Reviving Old Bass Strings: A New Approach

I let one of my friends borrow my 1978 pre-Ernie Ball Music Man bass, and he really gunked up the strings. You’ll hear in the video below that the strings are pretty dead.

There are all kinds of tricks out there being shared for reviving old strings: boiling, alcohol, whatever. This doesn’t require any of that, and you don’t even have to remove the strings.

You can follow along with the video to see exactly how this is done. Here are the basic steps:

  1. Detune the string. Get it nice and loose.
  2. Grab the string, pull it away from the neck and slap it against the fretboard several times.
  3. Check the string and compare with the others. If it still isn’t bright or new-sounding, keep slapping.

Now you can really slap that thing.

Give it a try and let me know how it goes for you… share your results and other tricks in the comments.

For more great bass lessons from Thomas "MarloweDK" Risell, visit PlayBassNow.com.

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Share your thoughts

  1. I just tried this on a bass with strings that are years old (and little cared for) and it absolutely made a difference.

  2. Gunk is funky! Keep the crud!

  3. I’ll bet that the sweat and oily residues between the core string and winding are being either expelled or redistributed to brighten the tone at the point of contact with the end of the fretboard.

  4. Worked very well for me. My friend is learning guitar on his grandpa’s acoustic and this made it sound incredibly clear. (The guitar is 20 years old and never had the strings changed.)

  5. Keep the strings, I’ll take the bass… What a gorgeous Stingray !

  6. he said “dung”

  7. that is some crazy shit! I’ve been playing bass for nearly 40 years and I never would have thought that would work. You could do that before a gig or during a break in a pinch too! Awesome!

  8. That’s some unbelievable @&$#! I been playing and using alternative ways of reviving strings for over 36 years and never would have thought. Thanks man!

  9. What’s hard about boiling strings? It takes minutes and it lasts for weeks

    • Brian Axsmith

      What’s so hard about it? Well you have to take them off for one thing. And then put that back on. And the boil them in between. That takes a lot longer than this method.

    • Toby Webb

      Also it rust the core of the string and they tend to break soon! Denatured Alcohol does the same thing and it does rust the string! Just drop them in for a hour.Dry them off and put them back on!

  10. Been spreading the word on this since I read (and watched) the article yesterday.

  11. I did this, and now I have fret buzz :/

    • Fred

      I think many of us were wondering what this was doing to the frets. Great idea, but I’ll spend the few minutes boiling a backup set. Again, it’s a great idea, but if you have softer fretwork… might not be the perfect option. JMHO

  12. Through College (studying music) I was on a strict “string” budget. Who would even dream of dipping in the food and drink (read beer) budget to get new strings? It became a bit of a “ritual” with my non-musician roommates that would point and laugh while I made “string soup” as it became to be known. Ironically, I don’t play as much now but I can afford new strings whenever I need them.
    My bass teacher from college will likely read this (I know he follows No Treble as any good bass player/teacher should): SHOW THIS TO ALL YOUR STUDENTS!

  13. Can’t wait to try this when I get off the road…my travel bass’ strings are still pretty bright.

  14. mit was man alles in die Öffentlichkeit treten kann ist unglaublich ! ist ein alter Hut ! meine Meinung !

  15. Wasn’t it James Jamerson who said something like ‘the funk is in the filth’? That could be a complete misquote…. In any case there is something about precision basses particularly that sound really, really nasty (in a good way!) when the strings are dead.

  16. I have really oily and sweaty hands too. I wipe down my strings between every song and they still die out really quickly. This really great. I’ve also taken to, while I’m at home and have the strings super loose so I can “slap the shit out of them” I also rub them down with some alcohol.

  17. Just did this to my strings and its done them a world of good, cheers!

  18. stupid…..buy new strings…………….problem solved

  19. wow … it works … if I knew that years ago …. $$$ hahaha

  20. I wonder if this will work on guitars, especially acoustic guitars?

    I guess it is time for an experiment….

  21. I think you could effectively cut the life of your frets in half by doing that on a regular basis, and maybe more than half if you play stainless strings. I might just try beating them against something other than the fret board of my most prized possession though. It seems to work. :-)

  22. I boiled my strings when I was young (and poorer) and it certainly works. I guess detuning and tapping the dirt out has a similar effect. I now use Elixir coated strings, expensive but they stay bright for ages.

  23. Did this with a friend’s PBass he borrowed me for a gig. The strings were so filthy I considered using heavy duty gloves. In a jiffy it sounded like (I think) a Fender should.

  24. Don Sweat

    I had a 78 MM Sabre Bass..the Maxima Gold strings lasted 15 years! boiling, snapping, placebo effect. Joe Osborne never wiped his strings down, his bass is on the most #1 hits of all time…go figure. Buy good strings!

  25. If needing a REALLY good deep clean on stainless steal round wounds – get them off the bass, loosely coil them and put them in the dishwasher on ‘Pot Scrub’ and (((((RINGGGG)))))…repeat as needed.
    Have fun
    ScotsBass

  26. very cool thanks

  27. Steve Carriere

    I see all the tricks to extend strings for a while and allI think is I’d rather just put on a new set. For me, it’s not like I’m needing a fresh set every month or something. I can spend $40 for strings a couple times a year.

  28. Fred Doston

    Instead of doing this directly on your frets and ruin them faster, put a relatively thick piece of cloth between the neck and the strings and slap them on it, it still works!

    • That might actually be not that bad of an idea… don’t like the idea of ruining my frets in the long run… Like the dirty sound a bit more though, so won’t be doing this too often anyway.

  29. Mats

    You shouldn’t care for the frets. Fret not! Since the string is very slack it doesn’t have the tension to make any groove into any fret, or worsen them. Whatever slack tension there is, it’s
    spread evenly out to all of the frets along the string and not just ONE fret at say 9th fret.

    However, the gunk is shifted, the technique is like whipping old carpets, just like they did before the vaacum cleaner was invented. Also, when slacking the string, the windings are actually squeezing out the gunk from the windings since the spaces becomes tighter. The gunk must be gone somewhere so check fretboard, and everything else afterwards.

    Me myself uses Ultrasonic cleaners, and it’s visible for the naked eye that difference, and it’s clearly heard. This idea, I knew of, (I am from Sweden, he from Denmark) but you shouldn’t try this as a long term fix. The zzing disappears after one day, and you have to do it again. Boiling, or Ultrasonic makes the “new-string-zzing” lasts a few weeks longer.