A Comprehensive Guide to Bass Guitar Strings: Which Type is Right for You?

Updated: May 5

If you're looking to buy a new set of bass guitar strings, you may be feeling a little overwhelmed by all the different types and brands available.

Buying bass strings can be a daunting business. Particularly if you've never done it before.

There's so much choice, so many brands and so many unique features on strings - some are best for slap bass, others are for long scale basses, short scale basses and others are all-rounders for all sorts of bass guitars - that knowing where to start becomes impossible.

Don't worry though, I'm here to help!

In this article, we will discuss all the different types of bass guitar strings and help you figure out which type is right for you. So whether you're a beginner just starting out or an experienced player looking for something new, read on for the information you need to choose the best bass guitar strings for your needs!

How Strings Are Made

Let's start first with how different strings are constructed.

Most of the bass strings you see on the market today are built in a somewhat similar fashion.

First, the core of the string is made. Often this is made of steel.

Next, a material like stainless steel or nickel will be wound around the core of the string and it's this material (also known as winding) that will dictate whether the string is a "round wound" string or a "flat wound" string.

So, what's the difference between the two?

With round wound strings, the winding is itself, round. This rounded winding gives the string a much brighter and more aggressive sound. You'll also notice that they feel slightly rough to touch because you can feel the grooved texture that the round winding creates.

In contrast, the winding with flat wound strings is flat. This means that the winding locks together as it winds around the string to create a surface that's much flatter.

Flat wound strings will sound much mellower and have more of a dull "thump" sound to them (similar to that of an acoustic double bass) which is excellent when used on a P-bass.


This thump quality also makes them great for playing walking bass lines.

If you want to hear how this sounds then take a listen to Pino Palladino's classic bass work on D'Angelo's "Voodoo" album.

So are these the only two options?

Not at all.

Many manufacturers offer "half wound" strings now which are a hybrid of flat and round wound strings.

You can also get tape wound strings which are similar in construction to other types of string but instead of having a metallic winding they have a length of tape (often nylon) wrapped around the core.

These strings are said to have the closest sound to a double bass and whilst they aren't a very common choice for a lot of bass players, they still do make a great sound.

Now that we understand how strings are made let's see how the materials they are made from can change the sound.

How Material Affects Sound

First of all, let's look at stainless steel.

Steel strings give a very bright sound.

They naturally produce a lot of high and low end which is great for those that want to play with a scooped mid sound because the strings will naturally complement this sound.

Nickel strings won't give as much low end but they do create more warm mid-range in the tone. Often you'll hear bass players describe this as giving the bass a more "old school" tone.

Whilst steel and nickel are the two most common options they aren't the only ones on the market.

D'addario has been making chrome strings for a long time now that provide a rich, smooth and warm low end. Their chrome flat wound sets create a very surprising level of detail in the sound without sacrificing the characteristic thump.

And, as we've already talked about, you could look at tape wound strings as a further alternative.

Bass String Gauges

Our final point of consideration is the overall thickness of the string itself.

This is known as the string gauge.

If you've ever looked at a pack of strings and seen a large number like 035 or 130 on the side of the packaging then this number is referring to the string gauge.

But what exactly does the number mean?

Simply put, the higher the number, the thicker the string will be.

This will have an effect not just on the sound of the string but also on how it feels to play.

Starting with sound, we know that a larger number on the string gauge (known as a heavier gauge) will sound bigger, thicker, fuller and fatter. The reason is that, since all sound is vibrating, a heavier gauge string will have more mass that it can vibrate with and use to create a bigger sound.

Thinner or "light gauge" strings will do the opposite and create a smaller sound.

At this point, you might be thinking that heavier is always better. Well, it's not that simple.

Whilst heavy strings sound bigger, they are also much harder work to play. There's more string mass to move with your fingers so you might get tired more quickly.

Lighter strings are usually favoured by fast players like Janek, Victor and Tony Grey because they're easier to play at fast speeds.

