Skip to main content

Best bass strings 2021: Get the best tone, feel and lifespan from your bass guitar with these string sets

Best bass strings 2021: Get the best tone, feel and lifespan from your bass guitar with these string sets
(Image credit: D'Addario/Ernie Ball/La Bella)

When it comes to finding a fresh set of strings for your bass guitar, you’ve got options, and lots of them, and here we are going to take a look at some of the best bass strings you can buy today.

There are bass strings for all occasions, for all playing styles and instruments. What is right for you and your instrument is a matter of taste, and a question of what you need from your string. 

Across the board, we all want value. Price is always an issue. But when it comes to materials and construction, the bass strings you choose – not to mention the gauge, or thickness, of your strings – will have a huge impact on your tone and your playing experience.

Best bass strings: Our top picks

D’Addario’s second-brightest bass string, the NYXL, is all about the Big Apple steel that makes them so strong and stable, with a well-balanced, bold output that’s suited to a wide variety of styles. There’s heat and depth to their tone, too – a solid all-rounder that exceeds your expectations of a 30-dollar pack of strings.

The La Bella 760FS Deep Talkin' Bass is a set for those looking to roll the clock back to the classic days of R&B, jazz, Motown and early disco. The flatwound feel is always welcome, but when you are pursuing vintage Jamerson tones the Deep Talkin’ set is a fine choice, giving you some low thump and sturdiness across the frequency spectrum.

Best bass strings: Buying advice

String choice is one of our fundamental gear decisions. Which set is right for you is a combination of a number of factors, of which price is always an issue. 

Bass strings can be a considerable investment, but 30 bucks should get you a very decent set. We have a few options that present excellent value with no lack of quality. The Rotosound RS66LD Swing Bass 66 will cost less than 20 dollars, and they’re awesome.

Speaking in terms of tone, there are a few considerations to be made that will ultimately decide what type of string you go for, and the type of winding on the string plays a big part. 

Starting with roundwounds, in which the alloy wrap around the steel core is exactly that, a thin filament of round wire that wraps the core. These are most common, with a stainless steel or nickel-plated steel wrap. With a stainless steel wrap, they’ll be among the brightest bass strings you can buy, with a pronounced low end and a fair degree of brightness. Introducing nickel into the mix can tame a little of the string’s brightness for a more vintage sound.

Flatwounds are constructed from a wire wrapping that is flattened, thus the string feels smooth to the touch, and these place more of a tonal emphasis on the lows and mids. Ideal for fretless basses, when you want to preserve your fretboard, they also reduce string noise and are just the ticket for ‘60s-style bass tones, for Motown thump and all that. 

Tapewound strings will typically have a nylon coating over them and will take that old-school tone further, giving you an electric bass tone that approximates the sound of an acoustic upright bass. They are an excellent option for more muted fingerstyle bass tones, and were used by the likes of Paul McCartney to good effect. You will typically find these in a heavier gauge to compensate for the low tension of the string, but they will feel very easy to play.

More generally, coated strings can add a few weeks of life to your strings. That long-life can come at a premium, but if you crave new-string freshness it can save you money in the long run. 

Some players feel the coating takes a little off the top end, as though they’d been played in for a few hours, but the counter to that is that they stay as they are out the packet for longer.

Now, let's take a look at the best bass strings you can buy right now.

Best bass strings: Product guide & reviews

Best bass strings: D'addario NY XL

(Image credit: D'addario)

1. D’Addario NYXL

The all-round best string for tone, feel and price

Price: $29/£29 | Material: Nickel-plated steel wrap, high-carbon steel core

Excellent performance for the price 
A Goldilocks tone profile balances brightness and warmth  
Plenty of gauge and 5/6-string options 
They feel quality
They're neither super-bright or super-dark

The NYXL strings’s USP is the high-carbon steel from which they take their name. D’Addario cook this stuff up at their New York factory and fashion it into a super-tough hexagonal core before applying a roundwound nickel wrap. These are the second brightest strings D’Addario produce, and yet they are well-balanced, with a musical warmth and harmonic richness. 

They’ll handle all kinds of styles, with a bass and treble response that’ll suit contemporary slap and percussive styles, but enough midrange to ingratiate them to those seeking more old-school flavors of thunder. 

D’Addario offers the NYXL sets in a wide variety of gauges, from super-light 40-95 sets to 55-110 tow ropes, and various hybrid gauges in between that offer a light top, heavy medium configurations. There are five- and six-string sets available, too.

