When To Change Your Strings

Hey all.
We have a lot of threads on strings, but I wanted to throw this one up specifically on when y’all change your strings.
I was inspired because I got lazy and biffed an important string change recently - I had two distanced gigs in a weekend - a video shoot for a metal Christmas song (linked here, you doomy rockers) and a live-streamed church gig.
The bass for both was my trusty 50’s reissue MIM P-bass.

I hadn’t changed them in a year, because I was loving the dead, muted funk sounds for playing the Country/Americana/Funk things I was playing.

I should have changed them for the stoner metal Christmas jam. It would have had the bite and the cut that I wanted… but it was the holidays and I was slammed and got lazy.
I was so bummed after we played and recorded the Christmas song, that I went home and stayed up changing the strings.
The next day I had the church gig.
The dead strings would have been perfect for that church gig.

Alas.

I’ve had producers and engineers give both sides of this:
Most recently, the producer/engineer on an album said: Always record with brand new strings. You’ll get all the tone and clarity in the recording, and if you want it adjusted, you can always darken the sound. It’s impossible to engineer the sound of clear, new strings.

I’ve also been coached to never change strings within 3 days of a session, because it will take a while for your instrument to adjust and settle, and that new string sound is too extreme to record well.

I’m of the mind of - if you’re paying attention to your sound, you’ll know when/how to change strings. But I do like the reminder that you can’t engineer that clarity. If you want it, change them strings!

I have a lot of phases in my life on when I changed strings.

Phase 1 - “Wow, I didn’t know they had to be changed”
I didn’t change the strings on my first bass (a Hohner Rockwood!) for the two years I had it. I didn’t know it was something that should/could be done. I was taking lessons all the time, and while my teacher mentioned it and encouraged it, it just didn’t happen.
I’d like to say I was a young James Jamerson, but it was ignorance, not the love of dead-string-tone that motivated me.

Phase 2 - “When they break”
I did a lot of down tuning, then up tuning, on my second bass (Hamer Slammer Series). This thing got demolished. I didn’t change strings so much as replace them one at a time.

Phase 3 - “Before every gig”
When I was playing a lot with Toast Machine, the strings took a beating, and I would change them out before every gig. This was on bass 3 (Modulus Sweet Spot 5 string). I would have to change them about every week or two weeks otherwise to get that beautiful bright sound because I was playing a ton, practicing a ton, and had fallen in love with all those crisp, bright overtones and harmonics.

Phase 4 - “Depends on the Application & The Strings”
This is where I think we all want to end up.
Still bummed I biffed it on that Christmas stoner metal jam.
Nice to always be learning and learning and messing up, right?*

*For the church gig, I had a major missed cue at the end, and while the band was at the Coda, I was rocking it through the second pass through the verse. Ouch. But… messing up and learning, right? Feels good, right? Right??

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Guess I’m still in phase 1… :slight_smile: The weakest link in my tone is me, not the strings.

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I’ve never been a gigging player where it actually matters, but just for my own playing enjoyment, I find if I’m playing pretty regularly and using rounds, they take a week or so to hit the sweet spot, before which they are just too bright for my liking. Then they sound good for 2-3 months or so (varies widely by how much I’m playing at the time). I’ve been using flats recently, and haven’t found a good excuse to change them yet. I’ve had the same set on my J for about a year and on my Ibanez since its initial setup when I got it a few months ago.

When do people recommend changing flats?

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Exactly the same here… The factory strings my bass came with are now about four months old. New strings will most likely sound a lot better, and in fact I already have a new set waiting to replace them. Then again… If I fiddle with the EQ on my amp a bit, they still sound kinda okay. Guess I’ll wait some more. Nobody else hears me play anyway :yum:

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When they become round?

Seriously though, I’ve switched from one flat wound string to another so many times, and now I have an entire collection of sets of flats in my closet. I now have the tapewounds on my Yammie, which they say just last forever.

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Mhh, maybe I should change them.
I think I ordered a set of strings because I remembered from guitar playing that I had to change them relatively often due to sweaty fingers and gunk getting caught on them. If I played often I literally needed new strings every few weeks, because cleaning often didn’t cut it anymore. Not so much with the bass strings. I can usually wipe them clean but maybe the tone isn’t as clear anymore. To know I’d need a comparison to new strings but I never had that.

I have not changed them on my ESP ever and maybe that should’ve been the first thing after the setup.

Then there’s also the thing of trying out flat and tapewounds which is still on my to do list.

