As a player with years of experience, or a complete beginner learning to play, the question comes up a great deal. How often should you change your guitar strings?
This is a very good question with many answers! Depending on the guitar, the environment, and even the type of music you play, the answer can be very different.
4 to 6 months or 100 hours is on average a good point at which to change your strings. Once you do not like the sound anymore, you know it’s time to replace them.
If you prefer a bright, open sound, replace them more frequently. If you like a warmer tone, replace them less. Strings dull with age and become darker sounding.
Overall, the sound a guitar produces is a result of the condition and type of string it has been equipped to use. And with so many types and string materials, it’s a good idea to get familiar with what you are using.
Why Do Guitar Strings Need To Be Changed?
If you are new to the guitar, you might find it odd that a string would need to be changed at all. I mean, if it doesn’t break, it should last until it does, right? And yes, this is true to a point. I have played guitars with strings on them that were years old!
But the experience was a dull one. And in some cases, if rust has developed on them, this can be dangerous! And to a guitarist, your fingers are the most important part of your body! An injured finger could mean a few days without being able to play, and that is simply not acceptable.
So let’s look into all the reasons why you might consider changing your guitar strings. Because this is different for everyone, not all of these will apply to you.
But let’s think outside the box and look into what you should look for. Perhaps there are a few things here you may not have considered before.
You know that a fresh set of strings sound much different from a set that has been played or broken in.
The sound is brighter and seems to breathe more. This is generally the case with all materials, from steel to nylon. Now, this factor comes down to a matter of preference. Not all players like the sound of a new guitar string set.
Some people prefer the sound of a string set that has been used for a while. The way some people describe a broken-in set is that they have more of a warm sound.
This can be a more appealing sound for certain genres of music than others. For example, if you are a blues or jazz player, a warmer sound is usually preferred.
In this case, a new set of strings is not going to get you there. It will take a bit of time to break them in enough to lose the bright metallic sound before they warm up.
And once you get them there, you are not in a hurry to change again anytime soon. The type of guitar and string is also another consideration. If you are playing metal music on an electric through a clean amp, a brighter sound might be your tone.
Whereas if you are playing a nylon string you might not like the brighter sound and prefer a used set.
Dirt, Oil, and Rust
Another large factor is the amount of time you play the strings. If you play every day for a few hours a day, they will wear out faster. Most people don’t wash their hands before playing and so dirt, oil, and grime transfer to them. This can also speed up the wear.
This wear is different for steel than it is for nylon. With nylon, wearing consists of possible flat spots. Perhaps even tarnishing of the silver coating.
The heavier gauge strings in a nylon set will also tend to last longer than the lighter ones.
With steel, you will generally find that grime and oil will be the main reason to change them. The decay of sound and sustain is very apparent.
Rust or discoloration is also a potential reason to change them. Unless of course a string breaks before all that happens. But if it has come close to this point, then the smell alone might be a sign that it’s time to change them.
If you play pretty aggressively, then your strings will wear out sooner. A lot of bending, hard strumming, or whammy bar action will result in quicker wear. If you are easier on them, then this isn’t something you need to consider.
What you will tend to notice with a more aggressive play style is that the strings will break or be hard to keep tuned up. This won’t happen right away, so it’s important to try and keep a schedule of each string change.
This will allow you to keep track of how much time you are really getting out of them. So if at around 4 weeks they break or won’t tune like they use to, you know when to restring.
Another thing to consider is the environment in which your guitar spends most of its time. For steel strings, this is a bigger deal than nylon and is worth considering.
If the environment is humid or damp, chances are they will rust just sitting there. This will dictate How often should you change your guitar strings. It’s usually a good idea to verify that your environment is good for the instrument itself as well.
Some environments will damage a guitar. It’s worth considering where the instrument is most of the time.
Strings can take damage from rough treatment. Or simply from outer wraps that become frayed. If you find that your strings are bent, sharp, or have any other physical issues, it’s best to change them. This will prevent you from injuring your fingers.
As strings begin to deteriorate, the material they are made with begins to change. This can create tuning issues with both steel and nylon strings. It’s more common with nylon strings. But it can also happen with steel as well.
Are your strings old, and your guitar won’t stay in tune? Then you might want to consider changing them. This will benefit your sound and provide a better experience overall.
When To Change Guitar Strings
Changing string is different for all guitar types. Not only are there different guitars, but string materials too. Just make sure to wind them in the right direction!
Most players change their electric guitar strings every 3 months or 90 days. This all depends on how much use they get during this period. They will last much longer if not played, but this depends on the environment they are subject to as well.
For someone who only plays a couple of times per week, the strings can last for 6 months or longer. At some point, if a string has not snapped, the sound will begin to dull as they get old. It’s normally when this happens that it’s time to change them, unless you like the sound.
