8 Best Bass Strings for Metal and Drop Tuning

8 Best Bass Strings for Metal and Drop Tuning

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Metal is a genre of delightfully confusing self-contradictions. How can such aggressive and abrasive music simultaneously feature some of the most delicate and virtuoso musicianship?

How can someone who goes by Corpsegrinder act so lovably domestic while shopping at Target?

My theory is that metal musicians and fans alike, are proud of the fact that they are difficult to pin down, and that first impressions don’t tell their whole story.

Metal has come a long way, from the proto-metal of Born to be Wild (credited with inventing the very phrase “heavy metal”) to the quirky theatrics of Ozzy to modern finely-crafted genres like speed metal, progressive metal, and doom metal.

The modern metal tone, established since the 80s or 90s, bears little resemblance to relatively lofi trailblazers.

But as diverse as metal is, its tones have common characteristics.

You won’t find a lot of “smooth,” “mellow” or “vintage” tones in metal guitar, bass, or drums. The favored sounds are crunchy, harsh, intense, and bright.

This enhances the excitement of the overall sound and allows the details of the complex playing to cut through the mix.

Metal is also a genre of musical extremes.

Seven and eight-string guitars, drop tuning, and who can pass over a Chapman Stick performance without getting engrossed in slack-jawed wonder?

All of these extremes require some behind-the-scenes mechanical engineering to accomplish. Whatever modern materials are capable of creating, metal will quickly catch up and take the materials to their physical limits.

Translation?

Heavy metal music requires heavy-duty gear. If you want to play metal bass, with the potential of exploring drop tunings, you need to know what makes bass strings metal and how to choose them.

But if you want to skip ahead then check out which strings actually made it on our list right here:

Best Overall
DR MR-45 HI-Beam
DR MR-45 HI-Beam
9.9
  • These handmade strings are highly flexible and produce a bright metallic sound with a punch.
  • They offer a softer feel which makes them more playable.
Runner Up
Ernie Ball Extra Slinky Strings
Ernie Ball Extra Slinky Strings
9.7
  • These cobalt strings offer a dynamic range between low bass notes and bright and clear highs.
  • While reasonably priced these strings will also last you a long time.
Best On A Budget
RotoSound RS66LF
RotoSound RS66LF
9.8
  • These strings have a deep, twangy sound that's perfect for bassists that want to stand out.
  • These stainless steel strings offer a consistent and long-lasting bright sound.

How To Choose Bass Strings For Metal And Drop Tuning?

Just like a singer that relies on his screaming vocals needs a good microphone, a bassist needs the right strings to make his instrument stand out in a loud crowd.

However, before you pick the manufacturer that can elevate your heavy style you need to know what to look for, so let’s take a look at the criteria I used to create this list.

String Gauges

Heavy metal, heavy strings? Pretty much.

Metal basslines are an endurance game. Both you and your strings will be getting a workout. This means that between that and the propensity to drop-tune, metal bassists tend to go for thicker gauge strings. Especially if you want to go for the tuning that metalcore bands typically use.

While guitarists refer to string packs by the gauge of the thinnest string (like “0.010s”) bassists flex by referring to the thickest string (for example, “0.105s”).

Heavy gauges will take a lot of work to play on, and if you don’t have callouses yet, be prepared for a baptism by fire. The thick and gutsy tone of heavy strings is worth the self-sacrifice.

Depending on how far you drop your tuning, an unconventional approach to string gauge might be in order.

Dropping your E string to a D can typically be done with a standard set of bass strings, but suppose you want to tune every string down 5 half-steps?

Consider getting a 5-string pack and using the four thickest strings. Thus your “E string” will actually be using a B string and so on.

String Materials

Popular string materials include nickel-wound steel, pure stainless steel, pure nickel, and new composites like cobalt.

For metal, you can pretty much discount nickel entirely, seeing as it’s known for a quiet, mellow, vintage tone.

Nickel-wound steel is the standard string construction across genres, and it certainly works for metal. Pure stainless steel, though, has a particularly bright and aggressive tone that helps your bass lines cut through the mix.

String Winding

Regarding construction, most strings are known as “round-wound” meaning the string is bumpy as you run your finger down it.

Flat-wound strings exist, but again, they specialize in pretty much the opposite of metal playing. They are preferred by jazz and blues and vintage players and mostly on guitars like the Archtop.

Metal bassists usually want the sizzle and attack that round-wound strings provide.

