How to Choose the Right Strings for Your Bass Guitar

How to Choose the Best Strings for Your Bass Guitar

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Need help figuring out which bass strings to buy? We'll help you pick the right set for you and your bass.

The strings on your electric bass have a powerful influence on its tone and playability. If you’ve explored Musician’s Friend’s huge selection of bass guitar strings and come away a little confused, this guide’s for you. We’ll walk you through the ins and outs of choosing the bass strings that make sense for both your music and instrument.

Fender Jazz Bass

With its 34” scale, the Fender Jazz Bass is typical of 4-string basses, giving you dozens of scale-specific string sets to choose from.

Table of Contents

How Often Should I Change My Bass Strings?
How to Choose the Right Strings for Your Bass
Choosing the Right Scale Length
Bass String Gauges
Bass String Construction Methods
Bass String Materials

How Often Should I Change My Strings?

There’s no one answer to this eternal question. The kind of sound you’re after and how frequently you play will largely dictate how often you should change your strings.

You’ve probably heard stories about bassists who haven’t changed their strings in decades. These are usually players who love the flat, overtone-free sound that was the signature of old-school soul bassists. Listen to old Motown and Stax recordings and you’ll hear that sound: a deep thud with little or no resonance. What you’re likely hearing is essentially the sound of dead strings. And that just may be what you want. But keep in mind that ancient, rusted strings are likely to infect your frets and pickups with corrosion—causing damage that’s far more costly than a new set of strings. If you’re looking for that relatively dead-sounding “thunk,” a set of pure nickel strings will give you that as we discuss later. Another option is to add a piece of felt as a makeshift mute to your bridge that produces more deadened string response. Some Rickenbacker basses have mutes built into the bridge saddles to reproduce old-school bass sounds.

If you play rock, pop,  jazz, fusion, reggae, or especially funk, you’ll likely want more character and “zing” in your bass tone. Dead strings can’t deliver the pop, punch, and harmonically rich overtones that “lively” strings produce.

When you install a new set of strings on your bass, you may be shocked by their brightness if it’s been a while since your last string change. It’s sort of like cleaning your windshield after a lot of grunge has accumulated. It’s only in retrospect you realize how much visibility was missing. It’s the same with your bass: you’ll be amazed by the amount of tonal clarity that was missing.

That said, the tone may seem too bright at first. But give the new strings a break-in period; they’ll become less bright the more you play them. (We’ll talk about factors such as string composition that also contribute to tone and brightness shortly.) You’ll also notice that you need to retune more often with new strings due to their tendency to keep stretching. Because of this, it’s a good idea to install new strings well in advance of any gigs. You’ll also want to let the stretch factor settle down before making any adjustments to your intonation.

Our friends at Fender demonstrate the correct way to change bass strings.

How to Choose the Right Strings for Your Bass

The most important factors to consider in shopping for bass guitar strings are:

  • The number of strings on your bass
  • The scale length of your bass
  • Your playing style and music genre
  • How often you play
  • The sound character and tone you want to achieve

The things that impact those factors are:

  • String gauge
  • String construction materials
  • Type of string winding
  • The type of coating (if any)

(At Musician’s Friend we make the shopping process simple by letting you filter your search based on the string characteristics you’re looking for.)

We’ll next look at each of these variables to come up with the strings most likely to work for you and your bass.

Choosing the Right Scale Length

Scale length is the measurement from the bridge saddles (or ferrules on string-through basses) to the nut at the end of the fretboard. Many bass strings are sold in specific lengths to match the scale length of your bass guitar. The most common designations are: short, medium, long, and extra long or super long scales.

Most basses such as Fender’s Precision and Jazz Bass have a 34” scale—considered a long scale. Short scale basses are less common, Hofner’s “violin” bass models with their 30” scale and Gibson EB basses at 30.5” being examples. Five- and six-string basses often have 35” or longer scales.