There are both steel and nylon strings used on acoustic guitars. Each type of string is different in many ways, and so they also wear differently as well.
Players who use steel strings have many intervals when it comes to changing them. Guitarists that use the Elixir brand say that they can get two times the life out of these coated types. Others who do not use coated expressed an increase in life with regular maintenance.
There was so much data around this topic that we had to work out some averages. And we excluded those that do not change strings regularly, but simply play them until one fails. Here is the frequency to which people restring a guitar with steel:
- Players who gig nightly restring 4 times per month.
- Guitarists who play at home daily, restring every 4-6 weeks.
- Players who practice at home 2 to 3 times per week, restring every 10 to12 weeks.
- Those who play once a week can go over 6 months, maybe even as long as a year.
Here is a chart to help you find a string change interval for steel:
|Amount Of Use||Hours Used (Total)||String Change|
|Daily (Performer)||24 – 30||Weekly|
|Daily (Practice)||60 – 80||4 – 6 Weeks|
|2-3 Times Weekly||48 – 65||10 – 12 Weeks|
|Once Weekly||48 – 96||6 – 12 Months|
Players who use Nylon strings have expressed that they do not change them as often as steel. Nor do they replace the strings all at the same time.
Most players who play nylon have stated that they don’t care much for bright sounds. As a result, they play them until they either wear out or break. The bass strings normally wear out much quicker than the treble and are changed sooner.
A large majority of players said they use the treble strings twice as long as the bass.
Here is the frequency to which most people replace them:
- Players who gig weekly including regular practicing perform 2 restrings per month
- Guitarists who practice at home everyday change them every 6 to 8 weeks
- Players who rehearse twice a week change every 3 to 5 months
Those that only play their nylon strings once a week have stated that they can go 10 to 12 months before a change is needed. And again the bass strings are normally the reason.
Here is a Nylon string change interval chart:
|Amount Of Use||Hours Used (Total)||String Change|
|Daily||72 – 96||6 – 8 Weeks|
|2 – 3 Times Weekly||80 – 100||3 – 5 Months|
|Once Weekly||72 – 105||10 – 12 Months|
How Often Professionals Change Guitar Strings
Most touring musicians will have a number of guitars available in case a string breaks. But normally they also have a tech looking after these things. This way they can focus on the performance. But after inquiring with a few touring techs, we found out that a guitar will be restrung every show!
That’s right! If the instrument was used at all during the performance, it gets a new set of strings before the next. There are a couple of different reasons for this. First, they do not want to risk a string breaking during a show. The other reason is that a brighter sound will cut through the mix better.
Performing musicians want to provide the best possible show they can. The sound needs to be optimal, and a new string is a louder, brighter one.
The 4 Phases Of Steel String Life
- Phase 1: New. In this phase the strings are bright, lively and crisp. To some players, they are a bit harsh and have more top end.
- Phase 2: Worn in. In this phase, the top end has dulled enough to satisfy all players. They still play like new. Feel and sound great.
- Phase 3: Seasoned. In this phase they have lost their new feel, begun to dull even further, but are not quite old. The sound has become more of a thud than anything else.
- Phase 4: old. In this phase, corrosion begins to set in, the strings are dull, and your fingers potentially begin to smell after playing them.
Guitar String Materials And Wear
There are many strings available to guitar players in this day and age. Many materials and metal types. Some with coatings and some without. Even the many string manufacturers are something to consider. Each one of them has a set with a different winding and technique by which they make their strings.
Some perform better than others, and some last longer than others. So here are a few things to consider when choosing your strings. This will help in knowing when it’s time to change them based on the string construction.
There are some things you need to consider when it comes to string construction. You see, if you are an aggressive player and use light strings, you will get less play life from them.
Heavier sets will offer more durability, but not everyone likes to play them. So if you are a heavy strummer but prefer lighter strings, you need to consider this when it’s time to replace them. Otherwise, you might break more of them at inconvenient times.
For Steel strings, there are a few different materials available. Choosing the material for your sound and environment is something to consider. Stainless steel is available and will help when it comes to rust issues. But they are brighter and snappier.
This might not be a sound you like as a player, but it might help with string life. Especially if your guitar is in a humid or damp environment. Steel strings with a nickel wrap or plating are pretty common. But they may rust sooner, depending on the environment and the amount of sweat they see on a regular basis.
In 1997 the Elixir company introduced what they called coated steel strings. It’s a polymer coating that was designed to keep oil, sweat, and dirt off. This coating does what it is supposed to do, and provides a longer string life.
However, some players complain that there is a loss of brightness and sustain as a result of the coating. We haven’t found that to be the case, and love these strings! They are excellent in both sound and longevity. These are a great choice for any player, but even better for those who sweat a lot or live in a humid environment.
