One of the first questions new guitar players ask is how often they should change their guitar strings. Unfortunately, there is no set answer to this question. In fact, many factors can come into play, from corrosion to how often you play. Changing out your guitar strings is an important and necessary maintenance task every guitarist must do. This article will look at how often and when you should change your acoustic and electric guitar strings depending on various factors. Let’s get started.

Why do You Need to Replace Guitar Strings Regularly?

Like with most things in life, the more frequently you use your electric or acoustic guitar strings, the faster they will wear out. However, even if you don’t play often, that does not protect your guitar string from needing replacement.

So how often you change strings will have many factors. Believe it or not, one reason strings need to be replaced is because they become old and get rusty from little use and poor guitar care. No matter how air-tight and fresh your home is, moisture is in the air and will find it’s way into your electric or acoustic guitar. Over time, this will cause any metal objects, like steel, to rust, including guitar strings.  Not only is there moisture in the air, but there is also moisture on your fingers, especially if you have a tendency to sweat when you play. When the moisture on your fingers constantly comes in contact with the guitar strings from playing, the guitar strings will corrode. Therefore, the more you play, the more often you will need to change strings.

When is it time to change your guitar string?

As you become more familiar with playing the guitar, you will start to recognize when your strings are wearing out and need replacing. But if you are not sure what signs to look for on your strings, you should start to familiarize with these common signs and symptoms:

Friction

Playing your electric or acoustic guitar over time will leave your strings with build up dirt, grime, oil, and other foreign substances. When you play your guitar each string should feel seamless and smooth, if it doesn’t, the first thing you can do is clean your dirty strings. This accumulation of dirt will disrupt the way your strings vibrate which ultimately will affect the tone and sound of the music being played. Now grime can be found between the windings and into the spaces inside the strings between the outer wire. If you look at a string close enough you will see how is a tightly spun piece of metal with grooves that grim can get into. The collection of grime will look like a gray or black patches on your strings. You can clean off the grime by using rubbing alcohol on your guitar strings but make sure it does not get on your guitar especially if it is an acoustic guitar.

Rusty Strings (1)

The easiest and most noticeable thing to look for is the condition of each string, do the strings look rusty or a different color? Fresh clean guitar strings have that new shine to them but as you continue to play and learn, they will become duller. The strings on a new acoustic guitar will normally be copper colored, but you will notice after frequently playing, each string over time will start to turn into a plain dark brown. If you sweat easily accept that you be changing strings more than average. Some players even have a more acidic sweat, which effect the rate of  how quickly guitar strings degrade.

Tone

Speaking of dull sound, over time your strings will lose their liveliness and tone as you get better and shred on them more. If you notice the sound and tone coming out of your guitar has degraded, or if it “sounds funny”, you should first make sure it’s tuned correctly. if each string is tuned correctly, it’s probably time to get new strings. If you like your tone to be bright and rich, then you might consider replacing your guitar strings to keep it stiff. But not everyone enjoys the sound of new strings! If you like warmer, broken-in sounds, you will want to keep your strings longer.

Tune

Technically you only have to tune your guitar strings under certain conditions in their lifetime. Mainly, when you first get them and when they start to get old. Tuning each guitar string is vital to playing the correct notes and hearing the right sound/tone from your guitar! However if your guitar does not stay in tune even after retuning it, or it needs to be retuned frequently,  this is a well-known sign that the strings have become old, unbalanced, and less consistent. Now if the guitar strings won’t hold on to your desired tune no matter how tightly you rotate the strings, it’s definitely time to get yourself a new set of strings.

Kinks

Another visual sign to indicate it may be time get a new set of guitar strings are kinks. Kinks are small dents, or flat (weak) spots, in the strings.  Essentially, when pressing down hard on the frets of your guitar over time each string could see “dents.” Based on the most common notes, you will notice them more on the 3rd, 5th, 12th, and 15th fret. In order to see the kink you would need to check the underside of the strings. The process  is simple, pluck the string and run your finger on the backside of each guitar string. Not only can these kinks affect the vibration, it will also negatively adjust how the strings feel and sound. Kinks can also be an early indicator of a weak string. This can be dangerous as it will lead to one or many guitar strings snapping.

Other reasons why guitar strings degrade over time:

How often do you play your guitar?

How often you play your guitar will be one of the determining factors for how often your strings should be changed. For instance, if you don’t play much, perhaps 15 minutes or so each week, it is unlikely that you would need to change the strings more than once a year unless they have corroded. But remember, guitar strings will oxidize eventually by natural causes and their environment, so even if you don’t play often, they will need to be changed at least annually.

Here is a string-changing schedule for guitar players of all levels.

