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If we want our guitars to last us a long time we need to make sure they are kept and stored in the right conditions.
This is especially true for those of you who are thinking of taking a break from playing the guitar or you’re switching to another model. Whatever the case may be you are probably wondering if you should leave your precious musical companion unstrung, or not, while it’s waiting on your return.
So, can you leave a guitar without strings?
For long-term storage, it’s advisable to leave your guitar with strings. The loss of tension can cause the neck to warp and this can affect the action and intonation. For short-term storage, you can leave your guitar unstrung as long as it’s kept in a case and the right temperature and humidity levels are maintained.
Whether it’s short-term or long-term there’s a right and wrong way to store a guitar, so let’s explore that while also taking a closer look at whether you can leave your guitar unstrung, and for how long.
Can You Leave A Guitar Without Strings?
While guitars are designed to be under tension at all times this doesn’t mean you can’t leave your guitar unstrung for a short period of time. The main concern when you are leaving your guitar without strings is that with time the guitar neck will be bent backward because of the lack of tension.
While your guitar’s neck can warp if left unstrung for a prolonged period of time, guitars made from high-quality materials and wood are quite resilient.
So, when it comes to not playing your guitar for a short time leaving it without strings shouldn’t be a major problem, what you need to do however is store your guitar properly. This involves keeping it in a hard case when it’s not in use, instead of leaving it exposed to the outside elements.
Most guitars are made from wood like maple, alder, and mahogany among others, and most of these woods will begin to expand if they are left in a room where the humidity levels are above 55%. On the other hand, if the environment is too dry, with humidity levels lower than 40% then the wood will shrink.
That’s why you want to keep your guitar in a controlled environment because the last thing you want is your guitar to split and crack.
Can You Store A Guitar Without Strings?
Because most electric and acoustic guitars are strung with steel strings their necks have a built-in truss rod. The truss rod is a thin metal shaft that runs the length of the guitar’s neck from the nut to the point where the neck joins the body.
The truss rod plays an important role because it balances out the tension created by the strings, and it keeps the neck from bending or collapsing. In other words, the truss rod provides counter tension to the strings.
Since well-built guitars are made from good quality wood the instrument itself is strong enough to counteract the sudden loss of tension, but even though you won’t notice the side effects of storing your guitar without strings right away the damage will reveal itself eventually.
So, it’s best to store your electric and acoustic guitars strung at all times, simply because these instruments were built to resist constant tension, but if that string tension is lost especially if it’s for a long time then the neck will start to warp.
The only guitars that usually don’t have a truss rod are classical strings, that’s because they are equipped with nylon strings that offer far less tension and that’s why classical guitar strings can be stored without strings for longer.
How Long Can You Leave Your Guitar Without Strings?
Different guitarists will claim different things, some don’t mind storing their guitars unstrung for months or even a year while others can’t go longer than a week.
Because good guitars are made to last, leaving them without strings for a couple of days or weeks shouldn’t lead to any permanent changes or damage. However, you should be careful not to leave your guitar without strings for months on end, and most importantly out of proper storage.
I never leave my guitars unstrung for longer than a week, and during that time I’ve never noticed any major changes like having a neck be out of alignment. Though I must admit that I once left a guitar unstrung for a couple of months and I did notice that it took me some time to tune the strings to pitch and I did get fret buzz, but it wasn’t permanent.
I know a friend who kept his guitar properly stored without strings for two years and noticed that the fretboard was cracked when he took it out of the case. An experienced luthier managed to save the guitar, but it was truly horrifying to see the results of long-term storage without strings.
Can You Leave Strings Off From An Electric Guitar?
Whether you’ll choose to store your guitar with or without strings will also depend on the type and quality of the guitar we’re talking about as well as the amount of time you are planning to keep your electric guitar unstrung.
As I’ve already mentioned most electric guitars have a truss rod running through their neck and that’s because unlike classical strings that are equipped with nylon strings electric guitars require more resistance against steel strings.
The quality and build of your electric guitar will also have a say in all this because if the guitar is made out of cheap materials, especially cheap wood then the chances of finding the neck bent will be higher.
Since the truss rod and strings work together to bring balance and keep everything in place by taking the strings out of the equation you are losing that counter tension. If your electric guitar also has a longer neck then the lack of counter tension can lead to cracks and permanent damage much sooner.
That’s why keeping an electric guitar without strings can be really dangerous and even with proper storage, the lack of tension can cause the neck to bend. You can leave your electric guitar unstrung for a few days, perhaps a week or longer, but if we’re talking about months or years then you’ll be stepping into risky territories.
Should Guitar Strings Be Loosened When Not Used?
