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.
Ordered from darkest to brightest;
|Tape-Wound||Darkest||Dub, reggae, upright simulation|
|Flat-Wound||Less top-end, more bottom-end||Vintage, motown, R&B, blues, jazz, post-modern indie|
|Flat-Wound plus some top end|
Round-wound minus some top end
|Round-Wound ⭐️||Balanced, rich top-end with harmonics||Modern, pop, rock, funk, metal.|
Default strings of our era
There are many string materials, even hybrid ones; but most fall into two categories.
|Nickel ⭐️||Mellow, balanced, less finger / pick noise||Anything regular|
|Steel||Sharp, trebly, more finger / pick noise||Slapping, cutting through, pick-playing, metal|
Steel might eat your frets faster than nickel.
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.
|40-100||Floppy, easy to bend||Thin but very articulate||Soloing, chords|
|45-100||Like 40-100, stiffer D/G||Like 40-100, stronger D/G||Support playing with weak hands or |
basses with weak sounding G’s
(like some StingRay’s)
|45-105 ⭐️||Tense but playable||Enough body||Regular support playing|
|50-110||Very tense, hard to play||Can be a little muddy||Power, metal, down-tuning|
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.
Here are some suggestions towards musical goals.
|Vintage motown / blues||Flat||Steel||45-100||Round|
|Regular all-around support ⭐️||Round||Nickel||45-105||*|
|Down-tune metal with pick||Round||Steel||50-110||Hex|
|Solo / melodic / chords||Round||Nickel||40-100||Round|
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.