Two questions we frequently get are: "Why do strings wear out?" and "When and how do I change my strings?" Read on to learn the answers.
Why do guitar strings wear out?
All guitar strings begin as a core strand of material. For steel string acoustics and electric guitars, this core material is wire. For classical guitars, the core is a natural material or synthetic (frequently nylon). The lower pitch strings also use an metal wire over-wrap. Some strings (Elixir's, D'Addario EXP's, and DR Extra Life for example) add a micro-coating of protective material to extend the life of the strings. Each component can be the source of problems.
Problems With The Core Strand
As you tune your guitar, you subject the core strand to tremendous pressure. The core stretches over time, reducing its ability to vibrate to produce the tone and volume of a new string.
Problems With The Wrap Wire
The small grooves of the over-wrap wire can become contaminated by oil on your hands, dust in the air, or other materials. This is one reason you should wipe off your guitar with a dry micro-fiber cleaning cloth after each use. Be sure to include your strings as you clean, to ensure long life.
Some long-life strings use a micro-coating extend the life of strings. By placing this protective layer between the environment and the over-wrap they prevent contaminants from causing decay. This can significantly lengthen the life of your strings, especially if you have oily hands, or if your guitar is exposed to significant dust or other contaminants in the air. But coatings can also wear out.
Problems With A Micro-Coatings
I have had very positive experiences with long-life strings, but they do introduce one problem you should be aware of. The micro-coating will eventually begin to fray from strumming and picking. If you use a lot of pressure on your strings as you strum or pick, the coating will begin to tear and flake away, reducing their effectiveness and changing the appearance of the strings.
How can I tell if it is time to change my strings? Here are a few signs that your strings need replacing:
- It's harder to keep your guitar in tune.
- Your guitar sounds dull.
- You see dull spots on the strings where your fingers normally form chords.
- You can't remember the last time you changed them.
- Your strings break.
- Your instructor gives you a hint, like "Man, those strings are so dead I threw the obituary away last month."
In addition to each of these reasons, sometimes you simply want to try a new set of strings to see how they sound. You may stumble into a brand, thickness, or style that you love. Ronny "10/10" Younkins, who played lead guitar for Kix and several other bands, says that he tried a new set of strings in the mid 80's, years into his career, and fell in love with them. He played the new brand after that, so it's never too late for discovery that can make an impact in your tone.
Keep A Few On Hand, Try Something New
We recommend you always have two spare sets of strings handy. You never know when one will break, and shipping costs are lower for multiple sets.
We also recommend that you consider multi-set packages. Manufacturers frequently sell multiple set packs of two, three, or ten. The more strings in each package, the less waste material goes into our landfills. Even if your strings only come in single-set packs, purchasing two or more at a time saves on shipping costs and packing materials.
Try a new manufacturer, or a new type, such as bluegrass or jazz strings. If you have never tried a coated string, give them a try and see if you benefit from the longer life.
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Above all else... Keep strumming, picking, and having fun!
How do I change the strings on my guitar?
There are so many guitars on the market that the instructions for changing each of them is beyond the scope of this article. However, we have posted videos that show how to change strings on some of the most popular types of guitars. Click one of the following links to view the video:
This video demonstrates how to change the strings on a Stratocaster style solid body electric, one in which you need to thread the strings through the back of the body. This video runs 1:48
If you have a solid-body electric guitar with a stop-bar (tune-o-matic style) tailpiece, this video, which runs a short 1:48, is for you.
This video shows how to change strings on a typical acoustic guitar. The video runs 1:42
New players of classical guitar often fear the first string-changing experience. This video clearly demonstrates the process and will prepare you to efficiently change the strings on a typical classical guitar. The video runs 2:05.
Bass strings tend to wear out faster than six-string sets. Learn how to change them in this short one-minute twenty-nine second video.