Changing strings is a fact of life for any guitarist. If you’re new to the instrument, you’re probably curious as to how long guitar strings will last.
You’ve come to the right place. In this article, we will cover just how long guitar strings (and the different types available) last. By the end, you will have a solid understanding of how regularly you will be changing them. You’ll also learn why certain guitarists prefer older strings.
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Do Guitar Strings Go Bad When Played?
Playing the guitar for an extended period of time will inevitably wear out the strings. This is due to a number of different factors, including:
- Oils from your skin
- Dirt and grime from fingers
- A buildup of skin particles
- Environmental factors, such as moisture in the air
Eventually, what ends up happening is that the strings will start to corrode. They may also become stiff, lose their flexibility, and start to become dull sounding. Tuning issues might be noticeable as well.
When a guitar string reaches this point, you are likely to feel the difference. You may also be able to smell the corroded strings on your fingers after you are done playing. This odor will have a funky smell to it, with a hint of garlic.
Generally, the more you play your guitar, the faster the strings will go bad. This is because the strings will have more contact with skin oils. Frequent playing will also create flat spots on the strings from pressing them into the frets.
If you’re a frequent player, you’re going to have to get used to changing your strings in regular time intervals. For the most part, you will develop a sense of feel for when the strings need changing. Experienced players have a preference for how they like their strings to feel, changing them frequently to satisfy this need.
How Long Will My Strings Last?
Whether you play acoustic guitar or electric guitar, your strings are going to have about the same amount of life. Much of this depends solely on the amount of time you spend on your guitar and the type of strings.
For the most part, an extremely casual player’s standard metallic strings could last for about 2 months. Those who play quite frequently will likely have to change their strings once every 2 weeks. Unplayed strings could last for about 6 months in ideal environmental conditions.
What About Coated Strings?
Guitar strings that are coated in a polymer are going to last much longer. These types of strings are available for both acoustic and electric guitars. Many people enjoy coated strings, but they are especially useful for the guitarist that rarely plays.
These coatings are designed to protect the string from oils and moisture, extending the life by nearly 3:1. This advantage allows guitarists (especially those who only casually play) to have to change their strings a few times per year.
It is not uncommon for a lightly played guitar’s coated strings to last for 6 months to 1 year. Frequently played coated strings could last for several months.
Despite their advantages, coated strings do pose a bit of an environmental threat in both their production and disposal. If you’re an eco-conscious guitarist, you should take this into account when determining if these are right for you.
Do People Play Old Strings?
Believe it or not, it’s not uncommon for acoustic players to leave their strings on for extended periods of time. This practice has more to do with the tone of the guitar overall, rather than the feel of the strings.
Quite often, a new pack of strings will make an acoustic guitar sound too bright. As well-used strings tend to have a duller sound, it can give the acoustic a warmer tone. Every type of string has its own break-in period.
Acoustic players who use phosphor bronze strings will tend to utilize this method. These types of strings are initially very bright right out of the package. After some time, the brightness lessens, but still retains a resonant quality.
This practice is a matter of taste and personal preference. In fact, it is one that I personally follow. The tonal sweet spot for my acoustic guitar can be found with strings that are about a month old.
Obviously, the utility of this practice is quite short, as more time and playing will wear the strings beyond practicality. If I know I am going to be recording with my acoustic, I will change them 2 weeks in advance. This allows me to properly season my strings according to my tonal preferences.
If you’ve been having issues with your acoustic’s tone, this might be worth a try. After all, the only resource necessary to achieve this is a little bit of playing time.
Can I Play Old Strings On An Electric Guitar?
It should be stated that playing old strings is not going to be ideal for electric guitars at all. The magnetic pickups will have a more difficult time producing a quality tone from a dead set of strings.
When playing electric guitars, you are far more likely to be performing note bends. Old and dead strings will not have the elasticity of newer strings. This could cause strings to break much easier.
If you leave corroded strings on an electric guitar, you also run the risk of it spreading to other components. This will cause your string saddles and bridge to also rust. It will also make for a dirtier fretboard if you attempt to play the strings in this condition.
Generally, a fresh set of strings is going to provide the most optimal playing experience for an electric guitar. The tone, pickup response, and feel provided by new strings are far superior to what old strings can give.
A good rule of thumb is to change the strings when you notice that they do not perform optimally. This will ensure your guitar is in its most playable condition at all times. Plus, if you perform live, you’ll likely want a fresh set to allow for the best performance possible.
How Can I Preserve The Life Of My Strings?
Strings will naturally age and become unusable over time, no matter what strings you use. However, with some routine maintenance, you can help your strings last a little bit longer.
After you get done playing the guitar, it is good practice to apply some string cleaner to the strings. This can be done by applying the cleaner to a cloth and wiping the strings down. Some cleaners have an applicator built into the packaging, allowing you to apply it directly to the strings.
