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I'm a beginner to electric guitar, so I'm not sure what a proper guitar setup feels like.

In attempt to execute my own setup, I've adjusted string action and tailpiece height to my preference (with much help from the internet), but I'm wondering if I should also remove the strings that came with my guitar and replace them with new strings. My guitar came with brand-name .10's, according to the manufacturer's specs page. I have no idea how long the guitar sat in a warehouse or how old the strings are.

  1. Is there a benefit to using fresh strings on a guitar that arrived pre-strung out-of-the-box?
  2. Should I expect tension or intonation differences if I swap in a new set of .10's?
  3. Will it be easier to execute barre chords?

Generally, I'm wondering if new guitars should always have their initial strings swapped for a fresh set.

Note: I've had my guitar for a month, so that may influence the string changing schedule. However, as a beginner, I'm not strumming or picking with a lot of force and am not doing any bends yet.


UPDATE

For posterity, I'd like to note that I changed the strings for a fresh set of the same gauge (following these instructions), and there was an immediate perceptible improvement in the quality of the sound and the playability. My previous strings appear to have been tightened over and over (in order to stay in tune over time) winding along the tuning machine posts and becoming more taut which made them a tiny bit stiffer. As well, the new strings, having a bit more slack in them, appear to "ring out" a bit more now. Based on these observations, my verdict is that there is a benefit to restringing a new guitar with a fresh set of strings.

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    "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." – Basj Feb 5 '17 at 22:24
  • How would I assess if they are "broke" or not? – Megatron Feb 6 '17 at 13:22
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  1. Is there a benefit to using fresh strings on a guitar that arrived pre-strung out-of-the-box?

Yes. Clean strings will sound clearer, stay in tune better and be less likely to break. It is possible that the strings were not put on correctly too. Put on a new set and your guitar will sound like it is supposed to sound.

  1. Should I expect tension or intonation differences if I swap in a new set of .10's?

No. The only time tension or intonation will change, with regards to the strings, is if you change gauge, say to 9s or 11s. Since the guitar is new, it should be setup too, to make sure the intonation is correct, the neck is straight and it plays properly. If the guitar came from overseas it is likely to have undergone some climactic changes which can affect the straightness of the neck.

  1. Will it be easier to execute barre chords?

If you change the 10s for a set of 9s and perform the appropriate setup adjustments, it is likely that the tension on the strings will be lower and make it slightly easier. However, in the long run this should not be your goal. If executing barre chords is difficult it is best to keep practising. It feels like murder to begin with, but soon enough it will be easier than falling over. Trust me. It will get easier!

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A new set of strings will never be a bad idea - unless it's a couple of hours before a gig or an exam. Replacing like for like should mean the intonation stays as is, but it's always worth checking anyway. A set of decent strings are around £6-7, and a cheap set maybe £4-5, so it's hardly going to save the manufacturers if they put a cheap set on. And, as a bulk buyer guitar producer, all would come cheaper than that. Apart from that, most folk want to play straight out if the box with something new, and if that experience was marred by cheap strings, the good name would soon go.Someone buying a quality guitar, as a seasoned player, would most likely change strings for their own preferred gauge is the other side of the coin.

Personally, I'd rather pay the same sort of money and end up with a pre-loved instrument, which will usually be a better quality instrument. And a change of strings is inevitable. Strings are sacrificial. Some players change them every couple of gigs.

Barre chords will be exactly the same problem for most beginners - if you change .010s for new .010s, they'll still be tricky. Maybe .009s or .008s will be more comfortable for you. There's only one way to discover...

  • I agree with the main thrust of this answer, even though I specifically change my strings a couple hours before gigs and before recording so that I have fresh strings. Hours 2 through 4 are my favorite on a set of strings. I try to get a decent amount of breaking in for hour 1 before a gig so I'm playing in hour 2. I do use locking tuners so that might help with new string tuning issues and might make my experience better than others when it comes to new strings before a gig. Also, at this point you might want to put your used guitar evangelism in your bio. – Todd Wilcox Feb 5 '17 at 17:23
  • @ToddWilcox - you're a braver man than I. No locks mean I daren't do it! If I put the used gtr bit there, not so many folk would be party to it! – Tim Feb 5 '17 at 17:30
  • I like the point about putting terrible strings on a new guitar and how it would hurt their name. It's a shame violin makers don't agree, but that might because decent violin strings are about ten times the price.... – Matthew Walton Feb 7 '17 at 8:47
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Is there a benefit to using fresh strings on a guitar that arrived pre-strung out-of-the-box?

At the risk of stating the obvious, it depends if there's a problem with the strings - or if the strings are the main problem! Many instruments, when they come new, have set-up problems much more serious than the strings.

Should I expect tension or intonation differences if I swap in a new set of .10's?

Possibly slight differences, but usually not big ones if you're swapping like for like.

Will it be easier to execute barre chords?

Not particularly, if you're swapping like for like. As Tim says, thinner strings may help. Another thing that will help you most with barre chords is having a nice low nut action - many off-the-shelf guitars are terrible in this respect. But barre chords always take a lot of practice...

