As a rule of thumb, you should change your guitar strings at least once in 3 months (or after 100 hours of using them). It varies based on the kind of strings you use and their exposure to the environment. Some guitar string varieties are coated for longevity, while others are made from less durable materials (like bronze), which are more susceptible to oxidization.
“Technically”, you only need to change your strings when they break. The above is more of a recommendation than a rule. You can get away with a few weeks of play with worn strings in most circumstances. However, this will affect your tone and the feel/playability of the guitar.
Nevertheless, replacing or changing guitar strings is something you should embrace as a regular part of your guitar playing regimen. After plectrums, guitar strings are the most common purchase you will be making – check out our guide to the best acoustic guitar strings if you need recommendations.
Plus, every time you do it, you get a chance to do other maintenance rituals on your guitar like checking the intonation, cleaning the fretboard, and other things that improve the sound and longevity of your guitar.
The following are the most common reasons to change your guitar strings:
- Strings are corroding/rusting.
- Silver/golden strings appear to be brown or black (dirt and grime).
- Strings sound out of tune in the upper register.
- You want to improves or alter the sound/tone of your guitar.
- Factors Affecting Longevity of Guitar Strings
- Why is it important to change your guitar strings frequently?
- How do I know when my guitar strings need changing?
- What happens to guitar strings as they get old?
- Final Thoughts
Factors Affecting Longevity of Guitar Strings
Type of Strings
Generally, acoustic and electric guitars use non-coated strings such as nickel-plated strings or pure steel strings. These strings are made from a combination of Steel/Nickel, Brass/Bronze, or Phosphor/Bronze. Each type has a distinctive tone and longevity that is subject to the combination of the materials used.
In recent years, we have seen more options in the coated strings category. These strings, such as the Elixir Nanoweb Coated Electric Guitar Strings, are designed using special technology to ensure that you change strings less often. Non-coated strings are more vulnerable to corrosion compared to coated strings.
However, there are some differences in their tone and how they respond to touch. It wouldn’t be objective to say that one is decidedly better than the other. The best thing you can do is experiment with each type and evaluate how they suit your needs.
For a full rundown on types of strings and other considerations, check out our ultimate string guide.
Guitar String Maintenance
Do you use string cleaners regularly? What about string conditioners? Do you wipe down the strings after each session? Most people turn a blind eye to string maintenance because of the convenience or the added costs.
Poorly maintained guitar strings have a shortened lifespan. This means they turn gritty as they accumulate dirt and oils from your fingers. Even the guitar neck (fingerboard) will have a layer of grime that you could scrape off with a credit card or razor.
This can happen within a few weeks if you aren’t following any of the aforementioned string maintenance measures. The buildup will corrode the strings and detract from your playing experience by making your guitar sound unpleasant.
It’s quite simple. The longer you play, the sooner you need to change your guitar strings. This is because of all the note bending, tuning, strumming, and other things that cause wear and tear. String longevity is also affected by exposure to humid climate and the oil/dirt on your fingers.
Most causal guitarists, weekend warriors, and learners average 30 to 60 minutes of playing time per day. With proper maintenance and etiquette, they could get a good quality (coated) guitar string to last for several months before replacing them. Pros and more persistent aficionados who play for 3+ hours a day might need a change every 3 to 4 weeks.
Thick (heavy) string gauges are known to increase sustain/projection and last longer but are relatively harder to play. Thin (light) string gauges are easy on the fingers, sound bright and are better for solo playing, but they break more easily.
However, different string materials and gauges also yield different tones that are better suited for certain playing styles and genres. So, there are other considerations to keep in mind when making such decisions.
Another factor that can have a detrimental effect on string life is players who sweat profusely, especially those with sweat chemistry that goes through strings like crazy. For some people, they may find their strings corroding within hours of putting a new set on a gutiar.
If this is you – you’re not alone. You will find you need to change strings more frequently, but you can mitigate the issue by frequently cleaning/wiping your hands before and during play, wiping strings diligently after playing, and buying coated strings (moreso for acoustic guitars than electric guitar strings).
Why is it important to change your guitar strings frequently?
