The Lightbulb Moment: Time For A Change (of Strings)

New bass strings

A letter, documenting the moment when you realize that things aren’t what they used to be but that you have the power to amend the situation. This particular moment, and the frequency with which it occurs, is different for everyone. That said, this letter highlights a few subtle signs to help you determine when it’s time to make some modifications.

Dear Bass,

I love you. You are my best friend, my rock, and my roll. You are the one I turn to for enjoyment and fulfillment, inspiration and creation, understanding and obsession. I admire your frets and the way the thin bars of metal shimmer under the bright lights beaming over the stage. I enjoy the weight of you on my shoulder as I carry you into a lesson or to a gig on a Saturday night. I take great pleasure in seeing you at rest in the stand next to my desk, simply waiting to be picked up and plugged in.

The sound of your pickups makes me think of the great African Elephant roaming the desert with loud, thunderous steps that shake the earth. They change personality with the turn of a knob, reminding me of James, Jaco, Jerry, and Jack. Your neck is beautiful and familiar, with complex wood grain that appeal to my eye and support the movement of my fingertips. You are wonderful.

But lately I’ve been thinking… something seems different about you. We don’t have the same connection, the same spark and excitement that I remember. There was a time when I felt like we could do anything, where the sound of my slapping could inspire the most stubborn wallflower to hop on the dance floor and shake a tail feather. You used to be bright and clear, where the attack of the pick brought authority and energy to the music we made together. The individuality of quick sixteenth notes, the effortless movement all along the fretboard, the feeling of clean steel beneath my calluses, the freedom of inhibition. That is what I remember.

How did we get here, bass? What has happened in the past few months that brought about this change in our relationship? Was it the hours of woodshedding? Or perhaps it’s because I didn’t have time to wash my hands at the gig… the waitress brought out the food ten minutes before starting last night. Or has it been time for a while now? Have I been in denial of this necessary change, secretly hoping to avoid having to start all over again? Or have I been oblivious and unconcerned? I guess now it’s time for a change. Of strings, that is.

We’ve had a good run, current set of strings. You’ve done your job well and have been trustworthy, performing expertly under the pressure of my fingers. You’ve withstood the changes of the seasons, the slight shift of the neck, and even that time I adjusted the bridge to lower the action. You sounded sweet and tender on the ballads we’ve played, heavy and aggressive on the rock and roll anthems, and perfectly reminiscent of the old-school soul serenades. Thank you, strings, for being everything I needed.

And now, as I move on, I remember all of the lessons I’ve learned from you. I know that it will take a month to become comfortable with your replacement and that in the beginning, I’ll regret my decision to dispose of you. I’m sure I’ll be shocked by the brightness of the new strings, as my ears have become accustomed to your darker and subtle nature. My fingers may stumble around on the cold rigidity of the fresh set until they settle in and have acquired a little bit of dirt and a little bit of funk. It will, as always, take some getting used to.

I bid you adieu, old strings, and look forward to this fresh start. You were wonderful, but all good things must come to an end.

As for you, bass, may you be happy and enlightened by this necessary transformation. Give me the sound I’ve always wanted, the comfort I desire, and the freedom of expression that makes the music better. Thank you, my friend.

All of the best grooves,


Ryan Madora is a professional bass player, author, and educator living in Nashville, TN. In addition to touring and session work, she teaches private lessons and masterclasses to students of all levels. Visit her website to learn more!

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  1. Excellent talking down of the old strings and bringing in the new.
    Hope they bring you good wealth, health, bright highs and heavy lows.

  2. Robert Cochran

    Joe Osborn never changed his strings through thousands of session with the Wrecking Crew.

  3. Jakub

    I changed my string when they started to be out of tune quickly after I tune them up. That’s the sign for me that strings wear out definitely (which is about 6-8 months for roundwounds and 1 year to 2 years for flatwounds). Of course I wish change them often (maby 1-2 months ?) But good strings are expensive thing and I’d prefer to save that money for new gear (amps, basses, effects) than spend money to strings to change them because they lost their “zing” in sound after about week or so. But that’s just me. Now it’s time for me to change strings. My 6 month Fodera Nickels worned out so I change them now for (acclaimed “the best strings on the planet”) Thomastik Infelds flats. I’m very curious and excited about that. And I didn’t played flats since 4 years perhaps, so this will be a change for me. Thanks Ryan for great column ! I love to read editors’s columns ! A lot of inspiration and wisdom in every post ! :)

  4. juicy j

    Nice writing :)

  5. Phil Chen

    Ryan Very intersting article! Jamerson changed his G once because it broke and he sent it back to LA BELLA so they could solder it back? Jaco dont slap so i am not sure if he needed the bright highS to ring tru? I could be wrong. Pino told me he changes strings when they break. My LA BELLA 52-110 been on my bass coming up to 50 years and it has graced many hits (50 Gold and platinum lp to be exact)with Rod Stewart, Jeff Beck, Jackson Browne.Brian May ,Eddie Van Halen, Bob Marley etc etc.So i guess it depends on style of playing one does and the sound one wants..I concentrate on the GROOVE and FEEL which is most important to me.Again a great article thanx Ryan for supporting d bass society. one luv PHIL CHEN OD.
    PS. BTW Jamerson had a high action to achieve his sound.80 #1 hits cant be wrong.MUCHO GRACIAS

    • Mat

      Amen Phil! This is the knowledge right here!

      • Phil chen

        Mat thanx in these days where we hav access to strings bases amp yin attract yang we don’t hav to struggle to achieve it. I made my own bass the pick up was from a bicycle generator magnet wired n wen I broke a string I carefully tied a SLIPKNot so it wouldn’t slip! But in today’s world dat is a timg of d pass! We live on easy st !! If U put a banjo wid dead string on in Jamerson R JACO HANZ the dance floor would never stand a chance? In my opinion the importance of groove choice of notes n melodic lines are first not secondary how each nite sounds wid clarity comes first? Do you know they are dead notes on d fender bass?? But dat didn’t stop Jamerson from playing 80#1 hits or Jaco for his creative brilliant bass pioneer work?! Well again in my opinion n everyone has their own agenda so Ryan great article keep up d great work ! One luv Phil Chen

  6. alex

    That’s a great goodbye letter. A footnote could be added to wish the old set of string a happy future beeing reincarnated: remember that nickel, steel and all these metals our strings are made of,can (and should) be recycled.Nickel reserves on the planet are dangerously low, and I can’t see nickel beeing extracted from the moon or asteroids in the near future – which is a pitty because I imagine we could all achieve stellar tone with this kind of space-made strings ;-) .

    • David Desmond

      If nickel is in short supply, why do we have Nickels in our pockets and they are worth 5 cents like they have been for the last 100 years? Perhaps I am ignorant to the shortage. Certainly we should all recycle metals. As bassists, we all have our own styles and preferences for bass strings. If you want old fat and nasty flatwounds and it does the job, great. If you want skinny roundwounds that are brilliant also good for cutting cheese, go for it. Whatever gets the job done. To me, my roundwounds seem to die after a few months and they are changed, carefully cleaned then recycled for use on my cheezecutter.

  7. P.S. I might have been a bit hasty saying goodbye old strings…I may see you again if I ever pop a string halfway thru a show again. That’s why you live on in my gig bag :p

    • dochoc

      What compassion, the strings that brought you great pleasure thru good and bad days you save, I do the same. I gently tuck them away in my gig bag in the box the new ones came in ,nicely weaved in a pretty circle so they rest well.