10 Best Bass Strings in 2020 for Upgrading Your Stock Bass Guitars
It’s very rare to find a new bass guitar that comes with the best bass strings pre-installed. Unless you’re ordering a custom bass guitar and ask for specific strings, this is just not going to happen.
Once you’ve picked your bass and gotten a feel for it, and perhaps started to learn some chords and licks, it’d be time to replace your stock strings with something better.
The possibilities are endless just as they are with guitar strings. All except there are some technical differences between guitar strings and bass guitar strings that might make pairing your bass with new strings even more challenging.
10 Best Bass Strings - Roundwound & Flatwound
Take a look at my top picks along with my top tips for picking bass strings that can make this process go a lot smoother.
Table of Contents
- 10 Best Bass Strings - Roundwound & Flatwound
- 1. GHS M3045
- 2. DR Black Beauties Bass Strings
- 3. Fender 9050 Stainless Flatwound Bass Strings
- 4. Ernie Ball Extra Slinky Bass Strings
- 5. D’Addario EXL160
- 6. La Bella 760FHB2
- 7. Rotosound RS77LD Jazz Bass Strings
- 8. Elixir 4-String Bass Strings
- 9. Ernie Ball Regular Slinky Flatwound Bass Strings
- 10. D’Addario ETB92
- Know Your Bass Guitar’s Scale Length
- What You Need to Know about String Windings
- Are Coated Strings Always Better?
- How Much Do Materials Matter?
- Don’t Despair over Pricing
1. GHS M3045
The GHS M3045 is a set of versatile 4-string bass strings that would be comfortable in a variety of genres. They can give you a mellow tone if you play them softly or an impressive loudness and edge if you dig into them harder. Especially when played lower on the fretboard, the note articulation is noticeable and can cut through the mix.
Designed for long scale 4-string bass guitars, these .045 - .105 gauge strings also offer a great deal of sustain. They require a bit of finger strength for sure, but they’re smooth to play on. With a bit of skill on your part, playing on these strings would be the equivalent of driving an F1 Ferrari race car of the 90s. Pure speed and precision.
The M3045s are roundwound nickel plated steel strings with a strengthened core. Hence the strength and durability of the strings. They’re suitable for blues, rock ’n’ roll, and even hard rock. They may even be useful in some metal subgenres, although there are better options for that type of aggressive playing.
These strings are medium gauge (.045 - .105) bass guitar strings. They have a unique tone and offer a distinctive feel due to their signature black polymer coating. Although the coating is very thin, it will still alter the classic bass string feel that you may be accustomed to.
The polymer not only changes the sound but it can also extend the string life. As far as the tone is concerned, the DR Black Beauties have a unique and articulated crispness as well as impressive volume.
While most medium gauge strings are not recommended for beginners, the polymer coating on these DR strings makes them smoother to play on. When properly maintained and lubed, you can slide up and down the fretboard at great speed with minimal effort.
Just make sure not to use alcohol-heavy cleaning products on the strings. Seeing as these are handmade strings, it’s only natural that the price is slightly higher. However, the longer life compensates for that.
I also think that the black coating gives the strings a unique finish that you won’t see in many performances. That should also make up for the higher price point.
This is a set of Fender 9050 medium gauge .045 - .100 strings. They’re often regarded as one of the best flatwound bass strings due to how mellow they sound. The finger noise is barely noticeable, which is very convenient if you don’t pluck with your pick that often and prefer fingerpicking instead.
These are definitely a very good replacement over stock strings, especially if you own a fretless bass. The tone is as vintage as it gets. This makes them ideal for jazz, blues, country, and more eclectic genres such as reggae.
The 9050 strings are also durable. Don’t let their smoothness fool you. Although they’re medium gauge, they should also be suitable for beginners and students as they are easier to play on than roundwound strings.
Last but not least, what better way to stay true to the brand than to use 9050 vintage strings on your Fender bass guitar?
