Changing Guitar Strings: Knowing When & How Often

How often should I replace guitar strings?

Changing your guitar strings. It’s something every guitarist needs to do but often people disagree about when and how often it should be done.

If you’ve been wondering how often you should change your guitar strings, hopefully I can provide a good answer for you here.

Surprisingly, not everybody agrees on a “right answer” so allow me to begin by providing some background on why guitarists disagree about this.

The Controversy about Strings

If, like me, you spend some of your time reading online posting boards about guitars, you have heard all sorts of claims about strings.

There are those people who insist, for instance, that you have to play heavy strings. Or that you have to play light strings. There are people who claim that some particular expensive brand is the only sort of string you should use. Or that only strings made of a certain material are any good.

Acoustic Guitar StringsIt is difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff.

The same goes for changing strings. Why should you change them? When should you change them? How often?

There are people in all sorts of camps on this issue – each of them claiming to know exactly what they’re talking about. But who is right? Whose advice should you listen to?

If that seems discouraging, rest assured there’s one thing that everybody agrees on: strings need to be changed.

Why You Need to Change Your Strings

Obviously, if a string breaks on your guitar, you need to replace it. Barring such an event, though, why would you need to change your guitar strings? Why go through the trouble when the guitar seems to be in perfect working order?

The answer is roughly this – if your strings are old, your guitar is not in perfect working order.

Old strings sound and feel old. They produce fewer rich sounds, don’t hold their tuning as well, threaten to cut your fingers, and are highly prone to breaking.

You may not notice the decline as your strings slowly deaden, but once you put a new set on, you will be amazed at how lively your guitar sounds and feels.

Changing guitar strings

How Often Should I Change Guitar Strings?

The perennial question when it comes to changing guitar strings is – how often?

Some professional guitarists change their strings between every performance, which amounts to changing them every day. Some amateur players insist that changing their strings more than once a month is absolutely necessary for them to sound good.

Other players leave the same set of strings on a guitar for a year or more.

The truth is this: strings degrade rather quickly, and depending on the kind of guitar string you have purchased there will be a noticeable lack of quality after only a week or two of play. Whether or not you’re willing to change your strings every two weeks, however, is up to you (and your budget).

Tips to Tell when Strings Need to Be Changed

The only sure way to know how often to change your strings is to know what to look for; how to spot a dead string. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Sound is noticeably deadened: Dead and dying strings have a dead and dying sound. They sound dull and lifeless. They don’t ring as long or as loud and don’t produce as rich of a harmonic response. In general, they just don’t sound as good.
  • Feel is noticeably deadened: Old strings feel dead too. When you pick them, they refuse to snap back quite the way new strings do. When you bend, they feel rubbery. Overall, they are a little bit arduous to play.
  • Guitar is properly set up and yet it won’t stay in tune: When strings are in need of changing, they don’t hold their tune as well. If your guitar is well set up, if it has reasonable action, its truss rod is relieved only the amount that it needs to be, and the intonation on the instrument has been dialed in – if all of this is true, but the guitar won’t stay in tune or isn’t in tune consistently across the fretboard, then there is a good chance your strings are to blame.
  • You can see severe discoloration in the strings: Old strings corrode, and turn black. This corrosion can cut your fingers, particularly if you slide often.
  • Coated strings are beginning to shed flakes: When coated strings age (such as Elixir strings) their coating begins to degrade. This results in flakes being shed from the strings.
  • You can’t recall when you last changed strings: This one is simple – if you don’t know when the last time you changed your strings was, it is almost definitely time to change them now.

There are literally hundreds of different kinds of brands to choose from, so it helps to know how to choose the right guitar strings.

Tips for Extending the Life of Guitar Strings

There are a few things you can do to extend the amount of time between string-changes.

An extra set of guitar stringsFirst, you can wash your hands before you play. The oils on your fingers get transferred to the strings when you play and will corrode them that much faster.

