Cleaning bass strings instead of buying new strings is easy and saves money. Bass strings are so expensive, twenty dollars for a good set, and yet they wear out so fast. And the importance of a fresh set of strings cannot possible be overstated in an instrument that is so dependent on that elusive x-factor known as “tone.” Every musician is always chasing tone, but bass players are always on the thin edge between “muddy,” and “no bottom,” as they try to maintain that perfect joining of the sonic spectrum. So if you play bass and are tired of shelling out twenty bucks every couple of weeks, do what I do; clean your strings for free.
First of all I am sure that most of you have heard of boiling your strings to get that fresh sound back; don’t do it! Boiling your strings might make the strings sounds brighter for a few hours or a few days at most, but really what you are doing is killing your strings, much like headhunting cannibals do to their victims in a Hollywood movie. Boiling your strings can alter, ever so slightly, the molecular balance of the metal and create some very unwanted side effects.
The best way of cleaning bass strings is to immerse them in mineral spirits (paint thinner) overnight. It is a bit smelly, but the mineral spirits will gently clean all around the string, inside of the winding, top and bottom. You don’t have to rub or anything, just let them sit there in a small bucket. The next day when you take the strings out of the spirits, wipe them off with a rag you don’t need or are going to use consistently for cleaning your strings. Let the strings dry out in the air for another hours or so. Any remaining spirits will quickly evaporate as mineral spirits are very volatile and flammable.
When you put your strings back on your instrument you will be surprised at how amazing they sound. Sometimes even better than new. The new cleaned strings will keep their tone for a long time and best of all, after a few weeks you will be able to clean them again, unlike boiled strings, which weaken over time.
So this little tip about cleaning bass strings will save you money, won’t cause you a bunch of time, and will make you happier to be a bass player as you won’t be constantly wondering about your strings as you are chasing tone – and admit it bass players; you are all fanatical about tone.