Slap bass is one of the grooviest techniques in music. When you hear the percussive slap and pop of a bass guitar locked in with a kick and snare, it’s impossible to resist the groove. Equipment like strings, amps & pickups all contribute to enhancing the sound of slap bass.
So, what are the best bass strings for slap and pop? Read on to know more about my top picks, as well as factors that make a set of strings more suitable for slap.
There is a rich history of bassists who have used the slap technique, dating back to Larry Graham in the 1960’s. Since then, slap has become a pillar of the funk and disco genres.
4 of the Best Suited Strings for Playing Slap Bass
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The Rotosound RS66LC bass strings are great for slapping on a long scale bass. Their round-wound stainless steel composition makes these strings durable enough to endure the wear and tear of slapping, whilst retaining their vibrant tone.
Rotosound have been making top-quality bass strings for the past sixty years, and are the manufacturer of choice for some of the greatest musicians to ever play on four strings, like Billy Sheehan and John Paul Jones.
The RS66LC strings are medium-gauge so they provide a good amount of resistance for the slap and pop technique, without straining your fingers from the repetitive motions. Their bright tone cuts through and sits nicely with the crack of a snare drum.
DR Strings are one of the fastest growing producers of bass strings. They are known for their bright tones and flexible strings, and the LR-40s have both of these qualities. The individual strings are balanced to make moving around the neck easier.
One common issue for slap bassists is the friction caused by hitting the strings with your thumb and pulling it back with the fingers. Blisters and tendon strains can occur if the strings are too thick. The light-gauge design of these DR Strings makes them easy to slap.
If you are in the early stages of learning slap bass, then these strings are a great option, as they provide good hand comfort while you perfect the technique, and a clean tone for percussive playing.
Ernie Ball strings need no introduction. They have been at the forefront of bass and guitar strings for decades. Their slinky strings produce a distinctive sound which has been used by some of the most recognizable bassists in music history.
The 2835 Extra Slinky strings are highly compatible with slap style bass playing. This is down to the exceptional mid to high-tones that they produce. The clarity of these tones highlights the rhythmic nature of slap bass.
I have personally used Ernie Ball strings many times over the years, and always find that they retain their new-string feel for a long time, even when I have used them constantly for months on end.
The final set of strings on our list is the D’Addario ProSteels. These strings are also probably the brightest sounding of all my recommendations. In the lower registers, they produce a tinny tone which sounds ridiculously funky when slapping.
The great thing about these strings is their capability to produce warm chord sounds. Combining lighter melodic playing with the groove of slapping creates an awesome contrast, and these strings can do both.
The ProSteels are easy on the fingers, without losing the richness which thicker strings are normally associated with. They are made from stainless steel wrap wire which delivers rich harmonics in the higher octaves. This combination of qualities makes them some of the best bass strings for slap and funk styles of playing.
You will have no problem cutting through the mix with these D’Addario strings. The tight low-end tones are perfect for the downward movement of slapping.
Percussion and Tone – the Ultimate Combination
When playing slap bass, it’s important to consider both the feel and the sonic aspects. The reason slap is one of the most recognizable sounds in music is because it merges the worlds of percussion with melody and tone.
The downward motion of a slap produces frequencies similar to a kick drum, while the upward pulling motion resembles the crack of a snare. This is why the sound of a slap bass playing tightly with a drum kit is so satisfying to our ears.
Other factors, such as amp settings or the tone settings on your bass will impact how rhythmic the slapping sounds. As always, the best way to learn is to experiment with these settings until you find a sound that you like.
Finding Your Place in the Mix
An important part of playing slap bass is knowing when to do it, and how it fits into the overall sound of a band. In my experience, when I first learned to slap I found myself wanting to use the technique at every opportunity, and fell into the trap of thinking busier playing was better.
There is a time and a place for busy slapping, but I found that it muddied the overall mix of my band, and made it harder for myself and the drummer to lock in tightly.
A shift occurred when I started to think of slapping as way of adding melody and harmony to the drums, instead of competing with them for space in the mix. The slap provides a layer on top of the drums which enhances the overall groove of the rhythm section.
Technique is everything
Slap bass is a technique which if done incorrectly, can cause repetitive strain injuries in your hand. The constant rubbing of the string against your thumb and fingertips can also cause injury, and the last thing we want as bassists is to put our practice on hold waiting for injuries to heal.
There are many variations of slap bass which utilize different hand positions. Starting off slow and light is a good way to gauge whether your technique will cause problems in the long run. Here is a great instructional video which shows how to get it right, from the very beginning.
Scales Are Your Friend
Slap bass requires concentration on getting the timing right with your slapping hand. At first, it can be hard to focus on your fretting hand at the same time. Practicing scales and burning them into your memory allows you to improvise freely without having to concentrate. This means you can put all of your attention into the technique of slapping.
Start with the basic major and minor scales and work your way up to some of the more complex ones. After a few weeks of repetition you will be composing funky slap bass lines of your own.