But the comparisons don't stop there. The gauge of the string will also affect what kind of action you can have on your bass.

If you were unaware, "action" refers to how high above the neck the strings are.

Many bassists like a low action because it's easier to play but some prefer a high action for the purer tone it gives.

If you want a low action then you'll need heavy gauge strings because heavier gauge strings can sit closer to the neck whilst light gauge strings can't get as low.

Types of bass strings

The string range is vast for the bass guitar. Different types differ in tone, playability and durability.

Even with high-performance bass strings, the fact of purchasing expensive strings does not guarantee better performance for players. It all comes down to what feels and sounds right for each player.

With that in mind, let's take a look at the different types of bass guitar strings available.

Roundwound bass strings vs Flatwound bass strings

Roundwound Bass Strings

These are the most popular type of bass guitar strings. They are made by wrapping a round wire around a metal core, resulting in a rounded feel to the surface of the string.

Roundwound strings have a bright sound and are very versatile, making them a good choice for all styles of music.

That being said, roundwound strings are often the first choice for styles of music like rock, pop, metal and funk because of their brighter and more aggressive tone.

A good brand of roundwound bass strings to try are

Flatwound Bass Strings

Flatwound bass string is constructed of flat exterior wire covering the core of string.

Flatwound strings give the sound darker and warm than round-shaped ones. Flaunt strings have a soft feel with each swing. It's virtually impossible to move your palms on flat-topped strings.

A good brand of flatwound bass strings to try are

Here's a quick video demoing the differences between roundwound and flatwound strings.



Halfwound Bass Strings

As the name suggests, halfwound bass strings are a combination of flatwound and roundwound construction.

The result is a string with a smoother feel than roundwound but with more brightness and bite than flatwound.

Halfwounds are becoming increasingly popular for their versatility and playability.

A good brand of halfwound bass strings to try are

Tapewound Bass Strings

Tapewound bass strings are made by wrapping a length of tape (usually nylon) around the metal core.

They are said to give the closest sound to a double bass and are often used in styles of music that require a more vintage or old-school tone, such as jazz and blues.

A good brand of tapewound strings to try are:

Bass String Core Wire

All electric bass strings have a core which is the material at the center of the string.

The core differs in what it's made out of and what shape it is. All of these things will change the tone that the string produces.

The different types of core are "hex-core" and "round-core".

Hex Core Bass Strings

As the name suggests a hex-core string has a hexagonal core which provides much more stiffness, bite and twang to the sound.

Many bass players also feel that these strings are better for intonation.

Hex core strings can be made from either nickel, steel or any other material and are often the best bass strings for anyone looking for a gith, aggressive, piano-like tone.

They also provide a lot of string tension to the touch when they are strung on a bass.

Round Core Bass Strings

Round core strings have a round core. No surprises there.

This creates a softer, less aggressive tone but many feel that the sound of them is easier to control.

Unlike hex core strings, they only sound aggressive when they are played aggressively which means round core strings are considered by many to be more dynamically versatile.

They also provide less string tension than hex core strings.

Before changing Bass String Sizes

Changing the string size changes the tension around the neck. This can changes to the nut slots are neccessary.

This change may be a factor for action too. If you're not comfortable changing the action on your bass then it's best to take it to your local bass dealer and ask for a set up.

When you add or decrease of tension that the bass strings place on the neck, this can influence truss rods control and relief. If this is done badly or left unaddressed then this can result in a bent bass neck. And that's never good news!

Bass String Gauges and Tone

One of the biggest determining factors in tone is string size or "gauge".

The heavier a set is, the more it provides a bigger sound because the string has more mass. Since all sound is vibration, it's important to remember that bigger things will vibrate more and create stronger sounds.

So a good rule of thumb is, the bigger sound you want, the heavier your string gauge must be.

However, the lighter sound you want, the lighter string gauge you must go for.

