Ernie Ball's Buying Guide: How To Choose Electric Bass Strings

Before you start shopping, you`ll need to consider several factors: the number of strings on your bass, your playing style/musical genre and the tonal quality desired.
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Before you start shopping, you`ll need to consider several factors: the number of strings on your bass, your playing style/musical genre and the tonal quality desired.
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Ernie Ball sells over 100 different types of bass guitar strings in a diverse selection of materials, string gauges, and styles. Before you start shopping, you`ll need to consider several factors: the number of strings on your bass, your playing style/musical genre and the tonal quality desired. Whether you are a beginner or a professional bass player, you can find the right strings for your level and bass type with this electric bass string buying guide.

Electric Bass String Gauges

Electric bass strings are manufactured in a range of thicknesses or gauges. The thickness of an electric bass string has a large influence on the playability and sound in addition to other factors like the string material. As with electric guitar or acoustic guitar strings, there’s no set rules for choosing the perfect gauge. To determine the correct gauge, first decide what sound you’re trying to achieve and what feel you prefer. 

Light Gauge

Good for fast lead bass or walking bass lines
Good for country or funk/slapping techniques

Heavy Gauge

Good for heavier styles like metal
Preferred if you like to tune your E string down to D 

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Electric Bass String Materials 

Electric bass strings are made using various metal alloys which have a significant impact on the strings’ sound. Here are some general tonal characteristics our various bass string materials.

-Nickel: Bright, balanced tone
-Cobalt: Wide dynamic range with increased low end and crisp highs
-Stainless Steel: Bright, crisp, “edgy” tone 

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Electric Bass String Winding 

Ernie Ball electric bass strings all share the same basic construction: a tin-plated, high-carbon steel hex wire is precision-wound with an additional wire. The wrap wire construction can vary, providing a different feel and tone. Here’s a breakdown of the different winding methods used on Ernie Ball electric bass strings.

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Most of Ernie Ball electric bass strings, like Slinky Nickel wound, are roundwound electric bass strings. Roundwound strings consist of a round wire that is wrapped around the core wire, producing a series of rounded ridges along the string. They produce bright tones, making them a favorite for rock and funk players. 

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Up until the 1960s, these were the only type of bass string available. Flatwounds are constructed with a a flat (ribbon) wire wound around the core, producing a smoother and more mellow tone vs. roundwound strings. For that reason, they work well with jazz, blues and soul music. 

Ernie Ball Electric Bass String Comparison

Ernie Ball electric bass strings come in a variety of materials, gauges, and windings. Here’s a quick comparison of the different types of Ernie Ball electric bass string types. You can also use our useful compare tool on to compare any of our electric bass string products. 

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Slinky Nickel Wound

Ernie Ball Regular Slinky Bass strings are the classic Ernie Ball bass strings and are wound for a bright, balanced tone. The list of endorsers for Ernie Ball Slinky bass strings reads like a who’s who of top selling artists.

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Slinky Cobalt

Ernie Ball Cobalt Slinky bass strings are the latest innovation in string technology. Cobalt strings provide an extended dynamic range, incredible harmonic response, increased low end, and crisp, clear highs. Cobalt provides a stronger magnetic relationship between pickups and strings than any other alloy previously available. Cobalt Slinkys are also soft and silky to the touch, making string bending a breeze. 

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Slinky Flatwound

Ernie Ball Slinky Flatwound Bass Strings combine the smooth feel of traditional flats and the power of Cobalt. Featuring a SuperBright Cobalt ribbon wrap, Cobalt underwraps and optimal hex-core to wrap ratio, the new Flatwound Bass strings are the first flat that actually feels like a flat and sounds like a round. 

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Slinky Coated

These strings maintain the feel and sound of uncoated strings, combining the added protection with the vibrant tone Ernie Ball customers have relied on for over 50 years. 

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Slinky Stainless Steel

Made from stainless steel wire wrapped around tin plated hex shaped steel core wire. These strings provide brighter sound and longer life.

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Flat stainless steel wire wrapped around a hex shaped tin plated steel core. Provides a smooth feel and mellow sound. 

Bonus Content

Our web series, String Theory, explores the styles and string selections of some of the world’s top bass players. Watch our Mike Herrera episode below and explore more episodes at

For more information visit: Ernie Ball 



Ernie Ball Coated Slinky Strings

WHEN ROLAND “ERNIE” BALL FIRST UNVEILED his custom-gauge Slinky strings in 1962—so named because their light gauge made the strings feel a whole lot easier on the fingers—he revolutionized an industry.