Best Bass Strings for Punk Music

FIDLAR, Heaven, London

RangeOfSounds.com is reader-supported. We may earn a small commission through products purchased using links on this page.

I’m a full-time producer, songwriter, and composer. I’ve worked on game soundtracks, musical theatre projects, and producing songwriters ranging from folk to pop to psychedelic. But I’m not going to lie to you- beneath it all, I will always be a punk. As a teenage in the mid-00s, skate punk was the first music I really got into on my own terms, like Offspring and Bad Religion. As I’ve grown up and explored other genres, I’ve kept my punk core. It’s been a joy to look backwards and discover earlier punk music like Descendents and of course The Ramones. And every time society decides punk is dead, a new wave washes ashore. Like the brief period a couple of years ago when bands like FIDLAR suddenly put out thrilling hardcore surf punk.

So, if they haven’t managed to kill off punk in the last 40 years, I don’t think they’re going to. After all, punk is more than a genre, it’s an attitude. To paraphrase V for Vendetta, punk is an idea… and ideas are bulletproof. And what an idea! The basic premise is to rebel and challenge convention. What could be more quintessentially American than that? This approach to music influenced folk punk, new wave, 2nd and 3rd wave ska, alternative rock, and more.

So whether you want to play straight-ahead classic punk music, or one of its many, many descendants, you want to play with gear that carries you along. After all, this music tends to be very energetic, a workout no matter what. You want your gear to work with you, not against you!

Punk Bass

The DescendentsPunk bass playing doesn’t get the same recognition that other bass styles do, like jazz or funk. It’s not a world associated with virtuosity. Often punk music features guitar power chords, with the bass playing the bass notes to the same rhythm. But it can be taken so much further. Just check out Tony Lombardo’s playing on the first couple of Descendents records. His influential playing style involved downstrokes only, not alternate picking, with plenty of countermelodies and runs to complement the vocals.

But no matter whether you are storming along the 8th-note bass notes Ramones style, or playing Lombardo-style acrobatic melodies, there are a few principles that every punk agrees on. Punk bass should have a very bright, punchy tone. It’s quite percussive to make up for the inevitable loss of rhythmic definition from distorted rhythm guitar. And since the drumming tends to also be very bright, with lots of kick-and-snare driven patterns, the bass has to be extra bright to carry through.

Furthermore, you should prioritize durability. Punk is a genre wherein gear tends to take a beating.

Choosing Bass Strings for Punk Playing

So how do these principles translate to bass string selection? Well, strings can’t do it all. Punk bassists do well to play on certain bass models, like the Fender P-Bass or Ernie Ball Stingray. Some amps and heads get a better bass tone for punk than others, and punk bassists may even want to invest in an EQ pedal to boost that tone. But choosing the right strings for the job will make a huge difference. After all, the strings are the very moment that human touch becomes musical expression.

String Gauge

String gauge refers to the diameter of the strings. Honestly, guitarists tend to be more concerned with gauge than bassists en masse. As far as bass goes, heavier gauge strings put up tougher resistance and last longer- but also require more muscle to navigate. They also have a thicker tone. This combination of qualities is tricky! Heavy strings simultaneously work for and against punk playing. I’d recommend starting with mediums, and only go higher or lower gauge if you feel a necessity. Most players will probably be happy with mediums.

String Material

The most common materials for bass strings are nickel-steel, stainless steel, and pure nickel. Nickel-steel strings, the default for electric guitar and bass, have a nickel wrap around a stainless steel core. This combination provides a broadly appealing tone, with presence and depth. Comparatively, pure nickel strings have a deeper, warmer, vintage tone, while stainless steel is gritty and aggressive. While I recommend nickel-steel or pure nickel strings in most genres, I actually recommend stainless steel for punk especially. That immediate bite of stainless steel gets you the bright tone that punk tends to strive for. And let’s be honest, the notes don’t tend to hang around long enough to appreciate any depth of tone anyway!

String Construction

Bass strings are usually roundwound, meaning the string has a rough texture as you run your finger down it. Flatwound strings are less common- they are still wrapped, but then filed to create a smooth texture. Flatwound strings imitate the round, warm sound of an upright bass, and are popular on fretless basses and on genres like jazz, soul, and Motown. It should come as no surprise that I recommend roundwound strings for punk- unless you want to make a very interesting statement.