But there's also a physical aspect to this too. Different gauges literally feel different.

Heavy gauge strings provide more resistance to the player's hand, which can result in a "fuller", "beefier" tone but also in the strings being harder and more tiring to play.

On the other side of things, lighter strings are easier to play as they don't provide as much resistance but this leads to a thinner sound.

It really comes down to what you're looking for and what feels comfortable to you.



If you want more information on string gauges, check out this video I did explaining all the important details.





Selecting the right bass strings (Buying Guide)

There are several ways to select strings on a bass guitar. Often people go to music stores asking helpful sellers to give recommendations. This can be great if you have stores close by but if not, try looking through YouTube and Google for demos of strings.

Here's one I did of Elixir strings.



These video reviews won't show you how the strings feel to play but you can at least hear them and get an idea of the tone they'll create.

That all being said, the way to find the best bass strings is to try them first hand.

Ordering strings online is incredibly easy and thanks to websites like Amazon, gaining access to a wide range of strings like DR strings, Ernie ball regular slinky, coated strings or any other electric bass guitar strings is easier than ever before.

Why not order a few different sets in one bulk (this is often cheaper) or try a different set each time you need to change so you can get a feel for what's out there and what you like?

How to buy the best bass strings for you?

Best bass strings are available from many different sources. They can be purchased in a store, or online and shipped to your door. Best of all about going to a store instead of ordering online though is that you can try before you buy!

This is also the best way to find out what string gauge (thickness) works for you. The thicker the set is, the more it provides a bigger sound because the string has more mass.

Best of all, if you're not sure which ones will work best for your instrument and playing style, just order one each time so that when it's time to change again next month. Whenever you feel the time is right.



Best Bass Strings for Slap or Funk

You'll most likely want to look at roundwound strings for slap. They will give you the much brighter, punchier and more aggressive sound that slap players like Marcus Miller, Flea, Victor Wooten and Mark King are famous for.

Brands like DR strings even have signature sets from Marcus and Victor.

Flatwound strings aren't the best choice of bass string for slap as the sound is much mellower and often feel much stiffer to touch.

This makes them harder on the hands when it comes to slap.

Here's a video review of some great strings for slap.



For funk, you can go with either type of bass string.

There have been many great bass players who use flatwound and roundwound strings in this genre.

Best Bass Strings By Music Type

The best bass strings for a certain type of music really depends on many factors.

One is your personal preference but others include what type of music you're playing, whether you're trying to emulate a certain sound within a style (i.e. James Jamerson playing Motown music) or what someone like an MD or band leader might want from you.

The best thing here is to try a load of different strings in different settings (or at least listen to them), get some first-hand experience and then make up your mind from there.

To help you in this, I've made a video series covering the best bass strings in multiple styles of music.

Take a look and see if anything takes your fancy.

Best Bass Strings For Metal




Best Bass Strings For Drop Tuning




Best Bass Strings For Funk




Best Bass Strings For Punk




Best Bass Strings For Gospel




Best Bass Strings For Warm Sound






Manufacturers

There are a lot of different bass string manufacturers on the market, and it can be tough to decide which one is right for you.

Each manufacturer has their own unique sound and feel, so it's important to try out as many as possible before settling on one.

Here are some reviews of different bass string manufacturers to help you make a decision.

Elixir Strings Nickel Plated Steel

Elixir make some of the most unique bass strings on the market. They make something known as coated strings which basically means that their strings have a special film wrapped around the outside which give them a longer lifespan.

We all know that good bass strings can be expensive and whilst each set of Elixir's isn't exactly cheap, they do save you money in the long run because they last so long. Rather than spending $35 every month, you may spend $60 every three months.

Pros and amateurs alike love coated strings because they keep their new, bright sound for much longer.

Ernie Ball Regular Slinky Bass Strings

These strings are great for aggressive styles of music that require a lot of punch and bite.

