When and why should you replace your guitar strings?
Depends on two factors:
- What are the strings (what are they made of)
- How much do you play
Some strings, like "bright bronze", can lose their sound qualities after a few hours of playing. Others, like "silk and steel", can be played for 100 or more hours. The correct answer is: when you feel that sound isn't bright as it used to be, it is time to change strings.
You can prolong string life time if you
- Wash your hands before playing (yes, just like before eating :)
- Use a special string care wiping tool, like this one:
There seems to be a general agreement among the answers here that strings go through several distinct phases:
New. Bright, Crisp, Harsh. However you describe it, new strings have more top-end.
Worn-in. Like a broken-in pair of shoes, they don't cut your ankles anymore, but they still feel "pretty new".
Seasoned. They've lost the "newness", but they're not quite "old" yet.
Old. Corrosion has set it. If you play with sweaty fingers, they end up discolored, and even a little smelly.
You almost certainly want to change them before phase 4 (old), but among the first three, it's much more a matter of personal preference.
My own preference is flatwound strings, as they generally age more slowly (and gracefully) than roundwound. Now, even when new, they're never going to be as bright as roundwounds. D'Addario Chromes are probably the brightest ones out there; but they're only Nickel-plated, so when the plating wears off they become dull very fast.
So I switched to Thomastik Nickel-Flats, which are wrapped in pure Nickel: no plating to wear off. These go through the same phases as other strings but v e r y s l o w l y . It takes me about a month to wear them in (1-3 hrs/day), then they don't settle in to "seasoned" until 6-8 months old; then they'll stay that way for several years. That's right: years! The set I've got on my Yamaha is probably almost 4 years old, and I'm starting to consider replacing them. Soon.
As often as you like!
When I'm in a groove, playing 3-5 hours a day... I change them 1-2 a week. When I'm being more responsible with my time and only playing 1-3 hours per day, tend to change them 1-2 times a month.
I change ALL the strings anytime one breaks (it effects the tensions on all the strings, after all, and I don't know what damage could have been done to them) or if the sound becomes dull to my ears.
Yes, it's subjective, but not as much as you might think. The string's ability to sustain tone becomes compromised the dirtier it gets. This is less important if you're playing muddy rock than it is if you play strictly acoustic. I hear the tonal sustain disintegrate faster the longer the strings are used. I first noticed it while tuning.
I change my strings about once a week. Any time I'm performing, I change my strings a day before. New strings sound better.
Changing strings is like doing laundry. You don't like it, but you gotta do it.
It's more about what tone you like. Some people call the sound of new strings 'bright' but I think they sound more 'tinny' and harsh. I personally can't stand the tone of ANY new strings so it takes a while for me to break them in (a few days to a few weeks depending on how often I'm playing). Once they reach that 'sweet spot' in tonality I usually try to make them last as long as I can before they get so dull that I can't stand them any more (usually a few months). If I'm being lazy, I'll get a damp cloth (and soap helps) and clean the strings without removing them from the guitar. It's not the best solution, but it's often better than starting over from scratch with brand new strings.
I actually don't like the extra "shimmer" of new bronze strings on my acoustic guitar, but there's a bad sounding deadness with old strings too. I notice it most if I'm playing with someone else.
I've been using coated strings like Elixir or Martin's coated strings for a few years. I like how they are a little less over-the-top shimmery at first, and how they last 2-5 times as long before going stale. Plus, I have several instruments and changing strings less often leaves more time for playing.
It really depends on your personal preference and also on how much you play. The more you play, the more wear the string will end up with and the sooner you'll probably need to consider replacing the strings. If, however, you don't play all that much, you might not have to change the strings for quite a while.
I have three major reasons to change strings:
When One Breaks - I generally believe that when a string breaks, especially if it isn't the high E, that is a sign that the rest of the strings are ready to go.
When I Want To Try Something Different - My #1 guitar, a top-loader Tele, has had Not Even Slinky strings, White Bronze acoustic strings, .009s, .010s, and now has .008-.038 angel-hair strings, simply because I wanted to try the slinky, bend-heavy style that such a setup would allow. I'm sure I will eventually go back to .010s (I have 4 packs waiting) but I don't feel the need to play out my strings before I pull out a new set if I'm curious.
When someone gives me new strings - I've gone to GearFest the last two years, and they offer free restringing, which I usually take advantage of.
