If you’re all about that bass (and prefer a lack of treble) odds are you’ve wondered about the different types of bass guitar strings. It’s a bit hard to know what you should be using when there’s so many different types of bass string on the market that most people couldn’t even name all the brands, let alone the different lines or varients.
But if you’ve ever had a hard time figuring out how to choose the best bass guitar strings, you’ve come to the right place. This article will give you all the information that you need in order to make an informed purchase, as well as give you five great recommendations to aid you in your search.
Bass Guitar Strings 101
A bass guitar string is obviously a string that’s used on the bass guitar. Guitar strings and bass strings are differentiated by their thickness. Bass strings are tuned significantly lower (a full octave) than guitar strings. This means that in order to maintain enough tension to function well they have to be much thicker. That’s why bass strings are used on a bass and guitar strings are used on a guitar,
However, apart from the thickness there isn’t really a difference. Bass guitar strings are still traditionally made from the same materials as guitar strings, and they come in just as wide a variety; including both electric bass guitar strings and acoustic bass guitar strings.
What Are The Different Kinds Of Bass Guitar String?
As I said before, guitar strings and bass guitar strings are essentially just different sized version of one another. So really any advice that would apply to one will apply to the other. Heavy gauge strings (strings that are thicker) are still harder to press down and strings that are lighter are still a bit easier. Below are a few different types of string, and a quick overview of the differences in sound between them.
- Nickel-Plated Steel- Middle of the road string with good attack and frequency response.
- Pure Nickel- A bit less crisp than nickel, but also a bit warmer sounding.
- Stainless Steel- The brightest type of string. While it has good high end response some may find it a bit brittle sounding.
- Flat-wound- A type of string that’s wound (the winding is the metal wrapped around the three thickest strings) with a different pattern. The pattern makes it so the string is a bit warmer sounding, and there’s less of squeak when you slide your the fingers of your fretting hand along the neck.
Pro Tip: Boiling Bass Guitar Strings
So this is a little known fact, but you can actually boil both guitar strings and bass guitar strings to restore some of their freshness.. People generally don’t bother with doing this when it comes to guitar strings because they’re so cheap, but with bass strings being a bit more expensive some people find that the extra work is worth it to save some cash.
To boil strings, bring some water to a boil then throw your strings in for five minutes and turn off the heat. Next, be sure to let the strings cool in the water overnight. The next morning your strings should sound a bit closer to how they did when they were new. Also, make sure you don’t ever use the pan you boiled your strings in for anything except boiling more strings. The trace metals and dirt probably aren’t good for you, and there’s a chance they’ll still be in the container the next time you go to use it.
The Five Best Bass Guitar Strings
Still not sure where to start on your hunt for the perfect bass guitar string? Well if so, you’re in luck. The five recommendations below are all a great start! As always, we try to recommend a wide enough variety of products that everyone reading this can find something that will work for them. Happy shopping!
Ernie Ball Regular Slinky Bass Strings
Born Roland Sherwood Ball, Ernie Ball has had an unparalleled impact on the development of both guitar and bass strings. In his early teens Ball was already a seasoned musician, playing professionally in Central Los Angeles beer bars. At 19 he took a job playing the pedal steel for the Tommy Duncan band, Duncan himself was formerly the lead singer of the venerable Western Swing act Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. He was also a veteran, having served in the United States Air Force band during the Korean War..
Ball was also a successful business owner, having opened what was arguably the first guitar store in the country. Being a guitar salesman, he noticed the need that some players had for thinner gauge strings. During the rock revival of the 60s he attempted to market his idea to both Fender and Gibson, but they both decided to pass on the idea.
This led to Ball marketing his new strings under his own name, which in turn led to him arguably becoming one of the most notable innovators in the music world. His strings are available in every music store in the country and have been used by some of the most important musicians in history. Everyone from Adam Levine to Eric Clapton have used Ernie Ball strings, in addition to hundreds of thousands of musicians the world over.
Ernie Ball utilizes a hexagonal core wire for their strings, colloquially known as hex-core. These strings are described as having an almost piano-like quality, with plenty of pop and pleasing overtones on display. However, the hex-core construction causes the wire wrappings of the string to “bite” into the core a bit more. This results in a string that’s under significantly more tension than a roundcore string, making the string harder to both fret and bend.
These strings are also nickel wound, which means they’re going to tend towards producing clear and articulate bass tones. They’re also easily capable of producing a more aggressive bass sound, making them a great fit for harder genres of music.
These strings are available in four different gauges. The bigger the number the higher the tension, and the higher the tension the more pressure a string will take to bend and play. So for beginner players the Super Slinky Ernie Ball strings may be an ideal choice, while for those of you who are more comfortable the standard Ernie Ball Slinky Bass String gauge may work pretty well. If you’re looking for something even thicker, check out the Ernie Ball Power Slinky Bass string set.
