Bass String Features

In this post, I will review the features to consider when picking a bass string; ordered by significance. I will mark my personal favorites with a star.

Features

Winding

Ordered from darkest to brightest;

WindingSoundSuitable for
Tape-WoundDarkestDub, reggae, upright simulation
Flat-WoundLess top-end, more bottom-endVintage, motown, R&B, blues, jazz, post-modern indie
Half-Wound
Half-Round
Ground-Wound
Flat-Wound plus some top end
OR
Round-wound minus some top end
*
Round-Wound ⭐️Balanced, rich top-end with harmonicsModern, pop, rock, funk, metal.
Default strings of our era

Material

There are many string materials, even hybrid ones; but most fall into two categories.

MaterialSoundSuitable for
Nickel ⭐️Mellow, balanced, less finger / pick noiseAnything regular
SteelSharp, trebly, more finger / pick noiseSlapping, cutting through, pick-playing, metal

Steel might eat your frets faster than nickel.

Gauge

String gauge is a personal choice. Lower gauges are easier to play, but have less body and tension. Higher gauges are a little harder to play, but have more body and tension. Here are some common gauges.

GaugeFeelSoundSuitable for
40-100Floppy, easy to bendThin but very articulateSoloing, chords
45-100Like 40-100, stiffer D/GLike 40-100, stronger D/GSupport playing with weak hands or
basses with weak sounding G’s
(like some StingRay’s)
45-105 ⭐️Tense but playableEnough bodyRegular support playing
All-around
50-110Very tense, hard to playCan be a little muddyPower, metal, down-tuning

Core

To me, the core is a secondary factor that affects tension. The primary factor is gauge.

Essentially; hex-core strings will have a little more tension than round-core strings. I find that hex strings step the tension one step up. Which means; 40-100 hex strings will have the tension of 45-105 round strings.

There are many exceptions to that, obviously – that’s just a general approach.

Combinations

Here are some suggestions towards musical goals.

GoalWindingMaterialGaugeCore
Upright simulationTape***
Vintage motown / bluesFlatSteel45-100Round
Regular all-around support ⭐️RoundNickel45-105*
SlapRoundSteel**
Down-tune metal with pickRoundSteel50-110Hex
Solo / melodic / chordsRoundNickel40-100Round

Remember that there are no hard rules in music. You may break those orientations and still sound good. It is a balancing act between sound, playability and band-fit.

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