Pickups and Strings - find your bass' tone

As many of you know by now I a bit nuts in several regards. Tone being one of them. I really strive for hearing a bass’ tone come through cleanly, and understanding how it can speak, then manipulate it.

This may come from being a sax player, where your tone (or what they all call ‘sound concept’) is the single most important thing. The tricky part about sax vs. bass, is that you are part of the tone generation, so a setup that works for one person does not work for the next, based on throat, oral cavity and teeth shape. The shaping of tone on a sax primarily comes from the mouthpiece / reed combination. Sure the horn has a bit to do with it, but you can shape a horn’s tone almost infinitely via mouthpieces and reeds.

What I have come to learn on bass is that the mouthpiece/reed combo is very tightly correlated to the pickup/string combo (keeping all post bass processing, pre-amps, amps, cabs, etc). Having a good number of basses now and a drawer full of strings I am starting to learn what pickup/string combos work well, for me, on different basses.

This really showed itself on the two different colored Aerodyne Jazz basses I have with the stock DiMarzio pickups. These pickups are hot, very hot, and I had a really hard time dialing them into something I liked to hear. After a few iterations now I was able to find a string/pickup combos I liked, to no surprise, La Bella 760FS flats was one of them. I tired rounds of various mfgs, and also tried white tape copper strings, but the more I tired, the more I didn’t like any of it. I really wanted a jazz bass set up with rounds, but, for me, its not with these pickups. So, the pickups will get replaced.

The long story longer moral of the story here is…don’t discount a bass itself for tone, or the pickups for that matter. Before you start changing expensive things, try cheaper things. Strings are cheap in respect to pickups and basses. A great ask for holiday presents from friends and family, or to pick up with gift cards etc. Pick up some sets you normally wouldn’t buy to try, and, keep around if they don’t work on one bass. You never know where they will fit in, and they might stave off GAS pangs in the meantime. When you do try a combo, take notes or better yet record something without EQ. I have dozens of recordings of reed/mouthpiece combos on my phone from trials and boxes and boxes of reeds that did not work out. But the notes and sound clips really help when I am looking for something else in a sax sound.

If you do have strings that you absolutely hate on all accounts for whatever reason, consider posting them in the Gear It Forward thread so someone else might be able to find their happy place sound in the gear they have.

Hope this helps someone who is staring down at their bass and thinking they don’t like it when it could just be a string / pickup change that saves the day.

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Thanks for reminding me of this @John_E

My new Stream 204 with the EMG humbuckers is very hot, and though it sounded nice, the strings were noisey. I went and put flats on it after reading this and it sounds much better.

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I just bought my second bass, It is a 2018 MIM Fender Player Series 4-string Precision. I think it may need new strings. I play classic rock. Here are a few questions I have.

  1. What name brand should I get?
  2. Round wound or flat?
  3. Coated or not?
  4. Tell me what I don’t know.
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  1. Depends
  2. Depends
  3. Depends
  4. This is a highly personal thing and the only way you find out is by creating a drawer or bin full of strings along the way.

That said, FWIW, IMO
Classic rock guys would typically have used some sort of rounds, but I mostly play with flats and play that music.
I have not found a reason to buy a coated string. My understanding is they are for folks with really agressive skin chemistry or who play in a rainforest. :upside_down_face:
All rounds are not the same, stainless are brighter than nickel, but some nickel are brighter than some stainless.
Rotosound 45 nickels are brighter than LaBella stainless (at least to my ears) for example.

These are the best comparison videos I have seen for a wide variety of strings…

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Thank you @John_E thats an excellent OCD style approach to gears, I love it! Well informed post. I’ll share some of my experience so if someone is looking for new strings they can get some ideas.

Well I just got a player series p bass as well. What don’t you like about the string that it has on now?

Brand? Well too many good ones to choose
Here’s my take
Tape or nylon wound go with La Bella or D’addario they are excellent. Both are by far my “go to” choice of strings.
La Bella offer many choices black, white, gold white, copper white each has slightly different tone, mainly brightness the copper white seems to be the warmest one out of the bunch.

They feel great very smooth, if you don’t like the metal feel on the fingers give this one a try.