Ernie Ball is a definitive manufacturer. Martin is the definitive bluegrass guitar sound, the Telecaster is the definitive country sound, and Ernie Ball is the definitive electric string sound. These strings have been so widespread for so long that they’ve been featured on literally hundreds of famous albums.
The sound can best be described as traditional. These strings have been the model for so many other companies that they’ve almost become the benchmark that other strings are judged against. So the easiest way to think of them is that because they don’t really have a unique sonic profile of their own (unlike other strings, which will emphasize different frequency ranges) they’re a great string for letting the natural tone of your instrument shine through without being altered. If you’re looking for a string that will have a more dramatic effect on your tone, try the Ernie Ball Cobalt series.
As far as quality is concerned, Ernie Ball is pretty standard. The company has more complaints about quality control than comparable companies, but they’re also generally more affordable than strings that have a better track record for quality control. That’s not to say that the average musician is going to consistently run into problems using Ernie Ball strings however, as pretty much every mainstream string maker turns out a perfectly adequate product.
Ernie Ball Slinky Bass strings are tried and true. The company has produced strings that have been used by some of the most famous musicians the world has ever seen. They made their name by producing a good sounding and relatively consistent string in previously unheard of gauges. Though their innovative design was a key factor in their quick adoption by professional musicians, they’ve maintained supremacy by constantly providing a great product. We don’t see that changing any time soon.
D’Addario EXL 170 Nickel Wound Bass Strings
Choosing the right bass string is hard, and it’s getting harder every day. Companies are constantly coming out with new innovations. Experimenting with different coatings and alloys, gauges and tension.
Fact of the matter is, unless you’re getting paid to research different strings you’re never going to have a good picture of your different options. So instead, let us do the hard work for you! Check out our review of the D’Addario EXL 170 bass string, which will give you all the information you need to know if this string is the right choice for you.
Strings aren’t like guitars. There’s really only five or six factories that make guitar strings. The differences come in the alloys used and the type of core. This effects things like overall tone and tension, both of which have a dramatic effect on how your bass is going to end up sounding when you plug in.
D’Addario’s best selling bass guitar string set, the EXL 170 set are nickel roundwound strings. Roundwound strings are much brighter and more aggressive than flatwounds, which is why flatwounds are the string of choice for jazz or country musicians and roundwounds are preferred by musicians who prefer a more in your face bass tone. They’re also preferable if you play slap or pop bass, as both of the style benefit from the harsher attack of roundwound strings.
The only flaw of roundwound strings is that they collect dirt and oil much faster than flatwounds. The reason for this is that the outer layer on roundwound strings have bigger valleys (this isn’t really noticeable to the eye unless you put your strings under a microscope) in the grooves of the string. This traps dirt and grime, which in turn corrodes your strings. The end result of this is that roundwound strings won’t last nearly as long as a similarly priced set of flatwounds.
The D’Addario EXL 170 is a nickel plated set, which results in a string that’s both warm and articulate. More on this later. As an added bonus, this set is also available in a 5-string configuration.
As previously stated, nickel plated strings are both warm and articulate. They emphasize higher end frequencies, which is a plus for rock or aggressive blues. While most tonal differences between different varieties of strings can be EQ’d out, the fact remains that this type of string is never going to be ideal for genres that require a more mellow bass tone. So if you’re a dedicated jazz or country player, you may want to try out some strings that are better suited to your preferred genre.
These strings in particular are well representative of the qualities inherent to nickel plated string, and there’s a reason that tons of players swear by D’Addarios. They have a great feel, and they’re crisp without ever getting too shrill.
As far as quality is concerned, these strings are just as good as any of the other notable brands. There really isn’t a difference in quality when compared with Ernie Ball, Elixir, or GHS. The EXL 170 set isn’t coated however, so they won’t last as long as a coated string. However, coating a string removes a significant portion of the high-end bite, so if you’re looking for a more aggressive tone you may actually want to avoid coated strings as a rule of thumb. And while they do last roughly twice as long as a non-coated string, coated strings are also generally much more expensive. So in reality, in the majority of cases the only bad thing about using a non-coated string is that you’ll have to change your strings more often.
The only con of D’Addario strings is that they aren’t individually packaged, so getting your strings out of the package can be a bit trying. However, this type of packaging is definitely more environmentally friendly then that of its competitors.
Though the D’Addario EXL 170 set may not have the most convenient packaging, as far as quality is concerned these strings are just as good as any of the competition. Grammy winning artists have used D’Addario strings to make some of the best records ever, so you’re definitely not going to have to worry about them holding you back.
