One thing that some beginners may tend to overlook on a guitar is the guitar strings themselves. They’re just long pieces of wire, and there shouldn’t be all that much to worry about as far as they go…right?
Wrong – actually, really wrong.
The strings on your guitar are super crucial to how well your guitar plays, and sounds. When you’re first starting out, one question that will inevitably come up is ‘how often should the strings on my guitar be changed?’
Let’s take a look at some of the things that can tell you it may be time for a fresh set.
Things just don’t sound the same
New guitar strings have a crisp sound that can almost make it seem like you’re playing a new guitar. The problem here (and with pretty much everything we’re going to touch on) is that the quality of your strings can be affected over time. After some time passes, you may notice that they just don’t sound as good as they used to.
Is that a sign that you have to change them out? Not necessarily. This one can be a bit subjective – some players actually like the sound of a set of strings that are a bit duller. But if you like keeping your tone more on the bright side, then changing them when they start to lose that sparkle may be the right thing.
My only expenses are probably guitar strings and records – Chris Isaak
Keeping newer strings on will keep your sound on track as well. Sometimes the tonal change from old ones to new can be much more drastic than you think, so changing them at a higher frequency may make things more consistent.
Things just don’t feel the same
One reason that strings deteriorate after playing them for a while is simply this – your fingers can carry an amazing amount of dirt and gunk. It’ll build-up to the point where they won’t feel as nice and clean as a new set. This one is especially true if you tend to sweat a lot.
An excellent way to keep the crud down is to wipe your strings off every time you play. Keep a soft cloth in your guitar case or gig bag and take a few seconds to clean them off; you may be surprised as to how much this simple little trick can extend their life. This will also help to keep the fretboard clean as well; they can tend to get pretty dirty over time.
On the extreme end of this is just plain neglect. Some players may leave their guitars out in the open, and over time they’ll start to corrode and rust. Trust us – if you don’t want to feel like you’re playing on pieces of razor wire, then don’t let things get to this point.
Things just don’t tune the same
It’s not always about tonal quality as far as it is the best time to change your strings. A sign that a string change is in the cards is that your tuning won’t be very consistent. This tends to be more noticeable with the unwound strings in particular.
It may become hard to keep chords sounding as they should, and you’ll find yourself tuning up much more than you should have to. This tends to happen more with players that don’t change their strings all that often, and it’ll gradually get to the point where you won’t have a lot of choice but to throw on a fresh set.
Having a complete breakup
This one should be fairly obvious. Let’s face it, it’s kind of hard to play your guitar if you’re just chuggin’ or shreddin’ along and all of a sudden you break a string. You may be able to fake it until you make it to the end of the set (if you’re playing live), and at that point changing just the string that had broken is the fastest way to get back playing.
One recommendation is to change – once you have the time, that is – all of the strings when it gets to that point, particularly if you’re the type of player that leaves strings on for a while. One breaking may mean that the others may be prime to snap; might as well change them all out to avoid the hassle of one breaking on you when you least expect it.
Of course, all of this makes perfect sense if your strings are a little older, but they can also break for other reasons. The combination of string gauge and how hard you play can be lethal! Thinner strings may feel more comfortable to play, but if you tend to thump them, then they won’t last very long.
Thicker strings take more tension to get them to pitch (therefore requiring more finger strength), but they can be more durable. Going up a gage or two if you tend to break them a lot may be the ticket for what ails you.
So what is the answer? How often should you change your guitar strings? The moral of the story is this – there is no hard answer.
Aside from your strings just flat out breaking on you, all of the other things we looked at factor into how often you should change them out. Some players like to be proactive and do a change after every gig. Others may change them on a specific time interval (for example, once a month).
At the end of the day, string changes really aren’t all that hard to do, nor are they typically costly. Regardless of what your preferences are, making a string change a part of your maintenance plan can help to keep your guitar performing up to your standards.
Ask other guitars players about when to change your guitar strings in our guitars chat forum.