Tom is always telling me to change my bass strings. I have to confess, I haven’t given my back up bass (a mid 90s Japanese Fender P-Bass Lyte) enough attention in the past few years and it’s probably going to need more than just a re-string, but it’s as good a place to start as any. It got me thinking though, what type of strings do I choose?
For those of you who are also pondering your bass string choice, allow us to break down some of the options for you to help you make a more informed decision.
Why Your String Choice Matters
Your choice of bass string can have a huge impact on your bass tone. It’s essentially where the sound originates so it’s worth taking some time to think about what kind of sound you’re trying to generate when you play and the style of music you will be playing. The different construction methods and materials used in bass strings can make or break your sound so choose wisely. But what exactly are the key things you need to consider?
Gauge it Right
String gauge is the term used to describe the thickness of the string. You might hear people talk about light or heavy strings. Read light as thinner than heavy which is thick.
If you have the packaging for your current set of strings (check the front pouch of your gig bag – that’s where I always find mine) and take a look to see what gauge these are. Changing the gauge of string will mean a change in tension which may result in the neck of your bass needing adjustment.
In terms of numbers, string gauges from light to extra heavy (gauge in thousandths of an inch from top your top G to low E – standard tuning) go as follows:
- Light – .040 to .100
- Medium – .045 to .105
- Heavy – .050 to .110
- Extra Heavy – .055 to .115
It’s also worth noting that heavier gauge (thicker) strings will typically create more string tension making it harder to push the string down to the fret board and hit your notes. For less experienced players, work your way up the gauges instead of diving straight into the thickest on offer.
What’s in The Middle Really Does Count
Bass strings are constructed by winding metal around a core. The shape of the core can play a part in shaping the tone of your instrument. Most commonly cores are either hexagonal in shape or circular. We find that strings with hexagonal cores offer a brighter sound than their warmer circular cousins.
Wind It Up
There are quite a few things to consider when it comes the binding around the core of a bass string. The shape of the wind, the material used and whether it is coated or not. Let’s take them each in turn and break it down.
Round – The most commonly available. Simply put, a circular string wound around a core
Half Round – Like a round wound, but ground down. These ones sound a bit warmer and a smoother to the touch
Flat – Super smooth to the touch and also warm sounding. They generate less finger noise too
Most strings are made of either pure stainless steel or a compound of nickel and steel. If you’re looking for a livelier, brighter sound, veer towards the pure steel. There are strings on the market made from cobalt which deliver a warmer tone.
You can also get strings that are coated in materials to help protect against the acids and oils that come out of your fingers as you play. You’ll get better durability out of a coated string but part with a few more of your pennies to purchase them.
Hopefully that gives you enough of an insight into the different options available to help you make the right string decision the next time you need to restring your bass.
To help you appreciate the difference the new strings make, spend a bit of time playing with the old strings before you make the switch. If you can, record yourself playing the same riffs both before and after so you can hear the difference.
Now get out there and play that bass!