Best bass strings: La Bella Deep Talkin' Bass

(Image credit: La Bella)

2. La Bella 760FS Deep Talkin' Bass

The best buy for flatwounds

Price: $39/£43 | Material: Stainless steel

Classic vintage tones
Nice feel
They’ll only get better as they get older (up to a point)
Shop around because they can be pricey
Take care to buy the right set for your bridge

La Bella’s Deep Talkin’ flatwounds have that classic flatwound feel – easy on the finger, easy on your frets, easy on your fretboard. And there’s a lovely roundedness to their tone profile that allows those E and A strings to bloom nicely. 

A little experimentation with your technique and EQ, juicing the bass, a little string deadening, and you might find yourself spirited away to Studio A, tracking with Marvin and co.

But seriously, they feel so good for fingerstyle, and make a very fretboard-friendly option for fretless players. Just make sure you get the right set for your bass; La Bella sells through-body and through-bridge sets. The “FS-TB” sets are for through-body basses.

Best bass strings: Rotosound RS66LD Swing Bass 66 Stainless Steel

(Image credit: Rotosound)

3. Rotosound RS66LD Swing Bass 66 Stainless Steel Roundwound Bass Strings

A legendary string of British steel

Price: $19/£18 | Material: Nickel-plated steel

The value is hard to beat
Tone profile makes them a good all-rounder
If they’re good enough for Geddy…
There's nothing to fault here!

Launched in 1962 and used by the likes of Geddy Lee, Roger Waters, Duff McKagan, John Entwistle and… Well, you get the idea, the quality of Swing Bass 66 sets is not to be sniffed at.

How these British classics are put together is very much a trade secret. There are no line drawings of the process, no pulling back on the curtain, but you’ll know a well-made nickel-plated steel string when you play it. The balance will be there, with deep lows, detailed highs, and there should be a little warmth too.

At 20 bucks or less, they offer excellent value, and come in a variety of gauges, with plenty of options for short and long scale basses. Five and six string basses are also catered for.

Best bass strings: Ernie Ball Regular Slinky

(Image credit: Ernie Ball)

4. Ernie Ball 2832 Regular Slinky Nickel Wound Bass Strings

The best value bass strings have a bright, clear tone

Price: $17/£23 | Material: Nickel-plated steel wrap, steel core

Big value for money 
You’ll find them everywhere 
Wide variety of gauges
Bright, articulate tones
Not for vintage fans

The ubiquitous Slinkys are never a bad idea, and with a quality steel core and nickel-plated roundwound wrap, they deliver a bright, effervescent tone that makes them a no-brainer for contemporary styles.

Rock bassists would love them, as would the metal heads, and with that amount of articulation and treble, the Slinkys work well for bouncy slap ’n’ pop basslines.

They also represent quite excellent value, are available in a wide variety of gauges, and are available everywhere. Sure, if you have aspirations of being the next James Jamerson, these might be a little on the bright side, but otherwise you cannot go wrong.

Best bass strings: DR Strings Hi-Beams

(Image credit: DR Strings)

5. DR Strings Hi-Beam

An excellent choice for slap bass

Price: $22/£30 | Material: Bright stainless steel

Lovely brightness 
Good feel under the fingers 
Consistent tonally across all strings
Not the best option for ‘70s bass heads

The Hi-Beams have got a very agreeable feel, good and malleable, and that’s in no small part down to their round steel core. The brightness from that stainless-steel wrap makes them one of the best options for percussive bass styles. 

Disciples of Mark King would do well to seek out the lightest set they can, boost their bass and treble accordingly, and press that thumb into service. Marcus Miller is a big fan.

DR Strings engineers these tension using its Tite Fit/Compression-Winding tech, so there is a lot more mass of metal than the finished string – so what starts out as a .108 gauge E string ends up as .105 once when it’s ready. Very clever.

Best bass strings: Rotosound Tru Bass 88

(Image credit: Rotosound)

6. Rotosound Tru Bass 88

The best tapewound strings for vintage upright tones

Price: $34/£31 | Material: Black nylon-coated steel

Unbeatable for vintage bass sounds 
Kind to frets, fingerboards and fingers
They’re coated and will last for ages
You dislike anything that pre-dates the color TV

These tapewound strings are totally old-school, and if you are looking for that mellow, bass-heavy thunk there is nothing better. Tapewounds always feel kind to the fingers and they are ideal for fretless players who don’t want to chew the rosewood to kindling.

