If you’ve played guitar for any length of time, then you probably know that you need to swap out your guitar strings periodically.
Strings break and their lively sound also tends to diminish with usage. They also stop keeping proper tune with age.
Now, surprisingly, some players prefer strings that have been broken in versus brand new strings. This typically means they break a lot of strings, but they also tend to have backup guitars on hand.
So, the need to change guitar strings arises no matter how you go about it.
Let’s look at how often you should change your strings.
How Often Should You Change Your Strings?
I don’t think I’m alone when I say that there is no magic formula for how often you should change your strings.
It depends a lot on how much you practice, whether you perform or record and how frequently, and to a lesser extent, how you store your guitars and how you care for them.
I only tend to change my strings when I break one, and again I don’t think I’m the only one that does this.
Now, string breakage can occur for reasons outside of usage. So, if you find that you’re breaking an unusual number of strings, you may want to have a tech look at your guitar to solve this issue.
Here I will outline a few basic scenarios and offer some general guidelines for when to change your strings:
For The Beginner/Average Player
The average player doesn’t necessarily spend a lot of time playing their guitar, but they may be taking lessons, attending workshops, playing at recitals, jamming with friends and so on.
So, their strings still get a workout.
This type of player should consider exchanging their strings every one to three months.
Once per month will be too much for some, not enough for others. Every three months is perfectly okay for someone who only plays here and there.
For The Intermediate/Active Player
At this level, you may be practicing more, rehearsing with a band, performing occasionally, recording, maybe even playing on a worship team a few times per month.
It’s fair to say there’s considerable activity at this level and you may even be increasing your practice time to reach the next level in your playing.
If this is where you’re at, you should look at swapping out your strings every one to four weeks.
Every week can get to be a lot and may not be necessary unless you’re putting in a lot of hours. But if you have regular weekly performances, it’s certainly worth considering.
Once per month should still be fine for many players at this stage unless they notice some of the signs we’ll be talking about a little later.
For The Aspiring/Dedicated Pro
You may not be a household name yet, but you’re constantly practicing new material, playing out and even recording. You may even be booking tours.
You might be making a good chunk of your living from music, or music may even represent your entire income.
Players at this level generally have a good idea of when to replace their strings, but just in case, I’d say every one to seven days is ideal.
Again, you may find that you don’t need to change your strings more than once every two to four weeks, and if that’s the routine you’re in, and it’s working for you, there’s no need to adjust.
Players on tour often like to replace strings more often as they play a lot every single night and don’t want to risk breaking a string on stage. Understandable.
And, if you prefer the sound of lively strings, you may not have much choice. So, if you’re doing a lot of recording in the studio, you may want to keep a fresh set of strings on that axe.
Signs To Look Out For
Your strings withstand quite a bit of abuse and will break down over time.
This doesn’t mean they will immediately break or even sound bad.
That’s why it’s good to know signs to look out for. Here are several.
Your Guitar Isn’t Keeping Tune Or Is Hard To Get In Tune
As strings age, they tend not to keep tune as well, and in my experience even your intonation (how in tune the guitar sounds across the entire fretboard) can be affected.
Now, there could be other reasons your guitar is not keeping tune, so if this is an issue no matter what type of strings you’re using, new or old, you should see a guitar tech.
But one of the signs you can look out for is your guitar not holding its tune.
You’re Noticing Kinks In The Strings
As strings repeatedly connect with the frets on the fingerboard, they begin to form small kinks.
In my experience, this is more noticeable on acoustic guitars (i.e. thicker strings) than electric guitars.
If you see (or feel) kinks in your strings, it means there’s a greater chance they will break unexpectedly, and it may be time to replace them.
Your Strings Are Discolored Or Corroded
Exposure to humidity causes strings to rust over time.
Now, keep in mind that your fingers also transfer sweat, oil, dirt and grime to your guitar strings, so this is mostly a matter of time.
If you have particularly sweaty or dirty hands, it can lead to your strings corroding faster.
Some strings come with an extra coating that gives them a bit of a longer life, and you can certainly consider those.
You may not need to change your strings the moment you notice discoloration, but as this continues to advance, you’ll want to consider changing them out.
Your Guitar Doesn’t Sound As Lively As You Would Like
This is mostly a matter of personal taste, as I’ve already shared.
But I find a new set of strings can bring out the true tone of a guitar. A Strat, for example, sounds livelier and twangier when equipped with a new set of strings. It loses a bit of that with older strings.
It might be strange to say, but sometimes a new set of strings seems to breathe new life into the instrument.
So, if you don’t like how your guitar is sounding anymore, it might be a good time to set it up with a new set of strings.
Any guitarist who plays frequently should always have an extra set of strings on hand.
You never know when you might break a string and might needing extras.
For instance, it’s not a whole lot of fun to bring your guitar out to summer camp, only to break a string the first day and not have any replacements.
So, no matter where you’re at on your guitar journey, I would suggest learning how to change out your strings and always keeping extras on hand.