My first ever guitar was a little classical nylon string guitar, and I think it still has the same strings on it (a few decades later)!
When I got my first electric guitar, I played with the same strings until I snapped one and was forced to replace them.
I was shocked at how much brighter my guitar sounded once I’d changed them! Which led me to wonder for the first time, how often should you change guitar strings?
I’ve now been playing for 20+ years, and there’s still no definitive answer! The best answer I can provide is “When you feel they need to be changed.”
If you play a lot of blues guitar, you might prefer that vintage, “old string”, duller sound. But if you’re a metal or rock guitarist, the brighter sound of newer strings might suit your playing style better.
In this article, I’ll show you several factors that can affect how often you need to change your strings, and how to tell when it’s time to change them.
Let’s get into it!
Why Do Guitar Strings Need to be Changed?
Like anything, guitar strings get old. Whether they’re sitting on an unused instrument or being played every day, they “age”.
As strings get old, they gradually start to sound dull and lifeless. They may also have trouble staying in tune.
In some cases, you may even find that your fingers begin to hurt when you play, if the strings get rusty.
Small bumps and debris on the strings from the rust could cause pain and even slice your skin as you slide along them. It could make the strings harder to push down as well.
Although changing strings can be tiresome, it can be necessary for both great sound and comfortable fingers!
How Long Do Guitar Strings Last?
Knowing when to replace guitar strings really depends on many things. There’s a general rule of thumb that they last 3 months or 100 hours of playing.
But really, who counts how many hours they play?
If you’re a beginner or you just can’t afford a new set of strings every few months, then it’s a good idea to evaluate your strings based on these factors:
How Often You Play
The more you play, the quicker your strings become worn. The constant pressure on the strings and oil from your fingers cause the strings to deteriorate.
If you play daily, it’s a good idea to stick to the 3 month rule, unless you want to replace them sooner than that.
On the other hand, if you only pick up your guitar to play every few months, the strings can last a little longer–as long as you keep them clean (more on this below).
How Vigorously You Play
Some guitarists are just harder on their strings than others.
If you play fingerstyle, you may find that your strings last longer, unless you play like August Rush!
This is because your fingers don’t damage the strings as much as the hard material of a guitar pick.
Another thing that makes a difference here is the string gauge you’re using. This just means the thickness of the strings – they come in a variety of sizes.
Thicker strings will break less often, while thinner strings will need to be handled with more care to make sure they don’t snap.
I use light gauge strings (0.009, otherwise known as nines) on my electric, and slightly heavier (0.010, or tens) on my acoustic.
That way, I can strum a bit harder on the acoustic without worrying about breaking strings and having to replace them sooner than necessary.
How Well You Take Care of Your Guitar
When you play guitar, the natural oil from your fingers lands up on the strings. If you haven’t washed your hands before you play, dirt and dust might land up there too!
If you don’t clean your strings in between sessions, the build-up of dust and grime can dull the sound in a fairly short time.
Where you store your guitar can make a difference too. If dust, moisture, or debris can get to it, your strings most likely won’t last as long.
How Humid Your Area Is
Humidity can cause guitar strings to corrode faster than usual.
Strings that live in less moist areas typically last longer.
As you can tell, there are plenty of factors that go into determining how long guitar strings last! There’s no right answer.
It all depends on you, your guitar, your playing, and how well you look after your instrument.
How Do I Know When My Guitar Strings Need Changing?
We were all newbie guitarists once! I know when I was a beginner, I was so eager to play that I didn’t even think of changing strings, or how to tell if my guitar strings were dead.
I was probably playing for months (maybe even years…) with horrible, old, dull strings.
Thankfully, as my musical ear and knowledge increased, I learned how to tell pretty quickly if strings are past their prime.
It’s not hard for you to learn, either! It just requires you to pay attention.
But what happens when guitar strings get old?
A Dull Sound
We’ve already mentioned how new strings sound bright and shiny, and old ones can sound dull, muted, and lifeless.
If you play often, it can be hard to hear the difference, as it happens gradually.
Also, if you use effects when you play, it can be difficult to notice a dull string sound.
You’d need to assess some of the other things on this list to see if your strings really do need changing.
There are few things more frustrating for a guitarist than a string that just won’t get in tune or stay in tune!
If you’re having trouble getting those strings to the right note, or they’re going out of tune faster than usual, that could be a sign that they need to be replaced.
This is another thing that can be hard to notice if you play every day. Dust and bits of dirt build up on the strings, and they can even become rusted.
This can be dangerous as well as inconvenient. I’ve slid across the fretboard before on old strings and ended up cutting my finger!
Which means you need to ease up on the playing for a bit or get very creative with Bandaids.
It’s a good idea to examine your strings closely every once in a while. If they aren’t smooth or they show any signs of rust-like stuff, then replacing them is probably best.
They Break More Easily
Older strings are a little more fragile and may have kinks or weak spots in them. That means they can break more easily than new ones.
There are other reasons strings can break, and there are some things you can do to reduce the chances of your strings snapping. Check out this vid for some insight:
Keep in mind that old strings will break more easily even if you take steps to prevent them snapping!
How Often Should I Restring My Guitar?
As you’ll have realized by now, there’s no hard-and-fast answer to this question.
If you want a general timeline, every 3 months is a good average.
Guitarists who don’t mind putting a bit of thought and effort into it should assess their guitar weekly using these criteria:
- Sound: Bright or dull?
- Tuning: Is it still holding its tuning well?
- Corrosion: Is there any sign of embedded dirt or rust?
- Condition: Are there any kinks or bends in the strings?
Based on your assessment, if you feel that your guitar could do with new strings, make the change!
FAQs About Changing Strings
How Often Do Professional Guitarists Change Strings?
This varies from guitarist to guitarist, but touring professionals will generally change their strings for every gig. Stepping onto stage with new strings ensures a bright, lively sound!
Pros who play every single day may change their strings daily or weekly. Again, it really just depends on the guitarist.
How Often Should You Change Bass Strings?
There’s not much difference between guitar strings and bass strings. Go for every 3 months as a rule of thumb. If you look after your strings properly in between, you could probably stretch that to 6 months.
How Can You Make Your Strings Last Longer?
Treating your strings well can extend their lifespan! Try these things to keep them in the best condition for as long as possible:
- Wipe them down after use.
- Use a string conditioner or cleaner.
- Wash your hands before playing.
- Keep your fretboard clean.
- Store your guitar properly.
How Do You Know What Guitar Strings to Choose?
I’ve used a fair few different string brands in my 2 decades of playing.
But your hands will be the ones caressing these strings, so you’ll need to develop your own preferences!
You’ll need to figure out what gauge feels best, and then there’s things like what kind of coating you want on the strings. It can get more in-depth than you think!
I won’t explain all the details today, but this article gives a great rundown of how to choose the right strings for you.
Does it Matter How Many Strings You have?
Nope, not really. 🙂
So, how often should you change your guitar strings? That’s totally up to you.
I can recommend:
- Every 3 months for beginners or those who just play at home
- Monthly for more serious guitarists who play every day
- Before every gig for pros who play live gigs or record in-studio
The most important thing is to keep an eye on your strings and consistently assess whether they’re okay or they need replacing.
It’s a great way to develop your musical ear as well! The more you pay attention, the sooner you’ll start noticing small deviations in sound quality and tuning.
Thanks for reading! Now go check your guitar strings and see if it’s time for a change. 🙂