I suppose you could call that a “how long is a piece of string” question. Sorry for the pun. The point is there is no set time; it will depend on the circumstances, which I am going to look at in more detail.
Learning to play the guitar can be a challenge. But, as with all instruments, there will be maintenance issues you will need to learn. That is, if you want to keep your guitar sounding its best. How often should you change guitar strings is one of those issues.
Has Anything Changed?
If you are a new player, you might not have owned the guitar for long. Was it new when you bought it? Whether it is new or used, has it still got the same strings?
If it is used, then it’s unlikely whoever sold it to you changed the strings before you took possession. And, if it was new, how long has it been in the shop? These are things that affect the quality of guitar strings.
You will hear people say a change every three to six months will be fine. It is a base marker, depending on how often you use it. But, there are other things to consider.
The type of strings, the string gauge, and what the strings are made of. In addition to the environment where it will be kept.
Strings will degrade in both quality and tone over time and, of course, from use. This is a good guide for the beginner. If you play for an hour every day, then a change every three months will be about right.
What Are the Main Reasons For Changing Strings?
- Older strings can sometimes be difficult to tune accurately.
- They de-tune quickly.
- Old strings are more likely to break.
- They do not sound nice.
- They don’t feel nice under the fingers when you play.
Understanding Guitar Strings
Depending on what kind of guitar you play, the strings are constructed in different ways.
Classical /Spanish Guitars
Traditionally, Classical or Spanish guitars have six nylon strings. Three of the strings, the bass or thickest strings, have a nylon core but with an extra external wrapping. They exert far less tension on the neck of the guitar. They also may have different fitting techniques. Here are some examples:
Acoustic guitars will usually have four wound strings and two plain strings, all made from a variety of metals. They are usually made from either phosphor bronze, bronze, nickel, or steel and can come in different gauges. For example:
- D’Addario Acoustic Guitar Strings – Phosphor Bronze.
- Ernie Ball Earthwood Light 80/20 Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings.
They have a lighter string gauge and, again, can come in a variety of gauges. The options here are determined by the style of guitar you play. They usually have three wound and three plain strings. See for yourself:
- Ernie Ball Super Slinky Classic Pure Nickel Electric Guitar Strings.
- D’Addario Guitar Strings – XL Nickel Electric Guitar Strings.
How Often Should You Change Guitar Strings: The Tell-Tale Signs
You should be able to tell when to change guitar strings simply by looking at the strings. Certain physical features will let you know it is time to change your guitar strings.
Moisture in the air will take its toll on any metal, and over time rust can develop. This can happen to guitar strings as well. And it’s further compounded by the natural moisture on your fingers.
This corrosion will weaken the string and will have a serious impact on the tone. You will be able to feel the corrosion under your fingers. It will feel rough and uncomfortable.
Is It The Same For Everyone?
It is the same, but there are some things to consider. First, how often you play. If you play more often, then the chance of corrosion increases. Second, some people naturally sweat more than others, so that is a determining factor in the corrosive build-up.
You can get strings with an anti-corrosion coating. This does reduce the possibility of corrosion. However, the downside is that it affects the tone of the strings. You may find you lose some of the brightness.
But, the upside is that because of the reduction in corrosion, you can expect them to last a lot longer. They are readily available if you decide you would like to try them:
- Elixir Strings 19052 Coated Nickel Electric Guitar Strings.
- Ernie Ball Regular Slinky Coated Titanium Electric Guitar Strings.
No, not the 60s British rock band. The little indentations that appear on the length of the string. When the string is being played, it makes contact with the frets, unless it is a fretless guitar or, more likely, bass.
Fretwire is also made of metal and, therefore, can impinge on the quality of the string. This can affect the tone, but it also hastens the risk of a string snapping because it has been weakened.
Windings Coming Loose
The treble strings on a guitar (the first two or three strings) are constructed from a single piece of wire. The remaining strings have a wire core that then has another metal wrapped around it.
Over time, the windings wrapped around the core deteriorate and become loose. Normally, it will be quite visible. With nylon strings, the winding can also deteriorate and looks like it might be shedding its skin.
Is There Anything You Can Do?
There are some things you can do to reduce the risks of corrosion, etc. But, at the end of the day, it is a natural thing, and again, it will all depend on usage.
Giving the strings a good wipe after use with a dry cloth will remove some of the natural moisture. But, that might only make a small difference.
Cleaners and Conditioners
Some products will help to keep your guitar strings in good condition. These work by giving an oil-based liquid over the string, which adds a little protection against corrosion. For example:
Use Them Until They Break?
If you’re a beginner, you can. But, you will lose tone as they deteriorate. Therefore, it is not a good idea if you’re performing.
The question we asked was, “How often should you change your guitar strings?” By now, I think you can see that no set time frame can be applied. It will depend on the issues we have looked at. But to offer a little guidance, this might help:
- Learners – approximately 100 hours of use, change every three months.
- Amateur and occasional players – same as learners.
- More serious players – over 100 hours per month, change monthly.
- Semi-professional and local gigging players – playing 50 hours per month, change monthly.
- Touring professionals and session players – change daily.
It’s Down To You
No one can make you want to take care of your guitar, and in particular, the strings. There are plenty that don’t. But, if you want it to perform at its very best, then you will need to care about it.
If you only pick it up every month for ten minutes, then you will probably not be that concerned. But, if you are playing daily, then a little maintenance will go a long way.
You will notice that the tone may start to deteriorate after as little as ten hours of use. By 100 hours, there will be a noticeable difference. As I say, it is a personal thing. Some are happy to wait until one breaks.
It Can Be A Pain
Changing guitar strings is not one of the nicest jobs you will have to do. It is time-consuming and a nuisance. Honestly, it drives me nuts at times. But, it has to be done if you want your guitar to sound great. Thankfully, some things might help and make the whole process a bit quicker:
One Last Consideration
That is, of course, the cost element. A decent set of guitar strings is not going to cost a fortune. But, changing them every month is going to become a significant cost over a whole year.
It is something to consider. And while we may want to regularly change our guitar strings, for some, that might not be possible. That said, buying bulk guitar string packets might be the answer.
Some companies produce packs of 12 strings at a very reasonable price. I am not going to say they sound as good as you might get from the top-quality grades. But, it does solve a problem. For example, 12-Pack Single Electric Guitar Strings Individually Wrapped.
In The Market For Guitar Accessories?
We have you covered. Check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Guitar Strings, the Best Acoustic Guitar Strings, the Best Electric Guitar Strings, the Best Nylon Strings, the Best Clip-On Guitar Tuners, the Best Guitar Tuners, and the Best Guitar Cables you can buy in 2023.
Also, take a look at our detailed reviews of the Best Guitar Pedalboard, the Best Acoustic Guitar Gig Bags, the Best Electric Guitar Gig Bags, the Best Guitar Stands, the Best Guitar Wall Hangers, and the Best Guitar Tool Kits currently on the market.
How Often Should You Change Guitar Strings – Conclusion
Changing the strings is an important function for most guitar players. The better your strings are, the better you are going to sound. That can be important in many ways.
Until next time, let your music play.