15 Mar How to Get More Life Out of Your Bass Strings
Any stringed instrument player knows the importance of fresh strings.
A fresh set of strings will add spank, presence, and vibrance. While a set of dead strings will hold back the tone of even the best instrument and setup. When bass strings get old and start to lose their punch and sound dull, most bass players will buy a new set of strings to replace the dead ones. But they don’t realize that there is more life left in those strings! There is a quick and easy method to restore some life in the strings that studio session players have been using for many years. It’s important to point out that this method won’t remove the need for new strings. However, it’s how you can prolong the life and sound of the worn ones so you won’t need to replace them as often. The method of getting the most out of your bass strings? Boiling them!
Essentially, boiling the strings causes them to expand, allowing the release of the dirt and oil that has collected on and in the strings over time.
Boiled strings will have a more crisp and springy tone, but boiling will not return them to “brand new.” It will bring back a lot of tone and will delay their replacement, but will not make your strings last forever. This method has been said to work for the wound strings on an electric or acoustic guitar as well, but the effect is not as dramatic and new guitar strings are generally much cheaper than new bass strings, so it is not exactly common practice. If attempting with electric or acoustic 6-string guitars, the boil time is only 3-5 minutes total. This process has been written as a guide for boiling, so that you can get the most out of your bass strings.
The process of getting more life out of your bass strings:
First, get a pot large enough for a coiled bass string (the way they come in the package). Fill the pot about two to three inches with water. Bring the water to a boil while you take off one of your bass strings (Don’t cut or damage them of course, they’ll be put right back on). Tap water usually works fine. If concerned about minerals, you can use distilled water to be sure you’re not introducing anything new.
Coil your string and place in the boiling water. Set your timer for 6 minutes. After about 5 minutes, take the next string off the bass. Coil, and place in the boiling water right on top of the other string. At this point, the first 6 minutes should be up. Set the timer for another 6 minutes.
When that timer goes off, remove the first string from the boiling water (12 minutes total). A fork/tongs or similar works fine to fish it out from under the other string.
Place the coiled string on a clean, dry towel, fold over the towel, and press to absorb as much water as possible.Then uncoil the string and, pinching the string with the towel between your thumb and finger, squeeze and pull the towel over the length of the string. Do this several times, adjusting your towel each time to use a clean, dry spot. Repeat as you see fit. This will help to dry the string thoroughly and also help to remove a lot of the oil and dirt that was loosened during the process. All the junk that comes off of the strings will be visible in the water and on the towel.
Put the newly cleaned string back on the bass, bring to tension, then remove the next string, coil, and place in the boiling water on top of the other. Set timer for 6 more minutes (use judgment at this point for the timer length, based on how fast you dry and replace the strings, keeping in mind each string needs to be boiled for at least 10 minutes, but no longer than 15 minutes).
Repeat this process until each string has boiled for 10-15 minutes, been toweled off thoroughly, and replaced on the bass. Boiling all of the strings together will save a little time, but you should try to avoid completely unstringing guitars to prevent unnecessary stress and tension fluctuation on the neck.
The newly boiled bass strings should immediately shine brighter and look and feel cleaner.
The sonic improvements will be obvious as soon as the string is plucked. This process can be done a couple times on a single set of strings. The first time will bring back the most longevity and tone, with diminishing returns for each subsequent boil. Boiling more than one time or two will also start to reduce string tensile strength, resulting in easier string breaks.
There is an another step after towel drying the strings if you would like. It includes using an oven set to a low heat and placing the strings inside to further dry them. In our experience, this step hasn’t been necessary with a thorough toweling, however. Also, cheaper strings have a lower tensile strength to begin with and less to gain from boiling so if you decide to boil cheap strings, expect the improvement to be less than what you would get from boiling more expensive ones. And of course, there will be better results and longer life when starting with a nice set of strings. After boiling once or twice, it is time to replace with a new set of strings.
If attempting with electric or acoustic guitar strings, only boil for 3-5 minutes.