Elixir Strings Nickel Plated Steel
Elixir has been tinkering with guitar strings since 1995, but it’s a little known fact that the company actually didn’t set out to reinvigorate the guitar string industry. In its infancy, the company was actually trying to produce a better push-pull cable (otherwise known as a Bowden cable, which translates mechanical force. Think recent gear shift cables or throttle controls in some light aircraft). Guitar strings were just a convenient (and cheap) test subject. Eventually, the company experimented with coating the string, which while the early attempts did result in a dull sounding string the engineers at Elixir noticed that the strings benefitted from increased longevity. Eventually, they switched gears and decided to market a coated string with an improved coating. As they say, the rest is history. The company has quickly gained a reputation for providing some of the longest lasting strings on the market, and Elixir Nickel Plated Bass Strings are no exception.
The most notable feature of these strings is that they’re coated with Elixir’s patented NANOWEB coating. Elixir’s NANOWEB coating is the second iteration of Elixir’s coating. The original POLYWEB still helped to increase a string’s longevity, but it was significantly thicker than the NANOWEB coating. This cut some of the high-end response of the string, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it’s definitely not ideal for genres that require a better treble response. On the other hand, since NANOWEB coating is thinner it increases the amount of treble response when compared to a POLYWEB coating. However, because the coating is thinner the strings feel more traditional. This may be a pro or con depending on whether or not you prefer the feel of traditional strings or the smoother feel of POLYWEB coating.
Apart from that, Elixir Nickel Plated Bass Strings are a fairly standard nickel roundwound string. The nickel plating produces a brighter tone, as does the roundwound construction. These two factors paired together result in a string that’s clear and articulate, though because it is still a bass string it’s still perfectly capable of delivering a good low-end frequency response. However, this type of string wouldn’t be well suited to genres that require a warmer tone.
Elixir has always produced a good sounding string, they’re just a different sounding string than more traditional products. Elixirs have a warmer tone in general, because no matter how thin the coating is any type of coating is going to influence the tonal response of the string. Of course, this can be compensated for in a variety of different ways. However, the fact remains that this type of string is never going to be as punchy as a non-coated string.
This bass string set in particular is a good middle ground between a normal flatwound and a non-coated roundwound. This makes it more versatile for approximating the tone of different genres, though it makes it less suitable for either extreme.
As far as quality is concerned, the best part about these strings is that they last for a very long time. Bass strings in general have a much longer life than your average guitar string. In conjunction with the coating, this results in a string that can be played for a very long time before you even need to think about changing it.
Quality control is also perfectly adequate on the part of Elixir. There aren’t any widespread complaints of the brand in this area, unlike a few other brands. So long as you’re aware of the fact that these strings will both sound and feel different than a more traditional string you shouldn’t run into any issues.
The only true con of these strings is that they’re significantly more expensive than a comparative string from a different manufacturer. Of course they will also last longer (approximately twice as long as a standard bass guitar string), so in the end while these strings may be more expensive they aren’t any less cost effective than most quality strings currently on the market.
Though Elixir strings may not be the most traditional strings, they do have an appeal for the musician who is on the hunt for a long lasting string with a unique feel and sound.
DR Strings Bass Black Beauties
Begun by the son of Al Dronge (founder of Guild Guitars) Mark Dronge, DR strings have had a reputation for making some of the most affordable handmade guitar strings on the market for more than 20 years. The company was founded in Emerson, New Jersey. Boasting a unique visual appeal, DR Strings Black Beauties have been the string of choice for countless musicians. The most notable of which is Geezer Butler, a bonafide rock god known for being the bassist and primary lyricist of Black Sabbath.
The first thing most players notice about these strings is that they’re jet black. DR Black Beauties are coated with a patent pended polymer, which intends to reproduce the longevity of coated strings without cutting high end frequencies or introducing unwanted overtones. The DR Black Beauties are a nickel coated string, which results in a clear tone that remains warm. More on the tone of these strings in the following section.
The DR Black Beauties are roundwound strings, which gives them even more bite and clarity. Though they may not have the warmth or thump required for jazz or country, they are a great fit for songs or genre that require a bit more clarity or bit..
The best thing about these strings is that they’re available in eight different varieties, giving players a wealth of options. There’s the normal selection of gauges, light through heavy. Players also have the option to buy tapered strings, which is an unfortunately seldom offered feature on most manufacturer’s strings. These strings are also available in three different gauges for five string basses, also described as light through heavy. The set also comes available for six string basses, though unfortunately the six string set is only available in a medium gauge. Lastly, you can also purchase an individual low B string.
Black Beauties are truly an extraordinary bass string, especially considering that they’re a coated string. Because of the patent pending coating, the string has all the benefits of a coated string with the sustain and frequency response of a non-coated model. The benefits of this can really not be understated. Coated strings retain an ideal tone for a significantly longer amount of time, which is great if you do a lot of playing. The only true con is that they lost a bit of sustain and high-end response as a tradeoff. The DR Black Beauties offer both the response of a non-coated string while taking advantage of their unique polymer coating.
