel roundwounds deliver brightness at the top and deep bass in the low end. The mid tones are more flat which makes for a natural ‘mid scoop’ sound.
Even when using lighter gauge strings (.045 .065 .080 .100), the bigger boost in the low end makes up for the volume you normally get with heavy gauge strings.
Steel strings are great for a wide range of music styles, but work especially well in hard hitting music like rock and metal.
If you also do a lot of slap bass, you get a great thump and pop. Amazing to think how much of a difference a set of strings can make!
How often should you change bass strings?
Depending on the type of bass strings you use, the most noticeable ‘flag’ is dullness or visible dirt build up on the surface. Old strings have almost no brightness and tend to give off more of a muddled sound.
One problem I’ve seen beginners running into is taking off old strings and not replacing them immediately after. The neck is designed to always be under tension which means if you remove the strings for a long time, you might end up with a permanently warped neck.
So, as a precaution, before you decide to do a string change, make sure you have a new set of strings standing by.
How to change bass strings?
Changing strings is not too difficult, and it only takes a few minutes to complete. The only tool you need is a sharp pair of wire cutters to trim the ends. The process looks something like this:
What bass strings should I get?
Looking to keep things simple, yet refined? I’d highly recommend going for a set of Elixir Nickel Plated Steel NANOWEB’s which are super well balanced across all departments.
Well, there you have it! I hope this helps you with a few ideas to try find your unique combination of flavor of tone, punch and brightness.
It does take a few string changes and testing out different string sets to find the ones that suit you best, but overall, it’s a lot of fun to mess around with.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. What are your favorite strings? Have you found any brands or gauges which really work for you and you think other people should try?
Let me know in the comments below!