Bass Guitar Strings

How to Know When it’s Time to Change Your Bass Strings

June 02, 2016 29 Comments

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!



29 Responses

Dave
Dave

April 16, 2018

please can someone explain the process of boiling the bass strings

Andre agaudr@hotmail.ca
Andre agaudr@hotmail.ca

August 23, 2016

Hi,

I use flatwounds…. Never change them!

Mark Shadrick
Mark Shadrick

June 29, 2016

I use DR’s they get better as they age! Change about every 6 months, I play for a living too! I play all Carvin basses!!

hypobmf
hypobmf

June 05, 2016

I change my bass strings when they get really dead sounding. I am a bare-finger player and don’t like the tone of a bass played with a pick. When I put on new strings I play for about 20 to 30 hours so they don’t sound so bright. I have a Carvin LB76 Active Bass. I make sure to NEVER put on new strings and fresh batteries at the same time – way too loud!

Scott Grove
Scott Grove

June 04, 2016

When gigging….If I’m Using Elixirs (I’ve still got a couple cases of the old POLYWEBS), then there’s no need to change them. Any other brand, about every half hour. Trolls, SHHHH! The question was stated, this is the true answer for me….carry on.

Daniel Misch
Daniel Misch

June 04, 2016

Back in the 80’s & 90’s when I was playing 5 nights a week I used Rotosound strings. I played with a pick most of the time & had my sound set to bite your head off. I’d change every week. Today I play 3 nights a week & use DR Neons. I don’t require the bite your head off sound & I play with fingers Man these last 3 months or so. Must be that they are coated. I’ve never waited until they really go dead or won’t stay in tune. OMG & rust would never happen. I think a lot has to do with the indentations on the bottom side of the strings caused buy the frets. I have stainless steel frets so the wear will be on the string.

Mark Lehmann
Mark Lehmann

June 03, 2016

My main two basses are a Stingray V and a Fender Jazz Bass Special. The strings on the Ray were put on in 2002 or so, and the strings on the Fender were put on in ‘92 or ’93. I wipe both basses down with a cotton baby diaper after each use. I guess my sweat and pH doesn’t destroy strings. Both basses intonate just about perfectly, and both still have plenty of wonderful tone. Both are active basses though, maybe that helps. HOWEVER, I have played on other bass players basses that were beyond belief nasty and gross. Fat deposits, green, black, brown, and blue goo and nastiness, rust; I would have to wash my hands AFTER playing on them, so for sure, depending on the player and the environment the bass is used in, someone else’s situation may necessitate much more frequent string changes. Several of my colleagues boil their strings; one boils in a ammonia based mixture, and all claim that the strings come out almost as good as new. I seem to remember using stainless half-rounds, but it’s been so long ago. I use a Carvin BX 1600 for big gigs, and a Mesa Walkabout Scout for little gigs. I use a Sonic Research Turbo Tuner, and I play about seventy gigs a year, if any of that matters.

David
David

June 03, 2016

I play a Carvin LB76. I can usually get 4-6 months out of a set of strings. I can extend the life by washing them in warm water and dish soap. I tried boiling the strings, but that alters the tension of the string. The dish soap does a great job of removing the oil and the dirt. The result is an almost like new brightness.

Doug
Doug

June 03, 2016

The first bass I ever owned had the same set of flat wounds on it for at least two years. I wanted a less beefy feel, so I replaced them with LaBella tape wound. For a quasi-flatwound they’re fairly brite. I was horrified. I played with a pick back then and even with the tone knob on zero it was WAY TOO guitary for me. I chuckle thinking about how I tuned them up a step and a half and yanked on them like crazy trying to “age” them. It didn’t really work, but the up side is that I had to learn how to play with my fingers to get a decent sound. Of course now I hate it when tape wounds lose their twang in about a month or two. After that I keep using them, but treat them like make-believe cat gut (quasi-upright sound). I can get about 4 or 5 months out of round wounds. The “mellow-ness” sort of sneaks up on you until one day you notice you’re starting to twist the treble knob more and more. I hate paying $25 or more for a set, but if you change the strings on your guitar every two or three weeks, your spending the same amount of money on cheap strings, and if you use expensive guitar strings, you spend as much if you change them every 6 weeks, so paying $30 for a set of bass strings isn’t really out of line.

Horace ACE  Hall
Horace ACE Hall

June 03, 2016

I have two basses fender 1964 & a 2008 5 string carvin dry them off after playing them .

LEVI GILLETTE
LEVI GILLETTE

June 03, 2016

I Own three ,4 string and One 5 string bass guitars. I have a restring and

re-setup done once a year. I also find that wiping down your guitar after playing, increases string life and body and neck finish . Fore this I use a micro —fiber clothe !

