Metal is a genre of delightfully confusing self-contradictions. How can such aggressive and abrasive music simultaneously feature some of the most delicate and virtuoso musicianship? How can someone who goes by Corpsegrinder act so lovably domestic while shopping at Target? My theory is that metal musicians and fans alike, are proud of the fact that they are difficult to pin down, and that first impressions don’t tell their whole story.
Metal has come a long way, from the proto-metal of Born to be Wild (credited with inventing the very phrase “heavy metal”) to the quirky theatrics of Ozzy to modern finely-crafted genres like speed metal, progressive metal, and doom metal. The modern metal tone, established since the 80s or 90s, bears little resemblance to relatively lofi trailblazers. But as diverse as metal is, its tones have common characteristics. You won’t find a lot of “smooth,” “mellow” or “vintage” tones in metal guitar, bass, or drums. The favored sounds are crunchy, harsh, intense, bright. This enhances the excitement of the overall sound, and allows the details of the complex playing to cut through the mix.
Metal is also a genre of musical extremes. Seven- and eight-string guitars, drop tuning, and who can pass over a Chapman Stick performance without getting engrossed in slack-jawed wonder? All of these extremes requires some behind-the-scenes mechanical engineering to accomplish. Whatever modern materials are capable of creating, metal will quickly catch up and take the materials to their physical limits.
Translation? Heavy metal music requires heavy duty gear. If you want to play metal bass, with the potential of exploring drop tunings, read on for string advice and recommendations.
Heavy metal, heavy strings? Pretty much. Metal basslines are an endurance game- both you and your strings will be getting a workout. Between that and the propensity to drop-tune, metal bassists tend to thicker gauge strings. While guitarists refer to string packs by the gauge of the thinnest string (like “0.010s”) bassists flex by referring to the thickest string (for example, “0.105s”). Heavy gauges will take a lot of work to play on, and if you don’t have callouses yet, be prepared for a baptism by fire. The thick and gutsy tone of heavy strings is worth the self-sacrifice.
Depending on how far you drop your tuning, an unconventional approach to string gauge might be in order. Dropping your E string to a D can typically be done with a standard set of bass strings, but suppose you want to tune every string down 5 half-steps? Consider getting a 5-string pack and using the four thickest strings. Thus your “E string” will actually be using a B string and so on.
String Materials and Construction
Popular string materials include nickel-wound steel, pure stainless steel, pure nickel, and new composites like cobalt. For metal, you can pretty much discount nickel entirely, seeing as it’s known for a quiet, mellow, vintage tone. Nickel-wound steel is the standard string construction across genres, and it certainly works for metal. Pure stainless steel, though, has a particularly bright and aggressive tone that helps your bass lines cut through the mix.
Regarding construction, most strings are known as “round-wound” meaning the string is bumpy as you run your finger down it. Flat-wound strings exist, but again, they specialize in pretty much the opposite of metal playing. They are preferred by jazz and blues and vintage players. Metal bassists usually want the sizzle and attack that round-wound strings provide.
Coated strings are a relatively recent development. Between the heavy playing, and desire for a very bright tone, metal players find themselves changing strings more often than most. The protective coating on these strings can help prolong their life, meaning string changes can happen less frequently.
Every bass maker has its fans. Choosing a brand is a highly subjective process, and there are as many right answers as there are bassists. Still, certain string makers and lines will definitely offer advantages to the discerning metal bassist.
Is DR the ultimate brand for metal bassists? In my research, I think this brand was mentioned more than any other, with the most glowing language to boot. DR strings are not the cheapest on the market, but they seem to be a “musicians” brand. Not extremely well-known, but those who do know are really excited that they do. What’s more, the maker offers several metal-friendly lines with different attributes.
The Hi-Beams are a great all-around metal string. Pure stainless steel, with a unique round core (most strings have hexagonal cross sections in the cores) to give a distinct tone. I found a discussion board where metal players were praising their high-treble tone, and their hardiness to withstand re-tuning.
For a flamboyant twist, DR also offers the irresistible Black Beauties which feature a pitch-black protective coating. Again, the tonal “sizzle” is praised in metal applications, and the coating will help endure your thrashing.
And finally, there’s nothing I can tell you about the Drop-Down Tuning (DDT) line that isn’t instantly communicated by the metal-as-hell spider front-and-center on the package. But here goes anyway- DR promises that these strings are engineered for clear tone and stable tuning when dropping.
If you need a 5-string pack, DR also offers the Lo-Riders. Lastly, an honorable mention to the Neon Multi-Color strings because stage presence still counts for something dammit!
