5 Best Bass Strings for Punk Music

fidlar punk band including bass

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As a full-time producer, songwriter, and composer I’ve worked on game soundtracks, musical theatre projects, and produced 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 teenager 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 backward 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 anytime soon. 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.

But we’re here to zoom in on one specific aspect of punk music and that’s the bass. Even more specifically, how you can find the right strings to get that perfect punk bassline. We’ll take a closer look at bass in punk, what you need to look for in strings and point you in the right direction of some of our favorite options. But if you’d rather skip ahead, you can check out our three favorite bass strings here:

Best Overall
DR Lo-Rider
9.9
  • Has everything we're looking for in a punk bass string: steel material, round wound, and medium gauge
  • Sharp but growling tone works great for punk
  • Easy on the budget
Best On A Budget
D'Addario EPS160
9.6
  • Exceptional brand at a budget-friendly price
  • Steel and round wound with plenty of gauge options
  • More than 2,000 five-star reviews on Amazon
Premium Pick
Ernie Ball Cobalts
9.8
  • Unique cobalt material increases output and durability
  • Thick, meaty sound that's perfect for punk bass
  • More than 1,000 reviews on Amazon
The Descendents
Descendents line up Source

Punk Music and Bass Guitar

Punk 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, alternate picking, with plenty of countermelodies and runs to complement the vocals.

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 (including your strings) 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. Of course, string choice will be impacted by the other effects you use whether that’s a flanger pedal for that retro sound or a reverb pedal which can work for just about any genre including punk.

But regardless of your setup, choosing the right strings for the job will make a huge difference. After all, the strings are the very moment that human touch becomes a musical expression.

So let’s look at the factors you need to consider when picking out bass strings for punk.

String Gauge

String gauge refers to the diameter of the strings.

Honestly, guitarists (especially electric 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 going higher or lower gauge if you feel a necessity. Most players will probably be happy with mediums and they’re usually a great middle ground.

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, and vintage tone that’s great for acoustic guitar. Stainless steel, on the other hand, 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 bassists tend 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!

However, there is one newer option out there and that’s cobalt strings which were introduced by Ernie Ball. Reverb looked at a variety of string materials via spectrograph and found that cobalt strings do have a powerful output compared to other types of string material which is a great fit for punk music. We’ll take a closer look at these strings soon but I’m also recommending cobalt strings for punk bassists in addition to steel.

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 round wound strings for punk- unless you want to make a very interesting statement.

Best Strings For Punk Bass

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.

This is also why we reviewed our ideal criteria (medium gauge, stainless steel, and round wound) before we started looking at bass strings. So now that we know what we’re looking for, let’s get into our favorite options.

Best Overall: DR Lo-Rider

Best Overall
DR Lo-Rider
  • Has everything we're looking for in a punk bass string: steel material, round wound, and medium gauge
  • Sharp but growling tone works great for punk
  • Easy on the budget

These are what you’d call a “players’ string” that musicians delight in sharing with each other. A hidden gem. But compared to other hidden gems out there, these are relatively easy on the budget.

DR strings are well-regarded for durability, maintaining a bright tone for longer than other brands. No mystery why punk bassists are excited about that!

For punk playing, I have to recommend DR’s Lo-Rider line for strings as our best overall pick since they check all the boxes we’re looking for. They’re made of stainless steel for a punchy, growling, and sharp tone. They’re round wound for the ideal texture that works well for punk playing and they’re available in the 45-105 gauge that we want.

They’re also not going to break the bank so it’s easy to see why I think they’re a good fit for most punk bassists. 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. You can hear what I’m talking about in this quick video:

It’s a short video, and it’s technically marketing material, but it’s the best example I’ve seen of how the Lo-Riders sound.

Also, if you already have the Lo-Riders but want a slight variation, check out the DR Fat Beams on Amazon. 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.” And who doesn’t want that?

