Even thick strings don't last forever

So, you need to re-string your bass? Bought yourself a pile of funky new Rotosounds, or did you go and snap your G string (stop giggling!) while playing around with some slap rhythms in the middle of the night, like this silly noder? And you're used to having a friend or music store employee do it for you, so now you're screwed? Fear not. For the benefit of all E2 bass players, herewith a simple guide to re-stringing your favourite subsonic noisemaker.

First, there are a few things you will need. A set of strings, that's obvious. A bass to put them on will be a help too. You will also need wire cutters. Some people like to use a string winder, but they aren't strictly necessary, and poor starving musicians can't afford them, so I never use one. Last, but not least, you will need to be able to tune your bass with the new strings. This will involve either an electronic tuner (easiest), or a way to generate a 440 Hz tone. How to tune your bass is stuff for another node, however.

Got all that? Brilliant! Now you are ready to change your strings.

  1. First, you have to remove your old strings. If you have a very old bass, you will have to change your strings one by one, if you have a new one you can take off all the strings now and put new ones on. This is because of the construction of the bass neck, if you release all the string tension from the neck on an old bass, it will gradually break down the neck and cause it to warp. New construction technology and better materials means that's not a problem anymore, though. If you have an old bass and you're not sure what to do, the best idea is to play it safe and change the strings one by one. The good part about removing all strings at once is that you can clean out any cruft that has been gathering on the fingerboard. To remove a string, loosen the string using the tuning key until you can take it out of the tuning machine. Now, take it by the ball (I heard that! No snickering in class, thank you!), down by the bridge, and pull it out of the bridge. Congratulations! You have now removed a bass string.

  2. To put on a new string, the first thing you should do is to seat it at the bridge. Slip it through the hole until the ball's firmly seated just outside the hole (I heard that too!), and stretch the string out. Now you should cut off a bit at the end of the string, but how much depends on your bass. A basic rule of thumb is that you'll want somewhere between 7 and 12 centimeters of excess string past the tuning head, with the thicker strings having less excess than the thinner ones. This is because you'll want to be able to get as many windings around the head as you can without overlapping.

  3. Now, you will want to put the string into the tuning machine. There are two types of tuning heads: Some have just a hole through them, others have a slot on the top. The slotted model is the most common, and is used on just about all modern basses. The other one made changing strings harder, and as I've never owned a bass that had these hole-thru tuning heads, I don't know how to change strings on them. Since almost all basses have slotted tuning heads, I'll assume that yours does too. Notice that there's a hole in the centre of the slot? Stick the end of the string into the hole until it can't go any further in (Stop it! This is your last chance!). Now bend the string so that it forms an "L" shape, so that the string fits into the side of the slot.

  4. Now, while holding the string to keep it tense, you should turn the tuning key to tighten it. Which way to turn it? You will want to have the windings go from the inside of the bass headstock to the outside. The windings should head down the tuning head, and they should be neat. Now turn until the string is in tune, or at least very close to it. This is important, because the tuning machine isn't going to last long if it isn't set under tension (they were built for being under tension, after all).

  5. Having changed all your strings, now is the time to make sure they don't go flat very quickly. Grab a string around the 12th fret of your bass (or where it would be, if you have a fretless -- not that I think any fretless player doesn't know how to change strings......), and pull on it until it's 3-5 centimeters or so away from the fingerboard at that point. Don't snap your new string, that would be stupid. Pull it back and forth a little, to tighten the windings and set its ball end firmer against the bridge. Do this a couple of times for each string, and then re-tune it. NOTE: Footprints informs me that this may be bad for the strings, causing them to lose perfection and making them screw up your octaves quicker. I've always done it this way, but your mileage may vary. To play it safe, skip to the next step and repeat it many times, for about 3 hours.

  6. Now play something hard, fast and aggressive for a few minutes. Get out your Iron Maiden or Slayer bass tabs for this part. Then check your tuning. It should be absolutely hellish. Re-tune. Repeat this step until the bass can stand some hard playing without going too much out of tune.

Congratulations! You have now changed your bass strings.

Note: You can extend the life of your bass strings by boiling them. Simply remove them from your bass, put them in water and boil it for 5-10 minutes. This will cause all the accumulated finger crud to dissolve right off the string! It goes without saying that your strings must be stainless steel for this to work. Also, while the boiled strings are better than they were, they're still not new strings, and they won't last nearly as long before going bad as they did when they were new. However, this is a time-honoured trick of the trade used by poverty-stricken bassists, you might as well know about it.