Strings: Choices for Electric Upright Basses

You find yourself looking for strings for your Electric Upright Bass (EUB)... but you don't know which strings should you get for it. What should you get? Well, it depends on what you're looking for out of the bass; do you want it to sound as "authentically upright" as possible, or are you embracing the "crossover" nature of the bass?

Here's my philosophy on the subject of geting an "authentic" sound from an EUB: The best any EUB could hope to achieve would be to sound like a double bass with a pickup on it.

We sell a few electric upright options; the ones I know best are the NS Design basses. Since they - and most other EUBs - are tightly constructed and are solid-body instruments, their habits lean towards a more electric sounding bass (more sustain, more string detail, that sort of thing.) The strings that come stock on those basses (NS Electric "Contemporary") don't really provide an authentic upright bass tone or feel; they're thin and light-tensioned with bright, "mwah-friendly" tone. And they're not very easy to bow well, either. This is actually by design, as the bass wasn't designed to be a more portable alternative to a full-bodied bass - it was, rather, meant to create a new, crossover instrument class (which it does very well.)

That's great and all, but many of my customers want it to be a more easily toted substitute for their big bass. So I'm here to help. In my experience, using strings which pull it towards a more URB-oriented sound (quick decay, short sustain, a more blunt attack to notes, almost a gut-string-like vibe) will effectively counter-balance the electric nature of the bass.


  • magpickup.jpg - Magnetic-capable - these strings will work with a magnetic pickup
  • strings-lowb.jpg -Low B String (for five-string bass) available for sets
  • strings-highc.jpg - High C String (for five-string bass) available for sets


For NS Design Basses

Two strings which I have personally tried and found success with are the Pirastro Obligatos and the D'Addario NS Electric "Traditional" Strings. Both have a darker, less defined tone which sounds great on my personal NS Design Bass, and both strings fit its bass-guitar-sized tuning machines. I have the Traditional strings on my personal bass and like them quite a bit; I've also strung up several customer's basses with the Obligatos.

For what it's worth, the NS Electric Traditional strings are made by shortening the afterlength of D'Addario Helicore Orchestra strings, so if you have a set of those lying around, they are a great choice; to string them up, you simply wrap the strings around the bottom of the bass and up the back to the "keyholes" for the ball ends. This is also how you can string up most any other 3/4 size upright bass string set on an NS Design EUB. It's also a way to get the same sound and feel on a different manufacturer's EUB that can handle 3/4 size upright strings.

This also provides options for tension preferences; the “Traditional” strings only come in medium gauge, but as I mentioned, they’re identical to the D’Addario Helicore Orchestral strings, which are offered in Light/Med/Heavy options, and you could get the Orchestral lights and wind them through the bass and up the back to take up the extra length if you wanted the lighter tension but the same sound and playability. Ditto on the Obligatos; they don't have a light gauge, but they have a solo version, which is designed to be tuned up one whole step; they are very commonly used as a light-tension string as well. (More information)

One other thing that might help - NS Design sets up the WAV4 and NXT basses with VERY low action. Too low, in my humble opinion. (It's probably to bolster the confidence of the electric bassists who try the bass when it's on display at your local guitar superstore.) To get that "big" URB sound, the strings need enough clearance to be plucked with vigor - and enough room to "bloom" without buzzing against the fingerboard. I raised the action a little on my personal bass, and that alone improved its sound quite a bit, because I could PLAY it more like a real URB.

