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Particularly, on classical guitars, strings 4, 5 and 6.

At the beginning, the sound is very metallic. After a few weeks, it's like playing on coton.

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1  
Wash your hands before playing. Afterwards wipe the string with a towel. I can easily make my strings last a year that way. –  MdaG May 4 '12 at 21:40
    
Simple but, I think, efficient suggestion. –  Skippy Fastol May 4 '12 at 22:22
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2 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Your hands are dirty and sweaty. The dirt is likely to stick in the grooves of the wound strings. Sweat will coat the strings, and over time you can see they start to rust (or other similar processes). One way to tackle this issue is to wipe off the strings with a towel after you have played. It is also the reason why some bass players cook their strings, to clean them to make them last longer.

Another approach is to use coated strings (e.g. Elixir, but other brands also exist), which have a layer of plastic(?) coating to protect the strings. I find that coated strings sound a tad bit brighter than non-coated, but that might just be me. In my experience they do last a fair amount longer, so I use them on guitars I don't play too often where string changes are rare.

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So in theory, after a careful cleanup, the sound quality would nearly be as good as at the beginning ? –  Skippy Fastol May 2 '12 at 13:58
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@Skippy - no, they rust. You can make them last longer by following morten's advice, but they will not get back to sounding anywhere near as good as new. –  Dr Mayhem May 2 '12 at 14:21
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@DrMayhem : the only option would maybe be to play in a helium atmosphere ? :) –  Skippy Fastol May 2 '12 at 14:23
    
Well, I cannot vouch for acoustic guitar strings, but in my youth (admittedly more than 30 years ago) in Germany I was pissed that the Fender electric guitar strings came pre-rusted. Maybe from shipping, no idea. I once substituted, uh, Musicman? strings which were bright and shiny and new. Next time, returned to the pre-rusted Fender strings. No real comparison. So I'm not sure how good an indicator corrosion is, at least not when we are talking about non-human-related corrosion. –  David Feb 18 at 15:26
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In addition to Morten's answer, there are a few other things that contribute to strings wearing out:

  • Strings, particularly the wound strings, develop dents or pits at the spot where they vibrate against the fret. This causes them to sound dead, and also contributes to intonation problems
  • Strings lose their elasticity over time. Tuning and retuning places strain on the string, and can cause it to wear out or break
  • The unwound strings will corrode as a reaction to the residue left behind by your hands
  • If you play with a pick, the pick will chew away at the windings on the wound strings

Tone Gear makes a little gizmo you can clamp on to your strings and run up and down the fretboard a few times to clean the strings. It does a good job of degunking strings, and can help you get more life out of them.

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Would cleaning and degunking the strings make them sound as fresh as they do when they're new? –  MrTheBard Feb 18 at 15:17
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They will sound better, your sustain will be better, and the intonation will be better, but they'll never sound quite like they sound when they're new. –  kiprainey Feb 18 at 15:58
    
That makes sense; I've never cleaned my guitar strings. I'm going to give it a try. –  MrTheBard Feb 18 at 15:59
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