As you step onto the stage, a sea of hands rises in the air, phones poised and flashing. The crowd’s enthusiasm washes over you, momentarily blinding you with a cascade of hundreds of lights. At this moment, the tangible world fades away, and you find yourself immersed in the realization that your existence is solely defined by this very instant. Outside of the realm of your music, you cease to exist, and so you pour your heart and soul into every performance, willing to perspire profusely if it means transporting these individuals back to the place from which they came.
The sound of their screams fills your ears, bringing you back to the real, stunning you with the fact that there are possibly too many of them, to disappoint and give them a chance to regret buying the ticket. The fear sets in as you realize you might not be as good as you think. To drown out this sound of horror you start playing. One, two, and the song starts rolling out, faster and faster.
You lose track, all you know is that your fingers hurt and that your mind is numb to everything other than the song, your hair is everywhere, heavy with the sweat that seems to permeate your very being. They pour onto the strings, corroding them further, making them struggle under the stress of your fingers, until one of them breaks, whipping across your hand. Would this have happened if you had bought the best bass guitar strings the day before? You do not know, you struggle to know as the reality starts to stretch at its seams, just as you stretch a new string across the bass.
What Are The Best Bass Strings
So what makes the best bass strings what they are? The answer is complicated and drenched in the semantics of subjectivity. While you might find that you enjoy the crisp and fresh sound, someone sitting next to you might surprise you by declaring their love for the deep and dark, mellow sounds of a bass guitar. This means you and the other person find that the best strings, for each of you, are pretty different. Don’t just trust me to say what the best strings are, because while I might know for a certain type or make of strings, I will not know the perfect strings for you. This is why we are about to dive into the thick of what you need to consider when trying to pick out your strings.
Bass string gauges
Just like with any stringed instrument, the gauge or the thickness of the strings is extremely important to the sound they are to produce. The thicker the gauge the fuller and thicker the sound is. This is why bass strings are so thick. The problem with the thickness is the actual ability to control the sound. If you are trying to bend the notes or even simply changed the key they are in, you will have to apply much more pressure with your fingers. Thicker gauges also mean that your bass guitar’s neck will have to deal with more pressure, meaning it will be endangered to be warped.
On the other hand, the lighter strings, while giving you a slightly less full sound, will allow you to manipulate them and use all kinds of fun techniques on them. The lack of thickness of the sound might even be an advantage to your music if you are playing some kind of specific genre. Just don’t go too thin, or else the string will end up breaking, especially since you might play the bass guitar a little harder, instinctively.
For any beginner, the best place to be is somewhere midway, a place that allows you to have a full sound without having to deal with the problems that come with the thickest strings.
Bass guitar string winding
Most metal strings have similar construction. A core and, if the string is thick, a wound part over the core to increase the tensile strength, thickness, and fullness of sound, as well as its ability to play low-register sounds. The bass guitar strings are no different – the core, the winding is all there, with the only difference being, unlike guitar strings, all bass guitar strings are all wound. This is because all strings are supposed to be producing lower register, thicker sounds.
There are several types of strings available for bass guitars:
Roundwound – is the most common type of string available for bass guitars, and most often used. These have ridges on the outside of the string and cause more wear on the fretboard of the guitar as well as the player’s fingers, but also seem to have a slightly bright sound.
Half Round – the ridges on these strings have been ground down to almost non-existence, making them be less damaging and easier to play. This also has resulted in a slightly warmer sound from the usually bright sound of the round wound strings.
Flatwound – these strings are most popular on fretless bass guitars but can be found on ones with frets as well. These cause no wear on the fretboard of the guitar and are incredibly smooth and easy to play on. The sound is mellow and warm, much more so than that of the half-round strings.
Tapewound – only the bass strings have these tape wound versions available to them. These anomalous strings are made by pouring nylon as the outer layer of the string. This makes them pleasant to the touch and just as, if not less, wearing on the fingers and the fretboard as the flat wound. The nylon results in a short decay of the sound of the bass and a seeming “thud” of the bass guitar. Fun stuff really.
Humans are a curious species, which results in there being a whole pile of materials available for the making of bass guitar strings. Not all of them are great, but thanks to the experiments conducted by hundreds of musicians over the years, we know that there are three materials best suited for playing the bass. At least there are three types of strings that are most used, so that must mean something right?
Steel – The steel strings are used across the board for all kinds of instruments. This is because they have a bright, addictive sound. The same goes for bass strings – the sound is addictive and the material is sturdy, so go for it.
Nickel and Steel – There are alloys in the world that optimize a lot of things. One such alloy for musical instruments is a combination of Nickel and Steel, which combines the bright tone of the steel with the sturdiness of the Nickel. Legendary stuff.
Pure Nickel – Nickel strings are notorious for their sturdiness, but what makes them the favorite of so many bass players is the mellow, warm sound they produce. It feels like you are playing strings that have been used for so many years they have been broken in. The sound is not played out though, remaining fresh for a long time after being strung up.
The stringing of the bass guitar takes a lot longer than you had hoped for. It is a shame that you are not yet famous enough to have several instruments ready just in case one of the strings breaks. Without your bass, the song feels empty like it is missing something integral its structure, to its being. The crowd’s murmurs started being heard over the music, the fear starts creeping back into your mind and the few minutes you are spending getting the string through the holes and sounding just right.
It is so much harder in the dark, you think. Your fingers are trembling, the crowd is getting louder. The guitar player comes over and holds the guitar for you. He says it is alright, he says that this happens so much more often on a guitar. You should not worry, it is part of performing. You believe him as you finish up and hang the guitar back on your shoulder. You strike the first note, the second, and then as an apology to the audience, and as a way to calm your nerves, you launch into one of the funkiest solos of your life.
To get them cheering for you so that the fear is gone once again, you go as hard as you can. You realize that now that the new string is strung up you sound crisper, more clear, and more vibrant. You start to enjoy your own music, the best bass guitar strings bringing out the best in you. You don’t, simply start playing a different song so that the band can catch up. You are going to sweat more tonight, work more, get more exhausted and it is going to sound awesome every second of the way.