Are you wondering how often to change guitar strings? All of your questions will be answered throughout this guide!
You may be happy enough to live with dull sounding, grimy, and worn-out strings to save a few bucks. However, did you realize that they could actually be damaging your guitar? Or worse, harming you?
In this article, we’ll discover how often to replace guitar strings, how to determine when you need to restring, and we’ll also look at several ways to extend the life of your strings.
Table of Contents
- How Often To Change Guitar Strings?
- 5 Signs You Need To Restring
- Why Do Guitar Strings Rust & Degrade?
- How To Make Strings Last Longer
- Frequently Asked Questions
How Often To Change Guitar Strings?
You should aim to change your guitar strings roughly every 3 months, or after around 100 hours of playing time – whichever comes first. A fresh set of new strings will sound better, be easier to play, and will be less likely to break.
These two numbers are obviously rough guidelines as mileage could vary wildly from person to person. For example, players with very acidic sweat will wear down new strings at a much faster rate than others.
Similarly, different brands and types of strings will not all degrade at the same rate. For example, coated strings should technically last longer than uncoated types.
For this reason, you may be better off simply watching out for a few key signs that you need to replace your guitar strings…
When To Change Guitar Strings? 5 Signs
1. They Look Dirty or Rusty
A fresh set of guitar strings will have a nice shine to them, plus an even coloring. Once they lose their luster and begin to look grimy they will also have lost a ton of character and clarity in terms of tone. At this stage, you definitely should change your guitar strings.
If you get to the point of noticing rust then your strings are beyond saving and should be replaced immediately. You can learn more about the causes of tarnishing and rusting below.
2. Guitar Strings Feel Dirty or Rough
Brand-new strings will have an almost slinky feeling under the fingers, they are smooth to slide up and down and easy to bend.
As your strings age, they will begin to feel rough in places due to the build-up of dirt as well as the effects of tarnishing and corrosion. You’ll probably notice that your guitar strings feel stiff and are harder to bend.
Try running your finger along the underside of the strings. You may feel some tiny kinks or flat spots where the string rubs against the fret wire. These spots will create greater wear on your fret wire – time to change your guitar strings!
3. They Sound Lifeless
A fresh string set will sound bright and articulate. It is important to try and internalize how your guitar sounds at this point, as you will be able to more easily realize when your new strings have gone bad.
When past their best, a set of guitar strings will have lost much of their treble, will sound dull and lifeless, and will also sustain (ring out) for a much shorter period of time. Changing guitar strings is the solution!
4. Tuning Instability
If you notice that you are having to tune your instrument more often, then this is also a good sign that you should change your guitar strings.
You will often notice intonation issues – that is the string may sound in tune when played open, but will sound off when fretting notes further up the fretboard. This is because the worn string has now lost its uniformity along its length. Time to change your strings!
5. Strings Break
Although a string can break for a number of reasons (read 8 Signs You Need a Guitar Setup), this could indicate that your strings are starting to break down and weaken. If strings break after having been on your guitar for a long period this is very likely to be the case.
It is preferable to change the entire set at this point rather than simply swapping out the broken string. A single, fresh string will likely sound and feel out of place amongst five other grimy, dull-sounding ones. Plus, one or more of the rest may also be on the verge of snapping as well. Time to change your strings!
Why Do Guitar Strings Rust & Degrade?
Over time your strings will begin to degrade due to the effects of tarnishing, and in the worst-case scenario, rusting. But what are the key causes of these two string diseases?
Sweat and Finger Oils
When exposed to the sweat and oils from your fingers, a chemical reaction occurs on the strings known as tarnishing. The strings lose their luster as a thin layer of oils and other general gunk forms over the surface of the string.
When the strings are sufficiently tarnished they will no longer feel smooth to play and the sound will be significantly degraded. In addition, your fingers may smell a little funky after a solid practice session!
The strings won’t lose any of their tensile strength as a result of tarnishing. However, leave this unchecked and rust will begin to form, weakening the strings and making them more susceptible to breaking. This chemical reaction is known as oxidation.
While you may be able to live with tarnished strings for a period, once rust begins to form you will absolutely need to change your strings.
By this point, the strings will sound lifeless, be more likely to break, and you could even get tiny splinters of metal stuck in your skin as windings break off – ouch! Furthermore, rust can lead to skin irritation and possibly even infections.
As we’ve already touched on above, your electric guitar strings will begin to corrode when they are exposed to your body’s sweat and oils. However, it isn’t just bodily fluids that can cause string tarnishing and oxidation. Any moisture can trigger a chemical reaction, including the moisture that is held in the air!
As a result, if you live in a country with a high level of humidity you may find that you will need to change your strings more often as a result.
To make matters worse, you are obviously going to be more likely to sweat in a high-humidity climate. Your new strings won’t stand a chance against this potent tag team of deadly moisture!