The Choices:

crossovers.jpgGHS Crossovers  strings-lowb.jpg magpickup.jpg

This entry from GHS provides a great option; a little brighter, not as traditional in sound, for that "Crossover" vibe. They were aiming for a bowable, yet more modern sounding string set; sort of a "Spirocore" for the NS Basses. Plenty of low-end girth, with more definition than the more Traditional-sounding strings. Very flexible under the hands, too!

obligato.jpgPirastro Obligato
  strings-lowb.jpg strings-highc.jpg

These strings have a solid synthetic core with a very thin metal wrap. They were designed to emulate gut strings, so their attack is "old school" with a more blunt and thicker, warmer hit, with a little less sustain than more modern jazz strings. Their very smooth surface is kind to the fingers and they are a dream to bow. Lots of WAV4 and NXT players have used these strings with success, and we've installed them onto several basses ourselves. These DO NOT work with magnetic pickups, so if you have a CR-M model with the EMG "dot" pickups, these might not be a good option.

contemporary.jpgNS Electric Contemporary NSFW610  strings-lowb.jpg strings-highc.jpg magpickup.jpg

D'Addario's NS Helicore Contemporary Double Bass set produces a brighter sound, and features a lower tension feel. They are identical to the stock strings that are supplied on all of the NS Design Electric Upright Basses (WAV, NXTa, CR). They were once (a long time ago, now) sold as the "NSFL-Flatwound Light" set - always made by D'Addario, but in later years they haver undergone a packaging and name change to reflect the branding. More modern, perhaps even a little "zingy" - for those who prefer a more "electric fretless bass" kind of tone and feel with lots of "mwah" and "growl." 

traditional.jpgNS Electric Traditional NS610  strings-lowb.jpg strings-highc.jpg magpickup.jpg

The Traditional Double Bass set has a construction and tension that is similar to "real" acoustic upright bass strings, for a warm tone, feel, and great bowed response. And that makes sense: they are essentially Helicore Orchestra upright bass strings, but with the afterlength shortened so that they perfectly fit the NS EUB's. These were formerly sold as the "NS.Helicore" string set, and were later re-branded and packaged as D'Addario strings. If you're looking for a more traditional vibe, but don't want to wrap extended length strings around the bottom of the bass, this is probably your best bet. I like these strings very much on my own NS Design WAV4; and it's the string set we put on our exclusive Traditional NXTa Bass!

hipshot.jpgHipshot Ultralite Tuning Machines: Okay, I know these aren't strings, but if you're already thinking about stuff for your NS WAV or NXT series bass, you might want to consider this worthwhile upgrade. The Hipshots are an easy replacement (I have them on my WAV4), and make tuning a lot more accurate and easy - no slippage. And they are much more confidence-inspiring; they have a more solid feel that never makes you feel like the tuner might break or fail, even with the low B string. Worth checking out!




For NS Design OMNI Bass

omnistrings.jpgNS Electric NS710 for Electric Upright OMNI Bass  strings-lowb.jpg strings-highc.jpg magpickup.jpg

These are the same exact strings that are put on the Omni Bass when you get it from the factory. The strings are made to fit all standard 34-35 inch scale bass guitars, and have a flatwound bass guitar sort of vibe to them. These expressive strings are polished smooth for rich bass tone and a clear, singing upper register. If you're embracing the original vision of the Omni as a crossover instrument, with a hybrid sort of sound, then you likely dig these strings - and here's where you can get more of them.

ghsprecision.jpgGHS Precision Flatwound String Set  strings-lowb.jpg strings-highc.jpg magpickup.jpg

We bring these strings to you as a new option for the NS Design Omni Bass (both NXT and CR Models) that may work better for some folks than the stock strings. The strings are flatwounds that are designed originally for bass guitar, so they fit the 34" scale of the Omnibass well. Played Pizzicato, they have a tone that is quite similar to the stock Omnibass strings. But what sets them apart for me is that they have considerably improved "bowability." The slightly "rough" flatwound surface of the strings works very well with a bow and rosin, especially compared to the stock strings. So when it's time to change out your strings, this might be a way to improve that part of your play. 

