It may seem like a bit of a hassle, but it’s important to regularly change your guitar strings. Not only do germs build up on the strings (and feel pretty gross to touch), but old strings just sound worse, are difficult to tune, and are more likely to break – a nightmare when you’re playing in front of a crowd!
Most players should plan on changing strings about once every 3 months or 100 hours of practice – whatever comes first. Don’t worry if you’re a couple of weeks late on this, as this is more of a rule of thumb than a rule set in stone.
After all, everybody is different and the amount of time you spend playing the guitar will affect how often you have to change your strings too. Of course, they will continue to wear the longer you wait to change them, and you run the risk of them breaking.
So while changing your strings every three months is the rule of thumb (and ideal for most learners), when should you change them if you play every day or hardly ever?
If you’re a touring professional ideally you should change your strings daily, and if you’re a professional who doesn’t tour you should change your strings weekly. More serious players should change their strings monthly, while amateur players should change their strings every six months.
However, if you hardly play your guitar you can change your strings every year, or maybe even less. After all, if you don’t play and practice regularly, then what’s the point of going to the trouble of changing the strings?
Meanwhile, if you play your guitar daily for several hours at a time then you’ll need to change your strings more often than you would if you only play once a week.
Likewise, if you own four guitars that you play equally, you don’t have to change your strings as much as you would need to if you were only playing one. However, corrosion will still affect the strings even if you don’t play for a while, and some strings corrode more than others.
Corrosion is partly to blame for that unpleasant feeling on your fingertips when you play, and it can also affect the tone of the strings. But wiping the strings down and using a string conditioner will reduce the likelihood of the strings corroding.
You’ll probably start to notice the damage within 1-2 weeks (or 5-10 hours) of practice. After 3 months, the strings will be pretty worn out and you’ll notice a dip in sound quality.
Some players (especially those who play professionally) will change their strings weekly or even daily depending on how much they need to play. While these time frames are a good indicator of when you should change your strings, it is down to the individual how often they change the strings.
If you notice your tone is affected, or the strings feel gritty and unpleasant it’s time to change them. However, taking good care of your strings can make them last longer. Below, I’ll take you through what happens to strings over time and how you can take better care of them.
Corrosion: Just like metal objects will rust over time due to the moisture in the air, so too will guitar strings corrode due to frequent exposure to moisture from your fingers. This damages their tone over time.
Kinks: Over time, you’ll notice that small kinks will form along the length of the strings. These dents are caused by contact with the fret wire, which is made of metal. The kinks will affect the tone, as well as how the strings feel. When kinks appear it is more likely that the strings will break suddenly.
Loose Windings: While the guitar’s treble strings are made from a single piece of wire, the bass strings are made from a thin wire ‘core.’ This wire is wrapped around another to bring the string to the correct gauge.
Acoustic guitars have four wound strings and two plain strings, while electric guitars usually have 3 wound strings and 3 plain strings. Electric guitars generally tend to have strings that are lighter in diameter.
The windings can become loose over time and unpredictable, which makes for quite a tense playing experience when you don’t know if the strings will break! When this happens on a steel string it will normally fall apart.
Meanwhile, on nylon strings, the winding may begin to pull off without breaking the core.
How do you protect your strings?
Protecting your strings and making sure they are in good condition can make them last longer, and the best way to do this is by wiping and conditioning them.
Wiping down your strings from top to bottom with a thin cloth removes the substances that cause corrosion after playing. While this can improve the longevity of your strings, not a lot of people do it. This is a shame because it’s totally worth it!
There are also a number of products out there for cleaning and conditioning guitar strings. They work by putting a layer of oil over the strings that protect them from corrosive, harmful substances.
You could also invest in strings that tend to be more long-lasting, such as Elixir strings. These strings last so long because they have a protective coating.
But while these strings are convenient and reduce the number of times you have to change strings, the coating can affect the tone. Some people also just prefer the feeling of uncoated strings. However, more guitars are being manufactured with coated strings to make them more durable.
Overall, the general rule is that you should change your strings every 3 months or after 100 hours of playing. If you would like to reduce the number of times you replace your strings, it’s a good idea to invest in some coated strings, and also to take good care of your strings by wiping them regularly.