As you advance with your guitar playing, you begin to pay closer attention to your instrument and take note of the technical aspects of the guitar. This includes the strings, one of the most fundamental aspects of the guitar.
With time you will need to change your guitar strings. As they age, the quality of the sound produced will deteriorate. They will instead sound dull and lifeless which will, in turn, affect the quality of the music that you create.
In this detailed guide, we talk about guitar strings and how often you should restring your guitar. We will look at differences between electric and acoustic guitars and the different types of strings available on the market. By the end of this guide, you should have a better understanding of when to change your guitar strings.
Why Should I Change My Guitar Strings?
Like any other musical instrument, the guitar needs constant maintenance to ensure that it’s functioning at the highest possible level. Changing your strings is part of guitar maintenance and it is a skill all guitarists should possess. It is the same way you change the tires on your car after they begin to wear out after prolonged road use.
There are are a variety of reasons why people choose to replace their strings and this includes:
- Broken strings: This is a no-brainer but the main reason people choose to replace their strings is because one snapped. Depending on the level you play, you may choose to simply replace the broken string or install a new set (the latter is always recommended for an even sound/tone).
- Recording: Guitarists that frequently record with their instruments tend to replace their strings more often than hobbyist guitarists. This is often because you want the best possible sound quality in your recordings and changing your strings before a recording session is part of the process.
- Live performance: People who gig actively tend to change their strings rather often. This could be after a month of touring/gigging or even before every show (most professional musicians take this route for better sound quality and to avoid any possible on-stage mishaps)
- Playability: As your strings began to degrade with time, so will their playability. They will start to sound dull and dreary and they may no longer be able to hold their tuning like they did when they were new.
What Causes Strings To Degrade?
There are several factors that cause your strings to begin aging and degrading. In this section, we look at some of the factors that play a role in this.
Guitar strings are made of many windings with ridges between each of them. With time, grime gets stuck between these ridges and begins to build up. When this continues over a prolonged period of time, the grime buildup will affect how your strings vibrate. This, in turn, will affect the tone of your strings.
This is why new strings tend to sound bright whereas older strings are duller.
We’re going to try to keep this as simple as possible seeing as we’re musicians and not scientists but oxidation basically refers to the process of moisture triggering a chemical reaction that converts metal into a new and fragile metal called rust.
Guitar strings corrode when they are exposed to moisture. Environments that have high levels of humidity will encourage iron-containing metals such as guitar strings to rust.
Work hardening affects the stiffness of the metal. This basically occurs when there are microscopic changes in the crystalline structure of the metal. This happens as a result of the repeated bending of the string and it will affect the tone of the guitar string.
Think of this as bending a paperclip repeatedly until it eventually snaps.
So, How Often Should You Change Your Guitar Strings?
Although it’s difficult to give a timeframe that’s representative of everyone, we’re going to try to give you a rough idea. Below is a string changing guide based on how often you play, this will give you a good idea of when you should change your strings.
Occasional Guitar Players
There are numerous people who own guitars but don’t play them regularly. Many times these are hobbyists who happen to have a guitar lying around that they pick up only a handful of times in a year and barely spend much time playing them.
Guitars that fall under these criteria can have their strings changed at least once a year. Seeing as the guitar is not being played frequently, the strings will not degrade as quickly. However, the said strings will need replacing at some point as they will begin to oxidize even if they remain untouched.
Novice Guitar Players/Hobbyists
This applies to guitarists who have just started learning guitar or are in the early stages of their musical journey. Guitarists in this category usually play for anywhere between 4hrs – 12hrs per week due to their practice schedules (this equates to 30mins – 1hr of practicing daily).
In such situations, it is recommended to replace your strings after 100hrs of playing or after 3 months, whichever of the two comes first.
Experienced Guitar Players
Most of the guitarists that fall into this category have been playing for years and they play guitar for at least 20hrs+ every week. This includes gigging musicians or recording musicians who are always hard at work.
In this scenario, it is recommended that you replace your guitar strings every 1 – 2 months, although some guitarists within this category may choose to replace their strings on a more frequent basis.