If in doubt, check your manufacturer’s website or measure the length between the nut and bridge saddles. However if your strings are routed through the body of the bass, things get a bit more complicated. Since bass bodies vary in thickness and the cup-like ferrules that hold the ball end of the string in place have different depths, it’s necessary to measure the lowest pitched string removed from the bass. First, with the string installed, mark the spot where it contacts the nut. Then remove the string from the bass and measure it from the inner end of the ball to the point you just marked. This will give you a precise measurement when shopping for strings.

D’Addario’s sizing is typical of most string manufacturers:

  • Up to 32" Short
  • 32” to 34” Medium
  • 34” to 36” Long
  • 36” to 38” Super Long

While it’s possible to cut bass strings to the correct length, you risk causing the wrap to separate from the core wire. Many guitar techs and bassists also feel that wrapping excess string around the tuner post can potentially deaden tone and cause poor intonation. You also risk the string slipping off the post causing sudden detuning—an embarrassment in mid-performance.

Scale-specific strings usually are tapered with a thinner portion that wraps more easily around the tuner’s post and on the bridge end for enhanced sustain. On those strings that have silk wraps at each end be sure that the silk does not make contact with either the bridge or nut.

Bass String Gauges

String gauges—the diameter of the string—are expressed in thousandths of an inch. The heavier a gauge the lower the tone it is capable of producing. Generally speaking, heavier gauges produce richer tone, but demand more strength in your fingers.

Most medium-gauge 4-string bass sets range between .045 and .105. However, there are many variations. Here’s a run-down on some of the most common gauge ranges based on manufacturers’ weight designations:

Weight Designation







Extra / Ultra Light


.030 / .035

.050 / .055

.070 / .075

.090 / .095








.120 / .125







.125 / .130







.130 / .135

Extra Heavy






.135 / .145

Some manufacturers take a mix-and-match approach in creating their string sets. For example, you’ll find 4-string sets in which the G and D strings are of medium weight while the A and E string gauges are typical of light sets. Similarly, an otherwise light 5-string set may contain a heavier .130 gauge B string.

Some bassists prefer to buy individual strings in gauges that match their own preferences rather than being limited to those gauges found in string sets.

There is no simple formula that can tell you what strings will sound best to you ears and feel best to your fingers. As with the various string compositions and wraps that we’ll discuss  next, experimentation is the key to finding the right gauges. A good place to start is with a medium set —the weight most commonly factory installed on new basses.

Bass String Construction Methods

Most electric bass strings have an outer wrap around a steel core wire. The most common winding metals are stainless steel and nickel. The type of winding affects both the feel and tone of the string.

The most popular windings are:

Roundwound: By far the most popular, roundwound strings have round wrap wires made of stainless steel or nickel. Stainless steel offers brighter, louder sound that enhances slapping and popping techniques. They were originally developed by Britain’s Rotosound company for The Who’s bassist John Entwistle who wanted clear, piano-like tones to complement his lead bass playing style. Roundwounds are popular with rock and funk bassists and have a ridged or knurled texture like the edge of a quarter. This texture wears down frets over time and tends to produce more finger noise.

Ernie Ball Roundwounds

Ernie Ball Roundwounds have bright, clear tone making them a favorite with many bassists.

Flatwound: Popular with jazz and old-school soul bassists, they have a steel core wire wrapped with a flat wire that has a smooth feel and produces a mellower, rounder tone than roundwounds. Flatwounds were the only type of bass strings available until the 1960s when roundwounds were developed and overtook them in popularity. However, they continued to be used by jazz, country and blues bass players. They’re also often used on fretless basses since their smoother finish causes less fretboard wear.

GHS Precision Flatwounds

GHS Precision Flatwounds combine the smooth playability of their polished stainless wrap with deep, percussive tone.

Groundwound: Also called half round, they are manufactured like roundwound strings, but are then ground or pressed to produce a partially flattened surface that reduces finger noise and fret wear while offering most of the brightness of roundwound strings.

