Some guitarists dread it and put it off as long as they can. Others yearn for the smooth feel and bright jangle of a fresh set of strings. Either way, it’s inevitable – all guitarists must change their strings eventually… or do they?
That’s what we’re here to settle. The general advice is to change your strings every 3 to 6 months, but personal preference is a huge factor with every aspect of guitar, so it should apply to string changing routines, too. To help find your rhythm with changing your strings based on the kind of player you are, let’s complicate things a bit.
The Essential String Changing Guide
First thing’s first: you need to know how to change your guitar’s strings. If you don’t know how, don’t fret, we’ve got a step by step guide (with a video) just for you.
It’s easy to put off learning this essential skill as a beginner, because it can be intimidating to mess with your guitar before you understand it. But, with some practice, changing strings becomes quick and you’ll save plenty of money by doing it yourself… even if the first time takes an hour and a few broken strings.
Once you’ve tackled the “hows,” it’s time to get into the “whens” and “whys” of string changing. Yes, switching every 3 to 6 months is a great start and will cover most players. But, let’s figure out some more precise timing based on what kind of player you are.
Guitar Strings Have a Huge Impact on Tone
First, let’s talk about the different tones of strings. Your guitar strings have a massive impact on the sound of your guitar — arguably even more than the kind of guitar you’re playing or its tonewood, especially on an acoustic.
Fresh strings are going to be bright, no matter what. Sure, there are different kinds of acoustic strings that you can choose, like phosphor bronze versus 80/20 (the latter being the brighter of the two), but either way, you’ll get a crisp jangle out of new strings. Fans of that brightness might find they need to replace their strings far more often to maintain that sound.
Not everyone loves that sound, so some may feel that their acoustic really comes into its own after a month or two of playing on their strings. If you find yourself to be in this camp, it might be a tough sell to convince you to change your strings right when they start to sound good. Take it from acoustic guitar legend, Nick Drake; he famously played extremely “dead” strings for an intensely warm tone.
How About the Feel?
Tone is important, but it’s only half of the equation when it comes to preference. There’s no point in having a guitar that doesn’t feel good to play. Your Orangewood guitar will always feel great, but if you feel like it’s starting to lose its luster, the strings might be the culprit.
Since they’re made of metal, strings will eventually start to deteriorate and rust. This makes them rough to the touch. Old strings can be a lot less satisfying to play, especially for sliding and bending.
For guitarists who play relentlessly, the sweat on their fingers can also erode guitar strings and cause them to rust faster than normal. Aggressive bends might even cause strings to break, and there’s no way around it then — it’s time for a new set.
Brand new strings will feel extremely smooth and easy to play. They’re easier to bend, easier to slide, and more pleasant to fret. The feeling of new strings is intoxicatingly sweet, so it’s understandable why some people go through multiple packs a month if they’re playing all of the time.
The Humidity Problem
We all know that humidity management is an essential part of taking care of your instrument. It’s not just about the wood, though; humidity affects your strings, too. We know just how much humidity can affect guitar strings if they’re not taken care of.
Moisture obviously doesn’t get along with metal guitar strings, so humidity can deteriorate your strings in the same way that the sweat and oils on your fingers will. By keeping your guitar in an environment with regulated humidity, you’ll increase the lifespan of your strings. If you live by the ocean — like us here in Los Angeles — it’s especially important, because the salt in the air will make your strings rust in just a matter of days.
The Coated String Loophole
If all of this sounds like a major pain in the neck (no pun intended), there’s one sneaky workaround that might help you out. Guitar string manufacturers have thought of everything, including solving that pesky rust problem. Their solution? Coated strings, like the Ernie Ball Paradigms.
Coated strings have a thin polymer literally “coating” the metal string. This puts a protective layer between the environment and the part of the string susceptible to rust. Due to their corrosion-resistant properties, these strings are a great option for any player looking to prolong that “fresh” feeling of their strings and make them last longer, too.
So yes, change your guitar strings every 3 to 6 months. Or maybe sooner, or maybe later. There’s no correct answer, so do what feels right. But remember, if you’re feeling burnt out of playing guitar, sometimes a quick string change is all you need to reignite that flame.