Although many see bass guitars as quite simple instruments, the things are actually far
more complex than you may presume. Given the fact that this musical instrument
is all about low-frequency tones, bass guitars are actually extremely sensitive
when it comes to tone colors. Of course, strings play a critical role when it comes to tone shaping. Therefore, it’s no wonder that there are so many different types of bass guitar strings.
They differ in so many aspects, so beginners probably feel a little bit confused.
Fortunately, we are here to help you. In this short article, you can learn everything about
different strings characteristics, which have a huge impact not just on the
tone, but on the overall playability as well.
Here are some of the most important aspects of bass guitar strings:
What are the different types of bass strings
Depending on who you ask, there are three main types of bass strings: round wound strings, half round wound strings and flat wound strings. All three types of strings come with a steel core but then similarities end there.
Round Wound Strings
Round Wound strings are the most popular type. This is because they are bright and give very clear sound. For these strings the steel core is wrapped with steel or nickel plated coils.
Half Round Wound Strings
Half round would strings are also known as groundwound strings. They are less comon than the other two types of strings. Basically they are a flattened out version of Roundwound strings.
Flat Round Wound Strings
Flatwound strings consist of a single flat wire wrapped about the steel core. They are typically used for jazz and are more comfortable to the touch
What is the best gauge for bass strings?
Bass strings are a lot about feel and gauge is a big part of that. A heavy gauge string provides a rich sound but can be heavy on the fingers. We recommend a gauge between .05 and .105
No matter if we are talking about guitars or any other string instrument, gauges are probably the first thing that comes to mind. If you look at any packaging of bass strings, you will find certain numbers. Considering that bass guitar usually has four strings, you will find four numbers on the packaging. They show the thickness of every string in the set. It’s no hard to conclude that the thinner strings mean lower tension, which in practice means better playability.
Still, that doesn’t necessarily mean that lighter gauges are better. They may feel nice under your fingers but the fact is that heavier gauges sound better. So, its all about the balance. The right gauges are those that sound good but also aren’t too heavy for your fingers. Of course, this is a matter of personal taste. The more different gauges you try, the bigger chances you have to find your perfect ones.
Fortunately, there are some standards, so gauges are classified on four main groups – Light, Medium, Heavy and Extra Heavy. In numbers, this would be:
Extra Heavy .060/.080/.100/.120
The numbers show diameter of every string in a set, measured in inches.
When it comes to materials, there’s a difference between core and winding materials. Things with core are pretty simple. This part of a string is usually made of steel, though there are some cases where manufacturers use nylon.
On the other side, there is a whole list of winding materials, so we will stick to the most common ones. One of the most common materials is stainless steel. It’s not hard to presume that this is the most durable type of strings, thanks to pretty great resistance to corrosion. Of course, these
strings are also characterized by a signature tone, which is probably the brightest of all materials.
Nickel-plated strings are probably the most popular choice. Of course, the main reason is a
great balance between brightness and warmth. This is also a quite durable material.
On the other side, pure nickel bass strings are super-warm, so you may presume
they are used predominately by jazz players.
Copper-plated steel is another common choice, predominately used by players that prefer heavier tones. The main reason lays in the fact that this material provides loads of overtones and harmonics.
There are two groups of bass guitar strings if we want to classify them by the core design. One of them features a round core, while the other features a hexagonal core. Differences in sound and playability are obvious.
The main difference is in tension. The hexagonal strings are thicker, so they create more tension. They are great in terms of dynamics and a perfect choice for slapping, tapping and similar techniques. On the other side, strings with round core are notably looser.
It’s not hard to conclude that hex strings are more durable.
What are the best flatwound bass strings?
Dunlop Flatwound bass strings are our pick for the best flatwound strings. D'Addario and Ernie ball also have great options.
Another thing that affects the sound and overall playing experience is winding. Basically, there are three types of winding – roundwound, flatwound and halfwound strings.
As you may presume, roundwound strings are quite textured. This is beneficial in terms of the tone, which is warm and very dynamical. However, many players don’t like that string noise.
Flatwound strings feature completely the opposite design. The winding material is flat, so there is almost no texture. This results in almost noiseless playing, but the fact is that the tone somehow sounds deaden, despite it’s quite warm. Jazz players like these strings very much.
