Buyers Guide: How do I Choose the Right Electric Bass strings?
If you play in a band, you probably hear the guitarist talking about strings a lot. We discuss the different guages and materials for electric guitar strings in our electric guitar strings buyers guide, but that party isn't just for guitarists! Bass guitarists also have a wide range of strings to choose from; after all, the gauge and material of the strings have a huge incfluence on the playability and sound of your bass. In this buyers guide, we want to shed some light on your electric bass guitar string options.
We'll use the well-known four-string Precision Bass in standard tuning (EADG) as our reference point. This bass has a standard (long) 34-inch scale length (length from the string nut to the bridge saddles). Usually these basses come from the factory with a medium set of strings, whereby the thinnest string (G string) is .045 inches thick and the thickest string (E string) is .105 inches. As such , a medium set of bass strings is indicated as .045-.105. The indication does vary sometimes, so you might also see a medium set defined as .045-.100 or .050-.105.
A medium set of bass strings can be seen as the safe middle ground. The playability is neither very heavy nor very light, and the sound is neither full nor thin. Bass players who are looking for a fuller, thicker sound and who don't mind if their bass plays heavier would be advised to choose a heavier set of strings (.050 or even .055-.115). If you'd rather have a bass that plays lighter and you don't mind sacrificing a bit of fullness in your sound, then you should go for a light set (.040-.100 of .040-.095). A lighter set of bass strings can also be really nice for guitarists who play bass on the side, since the string tension and playability will be more similar to that of an electric guitar.
For bass players who use more than four strings, pretty much every brand offers string sets with more than four strings. Some brands do choose to simply sell the low B string separately, in which case you'll want a gauge of .130 or .135 for a medium set of strings.
Tuning, length and height
Tuning, length and height also strongly influence the sound and playability of your instrument, and as such they should also influence your choice of strings. If you tune your bass down (e.g. in D), then the string tension is going to be lower and your strings will be looser. You can compensate for that by using a heavier set of strings, so that you maintain your regular string tension (like what you'd have in standard tuning). The height of the strings (distance between the string and the fretboard) also heavily influences the playability of your bass, and should therefore also be taken into account when choosing strings. The higher the string is, the harder you're going to have to press it down to create a note. You can compensate for this with a lighter set of strings.
Is the scale length of your bass longer or shorter than 34 inches? Then you can compensate for that with the string gauge. A medium set will have more slack on a shorter (short or medium scale) bass, because the strings don't have to be wound as tight to acheive the same note. By putting a thick set of strings on a shorter bass, you can get it to feel just about the same as a bass with a standard scale length. In general, you'll be just fine if you use a long scale string set on a standard bass. String sets that are described as medium scale or short scale could be too short on a standard bass. Is your bass longer than a standard bass? Then have a look at extra-long scale sets.
The material that the strings are made of has a huge influence on the sound of your bass. The most common type is going to be nickelwound strings. These strings have a steel core with a nickled steel winding. This combination works well with the magnets in your pickups, which in turn gives the bass a clear, consistent sound. They're also quite flexible to play, and can be used in pretty much any music genre.
You've also got strings with pure nickel winding, which was the standard 50 years ago. Because they get less pull from the magnets in your pickups, these strings produce a warmer tone. They're particularly popular in classic genres such as jazz, rock 'n roll and beat music.
If, on the other hand, you're looking for a brighter sound with more bite, then stainless-steel strings are a good option. They feel a little rougher, which gives you more grip on your instrument. They're also a good alternative for people with a nickel allergy.
Then you've got cobalt strings, which have been around for a few years now. These strings have an even stronger pull on the magnets in your pickups, and as such they offer maximal output and clarity, with more sustain and outspoken high and low frequencies.
Most bass players choose roundwound strings. They feel a bit rougher, but they produce a clear sound. Because there's such a high demand for roundwound strings, they're also the cheapest option. If you're looking for a deeper, mellower, classic sound, then you'll want to go for flatwounds or halfrounds. Flatwounds are strings with entirely flat winding, while halfwounds are only flat on the outside. The flatter the winding, the fuller the sound. If that's not mellow enough, then there are also tapewound strings with nylon winding.
It's only a matter of time before your strings will be affected by dirt and moisture. When that starts to happen you'll know it because your strings will sound duller and feel rougher. Nowadays, however, a lot of brands offer strings with a coating; this makes them last longer and sound new longer. In particular, guitarists and bass players who get sweaty hands can benefit from these strings. They're also great for people who want to keep a fresh sound for as long as possible without having to change their strings every week/month. Coated strings are also advantageous because they produce less finger noise. There are even colour-coated strings for bass players who want to to get a little more attention! Of course, it's good to keep in mind that colour-coated strings are generally more about aesthetics and less about string protection.
The search for the perfect strings
Hopefully now that you've read this guide you have a good idea about what kinds of bass guitar strings are available. At the end of the day, everyone has different tastes and preferences, so you'll have to do some experimenting to find our for yourself what strings you like best! You can filter the strings in our web shop by gauge, length, winding and coating to make it easier to narrow down the choices. We hope you have fun during your hunt for the perfect set of bass strings, and we hope we've helped you to get off on the right foot!