Best bass strings 2023: vintage and modern string sets for every style and budget

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Best bass strings 2019

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1. Product guide
2. Buying advice
3. How we choose

Like most instruments, bass guitars require some regular maintenance to keep them in tip-top condition. Probably the best (and easiest, cheapest) way of keeping your instrument is to fit it with a fresh set of the best bass strings. 

Let's face it, there is so much choice out there, so how do you know what set of bass strings will be best for you? Well, we’ve put together a handy list of the best bass guitar string sets currently available, taking into account the different tones that players are after, alongside playability, longevity and budget. The right choice will help shape the tone that you’re going for and will be comfortable for you to play.

Whether you’re a fresh-faced beginner looking to perform your first restring or an experienced bass journeyman looking to inject some inspiration into your playing, there will be something on our list to suit you. With something like choosing strings, it can be easy to just pick the cheapest or most convenient option, but by doing just a bit of research, you’ll find a set that will complement your sound and playing style.

If you need more guidance before making your choice, we’ve got some handy buying advice at the bottom of this page.

Best bass strings: product guide

Best bass strings: Buying advice

Close up of the strings on a four-string bass guitar

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Choosing the best bass strings for you

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When looking for the best bass strings for you, there are a few things to consider. We’d argue that the most important factors are sound and playability. The material that the string is made from plays the biggest part in what they sound like. Different brands will have their own alloys made up of different ratios etc, but generally, the best bass strings tend to have a steel core with windings on the outside made from either stainless steel, or nickel plated steel. 

What material of bass string should I use?

Stainless steel strings are usually fairly bright sounding. You still get a nice low end punch, but you get the added top end bite too. Stainless steel bass strings can be really good for more contemporary music, like modern rock, punk, pop and metal as you get that natural slight mid scoop. 

You can get pure nickel wound bass strings too – these tend to be much warmer sounding, without too much low or top end, resulting in a mellower tone. What you’ll probably see more of is nickel plated steel strings. As you might imagine, these strike a really nice balance of warmth and brightness. If you’re going from Motown to pop punk all on one bass, then these strings will help you cover lots of ground. 

String materials at a glance:

Nickel - Pure nickel strings have a warm sound, without too much treble bite or low-end. Perfect for the vintage tones of ‘50s/’60s pop, soul and rock.

Stainless steel - Tonally speaking the opposite of nickel strings, stainless steel is clear and bright, with clarity throughout the frequency range – great for modern sounds.

Nickel-plated steel - No surprises, nickel-plated steel offers a compromise between pure nickel or stainless steel. An all-round option for the bassist who plays a bit of everything.

Do you need roundwound or flatwound bass strings?

Another decision to make in the search for the best bass strings is whether to go for roundwound, flatwound or tapewound – all impart their own characteristics on the sound and feel. 

Roundwound - Roundwound bass strings usually sound more balanced – you get plenty of low end, some mids, but they can still be nice and bright. It depends on your personal preference, and there really is no right and wrong option, but rock, blues, pop and metal players would normally opt for roundwounds. You’ll also be able to feel the small ridges between the winds on the strings.

Flatwound - Flatwounds are mellower sounding, with less top end. You normally get a nice, warm, fat low end with some punchy lower mid-thump too. Jazz, R&B and soul players might opt for flatwounds to sit in the mix a little better. As their name suggests, they’re much flatter and smoother under the fingers, allowing you to glide between notes easily, without the string noise you’d get with roundwounds.  

Tapewound - Tapewound strings tend to have a nylon coating over them, taking that mellow vintage tone one step further. If you want your electric bass to sound like an acoustic bass, tapewounds are the way to go; they are that mellow. They are incredibly smooth thanks to the nylon coating and you can achieve some fantastic glissando with tapewounds. Paul McCartney, Herbie Flowers and Graham Maby are perhaps the most popular tapewound players, if it’s good enough for them…

How to choose the right string gauge

The gauge is also important when finding the best bass strings for you. A thinner gauge might be better if you’re just starting out, as there’s physically less string to push down on. Funk bassists that slap and pop quite often go for a lighter/medium gauge too. If you’re down-tuning, then you’ll probably want to look at a heavier gauge bass string for better stability.

Coated vs uncoated

We’re seeing more coated bass strings on the market now as well. These are like regular bass strings, but they have a thin coating around them that helps prevent things like dirt, sweat and dead skin from getting in between the winds. The result is they feel and sound fresher and last longer. They tend to be a little more expensive, but you can replace them less often.

How we choose products

Close up of bass strings

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Here at MusicRadar, we are experts in our field, with many years of playing, creating and product testing between us. We live and breathe everything music gear related, and we draw on this knowledge and experience of using products in live, recording and rehearsal scenarios when selecting the products for our guides.

When choosing what we believe to be the best bass strings available right now, we combine our hands-on experience, user reviews and testimonies and engage in lengthy discussions with our editorial colleagues to reach a consensus about the top products in any given category.

First and foremost, we are musicians, and we want other players to find the right product for them. So we take into careful consideration everything from budget to feature set, ease of use and durability to come up with a list of what we can safely say are the best bass strings on the market right now.

Find out more about how we test music gear and services at MusicRadar.

Chris Bird

Chris has been the Editor of Total Guitar magazine since 2020. Prior to that, he was at the helm of Total Guitar's world-class tab and tuition section for 12 years. He's a former guitar teacher with 35 years playing experience and he holds a degree in Philosophy & Popular Music. Chris has interviewed Brian May three times, Jimmy Page once, and Mark Knopfler zero times – something he desperately hopes to rectify as soon as possible.

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