Earlier, I mentioned that changing guitar strings could improve or alter the sound of your guitar tone. By that, I’m alluding to the fact that new strings tend to sound crisp and bright. If you’re recording for your latest track in the studio, you don’t want the thuddy, listless strums of worn-out strings unless you really hate the mixing engineer. Given that the cost of changing strings is typically around $5 if you DIY it, changing them should be a no-brainer.
How do I know when my guitar strings need changing?
There are a number of telltale signs to look out for:
Your guitar strings won’t stay in tune.
String related tuning issues tend to happen at two times – when strings are new, and when strings are old. New strings will pop here and there as the strings unwind and stretch out. Later in the string’s life, as the strings degrade, they will also start to go out of tune.
If you’re having issues getting your strings to stay in tune, it’s time to change them.
Your guitar’s tone is dull.
This one is easy – new strings are bright, old strings are dull. If your guitar sounds like it’s got a blanket over it, it’s time to get new strings. While there is an aesthetic quality to strings that sound dull – some prefer it – for most it’s a sure sign to put fresh strings on the guitar.
Your guitar strings are discolored.
Oils from your fingers build up on your strings over time. As the strings get older, you will see the corrosion caused by these oils. This is especially true of strings for acoustic guitars (and coated acoustic strings are formulated to prevent this). Once you start to see them change color, it’s time to change guitar strings before the corrosion causes string breaks.
Your guitar strings feel stiff.
Unless you’re playing a particularly heavy string guage, you should always be able to bend your strings without much effort. If you find yourself fighting with your guitar more than usual, it’s probably time to change your guitar strings.
Your guitar strings feel dirty.
If you finish a practice session and find gunk on your fingertips, it’s time to change those strings. This is more obvious with nylon strings and especially with electric strings, moreso on the high strings than the bass strings (wound strings) – you may literally see and feel chunks of dirt. If that happens, it’s time to change your strings.
What happens to guitar strings as they get old?
Old guitar strings become brittle lose their capacity to hold the tension (what we call taut strings) due to the wear and tear. They begin to sound lifeless and thuddy and their tonal qualities will progressively deteriorate as they age. With enough time, you’re much more prone to having your strings break, though this is less prevalent with uncoated strings and nylon string guitars.
It may reach a point where they feel unpleasant to play, hard to fret, and slightly out of tune (sharper) in the higher register. If you ignore this, they will become stiff and tighter and may eventually snap while you are tuning your guitar.
How can I increase the lifespan of my guitar strings?
Start with the habit of cleaning the strings with a lint-free microfiber cloth before and after each playing session. If you can’t find something handy at home, I recommend the Fender Premium Plush or Ernie Ball Polish Guitar Polish Cloth as they can be used for the entire guitar as well.
To go one step further, use a cleaner/lubricant like the GHS Fast Fret or Dunlop 6582 String Conditioner once a week. Most conditioners or cleaners use a dauber or liquid applicator. You can simply run the conditioner along the strings to remove grime, dirt, and oils.
You can also buy a Guitar Care Kit that includes fretboard oil, string cleaner, washable microfiber towels, and guitar polish. The kits have a small footprint and can be conveniently stored in the front pocket of your acoustic guitar gig bag or electric guitar gig bag. (Check out our full guide to the best guitar care kits.)
How often do professional musicians change their strings?
This tends to change depending on whether you’re talking strings for electric or acoustic guitars. You will get more life out of strings on acoustic guitars, though projection does suffer before brightness.
Some pro-guitarists are known to change their strings every week or before every performance and recording, while others follow a more palatable ‘once a month’ regime (of course having your own guitar tech makes this easier). Conversely, guitarists who desire a mellow or percussive tone may even use the strings for months at a time.
The frequency of changing strings covers the same spectrum that beginners or intermediate players are subject to. After all, it boils down to the tone you prefer, your usage, and other factors that we’ve highlighted earlier.
Replacing old, leaden guitar strings with new ones can make the same guitar sound like a different instrument altogether. As a parting tip, I’d like to mention that you should always change your strings before a performance (gigs, concerts, studio recordings).
If you change them a day or two before an important event, the new strings will get time to settle in (especially important with the heavier strings on an acoustic guitar). This will ensure that they don’t go out of tune (as they tend to) during your performance.