Remember when I mentioned engineering to keep up with metal players? Enter Blue Steel. These strings are cryogenically frozen in nitrogen, and gradually brought back to room temperature. The result is an extremely durable, bright, present bass string. One hilariously succinct Amazon review simply read: “Nice and Bright. Les Claypool bright.” Enough said, I’d wager. Other forum users praised the metal growl and “focused tone” they achieved with Blue Steels.
You could say a lot of the same things of Elixir as Blue Steel strings, just swap out some key terms- “Nanoweb Coating” instead of “Cryogenically Frozen” for instance. Elixir is another brand that rides its unique engineering to recognition. The Nanoweb coating boasted by these strings is known to make for one of the best coated strings on the market. As I’ve mentioned, extending strings’ working lives is certainly an attribute in metal. One anonymous message board post praised their smoothness, both physically and in tone.
Here comes the surprise contender, definitely the dark-horse candidate. RotoSound 66 “Swing Bass” strings don’t appear to have anything to do with metal at first glance. Yet over and over, they came up as a unique approach to metal bass playing. Evidently, these strings offer a very unique, bright tone, and are one of the most affordable of my recommendations. These strings are a favorite of Geddy Lee and Yes’s Chris Squier. (Let’s be honest, in hindsight, Yes has some pretty metal moments.)
Ernie Ball is usually at the top of my string lists. They are probably my preferred brand, although I land far more on the “rich vintage tone” side of the production spectrum, and less on the “in your face metal.” Although Ernie Ball makes moderately-priced and all-around adaptable strings, a favorite in many genres, metal musicians see them as a somewhat pedestrian choice, mostly desirable because they are a lower-priced option. For every glowing comment I saw regarding EB strings on metal bass, I saw another comment dismissing them out-of-hand. Still, Ernie Ball makes the world’s first cobalt composite strings, which feature a uniquely clear and rich tone. I fitted my two electric guitars with cobalt strings and I was blown away by the tone, so they’re worth a try on metal bass. Otherwise, their classic Slinky line will get you where you need to go for a good price. One attribute of Slinkys is that they are available in one of the widest ranges of options. That’s useful if you want to experiment with a new setup, but are not yet sure if you want to commit with more expensive strings.
You didn’t get into metal music because it was easy. You got into it because you were ready to work passionately. To play hard, to practice long, and to rock out. With the right strings, your tone will sing and your bass will work as hard as you can. Keep in mind that if you are doing significant drop tuning or going very heavy with gauges, you may need to set up your bass specially. You can learn to do this yourself, or go to a pro. This could involve adjusting the truss rod to get the action down, or altering the nut or bridge to accept larger strings. Try strings until you find the perfect fit, it’s worthwhile! Keep working, and feel the joy of the music!
Robert is a freelance audio engineer and the lead writer for Range of Sounds.
Drop C Tuning for Bass: The Ultimate Guide 
Hey Bassists, I understand if you’re intimidated by alternate tuning. If you’re into rock or metal and want to tune your bass to Drop C tuning, this is the perfect article for you. Whether you never heard of it or just want to get it, I’m here to help you out.
So, What is Drop C Tuning for Bass?
The tuning of C-G-C-F is considered as a Drop C tuning for a 4-string bass guitar. By lowering all strings one step down from standard E-A-D-G tuning and then dropping the lowest string to C is required for Drop C tuning on a bass. It provides a lower range and makes power chords easier to play.
What is the need for Drop C Tuning?
Drop C tuning is a great way to increase the lower range of a bass guitar which makes it easier for you to play certain riffs and power chords. Also, Drop C tuning allow you to hit the correct notes to complement a singer with a lower voice, to get in sync easily with other instruments, and to deliver a thick and bottom-heavy bass tone.
Basically, Drop C tuning opens up a whole new dimension of musical possibilities for your bass while allowing you to play chords in a new and easy way.
How You Can Tune your Bass to Drop C?
The easiest way to tune your bass to drop c is by using a tuner that allows you for flat tuning like this one (link to Amazon!).
Drop C Tuning (C-G-C-F) on Bass Step-by-Step:
- Get a tuner and set it to Bass mode
- Press Flat Button (Semitones) four times
- Tune E string to E Flat Flat Flat Flat (which is equivalent to C)
- Tune A string to Standard G tuning
- Tune D string to E Flat Flat Flat Flat i.e. C
- Tune G string to A Flat Flat Flat Flat (which is equivalent to F)
In this way, you can easily change your bass tuning to Drop C with the help of a tuner.
