32

With the risk of being a duplicate question of How often should I replace the strings on my guitar? I'd like to ask the same thing for bass guitar.

Bass strings are pricier than guitar strings, so I don't want to replace them more often then I should. I try to keep them as clean as possible (FastFret + occasional cleaning with 90% alcohol). However 4 months in (and about 40-50H of playing), and I'm starting to feel they don't sound that great. There are also fret marks on the high G

How often (playing hours or chronological months) should good quality bass strings be replaced?

I have a 4 string electric bass, and I use round-wound strings.

  • 2
    Are you asking if they should be replaced more often that you're currently replacing them? Because if they sound bad you certainly wouldn't want to keep them longer. – Matthew Read Jun 6 '11 at 20:56
  • 1
    I'm asking what's the "normal" rate in which one would replace Bass strings. They currently don't sound bad, just not as good as they used to. – Yoav Weiss Jun 7 '11 at 11:00
  • Chris Squire (Yes) changed his strings before every gig. James Jamerson (Motown) never changed his strings, except when his was bass stolen, with the strings. There's a lot of latitude here... – Stinkfoot Sep 6 '17 at 4:38

17 Answers 17

14

I change my strings when they start to sound stale, about every 4-6 months. As a gauge, I play about 5 hours a week in my church, plus an additional hour or two of practice on top of that. When I used DR coated strings, they would last a bit longer than that, but even with the extra life I had a hard time justifying the extra cost.

  • What is DR coated? – musicwithoutpaper Jun 14 '11 at 22:25
  • 2
    They are a brand of coated strings. Strings degrade in part because your fingers bring chemistry which corrodes them and funk which embeds between windings. Coating protects them, but changes the tone in ways some musicians don't like. More here: music.stackexchange.com/questions/1629/… – Dave Jacoby Sep 25 '12 at 14:27
12

As guitarist who plays bass occasionally, I can tell you that bass strings just seem to be pricier. But they also last much, much longer. Of course after some time, they loose some brilliance but after that they usually keep the sound for a long time. The sweat-production of your hands also reduces the life of your strings. In general I'd say that bass-strings lives about 5-10 times longer than guitar strings, which makes them as cheap(/expensive) as guitar-strings.

If you want to keep the brilliance of your sound, you have no choice to either use coated strings or to change your strings more frequently. (And of course keep a good maintenance) If you can live with a 'dull' sound, you can generally keep uncoated strings on for over an year or longer. (unless they break^^)

As you can see, there is no basic yes or no to your question, you need to decide for yourself what you expect from your sound. [ I know, I hate such answers, too. ;) ]

I hope that helps, but keep in mind that the life of guitar/bass-strings can vary drammatically. It's all about how often you play, your hand-sweat, your maintenance and the material of your strings (+coat). So bass strings last from roughly 1 month to 5 years. ;)

8

As some people have said already it depends on how you want to sound. Depending on how often you play your strings will sound a lot more dull after some time. I personally think that if you're slapping, newer strings sound much better. They just have that bright punch to them. If you're using a pick I also think newer strings sound better.

For most things though, I like a duller, rounder sort of sound that I think older strings give after they lose their shine. It could be a combination of my amp settings and play style, it could also be the fact that I haven't broken a G string in quite some time so I just haven't bothered to change them and forgotten what it sounds like.

I would not be worried about the fret marks on your strings. I estimate I used to practice ~4-6 a day when I first put the strings on, this was pre-college. I switched majors about half way through and I didn't play as much. The strings have been on there for going on 7 years I'd say. The last 4 of which I play at most 10 hours a month maybe with no serious practicing just recording little things here and there.

I'd say part of this is luck. I use DR but I don't remember the exact kind and they were whatever the lightest guage they had at my local shop.

One thing to note is that if you are playing old strings it's good to wipe them down after you play, it's good to do this anyway actually. I can't imagine how disgusting they are and rather not think about it but besides that old strings will kill whatever sort of sustain you have and if that's something you're worried about I'd definitely change them as soon as they start to get a dull sound or start to get build up on the strings. There is no exact time period for this and it depends on how much you play and the humidity of the area where you keep your instruments.

6

If our old open-mic club is any indication.... Never. The "house" bass wore the same set for at least 10 years.