Once you have applied the string cleaner, take care to wipe the cleaner off of the strings with a dry cloth. This will prevent any oxidation that may occur from leaving the wet cleaner on the strings.
Applying string cleaner will help cut down on the oils and sweat salts that build up with regular play. This will help to extend the life of the strings a bit, but you will eventually have to change them.
For the most part, applying cleaner is a good way to preserve the clean feeling of fresh strings. It is also a good practice of regular guitar maintenance and can help to keep your fretboard clean.
Can I Extend String Life By Boiling Them?
You may have heard of people boiling their strings. In fact, this is a fairly common practice amongst bass players, especially considering the cost of their strings. But does it actually extend the life of the string?
There are some benefits to boiling strings. Whether or not the effort and time are worth it is another question.
To perform this procedure, you’ll have to coil up your strings as you would find them in a package. Place them in a pot of boiling water for about 4 minutes, as any longer could damage the string’s strength.
After the time has elapsed, dry them off with a towel. You’ll then want to place the strings in aluminum foil with holes poked in the foil for ventilation. Place the strings in an oven for 15 minutes at the lowest temperature setting to allow the strings to dry.
By boiling strings, the oils and salts that are built up will be removed. Any shavings that might be present from normal wear also have the possibility of being removed from the string.
The downside to this is that you could end up with brittle strings that are prone to stiffness and breakage. At this point, you’re likely better off just changing the strings with a new set, to begin with. This is especially the case with cheaper strings, as this is likely not going to be worth your time.
Another downside to this practice is that the strings will require more tension to tune up to pitch. Because of this, it is not recommended to boil the strings more than 1 or 2 times. The strings lose their elasticity with each boiling.
Overall, it may just be easier to apply fresh strings. Boiling will not make old strings new again.
Do Unused Guitar Strings Expire?
Many guitarists will keep extra strings handy in the event that they should break a string in mid-performance. This is an excellent practice, especially for those that perform live. There is nothing worse than breaking a string in the middle of a gig, with no replacement available.
However, if you have loose strings that are out of the packaging, your unused strings will eventually become unusable. The time it takes for this depends on how long the strings have been open out of the packaging.
Just because the strings are unused does not mean that they are not subject to moisture levels in the air. If left for too long, you might find hints of corrosion or rust on these completely unused strings.
Fortunately, it will take a while for this process to happen. After about 6 months of exposure to open air, unused strings are likely to be less than desirable to use.
The playability of these unused strings will slowly degrade over time. You might find that your replacement string lacks the feel and sound that a new string provides. This situation is obviously less than desirable, especially when you need a replacement in a pinch situation.
However, strings left in their envelopes could last up to 3 years depending on their environmental exposure. You will want to monitor the status of your spare strings to make sure you do not have any corroded strings.
Do Sealed Guitar Strings Have A Shelf Life?
String manufacturers have greatly improved their packaging over the years. The packages that strings come in are engineered to provide the best environmental protection possible. This is why it is recommended to leave the strings in their unopened packaging until you need to use them.
As long as the package remains unopened, sealed strings do not necessarily have a shelf life. However, this will ultimately depend on whether the package was stored in a location with low humidity.
In fact, it is not uncommon for strings from an older, unopened package to have oxidation. Over time, the glues used in the sealing process could deteriorate, allowing moisture into the package. Because of this, it’s generally not recommended to use very old strings stored in packages for years.
Generally, sealed strings are going to be able to keep for a long time. Do take the time to research your ideal manufacturer’s process. Each manufacturer will tend to have an ideal shelf life for their strings.
How Long Do Guitar Strings Last In Their Package?
If you have an unopened package of strings, you can likely preserve the freshness for 5-7 years. If you live where high humidity or salt levels are present in the air, this might be a little less. This is true for both acoustic and electric strings.
Due to their anti-corrosive nature, coated strings might be able to last much longer than this. As stated before, coated strings (when played) have about 3x the life of a standard string.
Some people have had success with sealed strings that are over 10 years old. However, the longer the period of time, the more likely it is that the packaging could fail. You will need to assess whether this risk is worth it depending on your playing situation.
If you’re a frequent player who wishes to buy packages of strings in bulk, you’re unlikely to face this scenario. You will have likely used the strings well before the point of packaging failure.
Nonetheless, if you’ve had a sealed package of strings hanging around for years, it doesn’t hurt to at least check. It could save you from having to make an immediate trip to the music shop. I wouldn’t recommend relying on them for live performance scenarios though.
How Long Do Guitar Strings Last? Final Thoughts
Strings can last for a good amount of time if left in the packages. Once you start playing them, you’ll have to monitor the condition of the strings to see if they warrant changing.
Over time, you will develop a preference for how you like your strings to feel. There is nothing like fresh strings on a guitar, as it breathes new life into a dull playing experience.
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