How to Check if your Bass is Tuned Properly without a Tuner?
There is one easy trick to check if your bass is properly tuned or not.
The sound on the seventh fret of your thickest C string must match with the open G string. The fifth fret of the G string must match with the sound of the open C string right below that. and then again the fifth fret of the C string matches with the last open F string.
If this is the case, that means, your bass is tuned to C-G-C-F that is, Drop C tuning.
Also Read: What is the drop D tuning on basses?
Will Drop C Tuning Damage your Bass?
The alternate tuning is not going to damage a bass as long as it is reasonable. When tuning a bass guitar to Drop C, the tension in the strings lowered significantly and they start to feel a little loose. Thus, it required a proper setup for correct intonation and string action.
If you try to drop your bass tuning without considering a professional setup, it neither play in tune for higher resisters nor going to feel very nice while playing. Although with a proper set of bass strings you can significantly avoid any damage to the bass neck profile, but to get the most out of it, consider a proper setup.
What is the Best Bass Strings for Drop C Tuning?
It is always recommended to use slightly heavier gauge strings for drop C tuning on a bass guitar. heavy bass strings might feel a little difficult when played with fingers but they can easily handle the drop c tuning.
for C-G-C-F tuning, I recommend for:
- C (.115 to .120) – Anything more than .120 will be too thick and also reduces the volume
- G (.090 to .100) – Anything less than .090 seems to be flop and doesn’t provide you nice tone in Drop C
- C (.060 to .075) – I find this range works perfectly for me!
- F (.045 to .055) – Anything more than this makes strings too tight and difficult for plucking.
Personally, for Drop C tuning for a bass guitar. I prefer to go with DR DDT-55 Bass Strings that works great for me in terms of stiffness and intonation. But, I also heard, D’Addario EXL170BT strings also perform quite nicely for Drop C tuning.
Can you Tune a 5-String Bass to Drop C?
You could tune a 5-string bass to Drop C by tuning one step up to C-G-C-F-A from the standard tuning of B-E-A-D-G. But, there is no need for Drop C tuning on a 5-string bass guitar as B string already provides a lower range for bass than C.
Drop C tuning on a 4-string bass is C-G-C-F, and if you’re thinking should you add 5th string to above or below:
- G-C-G-C-F: The low G is pointlessly low here and you might need to set up your nut.
- C-G-C-F-A#: I don’t know, what to do with this High A#?
That’s why I suggest you keep things simple, either use a 4-string bass for Drop C tuning or simply master the 5-string bass in its standard tuning.
Best Bass Guitar Songs in Drop C Tuning?
- System of a Down – Toxicity
- A Perfect Circle – Brena
- Sleeping with Sirens
- Queens of the Stone Age – No One Knows
- System of a Down – Aerials
- The Receiving End of Sirens – Broadcast Quality
- A Perfect Circle – Judith
- System of a Down – Spiders
But this list doesn’t end here. If you google it, you’ll find a whole lot of songs that are played in a Drop C tuning. Here’s the one great resource I found, where you’ll also get tabs to practice.
Also, check out this video for my favorite Drop C song:
Click here to access the whole playlist of songs played in Drop C Bass Tuning. (Thank me later!) 🙂
Final Thoughts on Drop C Tuning for Bass Guitar
I hope you find this article helpful and you get the complete idea of how you can go with a drop c tuning for your bass guitar. If you have any doubt or any kind of suggestion to this guide, feel free to contact me or drop your sweet comments right below in the comment section.
Also, don’t forget to share this article on your social handles with your friends and family who love to explore more on bass guitar.
Hii, My name is Vishal Dorge and I am from India. I am the Creator of this site and want to help people just like you and me who enjoy music through the heart and want to learn it, especially about the guitar. Read More About Vishal Dorge Here
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Ernie Ball artist and YouTube extraordinaire Ryan “Fluff” Bruce has shared an incredibly helpful guide to help you determine which string gauge is right for you. He takes into account a number of different factors, including scale length (Fender Scale [25.5″] or Gibson Scale [24.75″]), tuning, playing style and more. We want to make things even easier for you to find the right set, so we’ve rounded up some helpful images and links to get you all set up.
Electric Guitar String Gauges
Electric guitar strings — like acoustic guitar or electric bass strings — are manufactured in a range of thicknesses or gauges. The thickness of an electric guitar string has a large influence on the playability and sound in addition to other factors like the string material.