D’addario only offer tapewound in black but the strike great balance between tight low end and brightness something that you may have wanted on a flat wound. The best thing I love about this string is the feel. It’s very smooth and rubber like softness but not sticky by any mean.


Flat wounds, I like La Bella, Rotosound, GHS, Fender, and of course Ernie Ball. They are all very predictable and give you the “flats” sound. Since I’m usually seeking more brightness I tend to go with lighter strings.

Round wounds, kings of the beast has to be Ernie ball slinky, affordable and high performance. Fender of course. Too may good ones to list. It usually take a while to break them in (unless you really like the crisp bright sound of new strings then it gets very expensive to play bass, lol) but once you do it’s easier to pick a favorite one you like as far as tone are concern. I usually stick with big brands because chances are it’s the same ones used on my favorite songs.

Coated strings, I like the feel of coated strings as the are smoother round it has much less bite to the finger but they do cut into brightness I love DR color string not so much the neon ones mainly because they flake off but the Red Devils and black beauties are excellent.





Hybrids and half rounds are great concept but I’ve yet to find any thing great that I like, and since the are usually higher price than rounds or flats I keep my curiosity at minimum. Lol.

Worthy mention: optima gold strings. They look and feel great with the premium price to boost. They are great for slapping or any bright notes you need.


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For rounds I like D’Addario (either EXL or NYXL) by far the best out of the several I have tried. Much more than Ernie Ball strings - at least Super Slinky’s didn’t impress me at all.

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I put NYXLs on as an intonation test. Left them on for a couple of months. Put the other strings (Dunlop Super Brights) back on and realized how inferior they were. Ordering some new NYXLs now.

Also, I’ve been playing with the volume and tone knobs on the bass more. Before, I tended to leave them all at max. I’m finding things like the lowering the Tone knob a bit REALLY decreases string noise. Still tinkering here.

Also, EQ settings on the pre-amp play a big part here if it is an active bass. I’m finding I like a “scooped mid” for example.

All of this before any effects or amp settings.

I’m definitely appreciating the finer tone controls now that I’m getting more familiar with bass playing itself.

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Which strings? Too subjective to say.

I like La Bella Flats, D’Addario tape wounds, NYXL (they do stay in tune well), and EXLs in a pinch. I’ve tried others, but this is all I use now, and which one depends on the bass and sound I’m aiming for.

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I want some Purple People Eaters (or something) :sweat_smile: License the term “Plum Crazy” from Chrysler?

Like so many things in music gear and genre tastes.

Back in the day, a lot of musicians were just happy to have ALL the strings on their instruments.
I remember hearing one story about a musician that snapped a string, while practicing on the way to a gig, and he climbed a telephone pole and used a telephone wire as a replacement :slightly_smiling_face:

@frankxconnors I personally like D’Addario, either EXL or NYXL. YMMV
To answer your question - The right strings are the ones that sound the best to YOU and you alone.

A lot of people think they can get the tone from their instruments they want from just their string choice when they should be more concerned with getting the proper instrument and amp settings and plucking hand technique.

30 years ago who would have thought that string choices could be a rabbit hole in 2022? :+1: :+1: :+1:

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I just put a set of Dunlop Superbrights in nickel on The Beast and like them. I was going to go with Stringjoy, but it really needed new strings (they were the original strings from Carvin from 2015… not that they’d been played much) and I want to nail down a custom gauge set before I drop $40 on a set of strings (let it be said, though, that they don’t charge more for custom sets, and you can email them for suggestions and/or use their tension calculator at https://tension.stringjoy.com which has a tutorial as well), and it’s a 34" scale and I wanted to see how the slightly thicker B and C strings did. They sound great with a pick, and very nice with fingers. I do need to make a slight truss rod tweak, I think.

I do have Stringjoy strings on my SRC6 shortscale and they sound and feel great, so I definitely plan to go with them in the future on pretty much all my instruments.

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I finally got these put on a bass!
I have been really struggling to find a set of strings to bring out one of the MIJ Aerodyne Jazz basses I have. They came with special edition DiMarzio pickups that are hot hot hot!
I have Rotosound 66s on the blue one, which is super hot, and will most likely be putting Fralins in it, but the burst I wanted to do something different, and keep the original pickups in one of the two. I tried LaBella flats which were fine but these nylons from D’Addario…wow.