As a recording and gigging musician, I personally fall into this category. My personal preference is to replace my strings every 1 month due to my schedule. This way I’m assured of good sound while playing live and I can play with confidence and without having to worry about one of my strings breaking.
Professional Guitar Players
The professional guitar player is one who plays the guitar for a living; whether as an instructor, gigging musician or session artist. These are the guitarists that make their bread and butter from playing music and as such maintain the tools of their trade with immaculate care.
It’s slightly difficult to tell a professional when they should change their strings as most pro guitarists will judge this for themselves. However, most professionals will change their strings after at least 1 week and some have even mentioned that they replace their strings daily.
Below is a table that provides a summary of when to replace your strings. These timeframes will help you decide when you need to change your strings but ultimately it will depend on you as the guitarist to gauge whether or not they need to be replaced.
|Playing hours per week
|When to replace
|4 – 12 hrs
|3 months (or 100 hours)
|1 – 2 months
How To Maintain Your Guitar Strings
As discussed above, you will always have to change your guitar strings at some point. However, there are several steps you can take to maintain your guitar strings and help prolong their life before you have to replace them.
Below we look at some of the things you can do to try and extend the life of your strings.
1. Clean Your Strings
As we’ve already mentioned, one of the factors that cause guitar strings to degrade is the build-up of grime between the ridges of the strings. Although you cannot prevent this from happening, you can minimize the effects by cleaning your strings after every session.
There are many available products on the market that will help you clean your strings and many of the top instrument brands have string cleaners and conditioners available. These provide your strings with an oil coating to prevent corrosion.
If you don’t own any string cleaner solution then you simply need to wipe down the strings with a microfibre cloth after playing.
2. Wash Your Hands Before You Play
Remember how earlier in this article we talked about strings degrading because of grime building up in the strings? Well, the oil and dirt from your fingers get caught in the strings and results in the build-up of grime.
Washing your hands before playing will help with the excess dirt and oil on your fingertips and in turn, help keep your strings in good condition. Don’t forget to dry your hands well afterward as any water on the strings may cause them to rust and degrade faster.
3. Buy High-Quality Strings
The quality of your strings will 100% play a role in how long they last before you have to replace them. One sure-fire way of ensuring your strings last for longer is to buy higher quality guitar strings from brands with a solid track record.
Generic strings often last for shorter amounts of time due to cheaper materials used to make them as well as the quality of craftsmanship when making the strings.
4. Store Your Guitar Away
This is a rather simple step but one that is often overlooked. Storing your guitar away after practice will help maintain your strings and help them last for a longer duration. The case protects the guitar from humidity which may, in turn, result in corrosion in the strings.
5. Clean Your Fretboard
Seeing as your fretboard makes direct contact with your guitar strings, it is highly recommended that you clean it whenever you get the chance because grime also builds up in your guitar’s fretboard. I usually clean my fretboard whenever I replace my guitar strings.
By now this guide will have given you a solid understanding of how often you should change your guitar strings and the steps you can take towards maintaining and keeping them in good condition.
If you asked 5 different guitarists when you should change your strings, you would most probably get 5 relatively different answers. However, the fact is that you will be able to tell when you need to change your strings as you gain more experience with the guitar.
Should I change all my guitar strings at once?
You may find it impractical to replace all your strings simply because you snapped one; strings can be pricey and as a new guitarist/learner you may be prone to breaking strings often. If this is the case, there’s nothing wrong with simply replacing the one string you broke rather than the whole set. Bearing in mind of course that you will eventually need to replace them all.
However, it is always advisable to replace all your strings at the same time if you can. This will ensure an even tone throughout your playing and will also give you the opportunity to clean your fretboard.
Can you remove rust from guitar strings?
Trying to remove rust from your guitar strings is a pointless exercise that will end with frustration. The only course of action is to replace the strings and maintain them better.
Should I detune my guitar after playing?
Detuning your guitar after playing will not help your strings last any longer.
In fact, doing this over a prolonged period will damage your guitar because detuning the guitar will result in string tension on the neck being released and causing the wood to bend in the other direction.