Easier to bend and play, so ideal for beginner guitar players with uncalloused hands
Ideal for vintage electric guitars
Even projection with bright sound
Require more finger pressure to fret and bend notes
Hotter output with punchy tone
Are preferred for low tunings such as Drop D, Drop A, etc
Exert more tension on the guitar neck
Both Scales – Regular Slinky (10-46)
Standard set, generally what comes on a guitar stock from the manufacturer.
Fender Scale – Super Slinky (9-42)
Preferable for a looser, Les Paul-like feel on a Fender Scale instrument.
Gibson Scale – Skinny Top / Heavy Bottom (10-52)
Preferable for getting a heavier, more Strat-like tension on a Gibson Scale instrument.
Both Scales – Skinny Top / Heavy Bottom (10-52)
Maintains slinkiness on the high strings, and beefs up the feel on the lower strings, especially when dropped.
Fender Scale – Skinny Top / Heavy Bottom (10-52)
For a tighter feel on the lower strings.
Gibson Scale – Power Slinky (11-48)
Slightly on the heavier side, while retaining a bit of looseness and slinkiness on the Gibson Scale.
Fender Scale – Power Slinky (11-48) + 52
Using the 11-48 set with the low-E string swapped out for a 52 gives you all of the low-end chug that you need while still feeling like standard tuning on the higher strings.
Gibson Scale – Beefy Slinky (11-54)
Retains the feel of standard tuning even when dropped to a much lower tuning.
Fender Scale – Beefy Slinky (11-54)
Optimal for detuning. Similar to the Skinny Top / Heavy Bottom, but several gauges heavier. Provides a higher-tension feel.
Gibson Scale – Power Slinky (11-48)
Retains the feeling of normal tension, even with the lowered tuning.
Fender Scale (Option A) – Not Even Slinky (12-56)
Still feels slinky, but retains a good amount of tension.
Fender Scale (Option B) – Beefy Slinky (11-54)
For an even slinkier, looser feel.
Gibson Scale – Not Even Slinky (12-56)
Helpful for retaining proper tension with a shorter scale.
Fender Scale – Beefy Slinky (11-54) + 56
Using the Beefy Slinky set with a 56 swapped out for the low-E (or even a 60!) feels fantastic.
Gibson Scale – Not Even Slinky (12-56)
A great middle-ground for size vs. tension. Adding a 60 on the low-E string can also provide even more “oomph” to the low end.
Fender Scale – Single Strings (11, 15, 20, 36, 48, 60)
Creating a custom set of single strings allows you to retain tension on the higher strings, while allowing enough twang on the lower strings.
Gibson Scale – Single Strings (12, 16, 24, 36, 48, 60)
A slightly adjusted custom set of single strings allows you to beef up the higher strings, while retaining the size of the lower strings. Can also use a 62 or 64 on the low-E string for added heaviness and tension.
E Standard and Drop D
Regular Slinky Bass (50-105)
Good tension and good attack. Not too tight, not too loose.
Eb Standard and Drop C#
Regular Slinky Bass (50-105)
Translates well from E Standard and Drop D all the way down to Eb Standard and Drop C#.
D Standard and Drop C
Power Slinky Bass (55-110)
Healthy tension, but not overkill. Doesn’t fatigue the hand, but enough tension to dig in with heavy attack.
Super Slinky Bass 5 (60-125) – 40
By using just the lower four strings from a Super Slinky 5-string bass set, the tension remains dialed in for such a low tuning. Can also use the same approach with the Regularly Slinky Bass 5 set. Provides for solid attack, without the “flop.”
Fender Scale (25.5″)
Gibson Scale (24 3/4″)
|E Standard||10-46 (normal tension)||10-46 (normal tension)|
|9-42 (loose feel – Les Paul-like)||10-52 (more tension – Strat-like)|
|Drop D||10-52 (light top heavy bottom)||10-52 (light top heavy bottom)|
|Eb Standard||10-52 (tigheter feel on low strings)||11-48 (normal tension)|
|Drop C#||11-48 +52 (normal tension)||11-54 (normal tension)|
|D Standard||11-54 (higher tension)||11-48 (normal tension)|
|C Standard||12-56 (regular tension)||12-56 (normal tension)|
|11-54 (loose feel)|
|Drop C||11-54 +56 (normal tension)||12-56 (normal tension)|
|Drop B||11, 15, 20, 36, 48, 60||12, 16, 24, 36, 48, 60|
Fender Scale (34″)
|E Standard, Drop D||50-105 (normal tension)|
|Eb Standard, Drop C#||50-105 (normal tension)|
|D Standard, Drop C||55-110 (normal tension)|
|Drop B||60-125 (normal tension)|
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Drop for tuning strings bass
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