Tapewound: This least common type of bass string has a layer of nylon wrapped around the metal winding wire. Aside from having the softest touch, they produce a dark and soft tone that is similar to that of an upright bass. They’re usually black in color.

D'Addario Nylon Tapewounds

Made with a comfortable flattened wrap, D'Addario Nylon Tapewounds produce the warm tone of an upright bass.

Types of Bass Strings

From top: Cross-section of roundwound, flatwound, and groundwound bass strings. Image courtesy of Fender Musical Instruments Corp.

Taperwound: Not to be confused with tapewound strings, taperwounds are available in all of the winding methods mentioned above. They taper gradually or abruptly at the bridge so that the core wire makes direct contact with the bridge saddles to enhance sustain. It’s particularly important to purchase taperwound strings that match your scale length so the tapered portion of the string falls in the correct place in relation to your bridge.

Fender Taperwound Bass Strings

These Fender Taperwound strings maximize the transfer of their vibrations to the bridge saddles for enhanced sustain.

Bass String Materials

The metal alloys used in strings also impact their feel, tone, and durability. Here are the characteristics of the most common materials:

Nickel-Plated Steel: Probably the most popular string material, they have a comfortable feel and bright tone that’s the choice of bassists in many different music genres.

Pure Nickel: With less magnetic attraction than steel strings, they produce a warmer, vintage tone. They offer the sound of ‘50s and early  ‘60s pop, rock, and country bass.

Stainless Steel: They produce a very bright tone with good corrosion resistance. Popular with rock, jazz, and metal players.

Copper-Plated Steel: Retaining the bright, sparkly response of steel, their thin copper coating produces rich acoustic overtones.

Polymer-Coated Strings: Many manufacturers use synthetic coating materials that extend string life by protecting them from corrosion. The effect on tone varies from one manufacturer to the next.

Elixir Nanoweb Bass Strings

Elixir's  Nanoweb bass strings have a proprietary coating that protects them from grunge buildup and oxidation greatly extending their life.

Color-Coated Strings: Some coatings have coloring agents that can add some spice to your instrument’s visual impact while also offering extended life and smooth playability.

DR Neon White Bass String Set

DR Strings  offer a variety of bass strings including this NEON White coated set that combine longevity with cool visuals; this bright white set glows under ultraviolet stage lights.

To make shopping simpler, you can browse Musician’s Friend’s diverse assortment of electric bass guitar strings and acoustic bass guitar strings using these filters:

  • String Gauge
  • String Material
  • Coated/Uncoated
  • Winding Material
  • Number of Strings

Tags: Strings


# Nick 2017-01-31 08:21
I have a 2014 fender squire jaguar with a hummbucker pickup, and I play funk and groove based jazz and rock. What should I use?
# Nam 2017-10-30 09:15
You should use Ernie Ball super slinky.
# Jonathan R 2016-06-06 21:32
Ok, so I'm currently playing on an Epiphone Thunderbird IV, and love metal/rock. I'd love a tone like the one Johnny Christ uses in A7X's Afterlife, if you could help suggest something that'd be great!
# William 2016-07-31 22:44
Ernie Ball 4 String Super Long #2849 is what he uses on his signature basses but hes using them brand new so experiment from those to steel strings
# Dylan 2016-05-27 11:20
I know where you're coming from.
# Barry 2016-05-19 07:20
Considering the purchase of a Fender Squier Fretless Bass Guitar and I need suggestions on the best strings to use to re-create a Big Band, Jazz, Upright Bass sound. After reading through the above list of strings and specs, I'm thinking either flatwound or tapewound, pure nickel strings in a heavy or extra heavy gauge will do. Any suggestions on strings matching that criteria? Also, is there a major difference between heavy and extra heavy gauge, long scale (34") strings? All responses appreciated! B.
# Wince 2016-04-22 11:30
Looking for flatwound strings for a Godin A4 fretless bass. Any recommendations?
# Peter 2016-05-10 07:31
I love my A4 Fretless, it looks like a work of art.

