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I found an old acoustic guitar and am thinking of starting to learn it (as a complete beginner). The guitar still has steel strings on it. These must be very old, I think, twelve years at least if not more. The guitar was not in use. However seems to me I have managed to tune this guitar and the strings produce sound.

I heard that professional players replace the strings quite often, but how much does this matter for a beginner? Should I start by replacing the strings, or no need to bother as long as they still hold?

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    The notion that having old/poor quality stuff is 'ok forbeginners' doens't really hold. You don't have to go spending on mega gear of course but if a guitar is inherently bad to play, then it'll hurt your enjoyment of learning. Best bet is to get the guitar to a fair standard (ie new strings) just to get you started. A well played chord will sound awful on a guitar which is out of tune (a symptom of old strings = hard to tune) - whether played by a beginner or expert! Hope you enjoy learning :-) – user2808054 Sep 23 '15 at 11:12
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    For the same reason beginners really shouldn't be forced to play "beginner instruments". Get a good quality used guitar. It will be a joy to play … and if it isn't, you can sell it for the same price you paid for it. – Jörg W Mittag Sep 23 '15 at 11:31
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Learning the guitar as a beginner is quite daunting and challenging. You must endure the pain of un-calloused fingers pressing against steel strings, and work tirelessly to train your fingers to contort in un-natural ways and put your hand in strange positions which you must develop muscle memory for.

Because of the many challenges inherent in learning guitar, it is important to create and foster an environment that will facilitate and contribute to as much of a rewarding experience as possible.

Old corroded dead strings will not sound nearly as pleasant as new strings. When you finally get that chord you have been tirelessly practicing - to ring out clearly, you want it to sound as pleasing as possible to offer a reward for your efforts. This is only one reason you will want to use new strings.

I recommend that as a beginner, you choose a set of strings that will be easier to play and minimize the pain as you develop finger strength and calluses.

To learn more about how to create your own finger friendly custom string set for beginning guitarist read this Easy to play custom string set for beginning guitarist

Good luck on your journey.

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I would take the guitar to a shop or repair tech and ask for a setup with new strings (no one will do a setup without new strings, but just in case). They will make sure it is as playable as possible and that way you won't be struggling more than you have to as you learn. You'll also have the most pleasant learning experience.

Playing on old strings is yucky in so many ways, especially 12 year old strings. Strings corrode (basically rust) over time so I can't imagine those strings are very nice. Strings should have a silver or coppery shine along their whole length. I bet those strings have a lot of black crusty areas. Get new ones.

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    You really don't want half-rusted metallic strings cut your fingers. Since you are a beginner, it is unlikely you have developed callouses yet. Partially eroded strings also risk forming sharp edges when pieces of them break. – Nelson Sep 23 '15 at 5:36
  • “I would take the guitar to a shop or repair tech...” – this made me chuckle. Surely this is a guitar not a piano right? :) And more seriously, why did everyone assume there were metal strings on the guitar that would rust with age? After all, it's an acoustic, and could have classic nylon strings, and nylon doesn't rust, right? :) – Philip P. Sep 23 '15 at 21:31
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    Um. "The guitar still has steel strings on it". (Emphasis mine) No assumptions necessary. I never do my own brakes, electrical, plumbing, or fret work, and I'm not above paying for a setup by someone whose whole job is guitar maintenance. The asker is a beginner with a guitar that hasn't been worked on in 12 years. I think it's reasonable to suppose the neck relief could use a look-see and the asked almost certainly is not skilled in that area. – Todd Wilcox Sep 23 '15 at 23:14
  • While it could be a good idea, it would be good to factor the value of the guitar before you throw too much money at it, but then again a good guitar tech would tell you when it is not worth it. – amalgamate Sep 24 '15 at 20:02
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As others have said, you may find it easier with new, clean strings instead of old, rusty ones. But another point to consider is that with new strings you get to pick the gauge.

To start with you can try a light gauge which will be in tune at a lower tension, and therefore be easier to press down and probably hurt your fingers less. The "disadvantage" of light strings is that they are quieter, and easier to pitch-bend (as a beginner you might bend them accidentally and go out of tune, I suppose.)

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Guitarists change their strings fairly often because of the tone that newer strings give versus very old. I'd say to have them changed once by a qualified local guitar shop and you'll see/hear the difference immediately. How often you change them after that is dependent on your tastes and the type of strings you get. There are varieties of strings (Elixer, et. al.) that are coated with a very thin layer of material that greatly increase the lifetime of the strings, but perhaps at the cost of a slightly different tone and somewhat greater purchase expense.

In my own case, I change my strings very often on both electric and acoustics, and I use coated strings on my acoustics.

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The guitar must sound in tune

In my opinion, a beginner instrument must have a single property - it must sound in tune when properly played; and must have the proper 'touch-feel' when being played. If the strings are old/dirty/etc enough to harm that (which may be the case for 12 year old strings), then they must be changed, if not, they can stay.

A pleasant tone is not neccessary, but if you want to learn that doing X will produce a proper sound and doing not-X is wrong, then the instrument needs to function appropriately - a good player can compensate for various defects in the instrument, but for a beginner player it will hurt learning.

"seems to me I have managed to tune this guitar and the strings produce sound" is not enough - at the very least you want to [have someone?] check if the guitar is really in tune everywhere, i.e., does it have the proper intonation also at higher frets.

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I like old strings, the bright sound of new strings is not for me. Have you heard of Bert Jansch? He played a Yamaha LL11, and did not like the sound of new strings. I was told he did not change the strings for 9 years. I leave strings on for years, and when i change them i often wonder why. The most important things for a beginner is getting a guitar that is easy to play. If its isn't get the action sorted, at the saddle and most important the nut (a common problem). Professionals do not use hard to play guitars, so why should a beginner. If you have a cheap guitar you can set up a guitar yourself there are plenty of videos on youtube explaining how to do it. The parts that need adjusting are easily replaced if you mess up.

  • There are certainly players who use old strings; this seems especially common with players who use flatwound strings. But these are players using strings which are played. There is a big difference between old strings which are played constantly and 12 year old strings which have been sitting on a guitar that someone just found. – ex nihilo Apr 6 '18 at 16:39
  • Yeah, Dave, it does sound like you should check out flatwounds if you haven't. You can get the mellower tone similar to heavily played rounds right out of the box. Plus they feel great. And, yes, flats can last longer between changes mostly because they don't accumulate rust and gunk between the windings. But I'd urge against going too long between changes with any winding because they'll lose their intonation over time. Flats can last me 2-3 months of heavy usage w/ no change in tone before losing intonation while rounds have me changing after a month or less because of the tone change. – user37496 Apr 6 '18 at 17:07

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