How To Make Guitar Strings Last Longer
Wish you didn’t have to change strings as often? Extend the life of your strings and save money in the long run. Here are six methods you can use to get the most play time out of each new pack!
1. Wash Your Hands
Throughout the day your hands will naturally sweat and pick up oils and dirt from things that you touch and products that you use. By simply washing your hands before playing we can eliminate the worst of these substances and greatly prolong the life of your strings.
This is especially important if you have just eaten, as the acids and salts from food or drink will also degrade your strings. Just make sure to also properly dry your hands as well, as by now we know just how much damage moisture can inflict!
2. Clean Your Strings
When you finish playing, take a soft dry cloth and give your strings a good wipe down. This will help to remove a lot of the sweat, oils, and other bodily gunk that you have just deposited on them. Make sure to clean the undersides too!
An even better option is to use a product specifically designed for this purpose, such as guitar string wipes or string cleaner. These will be able to remove more debris than a simple cloth, and many string cleaner products claim to also breathe life back into well-used strings. Examples include GHS Fast Fret or Ernie Ball Wonder Wipes.
3. Control Humidity
If you live in a high-humidity climate you can also try to manage the moisture levels in the room where you store your guitars. This might be through the use of an air-conditioner or humidifier.
It is also a good idea to store your guitar in its case when not in use as this will help to act as a buffer from atmospheric conditions. It’s not 100% protection, but should at least delay the effects of oxidation. Humidification solutions are also available that can be placed inside your case such as D’Addario’s Humidipak System.
The ideal climate to store a guitar is between 45-55% relative humidity. Read my guitar humidity guide to find out more. Guitars kept in a room with optimum moisture levels will need to change strings less frequently.
4. Try Coated Guitar Strings
Coated strings are covered in an ultra-thin layer of polymer that prevents dirt and grime from building up so quickly. As a result, they generally last longer when compared to uncoated guitar strings.
The downsides compared to coated guitar strings are that the tone can be affected, and they tend to feel more slippery under the fingers – either of which could actually be a plus point for you! For example, they tend to produce less finger noise, which could be a huge benefit during recording.
Plus, coated strings cost more than regular uncoated strings. However, they do last longer, so the cost should more or less balance out.
Check out Elixir Nanoweb, Ernie Ball Paradigm, or D’Addario XS sets. Coated acoustic strings, as well as electric and bass options are all available.
5. Try Stainless Steel Strings
If you don’t like the sound of coated strings, then why not try out a pack of stainless steel strings? Stainless steel is naturally corrosion-resistant, so these types of string will also last longer than average.
The benefit here is a long-lasting product that feels like a regular string. Check out Ernie Ball Stainless Steel or Rotosound British Steels if you want to change strings less often.
6. Wear Gloves
A more unorthodox solution is to introduce a protective layer between strings and fingers by wearing gloves! You will mostly see bassists using this method as the wider string spacing makes it more practical here.
However, if you can source a suitable product there’s no reason why you can’t try this with a guitar as well. For example, a thin pair of silk jeweler’s gloves could work. You’ll just have to weigh up the cost of replacing gloves versus the cost to change strings to figure which works out cheaper.
Do Guitar Strings Go Bad?
Guitar strings can last for many years when sealed in their original airtight packaging, preferably in a cool and dark place. If the packaging is not airtight or has been damaged or opened, the strings will slowly begin to corrode due to the adverse effects of moisture in the air.
If you have already opened the packet, the best place to store guitar strings is an airtight container or bag.
Can You Clean Rusty Guitar Strings?
If you can spot rust then your strings are already starting to break down and will be greatly weakened. By this stage, they will sound lifeless, cause issues with tuning, and are far more likely to break. It is not worth trying to save rusty guitar strings – time to change strings!
Should I Change The Strings On A New Guitar?
It is a good idea to consider changing strings whenever you purchase a new guitar. This is because the instrument could have been on a guitar store wall, or in storage for months or longer before you receive it.
By this stage, the strings could be experiencing corrosion from exposure to moisture in the air, or from other players trying out the guitar. Ideally, you should change strings and have a guitar setup when purchasing any new instrument.
How Often Do Professional Guitar Players Change Their Strings?
A professional will obviously be playing a lot more than your average guitarist, and as such, they will also change strings far more frequently. Professional guitar players will usually change their strings at least once per week.
Players with endorsements from string companies may even change strings daily to make sure they are always sounding their best!
How Long Does It Take To Change Guitar Strings?
With a little practice, it should take roughly 25 minutes to fully change your strings. Using a string winder will help to make the process of changing strings even quicker.
Can You Recycle Guitar Strings?
Absolutely! When you change your strings, instead of throwing them away, take your old set to a metal recycler, or your local music store if they offer this service. D’Addario also offers a recycling service where you can trade in your old strings for points to use in their online store.