How Often To Change Bass Strings (for best results)
On a bass guitar the strings have the most influence on the sound of the guitar so it’s important to get them changed at the correct time. But when is the correct time to change bass strings? And why? In this article we’ll look at bass strings and when to change them so keep reading to find out more.
Why Do You Need To Change Your Bass Strings?
Old bass strings are often described as being dull, sounding flat or losing their zing. This happens because the strings accumulate dirt, sweat, oils and skin which is transferred from our fingers as we play. The dirtier the string becomes, the duller the sound it produces will be. But is this a problem? That depends on the type of music you play and how you prefer your bass to sound.
Which Sound Better: New Strings Or Old?
A new set of strings on your bass guitar will give it that crisp, full sound that only new strings can bring. If you play your bass with a pick, or prefer to play slap bass style, new strings are essential. With many professional bassists changing their strings daily because they want that clean, clear tone for every performance.
However, old bass strings sound so much richer and warmer, perfect for mellow tunes where the bass isn’t such a pronounced part of the performance. Some bassists actually prefer the sound of old bass strings, in fact, James Jamerson the session bass guitarist on pretty much every Motown track during the 60s and early 70s, was rumoured to never have changed his strings.
How Often Should You Change Your Bass Guitar Strings?
It seems to be more of a personal preference type of thing with bass guitar strings, unlike six-string guitars which is more clear cut. Bass strings are so much thicker than six-string guitar strings which means they last far longer. With that said there are guidelines on changing bass strings which you can take or leave depending on your point of view and/or circumstances.
The recommended period between bass guitar string changes is around 200 hours or 6 to 8 weeks if you play regularly. Even if you don’t play your bass regularly it’s recommended you change your strings every 6 months. However many bassists reckon on an annual string change and some never change a string unless it breaks.
There are a few markers that point to the fact that bass strings should be changed, these include;
- Deterioration of tone
- Inability to stay in tune
- Frayed or damaged strings
- Rusty strings
- Unable to sustain
Deterioration Of Tone
You will know it’s time to change the strings on your bass guitar once the tone has deteriorated to the point that they sound wrong.
Inability To Stay In Tune
As the strings age, they lose their ability to remain in tune. If you find you are having to keep retuning your bass constantly, the strings probably need to be replaced (unless they are a new set).
Frayed Or Damaged Strings
If you can actually see or feel strands of metal that are unravelling from the strings, it’s definitely time to change them.
We transfer moisture onto our strings every time we play, more if we sweat. But it’s not only sweat, high humidity, either from the atmosphere or from the environment you’re playing, in can all add to the strings becoming damp. Which will eventually cause them to start showing signs of rust.
Strings Unable To Sustain
If you find that the note you have just played doesn’t resonate as well as it usually does, it’s time to change the strings. As guitarists we rely on a certain amount of sustain to give more body to our playing, old strings lose their ability to sustain a note.
Does String Type Affect The Frequency Of String Changes?
The string type you choose for your bass guitar will affect how often they will need to be changed. Uncoated strings will not last as long as coated strings, which are reported to last 3 to 4 times longer than uncoated strings. Flatwound strings tend to last longer than roundwound strings.
Let’s face it, bass guitar strings are quite pricey whichever type you buy, so you’re going to want to make them last. Take your time and do your research then go for the type that best suits your playing style and wallet.
Ways To Make Bass Strings Last Longer
You can help your strings to last longer and keep their tone. To keep your bass strings sounding great for longer always practice the following;
- Wash And Dry Your Hands
Before you even pick up your bass guitar ensure your hands are clean and dry. Wash your hands with soap and water and dry them thoroughly. This lessens the amount of dirt, oil and skin you will transfer to the strings.
- Wipe Your Strings
Immediately after you have finished playing, wipe the strings down with a dry towel to remove any moisture that has accumulated whilst you were playing.
- Clean Your Strings
Use a proprietary string cleaner to maintain that fresh, new feeling. Not only will the strings look and feel clean, they’ll sound better too. You can use denatured alcohol or methylated spirits as it’s also known. This contains no water at all so will not cause the strings to rust. Caution denatured alcohol has poison added to it to prevent it being drunk. Never swallow denatured alcohol and remember it’s highly flammable as well.
- Keep The Strings In Tune
Try to not over tune the strings or keep changing the tuning. Some bands prefer playing using different tunings like open C or drop D etc, these tunings can mess the strings up over time. If you over tune your guitar it’s not only the strings that can be affected, the actual neck can be damaged if the strings are too taut.
Can Bass Strings Be Boiled?
Due to the thickness and price of bass strings, it is possible to boil them to remove dirt, skin and oils from them. They will sound brighter after boiling too but they should only be boiled for 5 minutes and it’s worth considering that boiled strings are more prone to breaking. Plus it’s not recommended to boil the same strings any more than two times in their lifetime.
Are Acoustic Bass Strings Different To Electric Bass Strings?
There is a difference between acoustic and electric bass guitar strings, believe it or not, acoustic bass strings are heavier than electric bass strings. As they are heavier they are harder to play because they need more pressure to press them down.
Frequently asked Questions
It is recommended that you should change your bass guitar strings every 200 hours of playing time. Which to a regular player would be every 6 to 8 weeks. If you play your bass infrequently, every 6 months is fine. Although there are bassists that don’t change a string unless it breaks.
You’ll know when your bass strings are dead because they will sound flat, lifeless and will not hold a note (no sustain).
Some bass players boil their strings to remove dirt, skin and oils from the strings that are transferred from our hands every time we play. The strings will sound far brighter after being boiled for a while.