How often should you change your guitar strings? Imagine this: You get your first guitar, you play it all the time, never really thinking about how the sound of the guitar changes as time passes (because you’re just obsessed with playing it). Then one day, you notice that your guitar doesn’t sound right, or that it doesn’t stay in tune no matter how much you try.
After a closer look at your strings, you notice some discoloration, maybe some black spots, maybe a “finger-gunk” coating atop your once beautiful and shiny guitar strings. You then think to yourself, “oh, right… I guess I have to change the strings.”
Don’t feel bad, I’ve been there. But from that moment on (after you finally change your strings), you have a choice to make -either you forget about changing your strings until the next time your fingertips turn green when you play, or you get a few extra sets of strings all at once so you can make the change when the time is right. -The choice is yours.
But when is the time right?
Objectively speaking, there are two simple reasons for changing your guitar strings:
Old strings sound dull, dead, and lifeless
Old strings become harder and harder to keep in tune
The more experience you acquire, the more you’ll begin to notice the subtle changes in your guitar’s sound as time passes, but just like almost everything else in the world, guitar strings have an expiration date. Unlike the milk in your fridge, however, the expiration date depends more on how much you use them, and less on how long they’ve been on your instrument.
For example, someone with really oily or sweaty hands will need to change their guitar strings more often than someone whose hands are typically dry (assuming they both play the same amount).
Salt, sweat, dirt, and other nasty things we carry on our hands are just as corrosive for our guitar strings as they are for our fretboards. So make sure you keep those clean too, and check out how to do so here.
I’ve outlined my suggestions for when you should change your strings based on how much or how little you play. Keep in mind -I’m painting with broad strokes here because everyone’s hands are different.
If you play your guitar every now and then, or even once/twice a week, for twenty minutes or so, you probably don’t need to change your guitar strings more than twice a year.
The fact is, you may not notice much of a difference in sound until after 6 months (honestly I might not either). For your purposes, it’s not something you have to keep close track of.
You’ll probably notice the biggest difference in sound once you finally change the strings! Bottom line -don’t worry too much about it. Change the strings on your birthday, and maybe halfway to your next one and you’ll be good to go!
This category includes beginning students, as well as serious future professionals because both groups are typically going to be playing every day, or most days (I know life just happens sometimes).
If you’re playing 30 minutes every day, you’ll be okay with changing your strings every 1-2 months.
If you play 1-2 hours every day, you’re going to need to change your strings once per month, or possibly more if you have oily hands.
If you play 2-4 hours every day, I would recommend changing your strings on the first of each month. At the beginning of week four, use one of my string-revival tips below to save you some money, and to keep you sounding fresh.
If you’re playing your guitar for more than 4 hours per day, I strongly recommend that you change them every two weeks at the very most. Even if you consistently keep your hands and strings clean, they’re going to wear out (and you might already know that). Your ears are more refined, so you’ll notice immediately when your strings lose brilliance.
That being said, the real question is -how much of that can you handle? I never go more than two weeks without a string-change. Sometimes I change them after one. I know some players who change their strings every few days, and some who change them daily.
There are, as always, special circumstances. Maybe you’re recording guitar parts in the studio for an entire week, or you’re advancing through multiple rounds of a competition and want to have a fresh, bright sound for every note you play. In these circumstances (and really in every circumstance) change your strings as often as you see fit!
Wash your hands before you pick up your guitar to play -even if you’re just taking a quick break.
Clean your strings regularly. Use a soft dry cloth or add some string cleaner. Wipe your strings off at the end of every day, or even every few days. Your guitar will thank you. Here are some common string cleaning tools that I’ve used and found to be effective (aside from a simple cloth):
Don’t have money for new strings right now but need to have a bright, new-string sound for a recording or a performance?
Loosen all of your strings until they no longer produce a recognizable pitch, but not to the point where they completely unravel from the tuning pegs,
Give them a good wipe (with or without string cleaner)
Tune them back up.
This will give your strings a little bit of life again for a few hours (depending on how old they are).
For classical guitarists, the plucking end of the nylon strings becomes scratched and worn with use. This in turn produces a scratchy sound. Usually, when you start to notice the scratchy sound (even after using sandpaper or a buffer on your nails) it’s time to change the strings. If you’re struggling for money at the moment, try this:
Remove your strings by unwinding them -don’t cut. (giving them a good wipe down at this point wouldn’t hurt either)
Restring your guitar, but reverse the ends of your strings. (i.e. the end that was tied to the saddle should now wrap around the tuning peg and vice versa)
Restring, and it’s (almost) like new!
I’ve used this trick several times prior to a performance and it worked like a charm. Just keep in mind that nylon strings will continue to stretch and will need to be constantly re-tuned after doing this, so tread lightly if you’re not the best at tuning on the fly!