Bass strings, fortunately, are not as delicate as guitar strings for one main reason: thickness. While they are much beefier than the average guitar string, it’s still important to change them every once in a while to ensure your rig actually sounds good.
It’s a good idea to recognize how your playing is affecting the tone of your strings, so you can change them when they are getting worn out, however, you may wonder the optimal time to change them? Or maybe you find it difficult to tell when they’re ready to be changed?
Bassists should change their strings every 6 to 8 weeks if they play regularly. A touring bassist will have their bass strings changed every 3rd or 4th show to avoid breaking strings. A bassist that barely plays should change their strings every six months to prevent excess neck tension.
The main parameter for when you should change your strings is how often you actually play and in what climate. The tone matters too, and this tone can easily be manipulated with string choice and the amount of time you allow the strings to set in and organically adjust after they have been set up on a bass. Some players refuse to change their strings at all because they think the bass sounds cool with old strings. It takes all types to make the world go around, but today we’ll look at some common standards for when to change your strings.
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When Should You Change Your Bass Strings?
Here’s a helpful chart that I created for another article on this site which you can find here. It’s not a set of rules but rather a small guideline that gives you an idea of when you should change your strings based on how often you play.
|How Often You Play||When to Change Bass Strings|
|Every Day||6-8 Weeks|
|Every Other Day||After 2 Months|
|Once per Week||Every 6 months|
|Once per Month||Once Per Year|
|Once Every 6 Months||*Put on coated strings like Elixirs and then don’t bother changing them for several years.|
|I Never Play||*Same as above.|
For A Beginner Bass Player
A beginning bass player should worry about changing their strings to a new set about 3 to 6 months after they start playing. This gives the new student enough time to break in the strings and hear the difference in the decay in tone from the fresh set that most likely came with the bass.
They should feel how tight the strings are at first and exactly how their playing in conjunction with the fresh strings affects the overall tone. This also gives them the opportunity to learn how to change their strings properly for the future.
For a Regular Bass Player
A regular bassist that plays more often than a beginner but not as often as a touring musician should change their strings every 6 to 8 weeks. This will keep their bass from having intonation issues while keeping the tone from dissipating too much and losing its brightness, even if they only play a couple of shows a month.
It really depends on how much you play though. Like the chart above states, if you’re playing every single day, even if it’s just for 30 minutes in your room, you’ll notice significant degradation of the strings after a while, At the 3-month mark, you’ll definitely notice that the strings have picked up considerable dirt and grime.
For an Expert Bass Player or Touring Musician
A touring musician usually has a tech that is instructed precisely when to change their strings. Most touring musicians change their strings based on the tone for the live performance. A bassist that uses round wound strings will change their strings quite often, not letting that new string tone wear off.
Most touring musicians change their strings every 2-3 shows. Bass strings don’t typically shed their brand new out of the package tone until about a show or two in. This also depends on how much you sweat and the acidity within it, 2-3 shows is a good guideline.
They start a steady decline in tone that never comes back, so to get that tone again, you have to change the strings. If a bassist doesn’t want that newer string tone, they can opt to change their strings further apart, but most modern music and relevant sound systems call for a bass that cuts through, and the new strings do just that.
Touring musicians fly a lot, and when you fly on an airplane with your instrument, you need to loosen the strings because air pressure can break them. This consistent loosening and tightening of the strings can wreck havoc on the neck and strings, causing weakening of both if not done properly every time the guitar moves from climate to climate.
Why You Should Change Your Bass Strings
1) They Wear Out
Bass strings, like any strings, wear out and become stretched out over time. A string that has never been played before is tightly wound and does not have a lot of bend to it, which is one reason why it’s not a terrible idea to work them in by bending each string after putting them on.
One advantage of doing this is that the strings will stay in tune after you’ve bent them, which is an issue with new strings. There are a few other reasons as well. The reason you want the new string tone to dissipate and the strings to settle a little is twofold.
One, the new sound is too mid-range sounding and causes the sound to stick out in the music. The second reason is to lessen the amount of pressure the strings have on the neck. The way you know the strings are worn out is they will have a dull resonation, and they won’t stay in tune. When these two things happen, it is probably time to change your strings.
2) They Get Dirty
As I explained in my article on whether you can re-use strings or not, things like oils from your fingers and even sweat can wear the strings out if they’re left on the instrument. It’s easy to wipe them down after playing, but because they are made of a porous material, they will hold on to dirt and grime, over time wearing down the metals.
The dirtiness of the strings is one of the main ways that you’ll know it’s time to change them as well. Over time, you’ll notice a significant deposit of grime probably both on the fretboard as well as under the strings, to the point where you can actually scrape it off with your finger nail. That’s a sign that it’s time to change them.