lenz5ths.jpgLenzner Steel-Core Fifths Tuning Set  magpickup.jpg

There used to be a factory-available set of strings for 5ths tuning, but they were a "niche" product and weren't super-popular. As a result, they eventually "dried up" and were no longer available. Lenzner strings of Germany has graciously offered to custom-make a set of 5ths tuning strings for us! These strings are legit upright-style strings; they work both pizz and arco, with a flexible steel core, tungsten intermediate winding and flat outer winding. Strings are made in a 34" scale set in fifths tuning (CGDA for the 4-string, CGDA with a high E for the 5-string). Excellent for those who are transitioning from cello or who want to experiment with different tunings. 


hipshot.jpgHipshot Ultralite Tuning Machines: Okay, I know these aren't strings, but if you're already thinking about stuff for your NS WAV or NXT series bass, you might want to consider this worthwhile upgrade. The Hipshots are an easy replacement (I have them on my WAV4), and make tuning a lot more accurate and easy - no slippage. And they are much more confidence-inspiring; they have a more solid feel that never makes you feel like the tuner might break or fail, even with the low B string. Worth checking out!



For Eminence Bass

The Eminence Electric Upright Bass was (smartly) made to be able to accommodate most any 3/4-sized (and most 4/4 sized) strings, and reacts pretty appropriately to the various options - meaning, if you like a particular string on a full-bodied upright, you'll probably enjoy it on the Eminence, too. The stock strings on the Eminence are a set of D'Addario Helicore Hybrids - however, a Helicore Orchestra G-string has been substituted because the luthier feels it provides a better tonal balance. You can choose to do that if you like, but the differences can be subtle.

The only other caveats with the Eminence involve its unusual brass ball end capture device. They make the use of gut strings fairly impractical, and they don't work with "loop end" strings like Velvets and Rotosounds. But most anything else is fair game! Personally, I like Pirastro Obligatos for a traditional sound.


For Dean Pace Contra Bass/Stagg Bass

We have carried the Dean Pace Contra Bass (not to be confused with the short-scale, flat fingerboard Dean Pace Bass) for a while. It's a quirky instrument, but works well for many players. With a proper curved fingerboard, and a pretty close to typical string length, it works with a lot of common 3/4 and 4/4 strings. It's practically identical to the Stagg Electric Upright, with some mostly aesthetic differences.

My suggestions for string choice are very much the same as what I mention above: something with shorter sustain and decay, and less detail, usually works best on a solid-body EUB with a piezo pickup, if you're going for "authentic" upright tone. Something like the D'Addario Helicore Orchestra strings, or the Pirastro Obligato strings, are usually great places to start.


For Other Electric Upright Basses the Carruthers SUB-1, Aria SWB, Palatino, Azola Bugbass, BSX T-Bass, BSX Allegro, Warwick Triumph Light, Clifton Bass, Farwest Bass, Ergo EUB, and others not listed above

So, for tone, the same basic suggestions generally apply, as far as using a string with a darker overall timbre and a shorter decay and sustain. However, there are some sizing issues that we might have to deal with in order to ensure that you get a string that works well on your instrument. Specifically, some manufacturers (especially custom one-off instruments) didn't really take into account that you'd want to/have to change strings someday, and they didn't always engineer the instrument to use common, off-the-shelf string sets.

We've generally been able to help folks find something that works, though - but it takes a little bit of homework on your end. We need you to measure a couple spots along the string path, so we can make sure that the strings we provide for you will "line up" and fit the bass, at an appropriate tension, and will give you the performance and tone that you desire.

Here's what we need:

  1. The Scale Length: This is the "vibrating length" of the string; the playable portion that vibrates when you pluck it. Basically, the distance between the nut at the headstock/pegbox and the bridge.
  2. The Afterlength: This is the distance between the bridge (the bottom end of the playable string) and wherever the ball ends are captured beneath it. On a traditional upright, this would be at the tailpiece; but many electric uprights use a different method for locking in the ball ends.

With these measurements, you can email us along with some specifics about the bass (what kind of pickups does it use?) and your preferences. We'll help you narrow down the choices!