I put TI Flats on it a couple of years ago and they sound great. I was a bit worried about the sea from the round wounds I'd had on before.
# bluesbassman 2016-04-02 09:13
Hi i have an American standard jazz bass , into the blues , looking for the best strings for the blues cheers
# Peter 2016-05-10 07:32
Old ones!
# john 2016-03-06 11:53
i want bass strings that still have a deep and heavy tone, but can hold chords and strum it. but not so light that they lose the bass sound needed to fill, if you get what i mean, no one seems to.
# Dylan 2016-05-27 11:18
I may not be a bass player or anything like that but I get where you're coming from because I love the bass sounds that are deep and dark without it failing on you.
# Mark 2016-03-24 10:19
Have you tried a really heavy-gauge guitar string? Perhaps even acoustic strings? If they come long enough, of course (7 or 8 string packs?)

Only issue may be that you might have to tune higher as there may not be enough tension for them in standard.

Maybe try an extra-light bass E string and go to heavy guitar strings for the rest?
# Brad Curtis & The SO 2016-02-11 08:11
Hello, I play a Ernie Ball Musicman Stingray 4 and the genres Iplay are groove based rock/blues. What strings would you recommend ?
# Gunther 2016-10-15 09:17
I have a question on your Stingray -- through bridge or through body bridge? I'm learning the expensive way about through body with my Stingray Classic 4. They cost more for the through body accomodation. Standard D'addario LONG isn't long enough, apparently. They don't vibrate properly and sound inarticulate for me. I've switched back to tried and true LaBella with the through body option. Flats from here on out because the Stingray is inherently bright. The flats with the bright make a very cutting sound, full and strong ... just like my wife....
# Rory 2015-12-29 11:58
Braking in new strings, I've used this for over 20 years, and it works. I replace one string at a time, starting with the 1st, E string. Tune the string, then pull to stretch, every few inches, from the bridge to the nut. I also push the string down between the nut and the tuner. I would run this sequence a few times, retuning after each run.
Move on to all the strings, repeating the same stretching. After the final string, I "bend" each string, at the 3rd fret, 5th fret, 7th and so on as far up the bring as possible. Takes about 10 to 15 minutes, but I can do this "brake in" with a new set, just before gig, and they stay in tune. Also, for the "unwound strings, make sure you wrap the string around the tuner 4 or 4 times to avoid slipping.
# Shreyas 2015-11-08 11:56
I have a ibanez soundgear bass and I play different genres which strings would you recommend
Genres (rock, funk ,heavy metal)
# DeeDee 2015-11-25 11:26
4 or 5 string? For a 4-string, try the Dean Markley Blue Steel Cryogenic mediums. After they break in, you'll find them pretty heavy with a lot of growl. For the 5 string, try Ernie Ball Cobalt Slinky
# Julian 2015-11-05 14:23
I have a squier 4 strings jazz bass and i want to make brutal and heavier sounds wich kind of strings should I use ? Thx for answers :)
# Zach 2015-11-05 22:53
Depends on your tuning. You sound like a drop c or d standard kind of guy, so I'd go for ernie ball power slinkys. For drop D, power slinkys or regular slinkys would do the trick. For rock/metal, I've had the best luck with ernie ball strings though. Hope this helps!
# matovu lawrence 2015-10-22 22:57
I have a passive six string bass and I dont like its light tone when am playing groovy styles am about to throw it to the dust been pliz ad vise me on what I shud do to make. sound better and the right strings to use
# C.J. 2015-08-18 09:48
I play a Yamaha TRBX304 and I don't know what strings I should buy. Any recommendations? (if it helps I mainly play rock / metal styles of music)
