June 02, 2016

Bass Guitar Strings

When it comes to how often you should change bass strings, the jury is out. Some bass players never change them, and others change them every other week. How long a set lasts on your bass depends on a number of factors, including how often you play, the brand, the environments you play in, and even how much you sweat! Old and new strings have significant sonic differences, and depending on what style of music you play, you may not mind the sound of a dead set. (This article is specific to the roundwound type- the discussion of roundwound vs flatwound and other types is a whole other topic that we will cover later).

Old vs. New

There is nothing quite like the crisp, full sound of new strings, but at the same time, the warmer, rounder sound of an old set that is well worn-in has its own appeal. In mellower styles of music where the bass does not have to sound so articulated, you can get by with the set you’ve had on your bass for months. For pick players or slap bass gurus, a fresh pack is standard. Many professional touring bands have their techs change them every day because they want a bright and clear tone at every show. However, Motown legend James Jamerson reportedly never changed his bass strings!

What Happens When Strings Go Bad?

As you play bass, dirt and sweat from your hands and fingers becomes embedded in the grooves of your strings, causing them to go dull and even corrode (some people have really acidic sweat!) The easiest way to prevent this is to wash your hands thoroughly before playing, but even players with the cleanest hands still shed skin and other particles onto their strings as they play.

Warning Signs of Bad Strings

While the sound of old strings may not bother you, there are some things you can look for to determine whether or not you should change them. Here is a handy checklist to go by.

  1. Your bass has trouble staying in tune and/or you can’t intonate it correctly. Old strings have a hard time holding their tuning and you will find yourself having to constantly check or adjust tuning. This can be especially troublesome when playing live!
  2. They sound dead. When they get old, you’ll also notice a pronounced lack of sustain and they will sound extremely dull. Many bass players describe the sound of dead bass strings as muffled or muddy.
  3. They look funky. Another telltale sign of strings gone bad is rust, dark spots, or other discolorations along the length of them.
  4. They are starting to unravel. In some cases, strings can unravel at the bridge due to constant friction. If you notice your windings are looking a little questionable, it’s likely that it is going to break soon, and perhaps even mid-song!

If your strings fit these criteria, it’s time to change them!

How often do you change your strings? Let us know in the comments below!

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