String Core Wire

The core shape of your strings can also affect the sound your bass guitar will produce.

For a genre like metal, you’ll probably need strings with a hex-core because they will give you more consistent string winding tension and improved tuning stability.

When it comes to playability hex core strings are much stiffer than the flexible round core strings, but when it comes to sound hex core strings will give you that bright sound instead of that warmth.

Coated Vs Uncoated

Coated strings are a relatively recent development.

Between the heavy playing, and desire for a very bright tone, metal players find themselves changing strings more often than most.

The protective coating on these strings can help prolong their life, meaning string changes can happen less frequently.

8 Best Bass Strings for Metal and Drop Tuning

Choosing a brand is a highly subjective process, and there are as many right answers as there are bassists. Still, certain string makers and lines will definitely offer advantages to the discerning metal bassist.

Best Overall: DR MR-45 HI-Beam

Best Overall
DR MR-45 HI-Beam
  • These handmade strings are highly flexible and produce a bright metallic sound with a punch.
  • They offer a softer feel which makes them more playable.

Is DR the ultimate brand for metal bassists?

According to my experience and what I’ve heard from other bass players that this is a “musicians” brand.

If you haven’t heard of them then don’t worry, this brand is not extremely well-known but those who do know are really excited that they do.

When it comes to heavy playing DR offers several metal-friendly lines with different attributes and I made sure to sprinkle a few of them on this list.

Let’s take their HI-Beams, these are a great all-around metal string.

Manufactured from pure stainless steel, these bad boys have surprisingly a unique round core.

While most strings have hexagonal cross-sections in the cores to give a distinct tone to their bass guitar, these you’ll find offer a high-treble tone.

I also want to note that DR strings are not the cheapest on the market, but they are hardy and long-lasting and can withstand re-tuning.

Make sure to read the reviews and check today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

Runner Up: Ernie Ball Extra Slinky Cobalt Bass Guitar Strings

Runner Up
Ernie Ball Extra Slinky Strings
  • These cobalt strings offer a dynamic range between low bass notes and bright and clear highs.
  • While reasonably priced these strings will also last you a long time.

Ernie Ball is usually at the top of my string lists. They are probably my preferred brand, although I land far more on the “rich vintage tone” side of the production spectrum, and less on the “in your face metal.”

Although Ernie Ball makes moderately-priced and all-around adaptable strings, a favorite in many genres, metal musicians seem to have contradicting opinions on these ones.

I think that’s because string choice has a lot to do with taste.

If your personal taste requires less brightness and some mellow tones instead then this Extra Slinky line will work wonders for you.

Ernie Ball makes the world’s first cobalt composite strings, which feature a uniquely clear and rich tone. It’s like a metallic “twang” follows your every note.

For that tone alone I fitted my two electric guitars with cobalt strings and I was blown away by their sound, so they’re worth a try on metal bass.

If you want to cobalt strings a go you can check today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

Best On A Budget: RotoSound RS66LF Swing Bass 66

Best On A Budget
RotoSound RS66LF Swing Bass 66
  • These strings have a deep, twangy sound that's perfect for bassists that want to stand out.
  • These stainless steel strings offer a consistent and long-lasting bright sound.

Here comes the surprise contender, definitely the dark-horse candidate.

RotoSound 66 “Swing Bass” strings don’t appear to have anything to do with metal at first glance.

Yet over and over, they came up with a unique approach to metal bass playing.

Evidently, these strings offer a very unique, bright tone, and are one of the most affordable of my recommendations.

These strings are a favorite of Geddy Leeas you can hear them here:

As well as Yes’s Chris Squier, which let’s be honest, in hindsight, Yes has some pretty metal moments.

If you’re vibing with this sound then I suggest you check out these strings and today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

Most Durable Strings: Dean Markley Blue Steel Electric Bass Strings

Most Durable Strings
Dean Markley Blue Steel Electric Bass Strings
  • These cryogenic-processed strings last twice longer than regular bass strings.
  • These come in a four and five-string pack to satisfy both 4 and 5-string bass players.

Remember when I mentioned engineering needs to keep up with metal players?

Enter Blue Steel.

These strings are cryogenically frozen in nitrogen and gradually brought back to room temperature.

The result is an extremely durable, bright, present bass string.

These last twice longer compared to regular strings and they can handle aggressive players.

More so, you can be sure that they’ll maintain their bright sound for a really long time and my favorite part is that you don’t have to wait too long for the strings to settle.