  • 1
    Yeah, but I'm assuming here that I want my bass to sound reasonably good ... :) – Yoav Weiss Jun 7 '11 at 10:59
  • Not something that could be said of the bass in question...It also had a short and would shock people... – M. Werner Jun 8 '11 at 21:41
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    This sounds like a joke... lasted ten years... nobody would use it because of the short... that might be why it lasted so long :) – musicwithoutpaper Jun 14 '11 at 22:34
  • I used a set of strings for 10+ years also. Changed them when they broke. – Daniel Pendergast Aug 5 '13 at 17:53
6

It is usually stated that James Jamerson, legendary Motown bassist, never changed his strings. This was generally considered to be a part of his sound. He also used flatwound strings which last longer than roundwound (although I don't think they're intended to last a whole career!)

  • I would be very surprised if James Jamerson had never had to replace a broken string, considering I must have been playing many hours every day. – leftaroundabout Sep 29 '17 at 19:51
4

I have known rock bassists who play nightly, practice during the day, and change their strings before every single concert. These are players who insist on a very bright sound with prominent overtones, and play with a pick much of the time. This seems wasteful to me, but people do it.

4

Always change strings before recording at least. We borrowed a same brand, same model bass, but with different tuning when we were recording. The strings were bass-"fresh", a month or so. It sounded very muddy compared to the other which had really fresh strings. Changing strings got the sound back. (It should be common wisdom to change strings before recording, but it's also common knowledge that bass strings last "forever"...)

3

If you can't afford new strings and there not so old that they have stretched. Try boiling stainless steel strings in water to steam clean, remove oils, it should sound brighter.

  • Back in more penurious times I would add a couple of teaspoons of baking powder (sodium bicarbonate) to a saucepan of water and boil the boohoozola (technical term) out of the strings. An alarming scum would float to the surface of the water. The strings sounded brighter. Now that I am rolling in dough I buy lots of sets of cheap strings because my thrifty ways have never left me and a new cheap string sounds brighter than an old deluxe one. – Areel Xocha May 14 '17 at 3:24
  • @AreelXocha - Changed the strings on my go-to Bass Collection 5 string this week , after 10 yrs, and thousands of hours playing. Old strings didn't sound too bad, but the edge had gone, comparable to new. Boiled the old ones for 15 mins, with added washing up liquid. Amazing amount of dirt in the water. Might have to wait another 10 yrs to find out if they sound any better though... – Tim May 14 '17 at 9:41
2

To be honest, it all depends on your ear. I myself love the Marcus Miller Fat Beams, but after only a couple months (2-3) of playing, the initial "out of the pack fresh" brightness is already gone. Even though it can be more expensive, I tend to replace them at this point because I love the way that they sound when I play. If you are using strings that you think still sound good 1 year later, then there is no reason to replace them.

  • Thanks! I usually break the G string after 4-6 months, so never tested the strings for a whole year. Anyway, I'm glad to see I have justification to change them after 3... :) – Yoav Weiss Dec 15 '11 at 7:54
2

I play TI jazz flats and I love the sound. I have had them on my bass for about a year and they still sound good. My preference, my opinion.

  • 2
    Is there any trace of the "fret marks on the high G" that OP was concerned about? About how many hours of playing (rough hrs/day is sufficient) does this represent? Would you expect the same results from Thomastik's roundwounds (OP uses rounds)? – luser droog Sep 23 '12 at 16:57
  • Welcome to the Site! Don't get me wrong! I love Thomastik Jazz Flats to death (I get about 5-6 years out of a set of George Benson's). But, as a "late answer", we're looking for a little more substance. ... I'm certain that facts will bear out your claim. :) – luser droog Sep 25 '12 at 5:16
1

How do you know if you need new guitar strings?

For Acoustic and Electric guitars Couple of questions to answer:

  1. Have you had the same strings on for over 2 months?

  2. Are your strings rusty?

  3. Are your strings rough?

  4. Do your strings sound dull?

  5. Had a string break recently?

If you answered yes to any of the above, its probably time to replace your strings.

Because of moisture on your fingers and in the atmosphere, strings corrode and rust over time and their ablility to vibrate diminishes. This not only causes the sound to dull but even worse, the feel of the strings becomes rough and will hurt or even damage your fingers.

Strings can also become brittle from too much vibration, just think of how a paper clip snaps if you twist it too much, the same happens to strings - especially if you use a lot of different tunings.

