Have you ever come across this rather odd situation?
- One guitarist telling you how important it is to change strings every week
- Another guitarist saying they just wait till the string breaks before they change it which can be six months or more
So when is the correct time to change your strings? Well there’s a few factors to consider.
Strings begin their life giving a bright clear and "bouncy" sound. As they get older the sound gets more flat and warm.
Most guitarists prefer the sound of newer strings. This is not always the case though. Some well known guitarists stated they prefer the warmer sound from older strings.
You play a chord fretting the first two or three frets and it sounds great. You play a barre chord further up the neck and it sounds completely out of tune. If this happens, your guitar has poor intonation.
I had this happen on a guitar. I thought the bridge needed adjusting but it didn’t help. After some head scratching, I decided to change the strings and vollià, the guitar sounded great again, although I had to reverse the changes I’d made to the bridge!
As strings age, their intonation can suffer.
If you play at home for fun or you’re learning, a string breakage is not a problem. If you’re in the middle of a gig or recording session, it’s a pain. I’ve never had a new string break. I guess it could happen but strings become more prone to breaking as they age.
Strings wear as you play them therefore the more time you spend playing a guitar, the more often you’ll need to change its strings.
If you just play for ten minutes a day, you could probably go for months without needing to worry about a new set.
Strings don’t like the natural oils they collect from your fingers. It’s worse still if you have dirty hands. Washing hands before playing will help keep your strings sounding good and playing for longer.
After you’ve finished playing, it’s a good idea to clean the strings. You can wipe them down with a cloth or use a string cleaning solution. This should prolong the life and stop them feeling sticky which is important, especially if you’re planning on keeping the strings for a while.
Strings might not cost the earth but if you go changing them all the time it starts to mount up.
If you’re learning guitar and could use the money elsewhere, I’d advise you keep the strings on the guitar as long as the intonation is good.
When not to change strings
I changed my string on the way to a gig once (I wasn’t driving!). The shiny coating on the new strings combined with slightly sweaty hands from the nerves and excitement, caused the strings to slip from under my fingertips whenever I tried to bend a note. It sounded ridiculous.
I don’t know if this has been a problem for other guitarists but if you want to change strings before a gig, my advice would be to change them a day or two before and play them in a little.
Changing one string
You don't need to change all the strings at once. Just remember if you replace one string it will sound brighter and more lively than your other strings if they've been on the guitar a while.
So the answer is, it depends!
If you're playing at home it’s fine to play strings until they break or until the intonation starts to fail. If you prefer the brighter sound of new strings and don’t mind the extra cost, change them every month or so.
If you’re playing gigs and or recording, you don’t want your strings letting you down in any department so it may be advisable to change them every fortnight or so. If you’re gigging and prefer the warmer sound of older strings, just make sure your backup guitar is ready to rock, ideally with new strings as you don’t want the strings on two guitars failing.
The truth is there’s no rule to say you need to change your strings after any given amount of time but if:
- your intonation is wandering off
- you need strings you can depend on
- you don’t like the warmer duller tone
Then it’s probably time to tune up a new set.