No one would be surprised that Ernie Ball makes popular bass guitar strings as well. The Extra Slinky Bass strings have been designed for long scale bass guitars and bass players that prefer a punchier sound.
Why punchy? – Because although these strings feel slinky, they have a crisp bright tone. Part of it is achieved through the use of a custom gauge. This 4-string set is made up of .040, .060, .070, and .095 strings. What starts out as medium gauge ends up being slightly thinner.
You can slap and pop these strings with ease. They’re flexible and strong. At the same time, you can shred them too, thanks to their smooth finish and thinner gauge.
There’s also a small hint of vintage bass tone. The note articulation is better on the high strings but the sustain is equally good for every note.
The EXL160 bass strings come in multiple scale lengths and gauges. My recommendation is the medium gauge .50 - .105. This medium to heavy gauge set of strings has a lot of volume and a surprisingly bright tone.
Surprisingly bright because the EXL160s are roundwound nickel-plated strings. While this combination is known to be bright, it’s also known to deliver a rather balanced sound. And yet, the nickel-wound EXL160s sound quite familiar to the ProSteels version, just not with the same amount of sustain.
The feel of the strings is great for experienced bass players. Beginners will have a hard time adjusting to this gauge and ruggedness when swapping their stock bass strings for the EXL160. These strings are powerful and articulate but come with a learning curve.
If you don’t have rock-hard calluses yet, you might want to skip the D’Addario EXL160 medium gauge strings. Or wait a little longer before you start running scales on them.
This is a 4-string light gauge bass string set. It has the following string gauges: 0.39, .056, .077, .096. The lightness and flexibility of the strings, as well as their thin design, should be enough to accommodate most beginner bass players, students, and anyone in general that prefers to play really fast.
If you’re looking for something warmer and mellower that can really eliminate all finger noises, these flatwound stainless steel strings might be for you.
It’s interesting how tone-rich these La Bella strings actually are. The use of stainless steel is known to improve brightness and crunch. However, due to the flatwound design, there’s also a fat sound component and a warmer vibe.
Although originally designed to mimic the iconic Beatles bass sound, the La Bella 760FHB2 strings can do more than just rip off Sir Paul’s rather unique tone.
With their classic flatwound design and smooth feel, the Rotosound RS77LD may just be the best jazz bass strings on the market. They come in a variety of gauges. The medium gauge, .045 - .0105 set is the one I recommend for its higher user-friendliness.
Whether you want to use them on a standard bass or a fretless bass guitar, it really doesn’t make any difference. The sound is deep and warm. Of course, with some EQ adjustments you should be able to get some crunch out of them.
The sound is fairly even, consistent across all frequencies, and not too loud. Although these strings are intended for use in a long scale bass guitar, Rotosound also makes a custom medium gauge set for shorter scale bass guitars.
Elixir’s 4-string bass string set is also ideal for long scale bass guitars. They come in two gauges, light medium and medium. The latter will give you better sustain and stay in tune longer. In contrast, the light medium strings are more beginner-friendly, easier to bend, and easier to slap and pop.
These strings are standard nickel-plated steel strings. However, they also have a Nanoweb coating that Elixir is most famous for. This coating gives the strings an extra smooth feel with improved grip. Better grip should translate to improved accuracy on your part.
Both the string and tone lives are off the charts. Thanks to the unique coating used by Elixir, these are among the few bass strings that can last for years. This accounts for the slightly higher price tag.
What I really like about the Regular Slinky strings from Ernie Ball is that they come in both 4-string and 5-string sets. The flatwound design may be a throwback to the old days, but the cobalt component and heavier medium gauge make these almost ideal for bass players in heavier bands.
And I say almost ideal because the strings don’t have that desirable loose tension. The string tension is well-balanced, which for some bass players might be the best thing. The strings react well to slapping and tapping, but they also react well do fast picked riffs.