Beginners/Learners

If you are just learning to play the guitar, you probably don’t play more than one to three hours each week. In this case, it should only be necessary to change the strings every six to eight months. It won’t be long before you are playing more often and for more extended periods, so expect your string-changing schedule to change quickly.

Hobbyists

Suppose you’re a hobbyist, which means you are likely playing about every day for about 30 minutes to a couple of hours each time. If this is the case, you will need to change the strings every three to five months.

Serious Guitar Players

If you are serious about playing the guitar, chances are you play for at least a couple of hours every day, and often even more than this. Your strings will have noticeable wear and tear on them after 60 hours of use.  This is due to the sweat you produce while playing which will corrode the strings. We recommend to change your strings about once every month or two.

 

How Often Should You Change Your Guitar Strings

Professional Musicians

A professional musician is likely to spend at least 30 hours a week playing their instrument. This means the strings are being used hard and often and will need to be changed at least once a week, or even daily, depending on how much the guitar is being played. You should especially change it whenever you are going to perform a show, practice, or even record.

How to Protect Your Guitar Strings | Clean Guitar Strings (2)

 

There are a few ways to protect your strings, which will keep you from having to replace them all the time. First, an easy one is personal hygiene: keeping your hands clean and dry while playing. Another simple tip to prolong your strings life is to wipe down the strings from bottom to top with a soft, thin cloth and do not forget to keep your fret dry and clean. More guitar players need to get into this habit!

You should also store your guitar in a guitar case or guitar bag. This will eliminate any moisture and other substances that can cause corrosion

You can also condition your strings by using a string cleaner or string conditioner. Basically, you will be coating the strings with a layer of mineral oil. This is going to protect them from corrosion but also protect your fingers as you shred and glide with ease. String conditioners will keep strings looking brighter and strings will last longer and will not rust as quickly without it. Some of our favorite string conditioners are Dunlop String Cleaner and Fast Fret which can be found on amazon.

Guitar cleaning kits should also come with some type of string cleaning kits. For example, D’Addario accessories instrument care kit has everything to clean the guitar: from the fingerboard to the strings! A perfect string cleaning kit will come with cloth and the oil to lubricate the strings.

Acoustic and Electric Guitar Strings That Last Longer

 

Types of Strings

We recommend that when one string breaks, to just replace the rest of the strings. You should not open a brand-new set of strings for just one; an open pack will just collect dust which can cause erosion. You should be playing the other strings the same amount so it is likely the other strings would also break soon after. Just in case, it is always a good idea to have a few extra sets of strings on hand, so they are there when you need them no matter if you are just practicing or at a show, spending the extra bucks on strings is well worth it.

Polymer Coated Strings

Not all guitar strings are the same. For instance, some higher-quality strings are made with a protective coating, which will ensure that they last longer than regular strings; elixir strings come to mind here. But you also need to consider that you will be sacrificing tonal quality for string life. Coated strings are known to sound more smooth and warmer. Coated strings will eventually wear down over the tops of the fret as you bend the strings but not as quick as regular strings. A great sign to change your coated strings is when it starts to flake up and start to crumble; please note there can be patches and not the whole string.

When you buy a new guitar, it will likely come with coated strings because they have a longer shelf life than other strings. Guitar manufacturers realize that guitars can sit for many months on shelves before being sold and that most music stores (at least the smaller stores) can’t afford to replace strings on every guitar in stock.

Nylon Strings

Nylon guitar strings are gentler on hands because the fibers are made out softer material. Nylon strings will not oxide, or suffer from corrosion, since they are not made out of metal yet they are highly prone to damaging from humidity and temperature. For the most part, nylon strings do not stretch as far as steel so they are prone to break especially if you fret to bend to a higher pitch. If your nylon strings need to be constantly retuned, then its because it needs to be changed. A simple cloth should be enough to clean nylon strings, but if you want more assistance you can always use a damp cloth with water.

Metal Strings

Metal strings can be made from different materials such as stainless steel, nickel, or even cobalt. Metal strings are more heat resistant than nylon strings but that does not mean they last forever. On average, metal strings should last for amount three months before needing to change. For metal strings you can use solutions and chemicals such as alcohol or mineral oil along with a towel or rag to clean the strings. You will want to spray the solution onto the rag first and make sure the solution will not drip.

 

Conclusion

Only you will know when the time is right to change your strings. If you don’t play a lot and don’t sweat much while playing, you won’t need to replace them nearly as often as someone who plays daily. Also, if you just thought to yourself “it has been a while since I last changed them, should I change them” then the answer is yes. You should keep an eye, and ear, to your guitar so you can notice any signs and symptoms of changes in your playing.

References

  1. Can you play with rusty strings?
    https://stringjoy.com/118746-2/
  2. Best guitar cleaning practices
    https://www.sweetwater.com/sweetcare/articles/how-to-clean-guitar-strings/

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