What to Look For when Buying Strings for Your Bass
One of the most important elements affecting the sound of your bass guitar is the strings you use. Different strings work better for different genres, different playing styles, and particular basses. There is also a bit of personal taste involved.
When you visit a music shop or go online to purchase strings, you may find yourself overwhelmed with the choices. Dozens of brands, different windings, different gauges, and different materials – which one do you choose? This article will explain what you should look for.
The tone produced by a bass string is highly affected by its winding. There are several types of winding for bass guitars, the following are the most common.
Roundwound strings involve a metal wrapping, generally made of stainless steel or nickel, around the core that is not ground down or smoothed out. They are probably the most commonly used types of strings today. With rare exceptions, they are the type of string included with new basses. They tend to be brighter on the high end than other windings. They also have higher sustain. They are popular for slapping or popping technique.
Flatwound strings are much smoother to the touch. They produce a deeper, more muted or “thumping” sound. They are preferred by bassists who want that “old-school” upright bass sound. Also, because they don’t have the grooves that roundwounds do, they tend to last longer and not be as hard on the frets of your guitar or your fingers. On the other hand, the “sound spectrum” of flatwounds isn’t as varied.
Some bassists like the compromise of the “groundwound” string. They are roundwound strings that have been ground down to a smoother finish, and that way fall in between the brighter and murkier sounds.
Stainless steel is the most common winding for bass strings. It provides a clear, bright sound and is preferred by players of many genres. Nickel is another commonly used metal. It feels a little softer on the hands and has less of the metallic high end treble in the sound than steel strings. This also equates to less finger noise coming through and a smoother, mellower sound than steel strings .
Some string makers offer nylon “tapewound” strings for bass. These strings are much more common on acoustic basses or basses that use a piezo pickup system.
The thickness or gauge of a string is another huge determining factor in your sound. Most new basses come with medium gauge strings. These are a great starting point, and you may find them just perfect for your needs. But when it comes time to replace the strings, consider trying different gauges so you may hear and feel the difference.
Generally, lighter gauge strings are brighter in sound and easier to play. Heavy gauge strings have a deeper sound and require a bit more pressure to play.
Most guitar string companies also make strings for basses. Among the best brands are GHS, Rotosound, Ernie Ball, and Fender.
Which Ones Should You Choose?
Which strings to choose should be based largely on your genre. A smooth Jazz bassist, for example, might want to play a lighter gauge roundwound, A Metal player may want to opt for the murkier sound of thick gauge flatwounds.
A good rule of thumb is to find out what bassists who play in your genre use, and give those a try.