The midrange emphasis gives good note articulation. All in all, the overall tone of the Regular Slinky cobalt flatwound bass strings may just favor funk bassists the most.
10. D’Addario ETB92
The D’Addario ETB92 bass strings are tapewound bass medium gauge (.50 - .105) strings. If you’re a beginner bass player, these strings might be one of the best investments you can make. Yes, the gauge is thicker than that of stock strings but the durability of tapewound strings is nothing short of impressive.
The nylon tape over metal core makes the ETB92 bass strings feel very comfortable against your fingers. Even though the medium gauge still requires good finger strength, the strings don’t cut into your skin as hard as regular round or flatwound strings.
Another standout is the tone length. These strings degrade slower so you should be able to enjoy their tone for a longer period of time.
On top of that, the sound is quite unique. The strings are characterized by a warm, round, and overall soft tone in addition to the thump. This is a sound reminiscent of the upright bass, which is not easy to replicate with electric bass guitars.
Know Your Bass Guitar’s Scale Length
Most bass guitars are known to have a long scale, usually 34” measured from the nut all the way down to the string bridge.
Extra long scale bass guitars will have a scale length of 35” or more. There are also short scale bass guitars. However, these aren’t that easy to find on the market. This scale length has been discontinued and the few old bass models or custom bass models can get quite expensive.
So, why is the scale length important? – Unlike regular guitars, bass guitars can’t fit just any string length since the construction is quite different than that of regular guitar strings.
What You Need to Know about String Windings
The most common winding technique is roundwound. Roundwound strings are characterized by clarity, versatility, and bright sound.
Flatwound strings are also highly sought-after. Their sound is mellow, some would even say round. That’s a bit of guitar irony for you. These strings are preferred by jazz musicians and players of fretless basses.
Taperwound or exposed core bass strings are also interesting choices. The exposed core allows for a quicker response and longer note sustain. The intonation is also clearer, which is why these strings are often used by solo bass players.
Are Coated Strings Always Better?
Elixir pioneered string coating over two decades ago. String coatings consist of microthin layers of various polymers for multiple purposes. It makes the strings more comfortable to play on, for one.
Another benefit is lower maintenance. That’s because the coating also acts as a barrier that protects against oils, sweat, dust, and other particles that can cause buildups on the strings.
Of course, it’ll also alter the sound. Some characterize coated strings as being less squeaky than regular strings.
In the end, although string coating may make sense in a way, the concept is not appealing to all bass players simply because of their tonal preferences.
How Much Do Materials Matter?
Sometimes they matter a lot. Any bass player who’s worth his salt will tell you that steel strings are made for slapping and nickel strings for fingerstyle playing. It also makes perfect sense if you consider that steel gives you better attack compared to nickel.
But then, what do you do about cobalt strings? How do you compare the various alloys used by certain manufacturers? – To begin with, cobalt strings are generally louder than stainless steel strings. They’re also on the bright side, though it’s a different kind of brightness than the common connotation of the word.
Secondly, when it comes to comparing alloys, sometimes it’s just easier to test them out. Obviously, there will be clear differences between light and medium gauge string sets even if they are of the same brand and model (same materials).
Don’t Despair over Pricing
Yes, bass strings are always going to be more expensive than guitar strings. They’re longer and thicker and therefore use up more materials. Moreover, the manufacturers don’t sell as many bass strings as guitar strings so basic economics dictates that they should set the prices at higher margins.
But this doesn’t mean that a bass player will spend more on gear than the lead guitarist.
While guitarists may change strings in between shows, bassists can go on a tour with just two sets of strings for backup. Bass strings are far more durable than guitar strings, which means that the higher initial investment evens out in the end.
Play the Strings that Are Right for You
No one said selecting the best bass guitar strings for your unique needs is going to be easy.
Hopefully, with the help of this roundup, you’ve managed to narrow it down to one or two sets of bass strings that fit your bass guitar and have the desired musical properties.