As you may presume, halfwound strings are a kind of compromise. They are flat from the outside, while the inner part is round. In that way, you get a fine balance between two opposite winding designs, so it’s no wonder many players prefer this type of strings.
Many bass guitar strings are coated. Manufacturers use different coating techniques, all in order to make strings more resistant to oxidation and dirtiness, as well as to improve
longevity. However, keep in mind that too much coating may have a negative effect on the tone. One of the companies that are famous for great coating technologies is Elixir, which claims 3-5 times better longevity.
Best Bass Strings
Ernie Ball Super Slinky Bass
No matter if we are talking about electric guitars or bass guitars, the famous “Slinky” series from Ernie Ball are some of the first strings that come to mind. Excellent reputation, affordable price and great overall quality are enough reasons to try these strings. In terms of base design characteristics, they feature a hexagonal core, nickel-plated winding and a common roundwound winding style. With such features, you may count on a well-balanced tone, which can cover a wide range of music styles. We also like the fact that the Ernie Ball strings are quite durable.
D’Addario ETB92 Nylon Tapewound
The famous string manufacturer has a plethora of bass guitar strings in the offer, but these ones are particularly great for kids and beginners. The secret is in a so-called tapewound design, which means there is a thin layer of nylon over the strings, which keeps your fingers from callus and similar issues. However, this results in a little bit of a muffled tone, which doesn’t necessarily has to be a bad thing. Jazz players may find such tone pretty interesting.
Of course, D’Addario makes excellent strings for professionals as well, and these are a perfect choice for those who prefer old-school blues and rock styles. That’s because we are talking about pure nickel, roundwound strings, which deliver pretty warm tones, with plenty of harmonics and amazing response. The best thing about such design is that you can get pretty fat tones with medium, or even light gauges.
GHS Bass Boomers
When it comes to nicked-plated steel, GHS Bass Boomers are probably the best-sounding strings around, at least in this price range. The overall design is pretty much the same as in D’Addario EXL160 strings. Therefore, you can count on a typical roundwound design, though the tone seems even more prominent. Of course, we are talking about lots of brightness, with impressive resonance and dynamics. That’s a great thing for a wide range of genres, from the ‘60s rock to modern-day styles.
Thomastik-Infeld Jazz Flats
As the name says, these are flatwound strings, designed for primarily for jazz players. A great thing about these strings is that the interesting combination of flatwound and nickel provides
a tone that is a little bit brighter compared to most flatwounds. Still, the tone is extremely warm. Without any doubt, this is a genuine jazz bass guitar set of strings. Moreover, that mellow tone seems perfect for all other genres that have roots in jazz music, including soul, R’n’B and similar styles.
Elixir Stainless Steel Bass Strings
When you put two amazing things together, you get Elixir Bass strings. As we’ve already mentioned, stainless steel is the most durable material for a good bass string. Add to this the company's famous Nanoweb coating technology and you get impressive durability and longevity. The company claims that these strings will keep tone characteristics 3-5 times longer compared to other strings. Speaking of the tone, it’s a typical stainless steel sound. In practice, this means lots of brightness in a combination with great response and dynamics.
Dunlop Flatwound Bass Strings
Flawound strings are perfect for jazz players but if you combine such design with stainless steel, you get an impressive versatility. These strings will sound great no matter the genre you play. Of course, the focus is on jazz styles, but these strings sound equally impressive when you play classic rock, soul, R’n’B and other vintage tones. Therefore, it’s no wonder that more and more players are switching to Dunlop a Flatwound Bass String.
DR Black Beauties
If you’re looking for longevity that doesn’t compromise the tone quality, here is a set for you. These strings feature a special coating technology, which is, besides excellent durability, also characterized by an attractive jet black look. This coating doesn’t affect the tone, which is
typical for roundwound nickel-coated strings. This means a pretty warm, but also well-balanced tone, with very good dynamics. This makes them highly versatile, suitable for a wide range of styles.
Fender Super Bass 7250
The famous manufacturer is known for affordable but well-made strings for guitars and basses. This set is no exception. Of course, the attractive price is the first thing you’ll notice, but the fact is that you get a lot in return. The overall quality is more than decent. Strings sound very good and a combination of nickel and steel makes them suitable for a wide range of music genres. All
in all, a very good combination of a good tone and playability.
We hope you found this list of best bass strings helpful and found some good options!