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.
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 changing guitar strings frequently important?
- 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.
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 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.
Why is changing guitar strings frequently important?
Earlier, I mentioned that changing 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.
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.
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 or electric guitar gig bag. (Check out our full guide to the best guitar care kits.)
How often do professional musicians change their strings?
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. Conversely, guitarists who desire a mellow or percussive tone may even use the strings for months at a time.
The frequency of changing guitar 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 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, they will get time to settle in. This will ensure that they don’t go out of tune (as they tend to) during your performance.