# Steven 2015-11-20 07:41
I have the same bass. First put a Gotoh bridge on it, the Gotoh 203 B-4. Then you can use heavier gauge strings if you prefer, I like Ernie Ball Slinky Hybrid (50, 70, 85, & 110) but standard gauge like 45, 65, 85, 105 would be fine and the bridge will make a noticeable difference in the sustain and resonance, I was shocked at what a difference a $25 bridge upgrade made. Good luck and best wishes.
# Jonathan R 2016-06-06 21:28
You seem to know a lot about this tone, so here goes. I'm currently playing on an Epiphone Thunderbird IV, and love metal/rock. I'd love a tone like the one Johnny Christ uses in A7X's Afterlife, if you could help suggest something that'd be great!
# Ken 2015-07-09 15:43
Worth noting: stainless steel strings sound great, but will eat your frets and your fretboard (esp. rosewood) eventually. I used to use Rotosound stainless, but switched to their nickel steel after an expensive fret job.
# sean 2015-05-24 14:39
I always use half rounds but I would like to have neon green colored strings and can only find them in round wound. Can anyone help on this or explain how to color them myself? Thank you
# Jake Thornhill 2015-05-03 16:32
I found my new favorite strings recently. I play a 1990 Spector NS-2A. I wasn't thrilled with many of the strings I have used in the past. My Spector sounds aggressive and punchy. And it really sounds good with strings of the same nature. Saw the advertisement for the new Dunlop Super Brights. Bought a set and now I don't have to search for the perfect string anymore. And they are quite affordable as well.
# Leon J 2015-04-21 02:34
Hi, I use a dean demonator, normally get white dr neons, look cool sounds pretty good but would other strings sound better?
# Brenda 2015-04-19 15:34
We just got back from a missions trip to Cuba and one thing they asked for was bass guitar strings. I have no idea what instruments they have, my guess is not the best ones. Is there any suggestions on what I should buy? I do not want cheep ones that will break right away. I want to get something I can afford to buy many of, but with quality so they will last. Thank you very much and God Bless You for any help.
# Mike K 2015-12-29 10:54
Try a set of long scale flatwounds. They'll last forever.
# David Johnston 2014-06-10 14:05
You missed out gold strings. The sort Optima sell. Expensive but last much longer because the gold surface doesn't corrode.
# Doc Rock 2015-03-28 11:19
That's 'cause they don't sell 'em.
# J.B. 2014-05-25 22:39
I'm looking for a good set of strings for my new Schecter Stiletto Extreme 5. I'm not a big fan of Ernie Ball strings (factory strung), and the gauges used on the guitar aren't the norm in most 5 string sets. Experimenting with guitar strings isn't such a big deal, but bass strings can get really expensive, especially when you have to buy singles to finish or build a custom set.
# Diana 2015-04-21 14:48
Try MJC Ironworks bass strings. They don't corrode because of RN Protects (the stuff they use on bridges and the space shuttle) and they sound awesome. Right now they are only doing bass strings.
# Bying Strings 2014-05-03 08:51
I have a 5 string Fender Jazz Bass, Trying to buy the correct strings for my bass, what would you recomend?
# Ron 2015-05-27 16:32
I have the Fender J Five Jazz Bass and I'm about to try out Rotosound's Swing Bass 66's. Met a pro a couple of weeks ago he said to try these in a medium, but long scale
# tim 2016-01-11 22:59
U can't miss with Rotos. they're my favorite. Best sound and best value, they're good for 2 or 3 boilings, Swing bass 66's last and sound great even after long sweat sessions,
# Jimmy Hen Drinks 2015-02-17 14:24
Hey man. I'd recommend a 34" rod with 20lb line, just in case - those jazz cats can get pretty lively, y'know?

I prefer to land them with a custom-made[blocked] made from the missus' old stockings stretched over a de-spoked rim from the rear-wheel off a '78 Raleigh Chopper, and then punch them to death on the deck, a la Hemingway.

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