Selecting the Right Bass Strings

Regrettably, nobody can tell you which bass strings to pick or that will play and sound best to you on your bass. There are several variables which will give your bass a particular sound - the wood your bass is manufactured out of, the strings, your pick ups, as well as your amp or the effects you use, etc. That's why I concentrate on my technique and style because even playing in a different surrounding your sound will vary but your technique and style will remain.

Now, with that said, I can show you the method that I used/use for choosing my bass strings. I pretty much just keep it fairly basic. There are two main factors I like to take into consideration when choosing the type of bass strings I want to use.

1) How they play and feel under the fingers. Do you like a rougher feeling string or smooth and do you prefer a thinner string or thicker? Now granted some of thickness of the

string will fall under the sound of the string but you have to like how they feel as well, find the balance.

2) The sound of the bass strings themselves. Do you like a bright and punchy or more of a warm bassy sound, or maybe somewhere in between.

But of these two I get number 1 locked in, because as I said I focus on my style and technique because my sound will change, as I mentioned above as well as the biggest reasons my sound will change, me. My tastes and moods at different times in my life is always a variable, I may want it bright and punchy but somewhere down the road I may not. But the feel and playability needs to be there, so I can properly express myself. I don't concern myself with the brand name or anything like that at this stage, although I do have my favorites that I have used for years however for me regardless of what brand I play I maintain these following steps:

1) Identify The Scale Length Of Your Bass.

This really is vital since you will need the correct size of string for a proper fit on your bass. Unless you have the right length you may not be able to string your bass correctly, if at all. To determine the scale length, use a tape measure and measure from the nut ( string saddles just before headstock) to the twelfth fret then multiply that number by 2.

(You can measure from the nut to the string saddles on the bridge but it isn't really advised, since for intonation purposes the length will from string to string. )

These are the typical scale lengths:

Short Scale - 30 inches

Long(or Standard Scale) - 34 inches

Extra Long - 36 inches

2) Select the Gauge Of Bass Strings.

The gauge of the bass strings refers to the thickness or the diameter of the string in inches. The gauge of the bass strings will have an effect on the tone and feel and playability of the bass. Heavy gauge bass strings have excellent tone but require more finger strength. A light gauge string loses a little tone which is great if you are a string bender. The following table lists the gauges contained in typical bass string sets.

Typical Sets:

Extra Light. 040. 050. 075. 090

Light. 040. 060. 080. 100

Medium. 045. 065. 085. 105

Heavy. 050. 070. 085. 110

These are typically the standard bass string set and gauge combinations, but there are numerous other combinations to accommodate all techniques, styles and alternate tunings that would only confuse things at this point.

3) Lastly, Select Type of Bass String

Roundwound - This is the brightest sounding of the windings and is the most widely used type of strings. Their feel is rougher due to the grooves, which often cause more finger noise to boot. Roundwound bass strings are widely used in virtually all styles of music. They are popular for the slap bass technique, popping and tapping where you may want a brighter tone and clearer definition of the notes.

Flatwound - These strings have a ribbon-like winding wound around the core string; they have a more mellow tone to them. They feel smooth and have very little finger noise since they have fewer and shallower grooves. You might like them if you play jazz and reggae where you may want that more mellow tone. Also, it would be advisable to use flat wounds if you play a fretless bass.

Halfwound - Are between roundwound and flatwound bass strings in the terms tone and feel under the fingers. They have decent brightness and a lot less finger noise. Halfwound strings are basically a roundwound with the roundness polished or ground off.

How I Choose My Bass Strings.

When you first go through the above steps, select an inexpensive set (unless money is no object). You can find good sets around $20 to $25; I would steer clear of any over $30. Once you find your preferred gauge and winding, then go a head and try the different brands of bass strings and the different materials used to make them such as nickel, stainless steel, alloy, etc.

This is how these steps apply to me:

1) Bass Scale Length - Long Scale. All my basses are 34 inches.

2) Bass String Set Gauge - I use medium. 045. 065. 080. 105; they work great for me when I play metal, funk, country, or jazz.

3) Bass String Type - Roundwounds are my choice; I just love how they feel and sound.

The key is to not make this more complicated than it needs to be, have fun and don't make it a chore. Don't let anyone tell you how you should sound over all, this is your voice; leave room for compromise for the sake of the song but don't sell out; if you do, you won't be happy. Hope this has been helpful and that it enables you to enjoy the bass more.