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The bass is one of my favorite instruments to play. Perhaps it is because I am a drummer at heart, and the bass and drums have a very close relationship in regard to keeping rhythm and time.
Some will argue that the bass is easier to learn than the guitar, but that is debatable. Either way, the bass is a fantastic instrument to learn and play.
However, over time, regardless of the quality of the bass, parts will start to degrade and eventually need replacing, especially the strings, just like on guitars.
Strings will inevitably wear down. Over time they can become dirty and lose their ability to stay in tune, and they often do not sound as good as when they were brand new.
In general, a good-quality set of guitar strings will last around 100 hours of playing time. But what about bass strings?
Bass strings are similar to guitar strings meaning they should be replaced based on the amount of playing time, not the amount of time they have been on the bass. You should replace your bass strings every 100 hours of playing time, but if you’re a professional bassist you might have to change them sooner.
Below I will talk about some of the different factors, along with the amount of time played, that will influence how often you should change the strings on your bass guitar. These include stock string considerations, the feel and look of the strings, tuning considerations, and of course, the amount of time played and duration they have been on the bass.
Factor #1: Stock String Considerations
If you have just purchased a brand-new bass guitar, you may think you have a few months before you will need to even think about changing the strings, but that might not always be the case.
Unfortunately, stock strings are often going to be of lower quality. Most guitarists and bass guitarists I know immediately replace their stock strings with a higher-quality set of strings they are used to playing with.
Much like with guitars, if you purchase a bass over $1,000, it is a safe bet that the strings will be higher quality than if you buy a mid-range or budget bass guitar. This doesn’t mean all mid-range basses or basses under $500 will come with lousy stock strings, but it is more likely.
When in doubt, it is not a bad idea to be prepared to change out the stock strings for a set of strings you know are of higher quality.
This leads us to the second consideration regarding how often you should change bass strings, which is how long the strings have been on the bass.
Factor #2: Amount of Time Strings Have Been on the Bass
Along with stock strings not always being of the highest quality is the fact that bass strings can be out of the package and on the bass for a very long time before you ever get it home.
This is especially true if you purchase the bass from an online store, as it could have been sitting in the box in a warehouse for several months before being sent to you. If you are buying at a physical store, ask them if they will restring your bass for you when you purchase it, as many stores will do this and sometimes will do it free of charge.
Further, if it was displayed in places like guitar center before being shipped to you, there is a good chance many people have touched the strings, accelerating the aging process and decay of the strings. The same logic applies if you are buying used basses.
If we are not talking about a recent purchase but rather a bass you have owned and played for a while, the same considerations above still apply.
No matter the quality, strings will eventually deteriorate to the point where they can significantly and negatively impact the sound quality. Old strings will have a noticeable decrease in sound quality, often sounding dull, flat, or muddy, whereas new strings have a much brighter and crisper sound.
The video below shows a good comparison between old and new strings.
However, this doesn’t mean the old-sounding strings are “wrong.” Many players prefer the sound of worn-in strings to the sound of brand-new ones. It ultimately comes down to what sound you are going for.
So, if you like how your old strings sound, keep using them, but eventually, all strings must be replaced.
Factor #3: Amount of Time Played
While this factor is largely a personal preference, on average, bass strings should typically be changed around 100 hours of play. However, as I stated in factor two, many players prefer the sound of older strings.
Most bass players I know will keep their strings on for much longer than guitarists. In one of the bands I play in, our bass player changes his strings about once every ten or more shows, and in the other band, the strings haven’t been changed in several months. On the other hand, guitarists usually change their strings after one or two shows.
When and how you play is also an important consideration along with how long you have played the strings. What I mean by this is that if you are playing many outdoor venues in hot and humid temperatures, it is likely that you will sweat more which will lead to accelerated degradation of the strings.
This, compared to playing in a climate-controlled room all of the time, will significantly influence the durability of the strings.
In other words, not all playing time is equal. The environment you are playing in makes a difference.
So, while it is largely a personal preference as to when you would change your bass strings based on the amount of time you have played your instrument, there will be a time when they must be changed.
Factor #4: Look and Feel of the Strings
The fourth factor on our list is the overall feel and look of the strings. While the look of bass strings by itself is not necessarily a reason to change the strings, it can serve as an important indicator of when strings need to be replaced.
As strings age, they will begin to corrode. This degradation not only impacts how the strings look but also how they feel and sound. The aging process will impact strings differently depending on the type of strings that you have.
For example, plain steel unwound strings and those coated in a nickel-steel alloy will rust over time. Strings that are bronze coated won’t rust but will still corrode. Moisture and humidity are the biggest factors in how fast strings will corrode, so storing your instruments properly is extremely important to help combat environmental effects on them.
There are string cleaner and conditioner products available that can help combat some of this by keeping them clean, but again at some point, you will have to change your strings.
Generally, if my strings show visible signs of degradation and corrosion, it is time to change them. If you live in a humid climate, there is a good chance this process will occur faster than in a more moderate climate, so it is hard to put an exact timeframe.
It can also be expected that if there are visible signs of corrosion, there will be a difference in the feel of the strings as well, which can negatively affect playability.
The build-up of dirt and grime on the strings can not just cause changes in the overall tone quality but can also impair the feel of the strings. Of course, it should go without saying that if your strings impact your playability, it is time to change them!
Factor #5: Tuning Considerations
If you constantly switch between tunings (for example, standard tuning to drop B), the life expectancy of your strings will decrease.
While tuning is a common occurrence and will not cause any harm to the bass, constantly changing from standard tuning to drop tuning will negatively affect your strings over time.
The biggest reason for this is the change in tension. As you switch from standard tuning to a lower tuning, you decrease the tension in the strings, and then when you tune back up, the tension will once again increase.
Doing this a few times is not a big deal, and the closer you stay to standard tuning, the less impact it will have on string life. Over time, this constant change in tension will begin to degrade the strings.
The constant change in tuning can also increase the risk of strings breaking. However, bass strings are fairly resilient and take quite a bit of effort to break.
If you consistently switch between tunings, you should be prepared to change your bass strings more frequently than if you were to only play in standard tuning or keep your bass in one specific tuning.
In a perfect world, we would all have a bass for every tuning, but that isn’t realistic for most of us, so being prepared to change strings more frequently is important.
For most of my drop tuning playing below drop D, I utilize my 5-string bass as I have found it better suited for playing in those lower tuning situations.
Now that you better understand how often you should change your bass strings and the factors contributing to how quickly strings will degrade, you will be better prepared for the inevitable time of when you must change your bass strings.
I hope you have enjoyed this article and found it beneficial.
Until next time, happy playing!
Hi everyone! I have been involved with music most of my life, beginning in grade school with the trumpet. I am a largely self-taught multi-instrumentalist (drums, guitar, bass, and starting the piano and violin). I currently play drums in two rock/folk cover bands and write and produce many genres of music in my home recording studio. I am also an avid guitar and drum collector.