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I might add a phase, @Gio - at least, I think I find myself in that phase… and it is an expensive one: “trying out different strings to get a better understanding for what they sound and feel like”
In that phase, I have bought strings, put them on a bass, played them for a while (few days to maybe two weeks) and then changed them for other strings again; and, often, for me, this was more an overall “feel” thing that didn’t work with that particular type of string than just the sound: too bright, too harsh, too rough, too sticky, too flat, too dull, too floppy, …

I see a lot of people talk or write about “breaking in strings”, and I guess they feel that any type of string needs a few days under tension to release initial stress and maybe get rid of the most intense crispiness/brightness.

Yeah, ideally. However, I feel challenged here… I think my ears/brain are easily tricked because it is such a gradual change, and the time constant of that change is so long that it is hard to notice that something is indeed changing. But, it could also be that I haven’t had any strings on for longer than 6 months on any bass, so perhaps I don’t know what dead strings sound like!? You have just so much more experience, @Gio!
I can, however, identify one dead string on a bass where the others are still OK :grin:

I guess how well you tackle these kinds of events is what defines you as a musician/person.

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Yep… I was quite bummed about my tone for weeks in November, and in the end I realized that the bass knob on my amp was turned halfway down for some reason. (Might have been a cleaning accident.) I set it back to noon and everything sounded right again.

(Don’t tell anyone.)

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I’m with @PamPurrs on this one. Flats pretty much last forever, as do the tapewounds.

Yes… this is the eternal phase. I think at a point, you just like a sound, and stick with it. But there’s always another gauge size/material/development to check out! It’s never ending if you allow it to be.

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Funny you bring this up…Danny Morris (DannyMo) just posted yesterday about having a set of strings on for 21 years DannyMo and Phil Chen some years back was talking about James Jamerson never changing his and when one broke asked the manufacturer if they could solder it back together, because he didn’t want to change his sound.

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Great insight for this newcomer @Gio (and those that been commenting). Not really knowing what I would like, I did know that I wanted to start at a known benchmark. I learned that LaBella Flats were long lasting and would get me at least through my first year (B2B, starting covers, learning effect basics). So, I put them on my Mustang and Sterling Ray34. I love having that benchmark for now as I get a little better and can experiment tonally. Looking forward to keeping your “string change modes” in mind as I progress!

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Loved it @Gio,
Great stage set up, great costumes and I reckon the reason for the dull tone(btw) I reckon it worked well​:+1: Is because half the time you were playing your beard :joy::rofl::joy:
Cheers Brian

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“Gio didn’t have beard. Did he grow one? I gotta see.” clicks link - “Oh I see” :joy:

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We had a real good time with it. Doom cloaks + santa beards = good times.

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@Gio While I am fairly new to the bas guitar, I toured with my old band Dryline for years as a lead guitarist I almost always used DR Pure Blues Nickel strings heavy gauges for the down tuned songs we wrote. I would change string almost daily or at least before every gig. I would just wear them out in a set. I loved the tone of those strings though.
No I am running pure blues on my bass and I am not out playing shows 4 nights a week but they do very well. I am going to be putting flats on my J bass because I love the jazzy tones. So hopefully they will last a while because I don’t get my strings for free anymore lol

You are correct though we live and learn sorry to hear about the church gig but hey lesson learned and you will kill it next time and I am sure the untrained ear probably never even noticed the missed cue.

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A very interesting read @Gio and although I was sorry to hear about your string issues it served not only as an “eye opener “ to a topic that in all honesty had never really crossed my mind but also from a beginners perspective it was good to hear that even seasoned gigging players make mistakes.
I must confess I too have a growing collection of strings lurking on the home office shelf @PamPurrs so I suppose my basses do get theirs changed relatively regularly and I have also made the change to flats on all of them.

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Ha! Right? Gotta stay in the game to keep the endorsement folk happy. I haven’t tried my D’Addario link in a while… hopefully it’s just the same password! I love the DR nickel coated strings. Their sunbeams are always my string of choice… but (as above) since I’ve had a deal at D’Addario, I go with them.

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@gio that is the truth!

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I keep hoping my current strings will mellow out but they are still very bright, even for me. I love the brightness of D’Addario Nickel Rounds, but these Bass Centre Elite stainless rounds are like twice as bright as even those, and they are not dulling yet.

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Rounds, I typically play them until they feel “grabby”. I’m really anal about washing my hands before touching my bass, so that’s usually every three months or so. I EQ out some bass anyways due to the room I practice in. Tone isn’t really super important as long as I can clearly hear what I’m playing.

I did change them the other day before picking up the bass again, but they’d sat unused for a bit.

Before changing back to rounds, I had a set of flats that lived on the bass for quite a while.

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