Are New Guitar Strings Harder To Play?

Are New Guitar Strings Harder To Play?

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I feel like guitarists can be broken down into two groups. One group can’t wait to string their guitar with a fresh set of strings, while the other group will try to postpone that inevitable moment for as long as possible.

For a long time, I was part of the second group, and not because I necessarily didn’t like the brightness of a new string set. It was the fact that new strings tend to detune frequently upon the first set up and they don’t feel the same.

So, are new guitar strings hard to play?

New strings are harder to play because they are much stiffer, and they take time to break in especially thick gauge strings. Fresh strings on an acoustic also feel tighter compared to an electric guitar. New nylon strings are hard to play because even after settling they will still need tuning more often than steel.

Even if your new strings are harder to play it doesn’t mean it’s going to be like this forever, and there are ways of speeding up the process.

So, let’s find out how to break in your new strings, and how long will it take!

Are New Guitar Strings Harder To Play?

When it’s finally time to change your strings it’s worth noticing that the new set hasn’t been under any tension, instead, they’ve been sitting all coiled up in a package.

When you’re stringing your guitar a rookie mistake is to expect strings to adapt to their new environment right away. However, the fact that strings want to go back to their relaxed state creates quite the tension.

The tension created is the reason why new guitar strings are harder to play, which means that not only are your new strings going to feel stiffer and harder to press down, but they will constantly go out of tune, at least until they are stabilized.

Some new strings are harder to play than others, and the time they will need to settle in will depend on the brand, the quality of the construction, and the material used.

If however, you notice that even after a few days or a week your guitar is still going out of tune then the problem might not be your new strings, instead, it could be your guitar.

Try checking the placement of the strings at the bridge, or the nut and whether all strings are affected. Additionally, the issue might lay with the tuners. If you can’t figure out what the problem is, then perhaps you need to take your instrument to a guitar tech.

Do New Guitar Strings Need To Be Broken In?

While new strings are harder to play it doesn’t mean that you can’t do anything about it, and what you can do is break them in.

Most freshly installed strings will require some break in time because otherwise, it will be impossible to keep them in tune.

Some strings take less time or effort to settle in, but no matter the material or whether you’re playing an acoustic, electric, or bass guitar it’s still a necessary process.

Another reason why you want to break in your new strings is the tone. Don’t get me wrong plenty of guitarists actually love the bright sound of new strings, but those who are after a warm tone don’t like this metallic sound.

No matter what you do the sound will mellow down eventually after a few days, but the break-in process can help you lose some of that intensity and by achieving tuning stability you will have more control over the strings and their sound.

How Long Do New Strings Take To Break In?

The break-in process can take 1 to 2 hours or even 5 hours, and in some cases, stings may take several days of playing to achieve tuning stability and to lose the bright metallic sound.

The amount of time your strings will need to settle in will also depend on the time you actually spend playing your guitar, the string’s manufacturer, the string gauge, and the material.

To get a better idea of your own situation, I think it’s best to take a closer look at some of those factors.

Steel Strings

Steel strings for acoustic guitars require only a couple of hours to settle in, however even with consistent playing their brightness might take more than a week, maybe even two to mellow down.

That’s much longer in comparison to electric guitar strings which are the least difficult to break in. The process can last for about an hour, and the initial bright tone will dissipate in 7 days.

Bass guitar strings might take an hour or longer to break in, but they also lose their crisp, bright sound much sooner similarly to the electric.

It’s also worth mentioning that the lighter the gauge the quicker the strings will lose their tuning.

Nylon Strings

Nylon acoustic and classical guitar strings take the longest to settle in, in some cases it’s two to four days or maybe even a week. This will depend on the type of guitar you’re playing on, the string gauge, and quality, as well as the amount of stretching and playing you put them through.

The reason behind this difference between nylon and steel strings is the fact that nylon is more elastic which has an impact on the tension. This means that you will need more time to stabilize the tuning.

I also want to mention that even after breaking them in nylon strings still go out of tune more often than steel strings and require frequent adjustments to bring them to tune.

As for the tone you will need about a week for that brightness to fade after that you can enjoy this tone for the next 4 to six months.

How To Break In Your New Guitar Strings?

When I first decided to change the strings on my guitar I expected them to sound flawless right away. As you can imagine I was in for a big surprise and somewhat of a disappointment.

The fact that my guitar was constantly out of tune, and it sounded so unusually bright compared to my old set made me think I did something wrong.

Thankfully my teacher told me that strings need time to settle, and he showed me a few steps that made this process much quicker.

Stable Over-tuning

Breaking in your new guitar stings can be difficult, especially for new players that haven’t developed calluses.

That’s because when over-tuning you need to tune the strings a half step higher than the tuning you plan to use and to add a bit more pressure on the strings while playing than you would usually.

You don’t have to play for too long, three minutes or five, are enough. Naturally, the strings won’t hold their tuning so you will have to retune them and play in the same aggressive way again for another couple of minutes.