As far as sound goes, these will give you a metal growl, without sounding muddy. You can actually achieve a focused tone with these Blue Steel strings.

The gauge options are also quite impressive for those of you who want the opportunity to experiment with different strings.

To read more reviews and check today’s price on Amazon click here!

Best Coated Strings: Elixir String Nickel Plated Steel Strings With Nanoweb Coating

Best Coated Strings
Elixir String Nickel Plated Steel Strings With Nanoweb Coating
  • The nanoweb coating offers great smoothness both physically and in tone.
  • The heavy mid-range and incredible clarity make these strings a perfect companion for heavy metal bass guitars.

If you’re looking for a durable set of coated strings then Elixir is just another great brand for metal bass players.

With its Nanoweb coating, Elixir is another brand that is known for its unique engineering.

As I’ve mentioned, extending strings’ working lives is certainly an attribute among heavy metal players.

The Nanoweb coating boasted by these strings is known to make for one of the best-coated strings on the market.

These hold tune for an impossibly long time and the coating doesn’t reduce the brightness and delivery of the bass.

As you can imagine these nanoweb coated strings come at a high price, but if you want to keep up with intense sessions without losing your sound then Elixir is simply worth it.

You can read the 1,200+ positive reviews and check today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

Best For Thrashing: DR Black Beauties

Best For Thrashing
DR Black Beauties
  • The super-thin black polymer coating extends the life of these strings.
  • These strings have a deep tone and good mid-range without sounding metallic.

For a flamboyant twist, DR also offers the irresistible Black Beauties which feature a pitch-black protective coating.

Again, the tonal “sizzle” is praised in metal applications, and the coating will help endure your thrashing.

These strings have more volume, something that will help your bass guitar stand out without taking all the spotlight.

These are rougher on the fingers, but the initial discomfort is worth it because these babies don’t fade as quickly.

Mind you they don’t start off as very bright strings, but they still have a snap to them.

Finally, you can’t deny that these black strings look hella metal!

To read more reviews and check today’s price on Amazon click here.

Best For Stable Drop Tuning: DR Drop-Down Tuning (DDT) Line

Best For Stable Drop Tuning
DR Drop-Down Tuning (DDT) Line
  • You can play these strings at a lower pitch and they will remain clean, clear, and in tune.
  • These stainless steel will hold about as much tension as standard tuning.

There’s nothing I can tell you about the Drop-Down Tuning (DDT) line that isn’t instantly communicated by the metal-as-hell spider front-and-center on the package.

But here it goes anyway.

DR promises that these strings are engineered for a clear tone and stable tuning when dropping.

And they’re not lying because these go right into tune and lock in thanks to the coated hex core wire that connects and locks perfectly with the stainless-steel wrap wire.

This gives these strings stability and they can maintain intonation at any tension.

The price is also quite reasonable for the high-quality strings you get in return.

Remember to read more about the DR DDT line and check today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

Best For Experimenting: Ernie Ball Regular Slinky Line

Best For Experimenting
Ernie Ball Regular Slinky Line
  • These come in 4 and 5-string packs and in multiple styles to help you explore your musical style.
  • The manufacturing and the element shield packaging will prolong your string life.

If you don’t want to be defined by one genre of metal, or if you’re not even sure if what you’re doing can be described as metal then the Ernie Ball classic Slinky line will get you where you need to go for a good price.

One attribute of Slinkys is that they are available in one of the widest ranges of options.

That’s useful if you want to experiment with a new setup but are not yet sure if you want to commit with more expensive strings.

From Tool, Rage Against The Machine to Green Day these strings are a top choice for legendary bassists.

They produce a bright tone and the higher the numbers the deeper the tone. More so, with proper set up these can be used for drop tuning.

Whether it’s death metal or punk rock, if you have an aggressive play-style then you have the perfect strings to abuse no matter your musical style,

Learn more about these Ernie Ball Regular Slinky strings and check today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

Conclusion

You didn’t get into metal music because it was easy. You got into it because you were ready to work passionately.

To play hard, practice long, and rock out.

With the right strings, your tone will sing and your bass will work as hard as you can.

Keep in mind that if you are doing significant drop tuning or going very heavy with gauges, you may need to set up your bass especially.

This could involve adjusting the truss rod to get the action down, or altering the nut or bridge to accept larger strings.

You can go to a pro or learn to do this yourself. Either way, you need to try strings until you find the perfect fit, it’s worthwhile!

Keep working, and feel the joy of the music!