Ernie ball regular slinky strings have been used by many famous bass players and, in my experience, the stainless steel strings they make sound great on rock gigs.

They're also a relatively cheap option too.

A drawback is that they don't always last that long but as they don't cost much, perhaps it's worth the setback.

D'Addario EXL 170 Nickel Wound Bass Strings

D'Addario is one of the most popular string manufacturers and they make a great product for bassists.

The EXL 170s are their most popular set and they're great for all-round use. They have a nice, bright sound that works well in any genre.

DR Strings Bass Black Beauties

There's a reason that so many people recommend DR Strings - they're just that good.

They're great for beginners as well as experienced players and they have a really nice, warm sound.

They're also very affordable and, in my opinion, they offer the best value for money of any string on this list.

The only downside is that they're not always widely available so you might have to order them online.

But DR strings are becoming much more popular and common in shops. You might well find DR strings in more high-end shops but you'll also find that more and more big-name players are using DR strings too so expect to see a lot more of them next time you go string shopping.

How To Choose Bass Strings

Hopefully, these tips have helped you think a little more abstractly about the strings you want for your bass. However, if you hear someone play and you want to replicate their sound then try to use the points in this post as a checklist.

Does it sound like they have a lot of low end? Maybe they have steel strings.

Does their tone sound aggressive or mellow and dull? Do they have rounds or flats?

Is there a lot of weight to their sound? Perhaps they use heavier gauge strings.

By having this knowledge you can start to inform yourself about how to create a sound by asking yourself these questions and then you can, hopefully, be closer to building a sound that you like and one that is truly your own.

What are the best bass strings?

Whilst I've touched on some popular brands here like Ernie Ball Regular Slinky and Elixir, I'm well aware that I've not talked about other brands like Rotosound's classic bass strings.

The short answer here is, I can't write about everything. And just because I've left something off the list doesn't mean it's a bad string.

Nor does it mean you shouldn't try it.

After all, you're buying strings for yourself. Not for me.

Whether you're buying Ernie ball regular slinky for a bright sound when you play slap bass or you go for La Bella flatwounds for that classic Motown thud, you should just pick the strings that you think sound good and feel good to play.

The only question now is, where do you buy them from?

Amazon - A Good Place To Buy?

When it comes to buying bass guitar strings, Amazon is a great option. They have a wide selection of different brands and types of strings, and they're always competitively priced.

Another big plus is that Amazon often offers free shipping on orders over a certain amount, which can save you a lot of money in the long run.

The only downside is that you can't always try the strings before you buy them. This can be a bit of a gamble, but if you take the time to read the customer reviews, you'll get a good idea of how the strings sound and whether they're right for you.

Strings Direct

Strings direct is another great place to buy. They tend to have a much more diverse stock than somewhere like Amazon because they are string specialists.

Originally, they started life just stocking guitar strings but word quickly spread of their excellent stock and now they have some of the best bass guitar strings the market has to offer.

However, they don't have Amazon's muscle power when it comes to delivery.

Let's face it, what courier service can match the speed of Amazon Prime?

This means you might be waiting a little longer for your string deliveries but, what you lose in delivery time will be made up for by their wide range of the best bass guitar strings you can find.

Conclusion

In this guide, we have looked at all the different types of bass guitar strings available on the market. We have explored the different sounds that each type of string can create, and we have looked at some of the most popular brands and their pros and cons.

Finally, I have given you a few suggestions about where to buy your strings from, depending on what you're looking for.

So whether you want to get an aggressive tone for your metal band, a deep mellow tone for your Motown tribute show or you just have a sound in your head and you want to know how to make it, learning how the differences in the way a string is made will help you develop your instincts and become a much more aware bassist.

FAQ's

What strings do bass players use?

Bass guitars have special strings made for them which are different from those found on guitars, violins or even double basses. They are thicker and many of the different types are designed to produce a particular sound.

What gauge bass strings are best?

