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String Buying Guide

We all need to change strings at some point, and it is very easy to get overwhelmed by the choices out there.  In this guide we will run through the options available to help select the right set for you.

 

When to Change Them:

There is no golden rule on when to change strings...there are a variety of factors that will influence how long that your strings will last - the amount that you sweat, how acidic your sweat is, and the conditions that you leave your bass in will all contribute to the dulling of the sound at different points.

A fresh set of strings will certainly add more clarity to your sound and make the bass easier to set up, however some people like the sound of duller strings! If the strings are starting to rust or corrode...it is definitely time for a change!

 

Scale Length:

One of the first things when selecting a set of strings is determining the scale length of your bass.  Scale length is measured by the length between the bridge saddles and the nut of the bass (ie the part of the string that is vibrating).  The most common/standard scale length is known as 'long scale' and is 34 inches long.  The other scale lengths include 'medium' (32 inch), 'short' (30 inch), and 'super long' (35+).

Sometimes a longer scale length may be necessary due to a bass being 'string-through', where the ball end of the string goes through the body of the bass before it goes over the bridge.  If you are unsure then get in touch with us and we can help you out.

 

Gauge:

Simply put, the gauge indicates how thick the strings are.  A heavier gauge (thicker) will be tighter and stiffer than a lighter gauge when tuned to the same note.

Selecting your gauge is personal preference attained through plain old trial and error - however if you play in unusual tunings or your bass requires it, these may limit your options somewhat.  The winding, core and even brand of the strings influences the stiffness of the string, so this may affect your gauge selection as well.

The most common, or 'standard' gauge for a 4-string bass is 45-105, and either 45-125 or 130 for a 5-string set.  If you tune down lower than standard tuning then you will probably need a heavier gauge to compensate for the lower tension - otherwise it will flap around, buzz and struggle to hold onto the note.

 

Winding:

The winding refers to the way that the string is wrapped on the outside, it affects the feel and tone of the strings.  Your options here are round woundflat woundhalf round/pressure wound, and tape wound.

  • Round wound, or 'rounds' are the most common strings, just about every bass comes stock with these on.  They have the most sustain and more 'zing' than the others.
  • Flat wound, or 'flats' are much smoother to the touch, they have less sustain than round wounds, but more emphasis on the lower frequencies.  Before rounds improved in quality and became popular in the late 1960s, most recorded bass sounds featured flatwounds - think Paul McCartney, Carol Kaye or James Jamerson/Motown style tone.  These generally sound better the longer that they are on, so even though they are more expensive - they will last longer.
  • Half round/pressure wound, these are roundwounds that have basically been squished or ground down, resulting in a feel and tone that is between flats and rounds.
  • Tape wound, these are similar to flatwounds but have a nylon wrapping as opposed to metal.  Tonally they are like flatwounds on steroids, very warm and 'thunky'.

 

Material:

The material of the string will also affect the tone and feel.  Roundwound strings generally come in either nickel or stainless steel varieties.  Stainless steel is a lot brighter and more abrasive or 'grippy' on the fingers, whereas nickel has a more even tone and a smoother feel.

Coated strings also enhance the life of the strings - they have a unique feel and the tone changes differently as they wear compared to uncoated strings, so you may or may not prefer the tradeoff there.

 

Core:

The core is the inside of the string - the two options are generally hex and round core.  Hex cores feel a little stiffer and tend to have a 'tighter' and more even sound.  Round cores, conversely, feel looser/springier and are a littler brighter in tone.

 

 

Still confused?!

Start with a nickel roundwound 45-105 like Ernie Ball Slinkys or D'Addario EXL and go from there.  They are good quality all rounders that'll get you out of trouble more often than not.  The other varieties will all offer something different, whether they are for you can only be measured by good old trial and error :)