If you’ve played guitar long enough then you probably know that this is a highly debated topic. I think the best way to approach this question is to present you with both opinions and then give you mine.
Some guitarists suggest that since guitars and the truss rod specifically are designed to resist the constant tension of the strings, then there’s no reason to remove or loosen the strings.
On the other hand, there are plenty of guitarists that actually advise new players to slacken the strings especially if you use heavier gauge strings. Loosening your strings one or half a step should be enough to keep the neck from bending forward.
I believe that either method is fine, as long as you keep the guitar strung and properly stored. I usually keep the strings on my guitar at the standard tuning at all times, but if I happen to store my guitar away for a prolonged time then I usually loosen the strings for half a step.
How To Store A Guitar Safely Without Strings?
Whether you’re planning on storing your guitar without strings or you’re contemplating the idea it’s important to follow a few extra steps in order to keep your guitar safe.
Loosen The Truss Rod
The truss rod plays a major role in a guitar’s anatomy, and together with the strings, the two manage to stabilize the neck. So, if you want to keep the neck stable while your guitar is stored without strings then you should try loosening the truss rod as well.
If you’ve never had to adjust the truss rod on your guitar you may not know how to get access to it. But before you go looking I would actually advise you to take your guitar to a technician or a luthier so they can do it for you, or show you how to do it. The last thing you want to do is damage your guitar!
For those of you who have done it before you probably know that on most guitars the truss rod is located on the headstock or the neck pocket. Sometimes the nut might be covered by a small piece of wood or plastic that you will have to unscrew. In vintage guitars removing the neck might be the only way to adjust the truss rod.
You can loosen the truss rod by moving the nut or bolt counterclockwise. This way you can be less worried about the neck bending backward without strings. But you will have to be careful when readjusting the rod when you decide to bring your guitar back into the game.
If the truss rod is not adjusted properly you’ll end up with the buzzing noise or a too-high action that will make it difficult for you to press the strings down.
Thomann’s channel has some excellent guitar tech tips and you can check out his guide on how to adjust the truss rod in this video!
Use A Guitar Case
Strings or no strings, the most important way you can store your precious guitar or any musical instrument for that matter is to keep it in a hard case.
A proper hard guitar case will protect your guitar from high-impact accidents and physical damage while also providing protection against humidity and temperature changes. Tailor-made guitar cases are actually designed in such a way that your unstrung guitar will get the ergonomic support that will keep it from bending.
While they are more expensive compared to soft guitar cases, you will find that hard cases are a long-term investment that will pay itself back. Don’t get me wrong gig bags and soft guitar bags are great for short trips, from your house to the studio, or your next musical gig, but they are useless against the elements.
Remember to also get a guitar case that is waterproof because the last thing you want is to get caught in the rain and ruin your guitar.
Use A Guitar Stand
You can also leave your unstrung guitar on a stand instead of keeping it in a case when you’re not playing it. Most stands are designed to keep your guitar upright with proper support for their neck so they don’t end up bending.
However, I would still recommend using a case or a gig bag to protect it from the changes in the environment. Unless of course, the room you keep your guitar in has the right levels of humidity and temperature.
Instead of a stand, you can also use a rack to keep your unstrung guitars, and it’s a very practical way to store multiple guitars.
As long as your guitar or guitars are in a hard case you can use a stand indefinitely, but if the guitars are exposed to the elements then you might notice the wood drying out or expanding, and if the guitar is unstrung then the neck will be in danger of warping.
Monitor The Humidity And Temperature
Since wood is a hygroscopic material it can absorb water both in its liquid form as well as the vapor from the surrounding atmosphere.
So, no matter how well your unstrung guitar is stored in its hard case you still need to be aware of the humidity levels and temperature of the room. While the case does distribute the heat around the guitar evenly, extreme heat and cold can damage the wood.
Sun exposure can cause the paint on your electric guitar to fade and crack. While acoustic guitars may be more resilient the sun and heat can still damage the neck and ruin the finish. The same can be said about the extreme freezing cold during the winter.
Put On Old Strings
If you’re planning on storing your guitar without strings because you simply don’t want to waste your new set on an instrument you’re not going to be playing for the next few months then consider reusing an old set.
Dead strings might not be good to play on, but they can keep your guitar’s neck from bending.
My guitars are my babies and while I do find myself switching from one guitar to the other I always make sure to store the ones I don’t use properly, even if that’s for a day.
The guitars that I use far less I store in their rightful hard case, and I keep their strings on. You can leave your guitar unstrung for a short time if you want to, but I wouldn’t suggest it as a long-term option.
Instead, you can loosen up the strings a bit, or just leave them as they are. Just make sure your guitar and your strings are kept in a controlled environment, away from the evil forces of humidity and high and low temperatures.