Extending Guitar String Life
Once you get your strings to the point that you like, you can extend their life with simple tasks. Most guitar players overlook these things, but they can make a big difference. And if you can extend their life, you can enjoy their sound longer.
So we suggest that you add these tasks to your guitar practice routine at the very least.
Wash Your Hands
Washing your hands before you play is a great way to keep dirt and oils from building up on the strings. Your fingers will transfer a great deal of grime, which eventually dulls them. This is an easy way to extend their life span.
Some players say that the oil helps their fingers glide on the strings, so they prefer not to wash them. This may be your preference as well, and that is fine. But consider that your finger calluses do most of that heavy lifting, and not the oil from your fingers.
Clean Your Strings After You Play
This next task is quite simple to do.
If you have ever wiped your strings down at any point, you know how dirty they get. This dirt can be prevented by cleaning after you play. Even if it’s one cleaning a week, this can help give them a longer life.
At the very least, you may find they get some sustain back as the dirt is removed. This can be done using a rag and just giving them a good wipe-down. There are also products on the market that make this a snap.
There are many players who swear by some of these products because of their ease of use. Plus, they are effective at providing string life, so they pay for themselves in no time.
This product closes around your strings and gives them a good scrub, easy and effective.
This product is similar, but also adds a lubricant to the strings and fret board. So not only does it clean, but also lubes them.
Another product we recommend is the Dunlop string conditioner. Again, you get a good cleaner and string lubricant. Applying this to the string cleaner tool above would be a great combo for a quick cleaning.
Keep Your Guitar In Good Shape
And finally, you will want to make sure your guitar is in optimal shape. Over time, as your instrument is used, it can become a string eater! As you press strings against the frets, they will begin to wear and dents develop. This can be harder on your strings as they press against these dents in the frets.
Over time, this can result in strings getting damaged and breaking prematurely. So make sure to inspect your frets with each string change and replace frets as they wear. The bridge can develop sharp edges as well. So if you find that your strings are breaking at the bridge quite frequently, you will want to get it fixed.
This can be easy to do on your own, but a technician can also help get things sorted.
Just don’t ignore your guitar when strings break. This is a sign that the instrument might need some work if it’s breaking strings regularly. Not only is this a pain because it means more restrings, it’s also expensive.
There are many guitar string brands on the market today. When asking how often should you change your guitar strings, you have to know what is best. Not every set is created equal.
Some are great, while others are not, and you get what you pay for. If you have already found your brand and love them to pieces, that’s great!
If you are newer to the instrument and are not sure what is good, we have a few suggestions for you. These are the brands that have created a name for themselves because of their quality. They are also the string brands we use on our guitars and find them to be the best.
Electric Guitar Strings
Acoustic Guitar Strings
Nylon Guitar Strings
Thanks for reading, we hope you were able to take a lot from this article. So, how often should you change your guitar strings? This article should have given you lots of resources.
But don’t stress too much over your strings. Just keep your focus on playing and enjoying the instrument! If you know of other players who could benefit from this article, be sure to share it with them! And make sure to recycle the old strings as you use them to prevent unnecessary waste!
Should You Change All Guitar Strings At Once?
If your guitar has a bridge without a Floyd rose or springs, normally you are good to just change them all at once. This will give you the opportunity to clean your guitar. The fretboard could use a good cleaning, and no better time to do it than during a change. You do not need to worry about the neck or tension causing any issues or damage.
The new strings will need a period to stretch anyway, so the neck will readjust during this time. The only exception might be the night before a show, then you may want to do one string at a time. If you have a Floyd Rose set up or springs in your bridge design, one at a time might be easier.
The springs will pull the bridge right back if you take all the strings off. This could make it harder to change them. Not impossible, but it’s more work than necessary.
Is It Hard To Change Guitar Strings?
Changing strings is not hard. But like anything in life, it does take practice. If it’s your first time, I might suggest that you do one at a time. This will make it less overwhelming and will prevent too much movement in other parts.
Take one off, put a new one on and tune it up. The one thing you will want to keep in mind is that the wrap around your tuners is the most important part.
Bass strings will need roughly 3 to 4 wraps, while treble will need 6. Keep the wraps even and make sure they don’t cross over one another. Then tune it up. You will find that it will be hard to keep tune at first. The string will need to stretch and usually needs some time to do so.
Can You Change Guitar Strings Without A Winder?
Absolutely! But it also depends on how hard you want to make this process. Tools have been created to make the job easier. And I would suggest you invest in a string winder so that changes are not a terrible experience for you.
Let’s face it, the faster you can do this, the better the experience and the more guitar you will play in the end! That’s what it’s all about! Here are a few good string winders, grab one with your new set.