If you play a lot, say for 2 hours a day every day, then you should look at changing your guitar strings every month. If you play less, but still strum most days, the max you should leave them on the guitar would be 2 months.

Strings are quite cheap, about £5 for a set of 6.

There is an alternative to changing your strings this often. You can buy coated strings. These last longer due to a coating on the strings that prevent dirt build up and corrosion. Coated guitar strings tend to last 3 to 5 times longer than normal strings, so you can leave them on for longer. These still need to be changed though. At least every 6 months these should be changed as they are also prone to breaking because of the vibrations of the string as explained earlier using the paper clip analogy. Coated strings do cost more, about £12 for a set of 6, but last longer, so can work out more cost effective.

Ernie Ball Coated Strings have titanium reinforcement to make them stronger and less prone to break.

For Bass Guitars, the strings are much more substantial and tend to last longer and hold their tone. Change bass strings at least once a year.

For Classical Guitars with nylon based strings, again because of the way they are made, they don't rust, so last longer. They do age though, so do need replacing. When they age they tend to stretch and become hard to keep in tune. If you don't want to wait till this starts happening, you should look at changing them every 3 to 4 months.

So to summarize:

  • Change your Electric / Acoustic uncoated strings at least every 2 months.

  • Change your coated Electric / Acoustic strings at least every 6 months.

  • Change your Bass guitar strings at least once a year.

  • Change your Classical guitar strings at least every 4 months.

Details of guitar strings can be found at the Guitarbitz Guitar Strings page.

  • 2
    Per the FAQ, "you must disclose your affiliation in your answers." Also, "the community frowns on overt self-promotion and tends to vote it down and flag it as spam." This is just a reminder (your username gave it away). Good answer on the whole, though. – American Luke Sep 25 '12 at 14:30
  • Guitars and basses are entirely different beasts. But some things do apply. – Kyle May 26 '14 at 8:50
1

Basically it depends on how often you play. The more that you play the more often that they need to be changed. I play daily and tend to go through a set of strings a month, but I like to have a very bight tone. One thing that can be done is boiling your strings every so often. I have done that on occasion when money is tight. This can make your strings sound new again.

1

I play my Gibson about 24 -30 gig hours a month plus practice 8hrs a week. Let's call that 60 hrs a month and change my strings monthly. I prefer a brighter tone, but my bass is natually deep, so the balance is perfect.

My Jazz bass has flat wounds and rarely change the strings. Maybe ever few years. But I don't play it as often either. Maybe 3-4 hrs a month.

0

MarloweDK has a good tutorial on How to get NEW bass strings in 2 minutes!. He drops the tuning about an octave and pulls the strings away from the guitar and lets them whack off the fretboard. The idea is that any dirt gets shaken out.

The 'before' and 'after' comparison is right at the start if you don't want to watch the whole thing.

0

I play once every weekend for 4 hours and practice about 4 hours a week. I've had the same strings for 5 years. If there is a difference in the sound compared to when they were new, I can't hear it and neither does anyone else. In fact, in the past twenty years of playing routinely, I only change the strings on my electric bass about every 5 years. I've never broke a string yet.

0

Depends on the sound you're going for. There is no rule that suits everyone regardless of what some people might say or imply. If you like that bright, twangy guitar-like sound then you'll want new strings relatively often. If you're like me and prefer a deep, flat sound then you'll want to avoid changing them ever if at all possible. If I put on new strings I'll have to wait for them to get back that nice sound I'm after. I play with a pick or my fingers, sometimes both, depending on what I'm going for in a particular song.

0

To me the answer is: When you're less happy with the sound.

I recently switched from guitar to bass guitar and wondered when I should change the strings. After 2 months of daily playing I noticed the bass didn't seem to sound as good as it did when new. It had less personality and was darker and more mellow. The strings also were a little discolored and had some fret marks on them.

I took a chance and replaced the strings. It sounds good as new again.

New strings cost me about $30. The bass was $2,500. Seems like a good investment to keep it sounding it's best.

Opinions vary of course. I always notice when I hear old, dead strings on guitar or bass. Some don't notice, while others prefer the sound of old strings.

On guitar old strings loose their intonation with age. I don't know about bass though. You might want to check that with a tuner.

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