Overall, the Lo-Riders gives us everything we’re looking for at a price that isn’t going to hurt too bad if the strings break. You can read more reviews, check out the gauge options, and see today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

Best On A Budget: D’Addario EPS 160

Best On A Budget
D'Addario EPS160
  • Exceptional brand at a budget-friendly price
  • Steel and round wound with plenty of gauge options
  • More than 2,000 five-star reviews on Amazon

For almost any genre, including punk, it’s hard to go wrong with a basic, dependable set of D’Addarios.

The EPS160 pack is medium-gauge, round wound, and stainless steel which as we’ve already discussed a few times now is exactly what we’re looking for in a great string for punk bassists. For a price that’s easy on the budget, you get a bass string from a brand that’s been making strings for more than 5 decades.  

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 which means replacing strings regularly. Especially if you want to keep those thick, meaty, and growling tones sounding fresh. 

However, the folks at D’Addario seem to have something to say about that and they run their strings through a rigorous series of “torture tests” to make sure they’re up to par. You can see what I’m talking about here and I’ve seen plenty of punk bassists that seem to be doing their own bass string torture tests on stage:

So not only are these relatively easy on the budget but they have a reputation for lasting a long time, along with some science to back up those claims. It also helps that there are more than 2,000 five-star reviews for these strings on Amazon so I’m far from the only happy punk.

You can read some of those reviews, check out all the gauge options and see today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

Premium Pick: Ernie Ball Cobalts

Premium Pick
Ernie Ball Cobalts
  • Unique cobalt material increases output and durability
  • Thick, meaty sound that's perfect for punk bass
  • More than 1,000 reviews on Amazon

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 are both great choices. They’re both reasonably priced, widely available, and have hugely varied selections.

However, Ernie Ball has introduced something a little different and that’s a line of cobalt strings for guitar and bass and they’re the first maker to create an alloy featuring this material. I rushed out to put cobalts on my own bass and can count myself as an immediate convert. Even though I had a vintage tone in mind when I bought my cobalts, it was obvious that they’re a good fit for punk riffs.

It should be no surprise then that I have to go with the Ernie Ball Cobalts when it comes to bass guitar and punk music. These strings have a thick sound that is exactly what a punk bassist wants. It’s that kinda meaty, put hair on your chest sound that you want from your bass.

This video isn’t focused on punk (so hopefully I didn’t get your expectations too high with that hair on your chest line) but it does do a great job showing off the cobalts on a bass:

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. Since these are a premium string, you can expect these strings to last longer than most- even when you’re putting them through the wringer with rough punk playing.

You’ll see some folks saying that these strings have lasted almost two years on their bass and while I don’t doubt that it’s possible it’s not what I would expect if punk is your main genre. Still, you’ll get a lot of life out of the cobalts.

You can read more reviews,  see all the gauge options, and check today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

Unexpectedly Awesome Pick: RotoSound Swing 66

Unexpectedly Awesome Pick
RotoSound Swing 66
  • Great all-around bass string that you wouldn't expect would work so well for punk 
  • Durable and sharp-sounding thanks to the stainless steel material

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. These strings also have a small but somewhat cult following with a ton of positive reviews across the internet.

RotoSound also has some big names backing them and while they’re not punk an endorsement from Rush’s Geddy Lee does carry some weight for me. You can also see Mo Foster showing off these strings in this video:


There’s nothing too fancy here but that’s right in the line with punk aesthetics. These strings are simple, bright, and pretty darn durable. You can read more reviews and check out today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

Best Nickel Strings: GHS Boomers

Best Nickel Strings
GHS Boomers
  • Nickel strings can definitely work for punk bassists
  • Silly name, serious string
  • Easy on the budget

So far we’ve focused on steel strings but I did want to include at least one nickel option for bassists that prefer it. And while I think steel is a better material for most punk bassists, you can absolutely make nickel work too.

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’s got to count for something, 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 and that’s perfect for punk. This video does an exceptional job breaking down the string, how they compare to others and how they sound on the bass:

What’s more, they’re a good price for a smaller string brand. They’re certainly worth a try for punk bassists and you can click here to check out the latest price on Amazon.

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 punk music alive!