Like most instruments, bass guitars require some regular maintenance to keep them in tip-top condition. Probably the best (and easiest, cheapest) way of keeping your instrument is to fit it with a fresh set of the best bass strings. Now, there are loads of different brands, gauges and materials on the market to consider, all promising to improve your sound, so how do you find the best bass strings for you?
We’ve put together a handy list of the best bass guitar string sets currently available, taking into account the different tones that players are after, alongside playability, longevity and budget. The right choice will help shape the tone that you’re going for and will be comfortable for you to play.
With something like choosing strings, it can be easy to just pick the cheapest or most convenient option, but by doing just a bit of research, you’ll find a set that will compliment your sound and playing style.
If you need more guidance before making your choice, we’ve got some handy buying advice at the bottom of this page.
Best bass strings: Our top picks
For versatility, the best all-round bass strings could well be the tried and tested Ernie Ball Regular Slinkys, or the more recent D’Addario NYXLs. They’re slightly different in tone, with the Slinkys offering a little more top end bite, but they’re both well suited to everything from jazz and soul, to contemporary metal.
For flatwound strings, the Rotosound Jazz Bass 77 set takes some beating. Flatwounds tend to be really warm and traditional sounding, but these are a lot more versatile, bridging the gap between flat and round wounds nicely.
Best bass strings: Product guide
Ernie Ball’s Regular Slinky Nickel Bass are a classic set of strings, used by countless pros the world over. You might say they’re something of an industry standard. Renowned for their contemporary sound with growling lows and a bright top end, these Slinkys are best suited to modern rock, pop and metal, rather than warmer vintage tones. They lend themselves well to slap too.
If you’ve never restrung your bass guitar before, this set of Ernie Balls is a solid starting point; bright, but not overly so, they’re a great low to mid-price string and a benchmark to assess other strings by. A decent buy!
Rotosound’s Jazz Bass 77 strings have been used by the likes of Phil Lynott, Roger Waters, John Deacon, Glen Matlock, Sting and Dee Murray (Elton John), amongst many others. This esteemed selection of players alone should give you some idea of the kind of sounds you can dial in with a set of Rotosound’s classic bass strings.
Brighter and deeper than the traditionally warm sound of flatwounds, the Roto 77s clearly have a sweet spot for ‘70s rock. But there’s enough juice at the frequency extremes for contemporary blues-rock and modern jazz too. A great balance of flatwound warmth with a nod to the more up to date styles.
Designed as an all-round bass string with a balanced tone suitable for all styles, the NYXLs are competing in the fiercely fought mid-price market – but, crucially, at a higher price than the perennial Ernie Ball Slinkys.
Well, the D’ads may be just the job if you find Slinkys on the bright side – this set are warmer from the get go, without too much new string ‘zing’, but with plenty of midrange clarity and harmonic richness. Fairly smooth to the touch, finger noise should be fairly low too. This generally balanced tone makes the NYXLs ideal for the five- or six-string bass player too, where players will be exploring the extended range.
For acoustic and upright style sounds from a regular electric bass you just can’t beat a set of tapewounds – and these Rotosounds are the real deal. Check out their signature tones on The Beatles’ Abbey Roa/ (Paul McCartney), The Jam’s All Mod Cons (Bruce Foxton), David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs and Lou Reed’s Transformer (Herbie Flowers on both).
The Tru Bass 88’s metal core is wrapped in a flatwound nylon winding, offering a deep warm tone with a buttery smooth feel, plus increased dynamic range and touch sensitivity that metal strings simply can’t match. We wouldn’t describe these as a versatile string but if it’s an acoustic vibe you’re after, it just has to be a set of tapewounds.
Coated strings keep that bright, ’fresh string’ sound for longer and mean you don’t have to replace them as often, so straight away, the D’Addario XTs have you covered if you’re after long-lasting bass strings. Some players are put off by the feel of coated strings, however D’Addario have managed to pack in all the pros of coated strings whilst retaining most of the feel of uncoated strings.
These nickel plated steel bass strings provide a good balance of warmth and brightness making them a great all-round string. For players that want to cover a lot of ground musically, or that play in multiple bands, then the D’Addario XTs are ideal. They sound new for longer, they’re resilient and they feel more like an uncoated string - what’s not to love?
Ernie Ball caused quite a stir when they released their Slinky Cobalts a few years ago. So do they live up to the hype? Well yes, by and large. If you want a high output string with deep lows and crystal clear highs with a slight scoop in the midrange, then the Cobalts are a great option. Prog and metal, funk and slap are all on the cards, but think contemporary rather than classic. There’s no vintage warmth here.
The Cobalts play well too. The iron/cobalt alloy feels smoother and, er, slinkier than anything short of a set of flatwounds, making for great progress across the fretboard. However, you do pay quite a price for Ernie Ball’s technological innovation – these are among the most expensive strings in our list.
Bass players who love to slap, pop and tap will be drawn to this set from DR. With the typical forthright tone of stainless steel, the crystal clear chiming treble makes this a great string for virtuoso techniques. DR say that the higher tension of these strings makes for accurate harmonics as well as great feel for the rigours of slap too. Pair them with an active preamp for a great high end setup.