As far as tone as concerned, the strings lean a bit on the brighter side. This is to be expected considering that they are a nickel plated string. However, they’re not shrill or tinny in any respect. They’re great for cutting through a mix (as much as a bass can cut through a mix) and they’re perfect for genres that require a bit more bite.
Black Beauties are undoubtedly a quality string. You shouldn’t run into any of the problems common to off-brands like bad spots or advanced rates of rust or dirt accumulation. If anything, these string also beat out the competition (Ernie Ball or Elixir) in the quality department as well. Though it’s not by a huge margin.
The only true con of these strings is that they’re pretty expensive when compared to some of the other options on the market, though that’s to be expected when a company takes an above average amount of care with their product. The extra peace of mind that you get when you buy a better quality product generally correlates with a higher cost.
These strings would be a good asset to a professional player who requires a string that won’t let them down at inopportune times, though their high cost may make them a bit unfeasible for hobbyist or less financially fortunate musicians.
Though DR Black Beauties bass strings aren’t cheap by any stretch of the imagination, they are more dependable than the average string. They’re also going to last you much longer than a non-coated string, and they don’t carry any of the flaws inherent to that type of string. And though this isn’t going to help your tone, you’d be hard pressed to find a better looking string. Besides, if Geezer Butler swears by these strings there sure to work out great for at least some of you.
GHS Bass Boomers
A family owned and operated company located founded Battle Creek, Michigan, GHS strings has been producing some of the most unique strings on the market for more than 50 years. The company’s name represents the surnames of the three original founders (Gould, Holcomb, and Solko).
GHS strings have been used by some very notable musicians across a variety of different genres. Jack White has been a long time user of GHS strings, as has Carlos Santana. Tom Morello and David Gilmour have been known to use GHS strings, as have Hank Williams Jr. and Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Stevie Ray Vaughan (an unparalleled blues guitarist) was also known to play GHS strings.
One of the most popular strings in the world, the GHS Bass Boomers may end up being the perfect fit for some of you. Of course, we can’t possibly know what you need out of a string. So read the following sections for all the information that you’ll need to make an informed decision.
The GHS Bass Boomers are made from nickel plated steel. Nickel plated steel results in a sound that’s both warm yet articulate, and though it emphasizes the higher end frequencies these strings rarely cause an instrument to sound shrill or tinny on their own. The Bass Boomers are also a roundwound string, which is a type of winding power that results in a relatively bright string. This type of winding patter differs from flatwounds because the ridges of the winding are much more noticeable. This also traps in extra grime and dirt, which can cut the longevity of your string significantly.
One of the best parts about GHS is that they use something called a “Fresh Pack”. The air-tight fresh pack ensures that the strings you buy are going to be as fresh as the day they were packaged. This in itself provides a great value to the consumer, because buying certain brands of strings is a bit of a dice roll. If you don’t know how long they’ve been sitting on the shelf you could very well end up going home with strings that are basically already dead.
In case you were wondering, GHS Bass Boomers come in three different gauges. Medium, medium light, and light. These gauges are all pretty standard, so if you’re looking for something super heavy you may want to look elsewhere. Bass Boomers are also available for 5 and 6 string basses, as well as 8 string bass guitars.
While GHS is definitely just as good of a string as any other comparatively priced product, the company does emphasize a bit more of the mid-range than what you’d generally find in another bass string. This is not bad, it’s just different.
The GHS Boomers also have a noticeably larger amount of volume and sustain then a lot of other strings on the market, though it’s debatable how necessary that is in an electric instrument (especially the bass). When you can amplify a bass guitar, and use gain to increase the sustain, the added volume and sustain are both nice but definitely the end all be all towards getting a good tone.
As far as quality is concerned, GHS is just as good as any of the higher-tier brands. You shouldn’t really have any out of the package issues with these strings, though of course if you’re changing gauges you’re going to have to resize the nut (it’s not the fault of the strings). Also, sometimes you just get a lemon. That doesn’t mean that the company produces a poor quality string as a rule, it just proves that anyone is capable of a mistake. No one can control every variable, regardless of how much a company may care about the quality of their product.
Though bass string may be significantly more expensive than guitar strings, the GHS Bass Boomers are actually very reasonably priced.
Boasting volume and sustain in spades, GHS Bass Boomers are a great fit for the bassist on the hunt for a bass string that emphasizes mid-range frequencies while still maintaining a meaty low end response. As an added bonus GHS Bass Boomers are also available in a wide variety of gauges and configurations, ensuring that most musicians will be able to find a set that will work well with their rig.