String Brands

Sorting through string makers is a dizzying task when you’re not sure what you are looking for. There are so many options at so many price points, and they all claim to be great! And players tend to be loyal and vocal about string preference. When it comes down to it, many makers are as good as each other. But some particular makers tend to stand out.

RotoSound Swing 66

RotoSound Swing 66 Strings

Don’t judge a book by its cover! From their packaging and marketing, RotoSound Swing 66 strings seem like a very odd choice for modern punk music. Every design choice points towards British Invasion or old-school rock-n-roll music, more Rolling Stones than Ramones. But the Swing 66 strings are stainless steel and have a famously bright, punchy tone. I saw numerous recommendations for the Swing 66 strings in particular, and they tended to be enthusiastic bordering on rabid. And for a reasonable price, you could certainly do worse!

DR

DR Lo Rider Strings

DR is a funny brand. They have a relatively small market share compared to titans like Ernie Ball and D’Addario. But they seem to be a “players’ string” that musicians delight in introducing each other to. A hidden gem. On the expensive side, but that’s all part of the game- I can’t count the number of times I have seen “Trust me, they are worth it.” DR strings are well-regarded for durability, maintaining a bright tone for longer than other brands. No mystery why punks are excited about that!

For punk playing, I saw multiple recommendations for the Lo-Riders. Again, roundwound stainless steel strings, for a punchy and growling tone. According to DR’s marketing language, the Lo-Riders are a bit stiffer than their more popular Hi-Beam line, which leads to a deeper high-end tone and more accurate harmonics. For punk bassists, this translates to a deep and assertive bite.

If you are enjoying the Lo-Riders but want a slight variation, check out the DR Fat Beams. The round core separates these strings from the Lo-Riders. According to DR, this core, combined with a slow winding process, leads to “more pronounced mids, bright highs and a super-fat bottom.”

Ernie Ball

Ernie Ball Cobalt Hybrid Slinky Bass Strings

Ernie Ball and D’Addario have a bit of Ford-and-Chevy thing going on, though I won’t presume to speculate which is which. The two probably have the vast majority of string-maker market share between them, with other brands fighting for scraps. And with good reason. Ernie Ball and D’Addario may not be the ultimate choice, but they are moderately priced, widely available, with hugely varied selections.

Ernie Ball in particular has recently introduced a line of cobalt strings for guitar and bass, the first maker to create an alloy featuring this metal. I rushed out to put cobalts on my electric guitar, and can count myself as an immediate convert. Cobalt strings’ magnetic properties produce a beautifully rich, satisfying mid-range tone.

I had vintage guitar tone in mind when I bought my cobalts, not punk bass tone. But I wasn’t surprised to see them recommended. Sure, the luxurious mid-range will really sing with delicate and dynamic playing through a tube amp. But it also creates a satisfying, unique tone when hammered in the punk tradition. Cobalts aren’t the cheapest strings, but you might not be able to bring yourself to try anything else after playing on them!

D’Addario

DAddario EPS160 ProSteels Guitar Strings

On that note, you can’t go wrong with a basic, dependable set of D’Addarios. The EPS160 pack is medium-gauge, roundwound, stainless steel. For a good price, from a reliable brand. A punk bassist will probably need to change strings much more often than other players. You need to keep that brightness before it fades, and you’re likely abusing your strings more than most players. In a situation like that, don’t you want inexpensive and dependable over anything else?

GHS Boomers

GHS Boomers Strings

Okay, boomer. (Sorry.) GHS Boomers have a funny name, but they’re serious strings. Red Hot Chili Peppers aren’t really a punk band, but Flea’s bass tone is killer, and would suit punk music exquisitely. GHS Boomers are Flea’s string of choice- that should sell them a bit, right? The company brags that they are “the classic Power String” and I’m not sure if I would go quite that far, but they are certainly A classic power string. What’s more, they’re a good price for a smaller string brand. They’re certainly worth a try for punk bassists, and they just might become your string too.

Conclusion

Punks, and punk-adjacents, you have a heady task. It’s your job to keep the blood pumping through the punk movement, through thick and thin. You never know when society is ready for another big wave of punks to storm the airwaves. Meanwhile, keep those power chords chugging along. With the right strings, your basslines can burn brightly without burning out. Keep working, and always keep the joy of the music alive!