The Ultimate Guide to Bass Guitar Strings

A band wouldn’t be the same without a rhythm section, made up of the drummer, the bassist, and keyboard players. They are essentially the backbone of the sound and provide a prominent “beat” for the other performers to follow. 

Bassists add a layer of depth, character, and texture to a piece of music that completely changes the way it would otherwise sound. And it’d be pretty impossible to play the bass guitar without strings!

Bass strings are typically quite thick and give the instrument its well-known guttural tone. But knowing which strings would be better suited to your bass guitar can be quite difficult. 

How often do bass strings need to be changed? What strings will produce the best sound? What is the difference between bass strings and guitar strings? If you’re looking for the answer to any of these questions, this guide has got you covered! 

Bass strings come in many different materials and gauges, so we know that figuring out which strings will best suit your instrument can be quite difficult. That’s where we come in! We’ve created this handy guide (with some FAQs included) to help satiate your burning curiosity!

The Ultimate Guide to Bass Guitar Strings

Different Types of Bass and Their Strings

Unlike playing chords on a guitar, the bass guitar requires you to play notes using open strings. An open string is usually played without having to press down on top of any fret.

This results in more fingerpicking, creating the familiar low-register notes that can be easily recognized. There are the three most common bass types which we have listed below. Beginning at the apex of your bass guitar here is the order of the strings and the open note associated with each. 

Notes in Order: Thickest to Thinnest String

4 String Bass 

This is the best bass guitar to buy as a beginner player.

  • 4th = E
  • 3rd = A
  • 2nd = D
  • 1st = G

5 String Bass 

This bass has an additional B string which helps to add a further dimension to the sound. The string order is as follows: 

  • ​5th = B
  • 4th = E
  • 3rd = A
  • 2nd = D
  • 1st = G

6 String Bass

This bass features extra B and C strings. It is the best bass to choose from if you need to play a wider note register. 

  • ​6th = B
  • 5th = E
  • 4th = A
  • 3rd = D
  • 2nd = G
  • 1st = C

What Are Bass Guitar Strings Made Of?

Any good bass player knows that a solid, coherent riff can make a crowd go wild. Therefore the quality of the sound that is produced by your bass strings is extremely important. While bass strings are made from many different materials, there are a select few that manufacturers tend to stick with to create a more authentic, clean playing experience.

Most Common Materials

Stainless Steel 

If you’re after a crispier, tangier sound these strings are the perfect choice for you. They are corrosion resistant and help to brighten up an otherwise dark-sounding instrument.

Pure Nickel 

These strings help to create a much warmer sound. They work best for players who prefer listening to or playing 50s and 60s inspired rock (or any piece of music heavily dependent on the bass sound). 

Copper Plated Steel 

These strings feature a thinner copper coating but have all the high-quality acoustic sounds of stainless steel, making them a highly practical choice for the average live performer.

Polymer Coating 

Using synthetics to coat bass guitar strings not only reduces the risk of corrosion but also helps to extend the life of your strings. 

Color-Coding 

This is the best way to liven up the sounds produced by your bass. Color-coded strings are also a great choice if you want to have a visual impact on the audience.  

The Difference Between Bass and Standard Guitar Strings  

There aren’t many extreme differences between bass strings and guitar strings. However, because of the type of guttural sound the bass produces, its strings are typically bigger and thicker.

As a result, you can purchase bass strings in more variations than you can of standard guitar strings, with both Roundwood and flatwood configuration styles available. 

Roundwound strings are most commonly used amongst bassists and are a great choice to play anything from classic rock to jazz. We would like to note that flatwound strings aren’t that uncommon and can be found far more frequently than they are in the guitar world. 

These strings are ideal for 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 a more impactful sound. 

  • Roundwound – This is the most common bass string type. It generally features ridges on the winding.
  • Half Round – These have been ground down to give a much smoother feel. They also help to create a warmer-sounding tone for your instrument. 
  • Flatwound – These are great for fretless basses. They are smooth and help to reduce the overall noise produced by fingerpicking your bass. You’ll also be able to achieve a warmer sound!
  • Tapewound – Features an outer layer of nylon that helps you to cease sound as and when needed (also referred to as ‘decay’). This helps to make the slap bass technique much easier to carry out as you can change the sound if it is required. 

