The Low Down // Reviewed - Ernie Ball Cobalt Bass Strings
By Strings Direct – 29 August, 2023
Hi guys, I’m Trevor Newnham. A session bassist, touring musician, and good friend of the fold at Strings Direct. The lovely chaps at Strings Direct have asked me to review some bass strings for you and over the coming months, I'll be giving you the low down on some choice sets and perhaps open you up to some new strings you may not have considered before.
The first set I’ve tested out here is Ernie Ball’s Roundwound Cobalt set. I strung these up on my Marcus Miller Signature 5-String Sire Bass. Now Cobalt, I know what you’re thinking... is this some sort of gimmick? C’mon, what’s the catch? I must admit I was a little cynical myself and had to look up what Cobalt actually was....
Well, as a standalone element Cobalt possesses properties that make it great for use in a set of bass strings, and although Ernie Ball don’t tell you how much cobalt is in these strings, they do say that these are the world's first and only cobalt string which utilises their own magical mix of Cobalt and Iron for the outer wrap wire. Cobalt is also highly magnetic. A feature that Ernie Ball say really makes these strings stand out from the crowd when compared to the common nickel wound and stainless steel sets. Greater magnetic properties also mean that these strings will interact with your pickups far more than the strings you typically see on the shelves.
A couple of graphs and charts on the back tell you what you should be getting from these strings... Greater output and frequency response all round - and to my ears, they certainly deliver on all counts and you certainly get a bit more punch for your buck.
They certainly make for a great all-rounder and would be particularly useful if you’re in a metal band or if you're playing fast runs and need that extra bit of punch from your EQ.
Now, full disclosure... I’m not a huge fan of that ‘brand new’ string sound. I don’t like anything too jangly or twangy and fortunately for me, the Cobalts didn’t suffer from any of that. Just nice, fresh-sounding strings that have retained their definition even after 4-5 weeks of consistent playing (as I write this blog). They may have lost a touch of zing from the top but these still perform very well indeed and would be up to the job of recording or cutting through on a gig even several weeks/months later.
Packaging-wise, in true Ernie Ball style it is of course pretty sexy (if you can call a set of strings sexy… we often do but perhaps we need to get out more… if only!). But, above all the outer metalized foil and inner paper envelopes are all recyclable which gets a big thumbs up from us too.
When it comes to playability under the fingers, they felt great straight out of the pack. Some strings I’ve tried in the past have felt a little dry and are crying out for some fast fret to liven them up but the Cobalts didn’t seem to need any of that.
Likewise, on the flip side, they don’t feel overly greasy and slippery. They bed in well and tune-up nicely too with little to no adjustments to the bass necessary.
Playability is the first thing I look for in a string and for me, the true test of a set of bass strings (particularly on a 5-string set) is that Low B. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve bought a set of strings in the past and the Low B has dead spots here and there or it’s just plain dull sounding. This Low B didn’t suffer from that either. Even after a month of consistent sessions and rehearsals it still sings….. I’ve never had a set of strings play like this before.
For all my years of playing, I’ve never played a set of Ernie Ball strings before. (if it ain’t broke don’t fix it eh!) But, after trying these I’d say I’d certainly check them out again.
Yes, these are a little bit more expensive than your average set and the standard Ernie Ball Slinky offerings but they definitely get my seal of approval.