The gauge of the string (the thickness) will have an effect not just on the sound of the string but also on how it feels to play. Heavier gauge strings will create a bigger sound but they are also much harder work to play. Lighter strings are usually favoured by fast players because they're easier to play at fast speeds.



What are the most used bass strings?

There is no definitive answer to this question as there are many different types of bass strings available and each type has its own advantages and disadvantages. Different players will prefer different types depending on their own playing style and what sound they are trying to achieve.



Do bass strings matter?

Bass strings are very important and have a big impact on the sound of the bass guitar. The type of string, the gauge and even the material they are made from can all affect the sound. Different players will prefer different types of strings depending on their own playing style and what sound they are trying to achieve.

Are nickel wound bass strings good?


Nickel wound bass strings are a popular choice for many players as they offer a good balance of brightness and warmth. They are also relatively inexpensive and easy to find. However, some players find them too bright and prefer other types of strings.

What strings should I put on my bass guitar?

The type of string you put on your bass guitar will depend on your own playing style and what sound you are trying to achieve. There are many different types of strings available, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. You may need to experiment with different types before you find the perfect match for you.

What gauge strings do most bass players use?

There is no definitive answer to this question as different players will prefer different gauges depending on their own playing style and what sound they are trying to achieve. However, many players find that a medium gauge (around 45 - 105) works well for them.

What bass strings does Larry Graham use?

Larry Graham is known for using very thick, heavy gauge strings (around 125) which give him a signature sound that is very full and rich. However, these strings can be difficult to play and are not suitable for everyone.

How long do round wound bass strings last?

Round wound bass strings usually last around three to four weeks, although this will vary depending on how often you play and how well you take care of them. If you notice the sound starting to deteriorate, it's probably time to change them.

However, brands like Elixir are famous for making strings that last much longer thanks to their special coating.

What bass strings are good for punk?


Because each player's own preferences factor into the choice, there's no sinlge, definitive answer here. However, many punk bassists prefer round wound strings because they have a brighter sound that cuts through the mix well.

Are flatwound bass strings good for rock?

They're used much less commonly than roundwound strings because they don't have as bright a sound. But you do still see some players use flatwound strings in rock bands. Steve Harris from Iron Maiden is the most notable example of this.

What bass strings do pros use?


There's no answer to this. Many pros use many different types of bass strings. They're preferences are as diverse as your own.

What strings do most bass players use?

Most tend to use some form of round wound string but that's where the similarities end. Round wound strings can be made from all sort of different materials, with different types of core and some brands like Elixir even make coated strings which.



What strings does flea use on his jazz bass?



Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers is known for using very light gauge round wound strings (usually around 40) which have been manufactured by GHS or Ernie Ball in the past. This gives his bass a very aggressive and edgy sound. However, these lighter gauge strings can be difficult to keep in tune and are not suitable for everyone.

Do flatwound strings sound good on a jazz bass?


Flatwound strings are not as common on a jazz bass as they are on precision bass, but you will still see some players use them. They tend to give the bass a warmer sound that is less aggressive than round wound strings. Many players also find them more comfortable to play.

What bass strings does Victor Wooten use?

Victor Wooten uses his signature set of DR quantum nickel bass strings. They're round wound strings with a round core and, whilst the strings can be purchased in a wide variety of gauges, Victor tends to opt for lighter gauge strings when he uses them.

What is the top string on a 5 string bass?

If you take "top" to mean the hghest string in pitch then it's usually tuned to a G. However, some bassists like Janek Gwizdala tune it to a high C but this is much less common.

If you take "top" to mean the closest to the top of the instrument then it's tuned to a low B or a low E in the event of the E-to-C Gwizdala style set up.

What strings did Paul McCartney use?

In gauge 045, 055, 075, and 095, McCartney employs Hofner H1133 B Bass nickel flat-wound strings. There are a relatively heavy gauge that helps to give the full, warm tone that Paul McCartney is famous for.

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