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Fewer events in a guitarist’s life are better than getting a brand-new guitar. Whether you are in a physical store picking out and playing a new axe or unboxing your newly shipped guitar, there is something magical about playing a new guitar.
You have spent your hard-earned money and have done your research combing through the myriad of guitar options to pick out that perfect guitar that matches your personality and playing style, and the last thing you need to consider are the strings, right?
Despite strings being relativity inexpensive compared to the rest of the guitar, they can drastically alter tone quality, tuning stability, and overall playability. Ensuring your new guitar has a quality set of strings is crucial to giving you the best sound possible.
So what is the deal? Are stock guitar strings bad?
The short answer is yes. Unless you are purchasing a higher-end guitar, like a Gibson custom shop, there is a good chance your stock strings are not as good as they could be. The overall feel and playability of strings are very important, and your stock strings are likely lacking in those areas.
There are many points to address when determining if stock strings are bad. Let’s take a closer look at some factors, such as the price range of the guitar, where you bought the guitar from, how long the strings have been on the guitar, the gauge of the strings, and the material of the strings.
Considering these factors will help you to determine if your stock strings are bad and should be immediately replaced or if you can get away with leaving them on your guitar for a while.
Should You Replace Stock Guitar Strings?
Generally, many guitarists will replace the stock strings on their new guitars. This is mainly due to one or more of the reasons listed below.
Like I said above, if you are buying a high-end guitar or even anything over $1,000, you can likely expect premium strings. It makes no sense to put low-quality strings on an otherwise high-quality guitar.
However, if you are working with a budget guitar, spending a little extra on quality strings and ditching those stock strings will be well worth your investment. The great news about quality strings is that they won’t break the bank.
Consideration 1: Guitar Price Range
We are living in a golden age of affordable, entry-level guitars. Modern manufacturing practices have allowed for streamlined production, driving down costs for the companies producing their guitars. Here is a video from one of my favorite YouTube channels, showing 7 budget guitars that sound amazing!
Lower-quality strings can negatively affect the tone and the overall playing feel, which are bad news. If you plan on practicing alone or just want to mess around, this might not be the end of the world, but if you plan to play a live gig or record at home or in the studio, it might be a good idea to change those stock strings.
The bottom line with lower-priced guitars (around the $500 dollar range or lower) is that you should anticipate the strings to be lower quality and be prepared to replace them with a set of good-quality strings.
Consideration 2: Buying Location
Did you buy your guitar from a brick-and-mortar store or an online vendor? Believe it or not, where you buy your guitar can be a factor in determining if the stock strings are bad or not.
Whether it is a world-famous, ionic location like Norman’s Rare Guitars in California, Guitar Center, or a local guitar store, there is a certain mystique and wonder about walking into a guitar shop and seeing all of the guitars on the shelves just waiting to be played.
Of course, that is the point. You and almost everyone else who goes into a guitar store to buy a guitar will likely try it out before bringing it home.
This means that potentially dozens of people have played the guitar, leaving skin oil and other grime on the strings, which will negatively impact the quality of the strings over time. Further, leaving the guitars in the open will expose the strings to the elements more so than if they were in a box or case.
In some cases, the store may restring the guitar as part of the purchasing process, so don’t be afraid to ask!
Buying from an online vendor may reduce the exposure to many hands on the strings and the elements, especially if they are kept in their boxes or cases. However, these guitars could be subjected to more extreme climates being stored in a warehouse or during shipping.
Further, places like Sweetwater put their guitars through a 55-point inspection process, which can give you more piece of mind when purchasing from them. However, this does not ensure that the overall string quality is good, so you still might end up with a lousy set of stock strings.
Consideration 3: Age of the Strings
The age of the stock strings on a guitar relates very closely to where you bought the guitar. Where and for how long a guitar has been sitting around can influence the quality of the stock strings.
A guitar left in the open can usually last for several months without needing strings replaced. However, if the strings are being continually played, as in a typical music store, this will drastically reduce the life of the strings making those stock strings bad.
Technically, guitar strings don’t have an expiration date. However, as strings age, they will eventually decrease in quality regardless of how they are stored, but if the initial quality of your stock strings is low, they likely won’t last very long or sound very good- even with your best efforts to help them last longer.
Consideration 4: String Gauge
String gauge is essential when determining whether your stock strings are bad. However, string gauge is a personal preference, and there is not a right or wrong answer here. One of the most significant issues with stock strings is that the string gauge may not be correct for your playing level, playing style, or the tone you are searching for.
For example, heavier gauge strings can be better suited for more aggressive playing styles and drop tuning, so if your stock strings are lighter gauge, they might not be the best choice. However, this is again personal preference, as one of the greatest heavy metal guitarists of all time, Tommy Iommi prefers lighter gauged strings.
String gauge can also have a significant impact on tuning stability. Generally, the heavier the string gauge, the less it will go out of tune- especially when it comes to going sharp. This can be a major determining factor regarding whether your stock strings are bad or not, as sometimes stock strings are lower gauge and thus come out of tune more quickly.
Consideration 5: String Material
Similar to string gauge, what material the strings are made of is a personal preference primarily determined by what you are looking for in your playing style. However, the material used in stock strings is one of the most important considerations when deciding if your stock strings are bad.
Strings come in several different materials, such as steel, which produces a brighter sounding tone, to nickel, which gives off a warmer tone, among others. This video introduces the different types of string material you may come across:
Some strings come coated to resist corrosion, while others do not. Typically, coated strings are more expensive, so there is a decent chance that stock strings won’t be coated, which impacts the longevity of the strings.
Strings are essential to your guitar-playing experience and shouldn’t be overlooked. Determining if your stock strings are bad and warrant replacement is an important first step in setting up your guitar exactly how you want it to be.
By familiarizing yourself with the considerations above, you will be well on your way to deciding if your stock strings are bad and need replacing.