Bass strings are expensive. While playing the bass often is good, this also means that your strings will be worn faster. Thus, we bassists tend to turn to other methods than buying new strings every month to solve this problem. Namely, we try to extend the lifespan of our current set. But what happens when we try this, and can you reuse bass strings?
As a general rule, bass strings can be reused multiple times if they are cleaned thoroughly. Depending on playstyle a set of strings can generally be reused 3-5 times before they are too physically damaged to be rejuvenated.
So while all bass strings have a lifespan, there is nothing wrong with reusing them. What is important though, is that you know how to restore their tone before you restring the strings unto your bass.
That`s why I`ve written this article to teach you all you need to know about resuing bass strings. You will learn all you need to know about taking strings off and putting them back on, and how to rinse the strings safely and thoroughly. I will also show you how often you might need to change or clean your strings.
Can you take bass strings off and put them back on?
In general, removing the strings from your bass and then putting them back on will not damage your strings or your bass. Unless the bass is left unstring for multiple weeks or the strings are exposed to humid conditions, it is safe to remove strings and add them back on later.
As long as you go about it correctly, it is fine to remove and reuse bass strings. If you are just going to clean your strings and then restring them back on, you can do so without having to worry. The same holds true if you are removing the strings to clean the neck of your bass.
I do advise do keep your bass in a bag after removing the strings though. It is also a good idea to avoid exposing the instrument to any major changes in temperature or humidity. This is because the neck will be more prone to warping, especially if you play in a lower tuning such as a C standard.
You also want to be mindful of how the strings are cut. If they have been cut so that they can barely be coiled around the string posts, you might have a hard time restringing them. As long as there is some spare length on the string, this will not be an issue though.
If you’re removing the strings from your bass to store them away, I recommend sealing them in airtight ziplock bags. This will preserve the condition of the strings and stop them from sounding dead when you eventually reuse them. This ziplock bag is slightly bigger than Ernie Ball`s string packs and is the perfect size for storing strings.
Be careful when you reopen and uncoil the strings as the strings will be more prone to snapping. Personally, I`ve never had a string snap on me when uncoiling it, but I`ve heard of other bassits having this happen to them. With that said, as long as you slowly uncoil the strings when reopening them they are unlikely to snap.
How do you rejuvenate bass strings?
A great way to restore the condition of your bass strings is to soak them in denatured alcohol for 24 hours. Some bassists also elect to boil their strings in order to rejuvenate them. While all bass strings have a lifespan, these methods will greatly increase their longevity.
If you are going to reuse bass strings, chances are that you need to breathe some life back into them. Luckily, there are multiple ways to do this that you can utilize before your strings have to be retired. Here are the two main methods I can personally vouch for:
- Denatured Alcohol – Methylated spirits, or denatured alcohol has been my go to product for cleaning my strings for a decade now. Simply soak the strings in the alcohol for about 24 hours. Then wipe them with a towel and they will be as good as new. However, do not use other types of alcohol than denatured to clean them. Similar products such as rubbing alcohol can end up doing more harm than good to your strings. Furtheremore, keep in mind that denatured alcohol is both poisouness and flameable. Thus, be careful when using it and always read the warning label on the container. In particular: avoid skin contact, consumption, or storing it near anything flameable. It also produces a strong smell, so I recommend soaking the the strings outside if possible. I use this type from Klean Strip, as it has always worked well for me and is significantly more affordable than some other brands.
- Boiling – It`s not uncommon to hear about both bassists boiling their strings. While it might sound like a gimmick at first, there is actually a good reason we do it. Boiling rejuvinates the entire string by expanding the windings of it. As a result the string gets cleaned thoroughly in spots that would be hard to reach otherwise. It is best to boil strings one at a time so they can naturally uncoil. As a general rule, 10 minutes of boiling will be enough for most strings. Heavier string gauges might require a slightly longer boil, and I prefer boiling my E string for 15 minutes. Also, make sure that the water quality is good. If your unsure about wheter there is significant amounts of lime or calcium in your tap water, it is a best practice to use filtered or bottled water instead.
These methods will thoroughly clean your strings and generally get them back up to speed. However, they will not repair strings that are physically worn out by being fretted and slapped.
If you can see that there are marks on the strings from frets digging into them, cleaning or boiling them might not be enough to rejuvenate them completely. If your strings still sound dead after these methods, it’s a sure sign that they have been played out and that it is time to purchase a new set.
How often should bass strings be changed?
As a general rule, bass strings should be changed at least once every year. However, it is a best practice to change strings as often as every 6 months or less in order to ensure that your strings maintain their sound and freshness.
How often you should strange your strings is a hot debate among bassists. A big reason for this is that some famous bassits keep the same strings for years, while others change them before every show.
What is often overlooked though, is that every bassist has their own preference and style. A fretless jazz player might like the musky sound of old strings. A funk bassist could rely heavily on regular string changes to maintain a clean slap sound.
How often you need to change strings also greatly depends on how much you practice. The good news though, is that it isn`t too difficult to tell when you are in need of changing or rejuvenating your strings.
After a while, your strings will start to sound weaker and less resonant. You might also start to notice that they have dark marks on them. When this happens, it is time to clean or switch them.
It is highly uncommon for a bassist to play for an entire year without noticing this type of wear. Therefore I consider 1 year the absolute maximum for how rarely you should do something about your strings.
In general, 6 months will be a good sweet spot for when to change your strings. Depending on your style and frequency of playing, the strings might be slightly overplayed or underplayed at this point. However, chances are good that you will need to freshen up or switch your strings after about half a year.
So can you reuse bass strings? Absolutely. I have reused the same set of strings multiple times before they got too worn out and other bassits have done the same.
Boiling them or soaking them in denatured alcohol are easy ways to freshen up your strings at home. Both are common practices among bassists, and much more affordable than buying new strings regularly.
If you are merely removing the strings from your bass for a day or two, you don`t have to worry about the condition of your instrument. If you unstring it for weeks on end, make sure it is in a case, and not exposed to humidity changes. Also, make sure to store your strings coiled in airtight bags.
It is best to change or rinse your strings every 6 months, and at the very least once a year. Remember though, mileage will vary. You will get the best results by regularly being critical and mindful of the tone of your strings.
Do bass strings have a shelf-life? I have answered this question and given additional tips on storing and assessing the condition of your strings in this article.