Buying strings for bass instruments (double basses, electric basses, flat top acoustic bass guitars) is a little trickier than it is for guitars as you’ve got to get the correct length for the scale of the instrument you have. It is even more of an issue for designers of bass instruments, particularly for archtop bass guitars and electric upright basses (EUB). The problem is that the wound portion of the strings must contact both the bridge (saddle) and the nut, but the wound portion can not be wound around the tuning posts. The wound portion of a bass string is not flexible enough to go around the narrow post and can easily break if this is attempted. So the length of the wound portion is critical for bass designers and bass builders. The following tables include approximate length data for readily available bass guitar and double bass strings. The measurements for the bass guitar strings were taken by me from strings from a number of different manufacturers. The length data for the double bass strings was provided by D'Addario Strings. There are subtle variations in length from manufacturer to manufacturer, so designers would be wise to leave a little elbow room in your designs to be sure they can accommodate slightly longer and slightly shorter lengths. And it is always a good idea to take actual measurements from a real set of strings before doing anything else.
Last updated: September 11, 2018
Bass guitar strings are composed of the following sections:
The diameter of the ball is 1/4". The length of the tail is about 11" and the length of the transition between the wound part and the tail (which is stiff and therefore should not be wound around the tuning machine post either) is about 1". Length data for the readily available strings are:
|Standard or Long (34")||36.5"|
|Extra Long (35")||38"|
Double bass strings are composed of the following sections:
The diameter of the ball is 1/2". The length of the tail is about 13" and the length of the transition between the wound part and the tail is approximately 3". Note that upright bass strings generally have a silk covering over part of the winding starting at the ball. If you need to expose some of this length, the silk can be cut back with a razor blade. Length data for the readily available strings are:
|Scale||Silk cover||Total Wound Length (including silk covering at ball end)|
1. In order to maintain reasonable string tension, strings should first be selected by scale length. See the String Tension page for more on this.
2. The selection of types and tensions of strings available varies greatly with intended instrument and scale length. A wide variety of string types and tensions are available for 34" scale bass guitars and for ¾ size double basses. But choices are very limited for, say, 30" scale bass guitars and most of the smaller sizes of upright basses.
3. Bass strings are generally constructed for either pizzicato or arco playing. Pure pizz strings have low internal damping and thus longer sustain but they cannot be bowed. All bass guitar strings fall into this category. Pure arco strings have high internal damping and thus shorter sustain. The lack of sustain may not make them suitable for some styles of playing. There are types of strings which can be used for both types of playing but they present a compromise between pizz sustain and ease of bowing. There are also a number of other more special purpose types of strings available from some manufacturers. See string manufacturers’ websites for more info.
4. Since strings for double bass are essentially hand made, custom length strings can be ordered from some manufacturers in surprisingly small quantities. This may be a consideration if off-the-shelf strings cannot be made to fit your design. Before going this route you may want to take a look and see how different instruments deal with the available lengths of string. The designers of some EUB instruments are particularly clever about making standard length strings fit.