Changing your guitar strings is a great way to revitalize the tone and feel of your instrument.
Knowing when you should change your guitar strings can be tricky, as there are many variables to consider. If you replace them too often, you’ll waste money in the long term. Replacing them infrequently can negatively impact the performance of your guitar.
In this definitive guide, I’ll provide you with all of the information you need to determine how often you should change your guitar strings.
How Often Should You Change Guitar Strings?
Some guitarists prefer the sound and feel of strings of warn-in strings, while others enjoy the fresh sound and responsiveness that new strings produce. On average, most guitarists will aim to change their strings every several months.
If you fall into the former category of guitarists, you can use a set of strings for anywhere between six months to a year as long as they are not showing obvious signs of wear and tear that will negatively impact your playing.
While on the other hand, many guitarists prefer to change their strings around once a month to achieve a brighter tone and the distinctive tactile qualities associated with a new set.
If you’re unsure when to change guitar strings, or whether new or older strings are best suited to your guitar-playing goals, you can ask yourself what sound you’d ideally like to produce.
Older strings sound mellow and subdued, with warm tonality and a lack of sharp frequencies especially in the treble-end of this instrument. They’re therefore well suited to genres like blues or jazz guitar.
A new set of strings provide a better note definition, and on the whole sound brighter. This makes them highly compatible with styles that heavily feature distortion and high-gain sounds, such as metal or heavy rock.
Experimenting with new strings and older strings that have been worn in is the only way to truly know which sound and feel you prefer.
The Impact of Replacing Your Guitar Strings
Installing a new set of strings on your guitar will instantly cause noticeable changes to both the way it sounds, and feels when you’re playing.
Let’s take a closer look at the individual aspects of your guitar’s performance that fresh strings will impact.
Guitar tone is the result of a combination of factors, such as the body type, tonewood selection, choice of amplifier, and of course the effects pedals you use.
Changing your strings is arguably equally as transformative as any of those, but its significance is often overlooked.
When a fresh set of guitar strings is installed, the tone instantly becomes brighter, sharper, and punchier. There is an increase in the attack of each note, and the overall volume of the instrument is also raised.
Some guitarists find this new string sound a little too harsh, and prefer to wear in their strings before playing live or recording their instrument.
When you install a new set of strings on your guitar, you’ll notice that the feel of the instrument changes dramatically.
Older strings that have been played frequently feel softer, and require less force to press down against the frets. This is due to the natural degradation that occurs as they are gradually worn in.
Fresh strings are likely to provide a little more resistance, which can make intricate chord shapes more difficult at first. However, this subsides after they have been played for a few hours and the tension is reduced slightly.
An important thing to note when changing your guitar strings is that they are initially likely to go out of tune.
This is because the string must be stretched when it is wound around the tuning peg, to achieve the desired note. Naturally, it pulls out of tune and results in a flatter note after a few minutes.
A good way to combat this is by tuning the strings slightly higher than the frequency of their desired note. This means that they will stretch more, and when they go flat they will be closer to the correct pitch you’re aiming for.
Why Do Guitar Strings Need Changing?
In the following section, I’ll discuss the reasons that guitar strings need changing, and answer the question – how often do guitar strings break?
If your hands and fingers produce a lot of sweat, you’ll need to change your strings more regularly. Sweat is the single biggest cause of string corrosion, as it reacts with the material and causes it to degrade.
Due to the physical activity required when playing guitar, it’s normal for sweat to be produced. Even if you don’t notice that you’re sweating, tiny particles of moisture are being transferred onto the guitar strings.
This also affects your fingerboard, as the sweat makes its way onto the wood. When you replace your strings, you can thoroughly clean your fretboard, which is another reason to do so regularly.
In addition to sweat, dirt from your hands and fingers is also likely to get onto the strings. This will cause a build-up over time, resulting in a duller tone and less friction.
Wear & Tear
The more you play your guitar, the more it will inevitably be subjected to wear and tear. Whether you’re transporting it from one place to another or subjecting it to temperature changes, the strings will be affected.
If your guitar is constantly being used, moved around, and exposed to different temperatures, it’s a good idea to replace the strings every few weeks to retain tonal qualities.
Windings Becoming Loose
When I first started playing guitar, I was unaware of the correct way to wind the strings upon installation. Not only does this affect their appearance, but it can also impact their longevity.
When the string windings start to loosen, this is a sign that you should replace them with a new set and ensure that you wind them correctly so that they maintain the optimal tensions for longer.
Other Factors to Consider
Knowing how often to change guitar strings depends on a variety of factors. No two guitarists are the same, which is what makes the instrument so interesting and unique. What works for one guitarist may be the opposite of what another requires to achieve their aims.
Here are some additional things to consider when deciding how often you should change your guitar strings.
Do You Play Frequently?
The time you leave before changing your strings can vary over a longer period. If you spend a month practicing for hours every day, then you should change your strings on a weekly or fortnightly basis.
As guitarists, we often go through periods where we don’t get to play as much as we’d perhaps like to. This may be down to other commitments getting in the way, or a temporary lack of inspiration and enthusiasm.
If you’ve hardly played your guitar for some time, the chances are you won’t need to change the strings very often as they will have been subjected to less corrosion and wear and tear.
Guitarists who play around once a week can probably get away with changing their strings every few months, or even longer if they’re still in good condition.
Which Strings Do You Use?
The range of strings that you can use on your guitar is extensive, to say the least. Some are plated with nickel or cobalt, and others are coated in anti-corrosion materials.
Heavy gauge strings are less likely to break or wear out quickly compared to lighter gauges. All of these factors directly impact how often you should change your guitar strings.
If you would rather change your strings less often, it’s a good idea to experiment with thicker gauges and more robust materials to find the right set for your needs.
Changing your guitar strings every week or two can be a costly practice, especially when this is done for a few years.
Thankfully, there are several preventative measures you can take to reduce the number of times you need to do this, even if you love the fresh sound and feel of new strings.
The cleanliness of your fingerboard also impacts the length of time that you should wait before replacing your strings. This is because the strings come into contact with the wood every time you play a note, so any dirt is transferred to the underside.
When you install a fresh set of strings, you should ideally clean your fretboard with a specifically designed lotion. Lemon oils are great tools for improving the cleanliness and feel of your fingerboard.
One of the best preventative measures you can take to avoid your strings wearing out prematurely is to wash your hands thoroughly before playing your guitar.
While this may seem like common sense, in my experience it’s a difficult habit to build due to the temptation of just picking up your guitar and playing when the impulse strikes.
Washing your hands will remove any sweat or dirt that could potentially be transferred onto the guitar’s strings and fingerboard, which will increase the lifespan of your strings in the long run.