Put them on tonight and instantly loved them with these oddball pickups. Look good too

I have a set of Labella nylons on the Fender HMT and love them, but these are so different and just great!

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Ain’t that fun. I love these strings. Just don’t plan to slap them, you may get away with some popping, lol. Not as fast as La Bella tapewound but great tone on the beauty for sure.

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So I noticed that the D’Addario XL EXL156 set I still have laying around has the tension printed on the side. And from what I have read, most of the string tension guides out there use D’Addario’s measurement for the math as they released information on their strings. Even Stringjoy says their own tension calculator is based on their strings and not D’Addario’s.

So I plugged in the numbers for the Stringjoy “Bass 6 Medium” set I have on my SRC6.

Stringjoy’s have more tension than D’Addario for a given gauge. Obviously things like hex-core vs round core, etc, go into tension, feel, playability, etc. But it was interesting to see.

D’Addario EXL156:
1st E - .024"/0.61mm 27.43lbs/12.44kg
2nd B - .034"/0.86mm 30.04lbs/13.62kg
3rd G - .044"/1.12mm 30.56lbs/13.86kg
4th D - .056"/1.42mm 27.71lbs/12.57kg
5th A - .072"/1.83mm 25.31lbs/11.48kg
6th E - 0.84"/2.13mm 19.60lbs/8.89kg

Stringjoy Bass 6 Medium:
1st E - .024" 29.1lbs
2nd B - .032" 29.6lbs
3rd G - .042" 31lbs
4th D - .054" 28lbs
5th A - .072" 27.1lbs
6th E - .090" 23.8lbs

I didn’t convert Stringjoy to metric. Do metric countries even do that themselves for guitar strings? :eyes:

Anyway. Apparently Stringjoy strings have more tension for the same gauge, and about the same for slightly smaller gauges. This might explain why I like them, as I tend to play “mediums” on my basses, ie .045, .065, .085, .105, etc. Though I like a .130 vs a .125 on the B (I might even try a .135 some day :open_mouth: )

This also tells me I might like the significantly cheaper Ernie Ball 2837 set, as it is a .090, .074, .054, .042, .030, .020 (so a heavier bottom and lighter top). I also didn’t really know about it until after getting the Stringjoys on a whim. I do like the Stringjoys. I wish more manufacturers would publish tension data instead of just offering up marketing about it. “Balanced tension” seems to have become a buzzword while the big companies still offer the same damned diameter strings as they always have; are we to believe they’ve always been that way, and that companies like Kalium and Stringjoy are silly for trying to do what they do with custom or balanced sets? Or to believe that the big companies changed how they make a given string to adjust the tension so they could offer “the gauges customers are used to” because guitarists are often traditionalist-leaning? (to put it nicely lol)

Music is hard sometimes when you have a brain like mine that overthinks things… XD

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+1000. I overthink all this stuff too. Damn engineer/scientist side. One of my favorite Homer Simpson quotes is “shut up brain or I’ll stab you with a Q-Tip”.

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“Don’t think. Feel” - Su-metal (pretty much sums it up)

I’m not a string expert by any means because most of my basses have their original strings. The only ones I’ve changed are my generic PJ (Ernie Ball Super Slinky), the Poison Apple (D’Addario nickel rounds), Jenny (the Ibanez Gio) has DR Black Beauties and the Turquoise Waters P (DR Nickel rounds). Personally, I like the tone of the D’Addario’s.

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I took 2 sets of rounds off basses this weekend in favor of LaBella flats. I smiled on each first play test. Know thystrings.

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D’Addario nickel rounds all the way for me. Nice and bright, feel really smooth, not too bright like Stainless can get.

NYXL’s can be expensive but last longer and are probably worth it. They feel pretty much identical to EXL’s, they just hold their tone and tuning for longer. But even old, dead EXL’s sound way better than flats to me; YMMV of course.

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I have a mild OCD(if there’s such a thing), so I usually try to just keep it simple almost a reverse psychology to myself. It works half the time, lol.

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