Written by Guitar Chalk Editorial
Best Bass Strings: Top Pick
Elixir NANOWEB Bass
Though they're somewhat expensive, we'd argue that the Elixir coated bass strings are worth it because of the incredibly long lifespan, improved tone, and smoother string movement. They're just a better product in every category.
Bass guitar strings are a little harder to rate because they're harder to hear. Playing bass is more about rhythm and beat (what you feel) than it is about tone. However, that's not to say that you can't feel and hear a difference in good and bad bass strings. It's also true that there are less options when it comes to bass strings, as most of the electric guitar string manufacturers produce them as a secondary focus.
In this roundup we're simply recommending what we've found to be the best bass strings overall, drawing heavily on personal experience and research.
Primarily, inclusion in this list has been weighted by the following factors:
- Personal experience and actual use
- Reputation of a given bass string set
- String features and tone quality
- Reputation of the manufacturer
These are bass strings we've bought ourselves or that have been purchased by someone we're in contact with. In other words, we can boast a first-hand account of their value, over lengthy periods of time.
Bobby Kittleberger, Guitar Chalk's founder, buys the Elixir bass strings in the 5-string version, which he's using here in a cover of "Dear Brother" by Puscifer.
Bobby using the Elixir NANOWEB bass strings on his Warwick Rockbass.
Elixir NANOWEB Bass
As you may already know, Elixir's claim to fame is their NANOWEB and POLYWEB string coating, which carries over to their bass guitar strings, providing a couple of big time upgrades:
- Longer string life
- Improved tone and smoother playing feel
Here's how Elixir explains the coating on their strings:
The primary function of the string coating is to preserve the life of the string. We've known bass strings from Elixir to last well past a year before showing any signs of corrosion or tone degradation. While that's probably not the most "formal" time frame to recommend, our experience with them has made string changes very infrequent.
Elixir's coating also improves the tone and makes the strings noticeably smoother and easier to play. Low notes are thicker and sound smooth while also coming off as more powerful.
At the same time, the high-end tones are especially defined and noticeable, particularly on the high-register frets.
The core of the Elixir bass strings are wound with nickel plated steel, while the coating goes over the entire finished product. While you'll have several different sizes and variations to choose from, we've recommended the medium long scale set which measures as follows:
105 - 85 - 70 - 50
IDEAL FOR: All skill levels and styles
2. Ernie Ball Regular Slinky Bass Strings
Ernie Ball's Regular Slinky set lacks some of the smoothness we like so much in the Elixir bass strings (more on those later), but we did notice that the Regular Slinky strings seem to almost soften as you play them. They sound modern and smooth, similar to what you would expect form a more contemporary rock or metal band.
At the same time, the Bass Regular Slinky sets also produce a lot of definition, which pairs particularly well with ambient effects and modulation.
A good example is Tool's Justin Chancellor, who has used them for years during his work with Tool.
These strings employ a roundwound design, typical of most guitar strings, and a nickel winding material. Bottom to top, the set is sized as follows:
105 - 85 - 70 -50
We would consider the Regular Slinky set to be fairly balanced from a tone perspective, walking a fine line between thickness and definition on the high strings. While it's hard to go without a string coating, You don't notice that as much after some initial playing and adjustments.
The main drawback is that they don't last as long as coated or flatwound strings (more on those later).
At the same time, Ernie Ball bass strings are also far cheaper than the coated Elixirs, which makes the Regular Slinky bass set one of the highest value options on the market.
IDEAL FOR: Budgets, all skill levels and styles
3. D'Addario ECB82 Chromes
First, we should note that this is a flatwound set of bass strings, which is a bit different than the typical roundwound string design. The easiest way to understand the difference is to look at the two in comparison to one another.
Let's do roundwound first:
Notice the rounded shape of the winding portion of the string. It looks like how a kid would draw birds with a crayon. Now let's look at the flatwound design and compare:
As you can see, the creases in between each string are much less pronounced in the flatwound string. They are "flatter" by comparison. This causes a number of notable changes in terms of how the strings feel and play, including the following:
- More comfortable
- Less wear on frets and fretboards
- Reduced squeaking sounds from sliding
- Longer playing life (less room for dirt and build up in between winding)
D'Addario's take on a flatwound bass string is a fantastic (though expensive) option, which they actually call "ribbon wound."
The tone of these strings is extremely warm and soft, making them much easier to feel than to hear. If you compare the sound and feel to the Elixir strings you'll notice that they're quite similar. However, the D'Addario set isn't technically coated. It just feels a lot smoother than a roundwound string.
To the best of our knowledge, Elixir doesn't make a flatwound string. As such, this set from D'Addario is one of the best non-coated options we know of. The Chromes are considered a medium gauge string spanning 105 to 50, though we should note that the flatwound design feels easier to play and lighter than they actually are. We also noticed that this set of strings is particularly percussive, with a lot more "thud" and punch than the other sets tested.
IDEAL FOR: Percussive, heavy playing styles, all skill levels
4. Dunlop Flatwound Bass Strings
Dunlop's string sets are starting to gain popularity, as they're a newer face in this area of guitar gear (known more for their pedals and picks). Their flatwound string is our favorite of all the bass sets they provide, particularly because of how well they respond to the tone settings on the guitar and amplifier.
It seems these strings do a really good job of moving between thick low-end boom and higher-definition playing with more treble in the EQ.