As expected the strings will lose their tuning again and you will have to retune them again, only this time instead of playing you should set the guitar aside for ten minutes.

Once the time is up you can tune your strings down, to the pitch you were going to use. I would advise you to actually tune it slightly lower so you can tune the strings up as you try to find the correct tone and adjust the tuning to achieve the desired result.

I think it’s important to mention that over-tuning your new guitar strings is not a set process and the number of times you will have to go through it will vary. It will depend on your strings as well as your guitar, and every part of it, like the nut, bridge, and tunings.

Stretch Your Strings

Another step you can add to your stringing process is to physically stretch your strings with your hands.

There are two ways you can stretch your strings to break them in.

Bending each string by starting with the low E string at the 12th fret and then doing the same steady and slow motion in multiple positions across the fretboard is one way.

Pulling each string towards you and using your thumb to push the string against the fret in multiple positions across the fretboard is the other way.

Be careful not to go overboard with the stretching because the goal is to help your strings stretch just enough and not to break them.

Guitar luthier Brenden Mason does a great job explaining the stringing and stretching process in this video!

Once you’re done you can tune your strings and play the guitar to adjust everything until you get the feel, tone, and tuning you were going for.

Play The Guitar

All these methods are best combined with the player actually playing the guitar, but even if you don’t want to follow these methods you can still break in your new strings by playing the guitar.

Simply use the tuning you plan on using on your guitar and play as you normally would. Retune your guitar when needed and keep playing.

I know it can be annoying having a guitar lose its tune every five minutes, and it can take some hours to actually get your strings where you want them to be. However, I think just playing your guitar, without over-tuning or stretching your new strings, can help you get more in tune with the tuning process.

It’s a great experience for understanding how to stabilize your guitar and listen to your instrument, and to its tone.

How Often Should You Change Guitar Strings?

To be honest there’s no accurate answer to this question and even the word “often” is going to translate differently by different guitarists. Your guitar strings may need changing after one or two weeks, or they may last you for one, or two months.

It all boils down to how often you play your guitar, how aggressively, what kind of strings you are using, the overall string maintenance as well as the exposure to humidity.

The first sign that your strings need changing is called phasing. That’s when you hear a sudden sharp drop in pitch when pressing on one, some, or all strings. In other words, your old strings will sound dull, they will lack the brightness that new strings are known for.

A broken string can also be a clear sign that your strings need changing, but you shouldn’t have to wait that long, because having a string snap midplay is an unpleasant feeling and you might end up cutting yourself.

Should You Change Your Strings before A Gig?

Stringing your guitar with a fresh set right before a gig or a studio recording is a risk you might not want to take.

New strings take time to stretch and you don’t want to constantly correct the tuning of your guitar while you’re playing live.

That doesn’t mean you have to use old strings, because you also don’t want them breaking mid-play. Instead, you want to hit that sweet spot as much as possible. This will depend on the strings and the type of guitar you’re playing, but for electric guitars two to six days old strings are preferable.

If you’re playing steel strings on your acoustic then give them two to three days to settle in, however, if you’re playing nylon strings then no less than six days would be ideal.

The same can be said about studio recordings because you don’t want your strings sounding awfully bright, but you also don’t want them to sound dead.

Of course, if you run out of strings, and you end up using new strings you need to at least make sure to know how to use the break in techniques I mentioned above.

Can You Break In Your New Guitar Strings Faster?

Knowing how to accelerate the break in process of new strings can really save you especially if your strings have suddenly snapped and you have a gig to play and

So knowing how to over-tune and stretch your strings are the fastest ways you can help your strings settle.

In addition, to make the stretching more effective you can actually consider pulling them near the guitar’s saddle and the nut. You can carefully use your thumb on each side, and press down on a string to stretch it right at the saddle of the bridge.

However, if you still can’t seem to get that tuning stability then perhaps, there are other factors that you may not have complete control over.

Humidity can deter a guitar string from fully stretching and fixing its tuning. The instrument itself might be unable to provide the necessary tension for the string to break in, whether that’s because of your guitar’s construction, quality, or age.

The string you chose might also be the root of the problem. It could be a poor quality alloy or a mistake during manufacturing. Heavier gauge strings also take more time to break in.

Will Boiling New Strings Help Break Them In?

It’s not the first time I’ve heard or talked about the method of boiling guitar strings. This is something that bass players used to do to prolong the life of their old bass strings and many still claim that it works.

Boiling strings is a tedious process, and doing it to new guitar strings won’t bring you satisfactory results.

In fact, whether new or old getting strings wet is never a good thing because you will most likely accelerate the wear of your strings and cause them to corrode and rust.

Closing Thoughts

Whether you are new or old to guitar playing new strings can be hard to play, but that’s only until they finally settle in.

This process can take time, especially if you choose the path of simply playing your guitar until the strings break-in, or you can use different techniques to make this process faster, whether that’s over-tuning or stretching them.

New strings require a little push, a bit more work, and your commitment, but once you are past that threshold new strings will become the easiest and most fun thing to play on!