Second, you can wipe the strings down, before and after playing, ideally with some sort of string treatment designed to prevent corrosion and keep the strings sounding new.

Finally, you can buy better quality strings – better strings often last longer; it’s that simple.

Conclusion: Changing Guitar Strings

In the end, nobody can tell you when to change your strings. It is a decision you will learn to make on your own.

Hopefully, however, this article has given you some things to think about, and some things to look for. And hopefully it will be easier to know which strings to buy and how often to swap them out.

How often do you change your guitar strings? Leave a comment below to let us know!

8 thoughts on “Changing Guitar Strings: Knowing When & How Often

  1. My experienced ears hear a huge difference in the sound after 8-10 hours of play. For the amount I play (up to 2 hrs on a Saturday and maybe 20 minutes the following day at church) that translates to changing every month – budget permitting, of course.

  2. I have a lot of guitars, so I’ve started placing little stickers on the backs of all my headstocks. On them, I write when I last changed the strings in MM/DD/YY format.

    When it comes to how OFTEN, I tend to follow a similar rule as changing the oil in my car: every X miles or X months… which ever comes first. With guitars, if I play a lot I’ll change ’em as soon as they start to exhibit the signs you mention above (corrosion, out of tune, etc). Otherwise, I’ll change them every 4-5 months… even if I barely played the guitar.

  3. Very true on how often to change strings and everything on this article. Now that’s being said. This is my story.. I use fender bullet 11′ gauge for years……. Long ago… I used to change strings every times I had to do a show. After show, I would leave the strings on for the next several rehearsal ..Then a day or two, I would change the strings and play then for about an hour or less to strech the strings before the show. That was a long time ago.. Now.. Since I not longer a working musicians and just play at home .. Heck. If they haven’t broke yet…why change them? If I m just going to pick the guitar and get that crave fingers of playing the guitar. I just play it. I am not going to worry about it.. Strings are expensive if u change them often. I know some friends of mine who are very famous btw. They change the strings every day before show. Well their roadies does it for them.. I used to order strings in bulk of 12 and change them once or twice a week depending on the show date .. Since I am not doing live shows anymore. There is no cash flowing my way. I understand about the strings going black and dead. And may cut my finger etc.. My strings are surely black and dead sound. But it never cut my fingers Since the late 1980 I Washed my hand and clean my strings before and after playing and having a trem setter in the back it helped to keep strings along with locking tuner. And I play a lot!!! I haven’t tune my guitars since March 2014, well slightly tune ..I bum the tuner and was out of tune a bit.. I do have several guitars laying around. But I can only play one guitar at a time. My choice is a fender strat. Yeah. I m changing the strings right after Christmas. So it will be all good.. Now..everything written in this article is great and very useful . I m just sharing my story. I m not contradicting this topic at all.. Great article!!!

    1. Thank you for your comment, Jairo! I think you’re right – sometimes it’s not absolutely necessary to change your strings, particularly if you’re not playing for anybody but yourself. Still, I find that a new set of strings and the beautiful sound it brings seem to invigorate my practice times a bit 😉

  4. Somewhat confussed by article. Do the music shops
    change all of their guiter strings, after a certain
    amount of time (not based on hours of playing)?
    That wold seem to be extremely costly; however,
    would be required for their guiters to sound the best.

  5. Good article. For comfortable guitar playing, you need to pick up comfortable strings for you. This is especially true for beginners. Steel strings of an acoustic guitar can injure fingers. It is also very important to replace the strings after buying a guitar. Since on models for sell can be installed cheap strings. If you do not understand how to choose strings and do not see any fundamental differences in them, you should consult with consultants in the store. They will help you choose exactly strings that will best suit your guitar. Also for each style of music you have to select your special set of strings.

  6. It seems that the strings on an acoustic guitar are much more effected by age. After taking a beating over multiple sessions they just get a dull sound to them, that doesn’t manifest as much in the electric guitar counterparts. The thicker the string that more noticeable the dull effect. I keep my gigging guitar with fresh strings always.

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