Bass strings are much more robust and thicker than regular guitar strings. When to change bass strings becomes a common doubt for anyone willing to practice the instrument.
Combine this with the fact that many players use their fingers to play instead of a pick, and the strings tend to last a lot more before breaking.
For regular players and students that’ll pick up their instruments at least once a day, it’s a good practice to consider replacing bass strings 2 or 3 times a year. The less you play, the less you’ll need to worry about it, given that the storage and handling are done correctly.
It’ll also depend on how big of a player you are. Professional players will prefer to have their strings changed at every one or two gigs, but regular players or students won’t be able to afford that many string sets.
This isn’t always the case though. Think about funk or heavy metal players. They’ll certainly need more from their strings using techniques like slapping and popping, bending, and other more demanding practices.
While regular electric guitar players are certain that at some point the strings will break, bass players have the advantage of keeping the same strings for much longer, and this is certainly a plus, given that a good set of bass strings be much more expensive, especially if you play 5 strings or more.
Given these circumstances, it’s not unusual for bass players to wonder if their strings are due for a replacement, or if they’ll hold.
Resistance – When to Change Bass Strings
Most bass’ strings have some form of metal winding around the core, contrary to the lower regular guitar strings. Due to their thickness, bass strings do not accumulate too much rust when in comparison. The exceptions are flat strings and basses that have higher strings. These are much rarer though.
The bottom line is: It takes a much more aggressive player to break bass strings. But this doesn’t mean that the strings won’t deteriorate over time, especially in certain conditions.
Perceiving the difference
You can’t always tell by looking if a set needs replacement.
When you replace an old set of strings, it becomes quite easy to perceive the difference in tonal properties and overall tuning in some cases.
Though the strings will resist playing a lot longer, the fact that you press them against the frets constantly, overtime may result in bending and deformations, which can alter the physical characteristics of the length of the strings, and the ability to stay in tune.
This doesn’t apply to fretless instruments, which will need strings replacement much less often.
How to tell when you need to change bass strings
Manufacturers will recommend that you replace strings at a much shorter period than you’d really need to. The more sets you buy, the better it is for them.
For regular players, and students that’ll pick up their instruments at least once a day, it’s a good practice to consider replacing strings 2 or 3 times a year. The less you play, the less you’ll need to worry about it, given that the storage and handling are done correctly.
It’ll depend on how big of a player you are. Professional players will prefer to have their strings changed at every one or two gigs, but regular players or students won’t be able to afford that many string sets.
For normal players, the right time to make the change is directly linked to how much playtime the strings have, the conditions they’re stored in, and how good they sound after a certain time.
It’s important to consider that older and dirtier strings will contribute more to the frets’ deterioration, due to the friction and the effect rust has on metal. So changing strings more often will result in delaying the frets replacement.
A good measure on when to change bass guitar strings is when you notice the high end of the frequency spectrum (treble) starts to get a bit muddy, or tuning isn’t accurate anymore.
The latter being a bit more advanced to spot correctly, because tuning isn’t related only to strings longevity, and might be compromised due to many other factors in the overall setup.
This can be a little hard to notice for players that like their sound without too much brightness, and in that case, the alternative is to measure in playtime hours. A very common practice is to consider the lifetime of a bass string is around 0x that of a regular guitar string, or about two hundred hours of playing.
This applies only in cases where the instrument is in proper storage and free from weather changes and things like humidity (i.e inside a good enclosure at all times when not in use).
Of course, it is a lot cooler and practical to have your instrument on display and ready at all times such as in the case of stands and wall mounts, but it comes at the price of exposing its’ metal and wood components (strings, tuning pegs, bridge, jack, internal components, etc…) to temperature changes and bad agents like humidity and dust.
Bass strings will also accumulate more dirt when in comparison to other instruments, simply because the metal wrapped around the strings has more room for the dirt to settle. Though rusting from contact with sweat from fingers isn’t exactly a big issue, the dirt itself will gather more quickly, resulting in strings that won’t be as bright sounding
Tips to maintain the strings for longer
One of the most important things to consider is to wash and dry your hands right before touching the strings to prevent corrosion and dirt from accumulating in between the strings wrap.
Having the right type of cloth and solution to clean the strings right after a recording/rehearsal session is also ideal since it’ll remove the dirt and humidity before they even have a chance to act.
Storing your bass in a gig bag or a hard case right after cleaning the strings is always the best option to extend the lifetime of the strings and of the whole instrument as well.
There are many products that keep the dirt away from the strings, but this is certainly a matter of personal preference, given that some products will also offer lubricating properties.
Another very good practice is to constantly check for rust in critical spots, like saddles, bridges, and tuning pegs, since the strings will be bent at these locations, and consequently, more prone to breaking.
Boiling the strings? Any alternatives?
Some people recommend boiling an old set of strings using a mixture of water and neutral dishwashing soup.
This will in fact remove all dirt from the string and restore its original tone to a certain extent. However, this effect will not last longer than one week, and the heat will certainly mess with the correct tension of the strings.
A very good alternative is to have the strings soaked in pure ethyl alcohol. Preferably inside a closed recipient such as a plastic bottle or any other that you can shake for a while.
After a bit of shaking(about 5-10 minutes), you’ll notice that the solution has gathered all the dirt from the strings.
You can then remove the strings from the bottle and let them dry naturally. In comparison to boiling the strings, they won’t be affected as much and it works okay for cleaning and restoring their original properties.
The downside is that you’ll need to remove all strings at once, which can have an impact on the neck curvature and overall setup.
Replacing tips to avoid damage to your instrument
To keep the correct setup, it’s recommended that you replace strings one at a time, rather than removing all of them and installing the new ones.
This is mainly because replacing strings one at a time will reduce drastically the changes in the pressure the neck and truss rod will have to accommodate and adjust to.
This, of course, does not apply to situations where you need to perform maintenance that requires removing all strings prior, such as in the case of replacing bass pickups.
In conclusion – When to Change Bass Strings
Bass players have it much better than regular guitarists when it comes to strings longevity.
However, this is obviously counterbalanced by the fact that the bass strings set will cost 3x more on average.
When to Change Bass Strings will always vary from player to player, depending on several factors as the time spent playing, overall cleanliness of the environment/hands of the players, storage, and the build quality of the strings themselves.
There is little one can do, besides:
- Washing hands before playing
- Cleaning strings right after
- Storing the instrument properly
To maintain the strings going for longer. On the other hand, if the strings are holding the pitch correctly, and you do not mind the changes in the sound quality too much, having older strings isn’t that much of a problem, especially if you’re a student or just starting out.
Over time, the differences in the quality of the sound will become clearer to every player, and in some cases, older strings will become unbearable to listen to.
Style as a factor
Some musical styles and genres will not require a crispier sound, and this makes it pretty easy to understand why some bass players won’t mind keeping the same string sets for longes.
On the other hand, styles like funk that need that extra treble to make slaps and pops cut through the mix will tend to need replacements more often.
Either way, when you decide that it’s time to replace your strings, it’s not a bad idea to keep the old set ready in your gig bag so that when one of your new strings break, you’ll be able to keep playing after a short break to replace it.
In the end, it all comes down to sound preferences, budget, and the will to preserve your instrument’s frets and other components that are in contact with the strings.
While some players will argue that bass strings will sound better after a certain playing period, many others will prefer them shiny and new for every other gig/rehearsal.
With a little practice and the knowledge that comes with it, it’ll become easy to spot strings that aren’t offering their full capability in terms of sound and tuning, so you’ll be well aware when the time to replace your bass strings is drawing near.