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I think guitarists face a constant battle with their strings, on the one hand, we want our guitar to sound great, on the other hand, we want to prolong the life of our strings for as long as possible.
Personally, I have a hard time getting rid of my old guitar strings and I always try to find ways to get more use out of them.
That’s why I’ve often wondered at the start of my guitar journey, can guitar strings be reused?
You shouldn’t reuse your strings unless you don’t have any other choice, because old strings lose their original brightness, instead, they’ll sound dull and lifeless. Aside from the bad sound quality, the buzzing, and the ringing, reused strings are also more likely to break under pressure.
If you want to find different ways of reusing guitar strings and discover why it’s not always the best idea to restring your guitar with old strings then this article is for you!
Can Guitar Strings Be Reused?
The thing is it’s not that you can’t reuse guitar strings because you definitely can, but the question here is why would you want to reuse guitar strings in the first place?
The reality is that if you want to reuse old strings then you can’t expect your guitar to sound good. Tuning will be much harder and despite your efforts, your guitar will still sound out of tune. Let’s not forget that old strings will most likely snap mid-play.
All in all, reusing strings is just not a great idea unless, of course, you don’t have another option. For example, if one of your strings has just snapped and you don’t have access to a new pair using a single string or even an old set of strings can save you.
I usually spend part of my late evenings playing on my guitar, and while I usually have new strings laying around, occasionally I will be out. When that happens I either take a string from another guitar or I use old strings that I’ve kept just in case.
Not having new strings as an alternative and not being able to purchase a brand-new set on the same day is a bummer, but in those moments I’m quite thankful I’ve kept some old strings around that still had some life in them.
The same goes for live gigs, occasionally a string will snap right before a big performance, and breaking in a fresh set of strings will take 1-2 hours and that’s time you may not have. In that case, reusing a worn string might simply be the only option.
I also know that reusing doesn’t always mean restringing your guitar with old strings. You might want to swap strings between two guitars because they might sound better. Again, this can be done, and in some cases, it could work, but truth be told this is not the best idea.
Let’s not forget that guitars come in different sizes and just like you wouldn’t be able to string violin strings on a guitar, swapping strings between a guitar with a shorter and longer fretboard might cause unnecessary tension and damage your guitar.
Can You Remove Guitar Strings And Then Put Them Back On?
When we talk about reusing strings my mind always goes to old and worn strings, but of course, that’s not always the case. So, what about new strings, can you remove them and re-attach them to the same or another guitar?
If you made a mistake while stringing your guitar and installed the strings in the wrong direction then it’s important to remove them and re-attach them properly.
This rookie mistake won’t necessarily damage your guitar, but it could generate tuning and intonation problems so it’s best to avoid it.
On the other hand, if you’re planning on reusing a pair of strings not on the same but on a different guitar, then you need to be careful when you’re attaching them the first time. If the strings are cut too short, then you might not be able to re-attach them successfully later on.
In either case, you have to be careful with how you remove these strings. If all is done carefully then you can successfully reuse them, however, they still might not have the same sound and intonation as a pair of strings that were correctly installed the first time.
More so, no matter how careful you were there’s still a higher risk that there’s a kink in the strings and they may snap as you slot the tips through the posts and twist them. Bending and twisting the strings a second time might weaken the strings and they might snap before their time.
How To Reuse Your Guitar Strings?
For those of you who don’t want to get rid of your old strings, you can still get some use out of them.
Some options might be more useful than others, but knowing the curious nature of musicians it’s important that we explore all string possibilities.
Remove The Strings Properly
Whether the strings are old, or they haven’t been used much doesn’t really matter, because if you want to reuse them you need to first carefully remove them from your current guitar, that’s if you haven’t already.
First, you need to make sure that the strings are long enough, and that you left a bit of slack when you were stringing them in the first place, otherwise your plan won’t work.
Then you will need to loosen the strings and of course, you will need to avoid cutting them. Since I don’t always keep my old strings, I do end up cutting some of them just to quicken the process of replacing them but in this case, you shouldn’t.
Both ends on each string will be the weakest points because of the winding and if you’re not careful enough during the removal process, they will most likely end up snapping when you’ll be restringing them or they might not lock properly into place.
Another thing to keep in mind if you’re planning on switching strings between two guitars is that the hard bends from the different points of contact on your guitar like the nut, tuning pegs, and bridge can also differ from guitar to guitar.
I do want to remind your that depending on the quality of your strings and how worn they are this process can leave the strings pretty much useless and reusing them will be a waste of time.
If, however, the strings are in good enough shape to be reused at some point you can either string them or store them away in a sealed pack. But before that, I would recommend getting rid of all the gunk they’ve accumulated over time.
Boil Your Strings
I’m going to be upfront here and tell you that boiling your string in water in order to restore their original sound and prolong their life is a myth.
I know that musicians have used this method in the past on their bass strings, but I think the most you can get out of boiling your strings is to get them all shiny and clean, the sound however will still be bad.