If I recorded, I might want bright, new sounding strings more often. If I toured and jumped around under hot lights, I might switch 'em every show just because the sweat would wreck 'em or just because I could put .010 EBs on my rider. But I don't.
If you're like me, you just get a set of string rusty in at most ten hours of playing!
Where it shows the most, though, is usually on the lowest frets : your strings tend to lose their shine in that area. My first marker is always the A on the G string...
Still, it depends on the tone a lot; I myself like the shiny new strings but it wears off quickly and I feel comfortable with these softer high frequencies (but then, my comfort zone would be in the grungy/stoner area, so there you go).
I play many hours per week (25-35hrs), I only change the strings if they sound dire and even then only for gigs/recording, if nothing is happening that week, I don't bother, this is just personal preference born out of my laziness; changing strings is a pain, I just want to play so I only change the strings when I have to. In dire strait's, a light clean with brasso or similar metal polish brings old strings back nicely for a while.
To me the the final death of the strings comes at the point where they lose their elasticity and the guitar starts going out of tune way too quick. I have never had the nerves to go past this moment.
Usually I change them when most of them becomes black (dirty). For Elixir Strings (which last longer, because of the nanoweb) this means about 2-3 months of casual playing.
I use Elixir strings on my main gigging guitars, generally 009's so fairly thin, and I usually get around 3 months out of them before I feel they are getting rusty and starting to have that atonal squeak sound. When I change one I change them all as I have Floyd Rose or Kahler trems on most of my guitars - and the same goes if one snaps: I replace the lot.
To make them last this long I do use fast fret every time before I play, and I wipe them down afterwards with a cloth.
My acoustics don't get played anywhere near as much so I change the top E maybe once a year, and as they have fixed bridges I only change a broken string, not the full set.
Seems to work for me.
"When and Why" .. as other say it's more about the state of the string than any regular interval.
Strings go dull as other say but often they're still playable. I personally quite like duller strings as they're a bit less "twangy" and cound sound smoother on an electric guitar.
However if there's a temptation to 'stick with them' to save the effort/expense of changing them, then consider that as a string deteriorates, the thickness of it changes, the weight (muck etc gathered in wound strings) changes meaning it might weigh more in one part than in another (so will sound out of tune on some frets - only slight but annoying), and its tensile strength deteriorates making it more likely to break. Sod's law dictates this will happen during your best work.
Also as you play your guitar you're effectively bending the string against the fret as you push it down to make a note. Eventually the strings, especially the lighter ones, build up kinks where the commonly played frets are and start to buzz on other frets. These kinks also affect the tuning.
This means old strings can make the guitar sound and feel AWFUL even if the guitar itself hasn't changed. Others have explained good intervals / events to change them, but if you're wondering whether you should because maybe the guitar is hard to tune or you think it sounds "not as good as it used to" then try a new set of strings.
Bottom line is that the strings are the bits that make the sound so they need to be in good condition.
I periodically check this by putting my finger under the D string at the pickups and then slide it towards the head. If there are a lot of marks after the frets I try to change the whole set.
Strings should always be changed before recording. This goes for bass too, where common knowledge states that strings keep up forever. I used to believe it, but that changed after fixing a very dull sounding bass with "recent" strings (a couple of months) by changing to fresh strings.
One way to tell how bad your strings are getting is to lightly run your finger along the underside of the strings in the area where you do the most fretting. If you feel rust, grunge and/or flat spots above the frets (which become worse the more you play), it might be time to change your strings. My gigging guitar only gets played when I am performing at a show and I wipe the strings afterwards on both sides to remove the grime and moisture. I change those strings when they start sounding dull or when one breaks. I practice on other guitars and I may play my practice guitars until the strings get really bad before replacing them. It depends on the brand of string as to how long it takes but I prefer the slightly broken in tone over the jangley sound of brand new strings. One other note, the G string is the one most likely to break on an acoustic set because it has the thinnest core. Second thinnest core is the high E string. For this reason, I buy extra single G and high E strings to keep in my gigging guitar case in case one of those breaks before the rest of the strings are toast. I have broken G strings on a brand new set before.
When to change your Guitar Strings?
- When the strings sound dull and lifeless; they may even look dull.
- When the strings no longer play in tune, exhibiting evidence that they've lost their flexibility.
Note: As through repeated contact with hands and fingers, guitar strings lose their tone and won't play in tune; they also wear out and eventually may break. Because of the repetitive use, you eventually have to change them, so do it regularly. Just like changing the oil in your car, it's almost impossible to overdo it.