- Jon Chema
Few things have a bigger impact on the quality of a bass guitar tone than the strings. This fact is especially true if the strings have been used for some time. As bass guitar strings age, their sound becomes dulled by corrosion, oxidization, and good ole’ grease from your hands. You might not notice the gradual decline in sound, but rest assured; it’s happening! When you change to a new set of strings, you may be stunned at the sudden improvement in sharpness and clarity of tone. I have been wowed on numerous occasions at the difference a new set of strings can make. New strings are also easier on your hands. So how you may ask, do you choose the right pack of strings off that monstrous string wall when you visit guitar center? Read on to find out!
When choosing electric bass guitar strings, the name on the label doesn’t matter as much as the type of string. There are many bass guitar string brands–including Alembic, D’Addario, GHS, Elixir, Ernie Ball, Fender and RotoSound, to name a few–but the technologies used to produce them are similar. Since differences in tone set one string type apart from another, it is useful to know about the types of strings available and the effects they produce. I personally love GHS strings, as they are made in Grand Rapids, MI and seem to be soundly constructed. GHS for me gives a more punchy crisp sound, but is also able to hold the low end down. Whatever the case for bassists, the challenge is to find the right type of string that you like! Below I listed a few types of strings.
As the name suggests, these strings are constructed with a nickel-plated steel wrap. Many rock bassists prefer nickel-wound strings, as they tend to deliver a clear, captivating tone. I personally use Nickel-wound-strings as I mainly play more of “Rock” music genre.
Stainless Steel Strings-
Another type of string you will find on the market is stainless steel strings. You may want to choose this type for two principal reasons. First, they feel smooth to the finger, making them ideal for long gigs and marathon studio sessions. Second, finger noise is reduced with stainless steel, a preference in sound for some bassists. Stainless Steel strings also hold out better to corrosion, and will not rust.
Flat-wound bass strings are popular among players for their deep, smooth and pounding tone. Many players will use Flat-wounds on fretless basses, to give them a mellower upright bass sound. Flat-wound strings are specially wound and polished to give the effect of a smooth surface. Another variation on string winding comes in the form of half-round bass strings, which are ground down partially, providing a compromise between round-wound and flat-wound strings. This half-round treatment provides some of the brightness of round-wound strings and some of the comfort and depth of tone of the flat-wounds.
Other things to consider-
Special treatments and processes are also applied to bass strings to enhance their performance and life-span. For example, some manufacturers treat strings in a liquid nitrogen bath, which is claimed to extended string life and help the strings stay in tune over long periods. I personally think that the treatments are just a gimmick, however many bassists claim they work. Bass strings are also sold by gauges. These may include but are not always limited to; Extra Light, Light, Medium Light, Medium, Heavy, Extra Heavy. Really the light you go on the spectrum, the brighter your sound will be, and the faster your action. The heavier you go, the “bassier”, your sound will be and the slower the action. I personally play Mediums and Medium lights, as I have found them to be a great balance between the two sides.
Whatever the case, choosing the right bass string is really all about personal preference. Below I included a chart to help you choose the right strings based on the genre of music that you will be playing.
Rock >>>>>>>>>> Medium Nickel-Plated, Stainless Steel
Metal >>>>>>>>> Extra Heavy, Stainless-Steel, or Nickel-Plated
Jazz >>>>>>>>>>> Medium Round-Wounds
Country >>>>>>>> Medium Hybrid Half Wounds, or Round Wounds
Funk >>>>>>>>>> Extra Light, Nickel Plated