3) They Deteriorate
Oxidation will occur, and in basic science class and in this article here, we found out that metal does not do well with any oxidation. It creates rust that eats away at the metal. As mentioned above, you can wipe the strings down to slow the process, but they will still deteriorate over time.
It’s not always easy to tell that your strings are on the way out, but I would say that the grime underneath the bottom of each string, like I mentioned above, is the number one way. If you’re seeing rust, discolouration, and other spots on them, that’s a sign they probably should’ve been changed ages ago.
4) They Sound Brighter When New
The moment you put new strings on your bass or electric guitar, you’ll start to notice that they’re decaying. It’s up to you to decide if you actually like that brand new string sound. It’s as personal to the musician as the bass itself. The brightness of your strings will cut through on stage or in rehearsal, and if you are not a very proficient player, you will hear that amplified in bass strings that carry a lot of brightness.
It’s important to note, however, that the brightness of your strings won’t be the difference between whether people can hear you or not, it’s just that your tone will be slightly more noticeable. The general consensus with any bass tech or bassist is that the strings always sound better the second or third show. Still, that is subjective to their favorite bass tone. Some players keep their strings on as long as they can to keep them from sounding too bright.
5) Old Strings Don’t Stay In Tune
Strings go out of tune, that much is for sure. This is why we have tuners like this Boss TU-2 from Amazon. However, there are things we can do to keep our instruments in tune. One of them is to replace strings every now and then. Strings stretch when we set them up on the bass and they stretch even more when we play.
The true tone sets in but, over time, they can be a nightmare to stay in tune. The same thing can also be said for brand new strings too. There’s a certain point where they finally start to settle in, and I would say that this process can be sped along by stretching them manually by pulling upward on them toward the ceiling.
One advantage of bass strings is that they’re much larger in diameter than most strings, so they don’t need as much replacing as a guitar string would, but when they start going out, you’ll have to spend a lot of time checking your tuning.
In any situation, it’s always a good idea to have an extra set nearby just in case one does break, or better yet, have a second bass that you can use as a backup. If you only change one string, it will stick out like a sour thumb when you play that string because it hasn’t been adequately stretched out yet.
6) The Intonation Will Vary Down The Neck
If you have not changed your strings in a long time, it’s possible the tension can cause the neck to warp (more on that in my guide), and you’ll end up with some intonation issues. When this happens, you’ll need to find a good guitar repair shop or learn how to fix it yourself. What has happened is the truss rod, a metal rod that extends down the middle of the neck will need a slight adjustment.
A great guitar shop will be able to adjust your truss rod to bring the intonation back to normal. This will make your bass sound better and increase the longevity of your strings. Just remember to change your strings more often to avoid another trip to the repair shop.
7) Round Wounds Wear Out Faster Than Flat Wounds
Flat wound strings are pressed, unlike round wounds, so they are a little sturdier when it comes to longevity. They also sound better the more you play them. Once you reach that point where the brightness wears off, you’ll want to replace them so you can have that tone again or maybe you won’t want to.
8) The Tone changes too much
The tone of your strings will all depend on what kind of strings you use and how much you play them. When that tone no longer suits you because of deterioration, stretching, or wearing down of the strings, you should change them.
It’s a personal preference that depends on the music you’re playing, which can easily turn into a band, or producer’s preference as well. If your tone is changing too much and your bass doesn’t sound the same from recording to performance, you might change your strings on a regular basis to avoid this.
You Don’t Have To Change Your Bass Strings
It’s normal to be obsessed or semi-obsessed with new strings and to fall in love with that particular tone, but to every norm, there are exceptions. These exceptions come from a long line of bassists that paved the way for musicians to come.
James Jameson is the epitome of the bass string exception. James Jameson, the Mo-town hammer, was rightfully a standup player that got his tone from a stand-up bass. From the flat-wounds he used to his one-fingered plucking even where he played on the bass, he was practically a stand-up player that played sitting down.
His signature tone comes from the flat wounds he used and the fact that he never changed them. Another bassist that stuck with this rule is Ben Shepherd from Soundgarden. His strings were typically round wound, and heavier gauged for the heaviness of the music.
He enjoys the broken-in sound and only has them changed by his tech if he breaks a string. The issue is that if one is changed, they all have to be changed because the new string tone will set apart from the worn-in ones, so he has many backups to make sure his tone is always perfect for his taste.
Check out gear rundowns online on your favorite bassists. It’s a great way to get suggestions for tone and gear to help you get your best bass tone. They always talk about strings and how often they change them for the artist for stage and in the studio. Some will even talk about working on the basses they have at home, which can help the average bassist.