One of the most commonly asked questions by guitarists is how often they should change their strings. Let me start by saying there’s no right or wrong answer here, but different approaches yield different results.
In this article, I’ll explain my preferences when it comes to changing guitar strings, but also provide insights into alternative points of view that benefit different styles of playing and other genres of music.
Changing the strings regularly on an acoustic guitar is, in my opinion, a necessity. You can’t beat the bright tone of fresh strings on an acoustic guitar, and the smooth feel they provide under your fingers.
I try to change my strings at least once every month. This may seem excessive, but I use my acoustic for recording a lot so I need it to sound lively, energetic, and articulate. I find that after around a month of consistently playing, the strings start to sound duller, especially in the treble-end of the guitar.
The reason that strings wear down quite quickly is due to the sweat and dirt from your fingers being transported onto the strings. If you’ve ever had a guitar that hasn’t had its strings changed in a long time, you may have noticed the buildup of dirt that collects underneath the strings, and sometimes makes its way onto the frets.
If you play your acoustic guitar often, this wear-and-tear is inevitable. Changing the strings after around 4 weeks means that you get the absolute best out of a set of strings before the tone becomes duller and they lose that new feel.
I’ll confess, I’m obsessive when it comes to tone, especially when recording acoustic guitar. So if you feel that once a month is too much, you can get good results from changing your strings once every two months, but any longer than that will cause the sparkle to diminish.
So how often should you change the strings on an electric guitar? This question is more subjective because it depends on the tone you’re going for. If you play predominantly clean guitar, where all of the small nuances of your playing are highlighted, a new set of strings will keep the tone bright and sparkling.
If, on the other hand, you use a lot of effects pedals and your tone is buried under layers of sonic processing, there’s less need to change your strings so often. I’ve met guitarists who prefer the feel of worn-in strings and so only change them when one breaks, which in some cases could be years.
Personally, I like to change my electric guitar strings before every gig. There’s something renewing about a fresh set of strings that inspires me to play better. The only issue that I’ve learned to be aware of when doing this is that new strings take a while to “set” and can drift out of tune.
To combat this problem, I re-string my electric a couple of days before a show, tune the strings a tone higher than their desired note, and then the next day tune them correctly. Constantly correcting the tuning is vital at first, as this will stretch the strings and stop them from pulling out of tune when you’re playing.
How often you should change your electric guitar strings also depends on the genre and style that you play. For example, if you play dynamic, fast, finger-picked styles, then having smooth, fresh strings is likely to make transitioning between chords easier.
If you predominantly play power chords or rhythm guitar, you might prefer to have more worn-in strings that are easier to press down. Using effects like distortion, overdrive or fuzz obliterates your tone to the point where new strings wouldn’t make a noticeable difference to the overall sound.
Nylon strings tend to collect less dirt than steel strings, so you can afford to change them less frequently. You can tell when a nylon string needs to be changed as it will become thin in places from being pressed against the fretboard.
As a rough guide, I’d recommend changing nylon strings at least every 5 months. They are slower to diminish in sound quality than their steel counterparts, but it’s still worth monitoring them to check that the tone isn’t compromised over time.
Another point of discussion that needs mentioning when considering how often you should change your guitar strings is their quality. Obviously, if you go for the cheapest strings possible from a relatively unknown manufacturer, you’d expect them to wear out quicker and need replacing more often.
If you buy your strings from a reputable source like Ernie Ball, D’Addario, Fender, or Martin, they are likely to retain that pristine, new-string sparkle for longer periods. These strings can be pricier, but changing them less often evens out the cost over time.
The thickness of your strings will also play a part. Thick strings are less likely to snap, so this may delay the number of times you need to change your strings in the long run, but be sure to try a variety of strings to establish which gauges the best suit your playing style.
How Often Do You Play?
I’m a self-confessed guitar addict, picking up the instrument whenever I have a few seconds of free time. This definitely contributes to the rate of which I have to change my strings to keep my axes as playable as possible.
If you’re also constantly glued to your axe, it’s important to change the strings at least once a month. This gives you an opportunity to clean the fretboard too, boosting the instrument’s longevity.
If you play casually, your guitar will be subjected to less wear and tear, and so you can probably get away with doubling the time frame I just provided.
The best way to know when your strings are in need of replacement is by paying attention to their tone and appearance. When your guitar sounds exactly as you intend, make a mental note of how long ago you changed your strings.
If you start to notice the tone becoming more lifeless, it’s time to make a change. Also, if there’s a buildup of dirt under the strings, get them off and give your guitar some much needed TLC!