You can, of course, try it, but the whole process is just a hassle, and to be honest it’s so not worth it.
Instead of wasting your time boiling, and drying the strings just get a new set, after all, guitar strings are quite affordable nowadays!
For DIY Projects
Instead of wasting your fingerstyle technique on half-dead strings, I would recommend getting a new set, and rather than reusing the old ones, you can upcycle them in various creative ways.
The most simple way to reuse old strings without any major DIY skills is to use them as a wire to hand pictures and paintings on the wall. This is actually something I’ve done more than once.
One of my former band mates used to make keychains and bracelets using old bass and guitar strings and he would use the boiling method to get them squeaky clean first.
I’ve also seen amazing artists use guitar strings to make miniature flowers and Bonsai trees, or beautiful intricate jewelry.
I understand that this mightn’t be for everyone and perhaps DIYing wasn’t on your mind when you were looking for ways of reusing your guitar strings, but if you want to use your creativity then you can do very interesting things with guitar strings outside of music.
Why You Shouldn’t Reuse Your Guitar Strings?
Upcycling guitar strings is an ingenious way to give your strings a new purpose, but when it comes to reusing them, I promise you the result is not going to be as exciting, let’s see why!
New Strings Are Better
I think everyone should try to reuse old strings at least once, just to see what badly worn strings will sound like.
I’m pretty sure you will find the sound dull and lifeless. Reusing old strings will most likely make them wobbly which in turn will affect their playability. Figuring out how much pressure you should apply could turn into a real struggle and as you try to tune the strings there’s a big chance they’ll break.
New strings are undeniably better, however, as a new guitarist, you might not recognize that the tone of your strings has deteriorated and that new strings will actually sound and feel much better.
Tony is one of my top guitar content creators and if you take a moment to watch the beginning of this video you’ll get to hear the same set of old and new strings come up against each other.
I would also advise you to run this experiment yourself because it will help you understand when it’s best to replace your guitar strings and why reusing your old pair is most likely not a good idea.
You Can Buy Individual Strings
It’s more common to have one individual string snap and if you don’t have a new set nearby then reusing an old string can get you through the day.
Still, I think replacing that string with a new one is a wiser choice. Not only are there plenty of affordable string brands getting, but you can easily find strings sold individually online or even at your local store.
So, if you have one or two strings that you know are more likely to snap before their time then make sure to stock up on them, instead of reusing old strings.
They Might Break
Strings have an expiration date, but that date may differ from string to string, your style, string maintenance, and humidity.
You can of course prolong the life of your strings, but they will still need changing at some point, and let’s not forget that older strings are more likely to break, and you shouldn’t wait until one of them snaps.
Sure, reused strings can give you a few more days or even an extra week, but reusing old strings is never a good idea because you’re basically playing with a ticking bomb.
Can You Recycle Your Guitar Strings?
Steel is one of the most recycled materials in the world and since most guitar strings, whether they are steel, or nylon are manufactured from various types of alloy then recycling them is the most environmentally friendly thing you could do.
I only keep old strings that have a little bit of life left in them, and in case I need them, but in most cases when my strings are dead and ready to be replaced, I remove them, roll them up and place them in a container.
Once the container is full, I take them to a recycling center. Of course, the recycling process might be different in your area or country, so before you get rid of your old strings make sure that they are going to be recycled.
How Can I Make Guitar Strings Last Longer?
Whether we like it or not guitar strings are not everlasting, and they all have an expiration date, but with proper string maintenance, you can prolong their life.
What causes strings to deteriorate, basically corrode and rust, is the oxidization process that happens when metals such as steel, bronze, and nickel come in contact with oxygen and moisture.
This moisture comes from the humidity in the air, but it can also come from the sweat on our fingers. With time strings will accumulate oils and grime from our hands that will have an added effect on how they sound and will accelerate the corrosion period.
The best way to slow down this process is to keep your hands clean. I thoroughly wash my hands with soapy water, and I make sure they are completely dry before touching the strings.
I also keep a cloth on me at all times to dry the sweat from my hands that most of us will produce during sessions. Just as I dry my hands, I also use a microfiber to wipe the strings dry regularly.
Finally, I give the strings one last good wipe when I’m done and store the guitar in its case to make sure the humidity is just right.
Instead of reusing old strings, you need to learn how to maintain them to maximize their life and of course when it’s time to replace them with a new pair.
Don’t wait for your fingers to turn black from the dirt they’ve accumulated, and don’t wait for your strings to start breaking one by one.
When it comes to reusing old strings, my approach is, that just because you can doesn’t mean you should. That being said, I don’t want to be a hypocrite and say I haven’t done it, because I have.
Under certain circumstances I had to use old strings, sometimes it was in the name of musical experimentation, other times curiosity was driving me and occasionally it was a choice born of necessity.
Reusing strings can save you in a moment of need, but you need to remember that nothing will ever compare to a fresh pair of good strings.
So, just use new strings and get creative with the old ones!