We would co-sign Rotosound’s description of the Tru Bass 88’s tone profile as deep and warm, but maybe it’s best to direct you to recordings such as Abbey Road and Transformer – two recordings form the pop-cultural pantheon to feature them.

Messrs McCartney and Flowers put them to good use. Depending on your setup, you can chase upright bass tones with these, and that, in this digitized age, is a beautiful prospect.

Best bass strings: Ernie Ball Slinky Cobalt

(Image credit: Ernie Ball)

7. Ernie Ball 2731 Power Slinky Cobalt Electric Bass Strings

A versatile set for for contemporary playing styles

Price: $28/£29 | Material: Iron/cobalt alloy-wrapped steel

Long-lasting freshness
Clarity across the frequency spectrum
Versatile, but especially good for bolder players
They lack vintage warmth

And now for something completely different, the Power Slinky Cobalts. Well, not completely different, but with the iron/cobalt alloy wrap offering more magnetism for your pickups to react to, the Cobalts are engineered to give you more output.

Tone-wise, this serves up a menu of deeper lows and brighter highs, and a midrange that has a little more discipline. And, of course, with a soupçon more output, they’ll really help you cement the low end in the mix.

This should appeal to a wide range of players, especially those playing modern styles. Rock and metal players should like these. But then, that tone profile and softer feel on the fingers makes these a decent bet for percussive styles. 

Best bass strings: DR Strings Black Beauties

(Image credit: DR Strings)

8. DR Strings BKB-45 Black Beauties Coated Steel Bass Strings

A coated string with long-life in mind

Price: $39/£37 | Material: Coated steel with steel core

An excellent contemporary tone profile 
They’ll last you a long time 
Stealth black finish is pretty cool 
For roundwounds, they feel nice on the fingers
Not the best old-school option

The Black Beauties are coated in black polymer to extend the life of the strings, maintaining their just-out-the-pack freshness for longer. The coating is DR Strings’ K3 coating, which was rolled out in 2010 with the promise that it wouldn’t tame any of the string’s frequency response, and nor would the coating flake, which used to a problem with coated strings. 

We players can get a little superstitious with coated strings, with even the suggestion that there’s something between your finger or pick and the string being enough to play tricks with our mind, but these strings are excellent, with a healthy amount of upper-mids and trebly sparkle complementing a loud low end.

Indeed, for coated strings, these have exceptional brightness, a musical liveliness that will work well for modern styles. It shows how far coating tech has come that we look at the Black Beauties and our caveat is that they’re probably a bit lively for ‘60s Motown.

Best bass strings: Ernie Ball Earthwood

(Image credit: Ernie Ball)

9. Ernie Ball 2070 Earthwood Phosphor Bronze Acoustic Bass Strings

The best strings for acoustic bass guitars

Price: $19/£33 | Material: Phosphor-bronze with tin-plated hex steel core

Hits the right balance between brightness and warmth 
Long life 
Decent value
Only gauge available runs .045, .055, .080, .095.

The acoustic bass might be a specialist instrument but here Ernie Ball has looked to what works on acoustic guitars and applies to the Earthwoods, wrapping a tin-plated hexagonal steel core with an alloy wrap that’s 92 per cent copper, 7.7 per cent tin, and 0.3% phosphorus wire.

We all love phosphor bronze because it is hard wearing and has a brassy quality that brings it all the details in your playing. The upper-mids and top end is articulate. The low end is warm and plump. 

Ultimately, the Earthwoods offer a well-balanced tone and will help you get the best out of your acoustic bass.

Best bass strings: Thomastik-Infeld Jazz Flat Wound

(Image credit: Thomastik-Infeld)

10. Thomastik-Infeld Jazz Flat Wound Bass Strings

The best super-premium flatwounds for jazz styles

Price: $76/£54 | Material: Nickel-wound steel with silk-wrapped steel core

Magnificent vintage bass tone 
Great feel 
Fundamentally balanced tones
Expensive

Let’s round out the list with something a little special, for those occasions when you want to go into record and you need everything, y’know, just so. Made in Austria, these Thomastik-Infeld flatwounds will give you warm, mellow bass tones, with more than a hint of the upright about them.

They are constructed from a ribbon flatwound nickel-plated steel wrap with a round steel core that’s wrapped in a silk inlay. With the round core, there’s an extra degree of flexibility and a more relaxed feel. 

Allied to the flatwound’s inherent smooth profile, that round core helps make these  exceptionally approachable. For this money, they should be, of course.

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars since 2005 and is a regular contributor to Guitar World, Total Guitar and MusicRadar.