And they’re not just about the high end. Sting is a Lo-Rider user, their modern tone ideally suited to his late-career material – so these can sure be a versatile everyday option. You might just need to roll off the tone occasionally.
A classic bass string to those in the know, Flatwound La Bellas were the go-to choice of legendary sessionistas James Jamerson and Donald “Duck” Dunn. Opt for a heavy gauge set (as did Jamerson) and make sure to give them at least a couple of months for that new string tone to wear off and their trademark thud to bed in.
They’re in their sweet spot with warmer sounds – so don’t be afraid to roll off your tone pot or follow Jamerson’s lead and jam a piece of foam under the strings beside the bridge for a punchy staccato feel to every note you play. And don’t worry about that high price – you can find them much cheaper online.
DR claim their DDT (Drop Down Tuning) strings maintain intonation and offer more natural string tension in drop tunings. Traditionally, you’d bung on a set of heavy gauge strings to drop tune, which, throwing up potential setup issues, isn’t always practical. The idea here is that you don’t have to – a single set of DDT’s can handle a broad range of tunings, feeling neither too tight in standard or too floppy when drop-tuned.
Getting more out of a set of strings can only be a good thing. If you find yourself regularly changing your tuning there’s a lot to be said for the DDTs. They’re perhaps a little warmer than other stainless steel sets, but it’s no big issue.
Highly respected for their range of coated strings for standard six-string acoustic guitar, Elixir have brought their knowhow to acoustic bass. There’s a crisp, lively tone from the 80/20 (copper/zinc) bronze strings – a tone that’ll be familiar to users of the company’s standard guitar sets.
Elixir’s ultra-thin coating protects the string, preventing grime accumulating between the windings – that means long life and lasting tone. Probably for the best when you’re looking at nearly 40 bucks a set!
Some might say these are over-bright, but we’d argue that’s a matter of taste. We can’t remember the last time we changed the strings on our acoustic bass, so long-lasting tone sounds good to us!
There’s really very little to dislike and plenty to be pleased about with GHS’s budget set of bass strings. A general purpose offering, the Bassics offer a balanced tonal response with extra punch in the low-mids. Don’t expect grinding lows or zingy highs, just a solid all-round tone that’ll see you through any blues, rock, pop or jazz set.
The small-diameter core gives a feel that’s not too stiff. Opt for a medium gauge set and you’ll strike a balance of playability and tone – perfect for beginners or anyone who prefers not to go too far down the tonal rabbit hole. And at this price the Bassics represent a bit of a bargain!
Best bass strings: Buying advice
Choosing the best bass strings for you
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When looking for the best bass strings for you, there are a few things to consider. We’d argue that the most important factors are sound and playability. The material that the string is made from plays the biggest part in what they sound like. Different brands will have their own alloys made up of different ratios etc, but generally, the best bass strings tend to have a steel core with windings on the outside made from either stainless steel, or nickel plated steel.
Stainless steel strings are usually fairly bright sounding. You still get a nice low end punch, but you get the added top end bite too. Stainless steel bass strings can be really good for more contemporary music, like modern rock, punk, pop and metal as you get that natural slight mid scoop.
You can get pure nickel wound bass strings too - these tend to be much warmer sounding, without too much low or top end, resulting in a mellower tone. What you’ll probably see more of is nickel plated steel strings. As you might imagine, these strike a really nice balance of warmth and brightness. If you’re going from Motown to pop punk all on one bass, then these strings will help you cover lots of ground.
String materials at a glance:
- Nickel - Pure nickel strings have a warm sound, without too much treble bite or low-end. Perfect for the vintage tones of ‘50s/’60s pop, soul and rock.
- Stainless steel - Tonally speaking the opposite of nickel strings, stainless steel is clear and bright, with clarity throughout the frequency range – great for modern sounds.
- Nickel-plated steel - No surprises, nickel-plated steel offers a compromise between pure nickel or stainless steel. An all-round option for the bassist who plays a bit of everything.
Do you need roundwound or flatwound bass strings?
Another decision to make in the search for the best bass strings is whether to go for roundwound of flatwound - both impart their own characteristics on the sound and feel. Roundwound bass strings usually sound more balanced - you get plenty of low end, some mids, but they can still be nice and bright. It depends on your personal preference, and there really is no right and wrong option, but rock, blues, pop and metal players would normally opt for roundwounds. You’ll also be able to feel the small ridges between the winds on the strings.
Flatwounds are mellower sounding, with less top end. You normally get a nice, warm, fat low end with some punchy lower mid thump too. Jazz, R&B and soul players might opt for flatwounds to sit in the mix a little better. Like their name suggests, they’re much flatter and smoother under the fingers, allowing you to glide to between notes easily, without the string noise you’d get with roundwounds.
How to choose the right string gauge
The gauge is also important when finding the best bass strings for you. A thinner gauge might be better if you’re just starting out, as there’s physically less string to push down on. Funk bassists that slap and pop quite often go for a lighter/medium gauge too. If you’re down-tuning, then you’ll probably want to look at a heavier gauge bass string for better stability.
Coated vs uncoated
We’re seeing more coated bass strings on the market now as well. These are like regular bass strings, but they have a thin coating around them that helps prevent things like dirt, sweat and dead skin from getting in between the winds. The result is they feel and sound fresher and last longer. They tend to be a little more expensive, but you can replace them less often.
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