Neal
Neal

June 03, 2016

I leave them until they won’t tune.

Greg
Greg

June 03, 2016

You can take off those old strings and boil them! Coil them up, drop them in a pan, boil the water for 15mins, take them out and wrap them in aluminium foil, poke some holes in the foil, and bake the strings in the oven for 15mins…. ……voilà…..a set of clean, almost new sounding strings!

Scott Costello
Scott Costello

June 03, 2016

I usually change my roundwounds when the indentations from the frets on the string’s underside get noticable and start to effect the sound/playability. Back in the days of having no string money, I even tried to boil them to clean out the gunk (limited utility there as half the time the string would break when restringing).

Dane I Volcjak
Dane I Volcjak

June 03, 2016

… change strings about every 6 mos. I play weekly (Carvin Icon 5 – love this guitar). Suggestions: 1. Contour the upper-back of the body for more comfort.
2. Make available pickups that enhance bottom end (much deeper tone). I’ve replaced the stock humbuckers with Carvin single coil alnicos. They are better/more powerful, but not quite what I want … I use a 4-10 SWR cab with a 750 Peavey amp. Certainly would like to try the Carvin BXR 4-10 with a the B1000 or BX1600 !!! $$$$ … Thanx

Michael
Michael

June 03, 2016

I Have A Bass My Wife Brought For Me From Carvin And The Bass Is incredible. I Don’t Play My Bass All The Time Because I Have Another Bass I Play,So I Haven’t Change The Strings On The Carvin Bass Over An Year, But I Always Wipe It Down After Playing It,And The strings Still Sound Great,But I Will Change My Strings As Soon As They Start to Sound Dull,Muffled Or Muddy Sounding. So I Hope This Is Ok To Do Or Should I Be Chaning Theme Every Other Month Or Every Two Months.

Larry
Larry

June 03, 2016

Great article, thank you.

Llaguno
Llaguno

June 03, 2016

At an average $25.00 for set of four strings (some higher priced) as often as you can afford. I change my 6 string guitar sets more often they only average $5.00/ set haha.

Michael Gardner
Michael Gardner

June 03, 2016

I have two sets of stainless steel strings for each bass, which I trade about every two months. While using one set, the other set gets a 48 hour bath in denatured alcohol. I have gotten about 8 years out ofor the current sets and they still sound brand new when I change them.

Rudy Garcia
Rudy Garcia

June 03, 2016

I change then once a year, and whipe them down after each gig!

Bear
Bear

June 03, 2016

I change strings when they are no longer in tune at the 12th fret…as long as they are tuned from open to the 12th, I’m good….

Dave Farr
Dave Farr

June 03, 2016

I usually replace my strings about once a year, or longer. I go by the brightness. When I can no longer EQ in the brightness I want, I replace them. It seems to work for me.

Colie Brice
Colie Brice

June 03, 2016

The skunkier the funkier, just let them be!

Mike Robinson
Mike Robinson

June 03, 2016

On the average for my active bass, about once a year as we play about 8 to 10 gigs a year but practice every other week. I use Elixir strings exclusively on all my Tele’s, basses and acoustics which total 10 guitars.

Dutch
Dutch

June 03, 2016

Playing twice weekly I change my strings every 3 months on my main basses. Others are changed once a year.

Michael Sulkey
Michael Sulkey

June 03, 2016

I was playing a friend’s old bass, and I noticed rust on the fingertips of both my hands. He told me he had never changed his strings. The bass was around 15 years old. Sounded fine though!

Douglas Hungerford
Douglas Hungerford

June 03, 2016

Typically I can get appox 3 weeks out of a set of strings. I like that full growl that new strings give. A lot of that depends on how busy the current band I’m playing in is. We usually play every Fri and Sat night and sometimes either Thur or Sun night too. With that being said If any fest event comes up I make sure I have a fresh set of strings for that. I’m currently bringing 2 basses to each show one tuned standard and the other tuned down a full step. It all boils down to your ears should tell you when to change…………hope this helps!!

Dr. Joe Baldassare
Dr. Joe Baldassare

June 03, 2016

On my Rickenbackers, 7-string and Jazz bass, I use bright round wounds. I play on them for 2 to 3 months (cleaning them after each use) and when they start to get dull, I boil them in a spaghetti pot with water and white vinegar – usually getting another month of use out of them.
On my fretless basses, the Hofner, and the Rivoli, I use flat wounds and usually get 2 to 3 years out of them, as I am going for a totally different sound and use these for different musical styles.

Pete
Pete

June 03, 2016

Everyone seems to complain about the cost of a good set of bass strings. Maybe I’m getting old, but I think I’m paying about half of what I used to pay 25 years ago, and that doesn’t even include adjusting for inflation.

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