String Construction

Windings 

The bass string is relatively straightforward when you break it down. All components merge to produce the rhythmic sound we all know and love. A metal core wire runs through the middle of the string, giving the shape and elasticity needed. It is connected to a brass ferrule (also known as the “ball end”) that fixes the string to the bridge of your bass. 

Around the metal core wire is another round wrap wire, which is the part that your fingers press against the fingerboard. 

Core 

Windings go around the core to create larger, wound strings. The core is located at the center of the string and is usually made from steel. Not only does this make the bass guitar more durable but it also helps to ensure the longevity of your instrument. The two basic cores are round and hex. 

  • Round Core – helps to create a more balanced, vintage-like tone.
  • Hex Core –  the most common type of core. Helps to produce a brighter sound for a higher-quality and more consistent performance. Also increases the tension.
Bass Strings Gauges

Bass String Gauges

The string gauge is a vital part of ensuring the playability and tone of your instrument (how “heavy” or “light” it is). It simply refers to the thickness of the string and is typically measured via the diameter of the string and is expressed using the measurement of thousands for each inch.

A standard 4-string bass guitar will feature medium gauge strings ranging between 0.045 and 0.105 inches in thickness. For instance, a heavier string gauge on your bass guitar can result in a lower but much richer tone sound being produced. However, this does also depends on your finger strength.  

But why does the gauge matter so much when it comes to 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. Changing between gauges completely alters the tension of your strings. Therefore you may need to adjust the neck of your bass guitar.

You should look at choosing a gauge to suit your specific taste and your playing needs. The most useful set for a beginner is the medium setting but as you gain confidence with your skills, you can experiment with other gauge sizes. 

When to Change Your Strings

Once you’re familiar with your instrument, it becomes much easier to tell when the strings need to be replaced. In urgent situations, you may notice a build-up of dirt (caused by sweat) or even rust.

This is both dangerous and inconvenient as you could hurt your fingers, and it may have a drastic effect on the sounds that your instrument produces. 

Deciding when to change your strings is a different case for each bassist. And, it largely depends on the frequency and intensity of your playing. For instance, a casual player may only need to change their strings once every couple of months, whereas touring bass players may have to change their strings every day!

Professional bassists tend to also wipe down the fingerboard and bass surface after each use to keep things clean. But if you’re seeking an equally dark but crisp sound each time you play, then you should most definitely aim to change your strings as often as you can!

Frequently Asked Questions

Do Bass Guitar Strings Make A Difference? 

Bass guitars help to steer a piece of music in a specific direction. Essentially, bass guitar strings can make a large difference in the tone produced by your instrument. Whether you want to create a brighter sound or deliver something much punchier, bass strings are an important part of finding the perfect bass sound. 

What Is the Standard Bass String Gauge? 

Lighter gauge strings tend to be the most common, or the ‘standard’, for bass players. They are also much easier on your fingers, which is an essential factor for more inexperienced bass players. If you decide that you want to change to heavier gauge strings, you should be prepared to alter the way you play. They are much tenser and will require a bit of adjustment. 

What Type of Bass Strings Do I Need? 

There isn’t a specific answer to this. A string gauge helps to determine exactly how your bass strings will feel and sound when you play your instrument. Heavy-gauge strings require more finger power than a lighter set, but they feature a richer bottom-end.

Simply, you should match the gauge to the sound you want to create and the style that you prefer to play in. 

Is It Expensive to Replace Bass Strings?

No, not entirely. Replacing bass strings can be a relatively cost-effective experience and will only set you back a couple of dollars. But if you love your instrument, it’s a small price to pay to create the sound you know and love.

Additionally, this process can either be carried out by a professional or done at home (as long as you have the right knowledge, of course). Just keep in mind you’ll be forking out for extra labor costs if you do choose to have it done professionally.

Summary

Bass guitar strings are a vital part of your instrument and the sound it produces. As you grow in skill and confidence, you may find yourself experimenting with different gauges, types, and materials until you find the perfect ones for you. This will help you to notice any variations in the feel and sound quality of your instrument. 

We hope our guide has been helpful in outlining everything you need to know and look out for when looking to replace (or buy) bass guitar strings!

Andrew Patterson
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