How to Change Bass Strings Correctly

Changing bass strings for many players is often just a normal part of life. Whether you’re trying a new roundwound set, some new tapewounds, or just needing to replace some dead strings that you’ve had too long, we’ve all been there. But, some bassists have trouble with the task. So, if you’re still wondering how to change bass strings correctly, read on.

And while there is no one completely agreed upon method, I’ve found over the years that one way, especially for Fender Basses, seems to work best.

When I say Fender Basses, I’m talking about the classic, four in-line tuner headstocks found on Precisions, Jazzes, and other models. The key here is to safely remove the old strings, then correctly and safely install the new ones so they’ll sound and perform their best.

How to change bass strings: The quick view

Please make sure to read through the entire article before changing your bass strings. There are lots of tips and notes along the way. But, to get an overview of what you’ll be doing, here’s a quick breakdown of the steps:

  • Remove your old bass strings one at a time
  • Start with the E string
  • Carefully loosen the string
  • Straighten the curled winding end
  • Carefully pull the string out through the bridge
  • Open and clean a new replacement string
  • Feed string through the bridge
  • Carefully crimp (bend) the string just before the spot you intend to cut
  • Cut the string, leaving a bit of extra length in case you need it
  • Feed string through the tuning post in the headstock
  • Wind string around the headstock as low on the post as possible
  • Tune the string
  • Repeat for remaining strings

Removing your old bass strings

When I first started changing strings I read somewhere that you should always cut the old strings instead of unwinding them off the post. This was to insure that you didn’t scratch your beautiful finish while pulling the curled up ends through the bridge.

The thing is though, I like saving old strings just in case. You never know when you might need them. Or, maybe you don’t like the new ones. I’ve even sold several old string sets, mostly flatwounds, to people who are looking for that worn-in tone.

One string at a time

I should note that I always remove and install one string at a time so there is always tension on the neck. There are people that say it’s perfectly safe to take all the strings off at once, but I like to play it safe, and it seems easier to get each new string in tune one at a time.

The first thing I do is carefully start loosening the E string. In general, I turn the tuner until the windings start to pop off on their own. When they look loose, carefully unwind them from the post. At this point I like to straighten out the ends as much as possible. It’s a lot easier and safer to get the strings through the bridge this way.

I always take my time when running the string out of the bridge, especially if it has silk windings. If you rush this part and just yank the string through too fast, the silk will get frayed and you could scratch up your finish.

After the old E string is off, I always check the tuning post and bridge for dirt, grime, and pieces of silk that may be caught there. Once that’s cleaned up, take the new E string out of the package and stretch it out.

I like to take a paper towel and rub the string down to remove any oils that are sometimes left there from the factory. I’ve noticed that this is especially the case with flatwounds.

Installing the new strings

Now you’re ready to install the new string. Carefully insert the string through the bridge and run it over the saddle. Make sure you hold the string up as you pass it through so as not to scratch the finish.

Cutting your new bass string

I like to have the string at least 3 inches past the post before I cut it. Just remember that it’s always better to have a little extra string length than not enough. You can always cut a little more, but you can’t add string back on.

Important note: Make sure to bend the end of the string just before the spot where you’re cutting it. This insures that the string’s windings (however unlikely) won’t unravel.

After cutting the string, insert the end into the center hole in the tuning post. Make sure it goes all the way in the hole. Now, bend the string tightly around the tuning post towards the inside, only going about halfway around the post. One mistake many people make is wrapping the string around the post fully by hand. This will almost always cause slipping issues later on.

Now, holding the string tightly in place, begin turning the tuning key slowly as you guide the string. Make sure that all the following wraps fall underneath the previous ones. This is extremely important with Fender Basses as they do not have angled headstocks and need the windings as low as possible on the post to insure good tension across the nut.

If the string sits too high on the post you could have string buzzes or lose definition with open notes. The greater the downward angle past the nut the better.

Winding – the halfway point

Once you have the string about halfway to being tuned, press down on the string with your thumb near the bridge to create a good contact point. Now, tune the string to pitch and then gently pull it upward at about the 12th fret to stretch it out and remove any slack in the windings.

Recheck your tuning and adjust. You’ll probably need to tune up after stretching at least 2 or 3 times.

Simply follow the same steps for all the strings being careful to remember to pass the D and G strings under the string retainer on the headstock before it gets too tight.

One other important note: I find that the most crucial string is usually the A string. I always give it a little more length as it seems to need the most windings to avoid any buzzing and sound better played open.

How to change bass strings: Final thoughts

Whenever I change strings I will re-check the tuning often for a week or so until they settle in. I’ll even stretch them out again from time to time. All of these steps usually take about 15 minutes for all four strings.

Taking your time while changing bass strings is well worth the effort in my opinion. It can make all the difference in the sound and playability of your bass.

Have patience and try to just enjoy the process of maintaining your bass. You’ll be happier with both the process and the outcome.

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