There’s nothing quite like playing a huge-sounding metal riff for a bassist. As with any style of bass guitar, much of the sound is dependent on the set-up. Choosing the right bass strings is imperative to getting that classic metal tone.
Metal bass players get their signature sound from a combination of the bass they choose, their playing style and their rig. Another main contributor is the bass strings used. Hopefully this article will point you in the direction of the most suitable strings for metal bass playing.
5 Bass Strings Ideal for Playing Metal and Heavy Rock
The Ernie Ball 2736 strings combine two of the main attributes of metal bass. Not only do they provide thick, growling lows, the higher frets are punchy and defined. This makes for clean sounding octaves when playing those catchy pentatonic riffs.
Ernie Ball bass and guitar strings are known for their comfort. The special blend of iron and cobalt make for smooth strings which make transitions easy on your fingers. This is also great for sliding down to the lower notes.
Another great feature of these strings is their durability. Metal bass strings need to withstand the powerful playing styles and relentless, long practice routines. These strings are built to last.
Rotosound are pioneers of the round-wound stainless steel strings. John Entwistle of The Who was greatly influential in creating the Rotosound swing strings, and John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin uses their strings for his legendary rumbling riffs. The RS66LD strings have a vibrant tone which is great for some of the more melodic metal basslines.
These strings are round wound and feature a balanced gauge. This improves your fluidity when moving around the neck, as each string requires the same amount of tension. Balanced tension is a subtle feature, but one which is very useful for the busy playing style of metal.
Another reason these Rotosound strings are well suited to metal bass is the deep, solid low end they provide. If you enjoy playing in drop tuning, they can certainly handle the lower tones without getting muddy.
You only have to look at the long list of legendary metal and heavy rock bassists that have used Rotosound swing bass strings over the years to see their impeccable quality.
The DR Strings MR-45 Hi-Beams are hand-crafted, reliable bass strings ideal for playing metal riffs. These strings are known for their exceptional brightness, which creates that “clanky” metal bass sound.
One standout feature of these DR Bass strings is their longevity. Constructed with a steel core and stainless steel windings, even the hardest playing of metal bassists will struggle to wear them out. After weeks of consistent playing they retain their crisp brightness.
As you probably know from experience, metal bass playing requires great finger stamina and technique due to the constant changes in dynamics and grooves. This makes flexibility of the strings essential.
It is commonly thought that thicker, stiffer strings are best suited for metal bass, but it can be better to have slightly malleable strings. This allows for longer playing periods without burning out your fretting hand.
The Dunlop Super Brights are the signature strings of legendary jazz bassist and composer Marcus Miller. How can jazz strings be well suited to metal? The large dynamic range of these Dunlop strings makes them perfect for the versatile nature of metal bass playing.
What makes the Super Bright strings unique compared to the other strings on this list is the combination of a lower tensile load and the clear power of the mid tones. For clean metal bass sounds, these strings provide a natural character. If you need to play hard – they are up to the task.
A good way to get the best out of the Dunlop Super Bright strings is to use a compression pedal with the ratio at around 4:1 which can be turned on to thicken up the sound in hard hitting sections of a song. The natural brightness of these jazzy strings combined with compression creates an awesome metal bass sound.
Dean Markley strings are used by some of the best-known bassists and guitarists in metal and rock. The blue steel bass strings are the first cryogenic-processed strings to be made. This means they are frozen and then brought back to their natural temperature – a process which improves the highs and lows of the string, as well as its longevity.
What makes these strings well suited to metal bass is the warm, clear mid tones. One of the classic characteristics of metal songs is when the guitars drop out and leave the rhythm section, tightly locked into a groove. The warm mids of the Dean Markley strings will fill up that section nicely.
If you are a heavier bass player who likes to use fuzz or overdrive, these strings are great when combined with effects. High end bass breaks or solos will sound great if you combine these strings with a Big Muff or similar pedal.
Locking Into the Drums
An undeniable skill we have to develop as bassists, especially when playing metal, is locking in tightly to the drums.
A great way to perfect this skill is to always practice to a metronome when possible. I found that my feel and tightness began to improve dramatically when I started to practice my scales and exercises to a click track.
The strings we choose need to create a tone which interacts with the drums, rather than clashes with them. The bass and drums become one sonic block which is the foundation of metal. You can’t beat a locked-in rhythm section with a pounding backbeat and a warm bass tone.
Using Pedals for Power
As a metal bassist, it’s easy to overdo the use of effects pedals. There are so many to choose from, and most of them sound interesting. If we’re not careful we can get lost in trying to sculpt the perfect sound.
A good way to think of pedals is they are there to enhance an already great sounding bass. They are the icing on the cake, but we have to choose the right bass and strings first.
Overdrive and fuzz pedals provide thickness which can be very effective in choruses or breakdowns where cymbals are being played. A useful technique I have used in the past is to include a guitar amp in your rig, along with your bass amp. You can then split the signal from your pedals and send the effects straight into the guitar amp, while the bass amp remains clean.
This allows you to always have the clean tone of your bass, and use the effects more subtly without overwhelming the overall sound.
The Small Details
Choosing the right bass strings is really down to personal preference. The genre of metal has expanded over the years and many styles and tones of bass have been utilized.
If you enjoy the rumbling sound of early metal bassists, then try to emulate that. By listening and reading about the bassists whose sounds you admire, you will learn a great deal about sound manipulation and effects.
A lot of the time, the secret to a truly great bass sound is the small details. This could be a slight change in dynamics, a subtle slide which links the notes of a riff, or the sudden jump to a heavy section. Listening carefully to your favorite bassists and emulating their nuances will make you a more confident, well rounded player.
The Key is Experimentation
The best way to find your desired sound as a metal bassist is to dive in and start experimenting. The great thing about strings is they are not overly expensive, so you can always try another set. Be curious, do things the right and wrong ways, and you will find the sound.