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    The problem with off-the-shelf guitars having nut action too high is a very general problem with stringed instruments, especially student violins. The reason is economic: if you're not going to set up the instrument carefully, better leave the strings too high than too low, because at least they won't buzz. – Scott Wallace Feb 5 '17 at 17:39
  • @ScottWallace definitely. Unfortunately, students and beginners are unlikely to know that there's a problem with the instrument and either give up or develop poor technique. – topo morto Feb 5 '17 at 17:47
  • All too true. That's why it's important to have a teacher. – Scott Wallace Feb 6 '17 at 11:17
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It depends

It's not always necessary, but is a good idea if any of the following are true:

  • The guitar has been sitting in the store for a long time and has been played by many shoppers and its strings are really old.
  • You like the guitar but not the setup or you feel it could be more playable. I've definitely gotten setups on new guitars, and some stores offer complementary setups on new guitars (sometimes it depends on how much you spend).
  • You prefer a different gauge or type of strings from the factory set. A lot of factory strings have coatings or what-not to make them sound "good" longer. I hate coated strings because I think they always sound bad, so I'm more likely to want to change the strings on a new guitar. If you want to change gauges, a setup is a good idea although not 100% necessary if you're only changing by .001" (e.g., from 9s to 10s, you can get by without a setup, but a setup will improve the experience).

I can think of two main things that help with barre chords. Number one by a wide margin is practice. Number two is there's a little bit to be gained by having a good setup that is appropriate to your playing style. In general, the struggle with barre chords is real and is a human struggle, not a technology struggle.

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I say absolutely!!! As an owner of 70+ guitars from expensive Rics and Gibson to travel models, such as my Ibanez Mini, changing strings is well worth it. For example, the Ibanez Mini cost me just under $150.00. The strings were cheap and every Bend they were out of tune. I place some brand new D’addaro’s .10s on and it sounds great and stays in tune. My answer is a resounding “yes”!!

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I've found that most of the time your new guitar will come with sub-par strings. Often the manufacturer will use basic strings because they know that it will be sitting around for a while and chances are they don't manufacture strings so they will have to buy some. Even if they put on some strings they might not be the type you like for whatever reason because they weren't chosen just for you. It is always a safe bet to just change them.

This happens with lots of instruments such as drums where skins are just cheap basic ones that you're meant to replace.

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    Makes you wonder how the manufacturer is expecting you to gauge the quality of their product. "This is must be an excellent drum, it doesn't sound all that terrible even with this cheap skin on it". – DepressedDaniel Feb 5 '17 at 22:53
  • Yeah it can throw off your judgement. Often the skins don't necessarily have the worst tone, it is the ring and durability that really lets them down. They are only average so you need to just compare it to other kits or drums because like the strings skins come in many different 'shapes and sizes' creating different tones. – Sam Stone Feb 6 '17 at 3:48
  • This is certainly true of student violins, which nearly always come with dreadful Chinese strings. I guess for student instruments, they don't expect the purchaser to be able to judge the quality, so they go for the cheapest they can get away with. This means that I often get new instruments brought into my shop which are practically impossible to play, what with lousy strings, bad setup, etc. – Scott Wallace Feb 7 '17 at 21:32
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At this stage, no, I wouldn't suggest it is worthwhile. Yes, they are likely to be average strings at best, but as a beginner your main focus is not going to be the slight differences between strings, but in learning how to move and control your fingers.

You'll need to replace them soon enough anyway, either because you snap one or they rust or similar so just keep some sets of strings in your case so you can change them then.

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Musical instruments are almost always better bought "used" then new. Specially if you know the instrument was well taken care of. Even if you can't, some one else's "beginner" instrument is usually far better then buying a new "beginner" instrument because instruments usually come from the manufacturer in poor condition. All the parts may be there, but some assembly is required, and you don't know how to do that assembly, so your stuck with what the store did, or what the manufacturer did. Even a "slightly abused" instrument's owner would have taken steps to adjust the instrument, putting it in better shape then the a new instrument.

In general, if you get a choice in the future, choose used instruments, in decent shape, from good owners.

Now it's a bit too late for that this time. So time to do the next best thing. Who ever is teaching you guitar (or if your teaching your self find someone and pay them for this part), set up a time with, just to setup your instrument. No "real" playing, no "real" lessons, just setup. There are so many little pieces and bits, that seem so small, but can make a giant difference. For example, in your case, as someone else mentioned, you may want to change the strings for something thinner. Another example, you may have adjusted the guitar to be comfortable (and that's important) but you may not even be holding it right. It's far more important, in the beginning especially, to get the right "playing position/posture" then comfort. Specially when some cord just won't be comfortable at first.

Having someone you trust help with the setup can also help with material or manufacturer specific issues, like weak necks, or over filed saddles.

They can also help you tune the instrument. For a beginner this can be very difficult, even with the best tuner. The pocket tuner your likely to have will make it even more complicated. The difference between a flat e-flat and a sharp d-neutral is less then you think.

Spending the time with someone, even if you have to pay for it, will be much more valuable in the ling run then just about any other setup task you can do.

To your specific question though, a new set of strings is not that much. It doesn't hurt to swap them. There is no harm in it, and getting to know your own instrument better, even though routine maintenance, is well worth the less-then-$20 a new set of decent strings should cost.

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