We don't like how they feel quite as much as the D'Addario set, but they still provide a lot of the same benefits as you would expect from a flatwound string design. They're comfortable, friendly to finger slider and they last a long time even with extensive use.
Again, if you don't mind paying a bit more, they're a great alternative to the typical roundwound design.
IDEAL FOR: Rock, all styles, all skill levels
5. Ernie Ball Extra Slinky Bass Strings
Ernie Ball's Slinky bass set is a bit smaller than the regular set we highlighted earlier and is also easier to play. While the two sets are extremely similar, we like the Slinky bass gauge for beginners or those who might want a roundwound string that's easier to play and not as thick.
Low to high, string gauge is the following:
95 - 70 - 60 -40
Everything else matches up with the Regular Slinky bass set. While some of those we spoke with said these didn't sound thick enough, we found that any lack of low-end could easily be made up with some basic EQ adjustments.
Both the Regular and Slinky bass string sets are great options, especially if you're just getting started and want to feel out your strings.
IDEAL FOR: Beginners, budgets, all styles
How We Chose the Best Bass Strings
While our system draws heavily on our own person experience, and that of the folks we consult for articles like this one, there are a number of common features and quality indicators we can look at when trying to identify the best bass strings.
They would include the following two lists:
What are common Bass string features to watch for?
- NANOWEB Coating: A type of treatment used on Elixir bass strings.
- String Gauge: The size of the string, usually given for each one in a pack.
- Roundwound or Flatwoud String Design: Flatwound strings are excellent for bass because they make the thicker strings much easier to play. They're the next best thing if you don't go with the Elixir coated option.
- Bright EQ: Strings will respond better to the mid and treble end of the EQ spectrum
- Low EQ: Strings will respond better to the bass end of the EQ spectrum
What do bass players need from a good set of strings?
While it's obvious that bass players need great tone from their strings, it's helpful to get more specific about what that actually means. Things that have the greatest impact on tone would include the type or frequency of tone produced, how long that tone can be maintained (length of string life) and materials used in the construction of those strings.
What about EQ? Getting a Thick and Percussive Tone
Bass guitar strings should be strongest on the low end of the EQ spectrum. Technically speaking, this means the strings should at their best somewhere between 90 and 200 Hz where most bass frequencies fall:
Depending on the type of music, this is where you would want most of your bass line to come from, which means your strings should sound full and resonant in this frequency range.
And while you can't really measure that based on string packaging, it's something you can easily listen to and know when you hear.
Coating or Age Prevention
While it's true that bass strings last much longer than guitar strings simply due to their larger size, bass strings can still benefit from age prevention or coating, like we see with Elixir's sets.
This can show up in any of the following forms:
- Flatwound string design
- Winding coating
- Full-string coating
It's not to say that these strings are always or automatically better than un-coated roundwound sets, but they do tend to last much longer and are preferred by a lot of bass players, especially those who use a fretless bass.
Are coated bass strings a must-have?
While we wouldn't say that coated bass strings are a must (especially if you prefer a more gritty tone) it's undeniable that you'll have to replace uncoated bass strings more often. It can also come down to a matter of how you want your strings to feel. Many players don't necessarily like having a more slick string surface.
For bass players, using a coated or even flatwound string should be informed by their own playing style, and whether or not it suits what they're trying to accomplish.
While one could suppose that having longer-lasting strings is universally helpful, we don't believe it's accurate to say that everyone should be playing this type of string.
We like both coated/flatwound and un-coated/roundwound for different reasons.
How long do bass strings last? How often do they need to be changed?
Generally speaking, we put the lifespan of uncoated acoustic guitar strings, assuming regular playing, at about one to three months. For bass strings, that lifespan usually doubles and hovers around six to nine months.
If you're using a coated or flatwound bass string, we'd be comfortable saying you wouldn't have to change the strings for over a year, unless you're in a situation where you're playing a lot.
Again, that's just based on personal experience and preference.
A safer, more conservative answer might be 7 months for uncoated roundwound bass strings and 10-12 months for coated or flatwound.
Should beginners start with lighter gauge bass strings?
We would recommend starting with a lighter bass string as a beginner, just because they make it easier for you to work on form and basic finger positioning without adding stress from larger strings. While you can move to thicker strings later, many players prefer a lighter gauge regardless of their skill level.
Most bass string sets labeled as "medium" have the low E string around 105. For a lighter gauge, shoot for 90-95 on the low E.
Do you need tools to change bass guitar strings?
The easiest (and cheapest) way to change your bass strings is to use a simple tool called a peg winder. The alternative is to do it by hand, but that's far more time-consuming.
What are some signs that my bass strings need changed?
Some of this depends on the type of bass string you use. The best bass strings, like the coated or flatwound versions, will last much longer than a non-coated or roundwound set. Though in either case, the signs are typically the following:
- Noticeable loss of tone quality
- Loss of thickness or bass in the EQ profile
- Corrosion or dark staining on the strings
- Divots in the strings over the fret separators
Conclusion and Your Questions
We've done our level best to show you the best bass strings that have provided us with a verifiable, positive experience. While we can't account for every bass string set out there, we can tell you that these have been the best in our collective and personal experiences.
It has been written with input from Bobby and multiple other musicians who have experience in this area.
If you have questions about the products, the process we've used to test and review them, or perhaps about bass strings that we haven't mentioned here, feel free to leave those in the comments section below.
Otherwise, happy bass string shopping.