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Some say most good things come to an end and that includes your guitar strings.
I know I must sound dramatic but if you’ve ever tried changing the strings on your guitar, especially as a newbie then you know this is not a hassle-free process.
Being a professional guitarist I don’t dread the end of my guitar strings anymore, and I’m good at predicting when it’s time to part, but as an inexperienced player things may not be as easy.
So, how long do guitars last?
On average guitar strings can last for two to three months before they are worn and need to be changed or after every 100 hours of practice. Unopened packaged strings on the other hand don’t have a specific expiration date and can last several years before opening, as long as the package is stored properly.
Let’s find out how long your guitar strings will last on your guitar whether you’re an avid player or not, as well as if they’re stored in their package or were never opened in the first place!
How Long Do Guitar Strings Last?
This is a question that I get asked a lot by my fellow friends that are just starting out on their guitar journey but unfortunately, there’s no straightforward answer.
We need to consider a few factors, like how much time you actually spend playing your guitar, whether you are an aggressive player, how well you’re maintaining said strings, and of course the kind of strings you are using.
I’ve already talked about the subject of how often you need to change your guitar strings, and that’s why I want to focus on the strings without necessarily taking the human factor in too much, however that’s something I will cover later on.
Steel Vs Nylon Strings
Under the right conditions, nylon and steel strings can last on average anywhere from two to three months, sometimes even four.
However, if we were to compare the two different materials, nylon strings are more likely to last longer compared to strings made from any type of alloy, whether that’s steel, nickel, phosphor, brass, or bronze plated strings.
But why is that so?
Of course, metal strings are meant to take on a lot of tension without breaking, but since nylon strings have a synthetic core and not a metal one, they are more flexible and durable.
For the same reason, nylon strings are less likely to corrode and rust at the same rate as steel strings do since they are not as resilient against humidity.
Nylon strings are also more likely to maintain their tone for longer, but I must add here that they don’t start off with a bright sound.
Of course, the Achilles heel of nylon strings is sudden temperature changes, especially hot temperatures can cause them to lose their elasticity and go dead much sooner, compared to metal strings that don’t have the same sensitivity.
Nylon strings are usually used on classical guitars and since the classical guitars don’t have a metal truss rod, they have less tension to deal with when being played.
Steel strings on the other hand are often seen on acoustic and electric guitars, and since electric guitarists tend to be more aggressive players the steel strings might not last as long and break much faster.
Flatwound Vs Rounwound
The difference between flatwound and roundwound strings lies in the construction. Roundwound strings have a central core that is wrapped with a wire in a spiral that has a circular cross-section. Flatwound strings on the other hand have a rectangular cross-section.
When we talk about the lifespan of guitar strings we usually talk about roundwound strings since they are the most common type when it comes to string construction.
However flatwound strings last longer compared to flatwound strings, because they don’t allow as much skin and oil debris to accumulate between the windings, and the smooth surface makes it much easier to clean them.
As you can also see and hear in the video above, when it comes to sound flatwound strings maintain their warm tone much longer, but it’s important to mention that they are never as bright as roundwound strings are when they’re new.
Coated Vs Uncoated Strings
You might have heard of the term coated and uncoated strings and most guitarists usually start with uncoated strings. The difference between the two is the fact that coated strings are coated with a polymer layer covering.
The polymer coating serves as a barrier that protects the strings from the environmental humidity that causes the strings to oxidize over time, as well as the sweat, grime, and oils that our hands produce while we play the guitar.
If properly cared for coated strings can last you anywhere from six to nine months if not longer, and the same goes for their tone.
Of course, you may be thinking that if coated strings are so long-lasting why aren’t all guitar strings coated?
Well-coated strings do have a couple of downsides. The price alone can scare off plenty of guitarists, and for those who don’t mind the high price tag, they might find issues with the feel, which admittedly can be slippery and they also sound darker.
In my opinion the brand you choose to go with matters. I’ve played on Ernie Ball’s Everlast coated strings more times than I can count and I’ve mentioned them just as often specifically because as far as coated strings go they feel and sound uncoated.
Quality Of Strings
Contrary to perhaps popular belief, guitar strings don’t have to cost a lot of money, but they also shouldn’t be extremely cheap or come from an unknown brand.
Really cheap mass-produced strings or stock guitar strings are known to be inconsistent, whether that’s the construction, the sound they produce, or both.
Low-quality strings definitely won’t last you a long time not only when they are actively played on, but even when they’re not.
Plenty of well-known brands like Fender, Ernie Ball, and other manufacturers I’ve talked about before, sell decent strings anywhere between $10 and $15 a pack.
Their indisputable high-quality construction makes the strings more resistant to corrosion and rust, but they are also less likely to suddenly snap on you.
How Long Do Guitar Strings Last With Daily Use?
One of the major factors that affect how long your strings will last is how much you play the guitar. On average, you will need to change your guitar strings every two to three months, or after 100 hours of play.
However, things might look a little different if you’re just a beginner practicing daily or a professional guitarist who is touring, and rehearsing on a daily basis.
Being a professional myself I find it difficult to answer this question and the truth is every guitar player is different.
Keen players are more likely to keep their strings for longer, most likely until they go dead, especially if they’re not playing guitar for a living.
A professional guitarist is more likely to change their strings even though they know the strings still have some life in them and could last for another week or two.
Let’s take classical guitarists for example. These players don’t change their strings as often because nylon strings take more time to break in and hold their tune. So, a set of strings might last them for one to two months with daily use.
But if they know they’ll be performing then they will most likely change their strings a couple of days before a performance so the strings have time to settle down.
My fellow electric guitarists and I tend to change our strings a day before or at least the night before the actual gig. I personally like the sound of new strings, but I want to make sure I have enough time to break the strings in.
Since tuning stability is super important when you’re performing, most guitarists, whether they play on an acoustic, classical, or electric guitar will try to avoid changing their strings right before a gig or a recording.
More so, some guitarists like the sound of older strings and so they can keep the same set on for a couple of months before changing them.
With electric guitars, you often use techniques like bending and sliding, which can take a toll on strings and wear them out much faster so they might last for 10 to 50 hours of play.
So, when it comes to most players that spend four to eight hours a day practicing, rehearsing and performing, you can expect their strings to last for a week before they need changing, if not sooner.
How Long Do Guitar Strings Last If Not Played?
As I’ve already mentioned, strings don’t just wear out from use, but the moment you open that sealed package and string your guitar those strings will also wear out from the passing of time.
That’s because strings will start to slowly corrode and rust the moment they come in contact with the air and moisture in the atmosphere.
Being exposed to the elements more or less will cause the metal to oxidize and even nylon strings will succumb to this natural process because they still have a metal wire going around the synthetic core.
While there can’t be one definitive answer here if for whatever reason you decide to take a long break from playing the guitar and you don’t store it properly then depending on the levels of humidity and the temperature in the room the string might not last longer than three months.
If however, you plan on storing your guitar properly you might come back to your guitar in six months or a year and find that the strings are still alive.
How Long Do Guitar Strings Las If Unopened?
Technically guitar strings don’t have a designated shelf life, that’s why you will not see any expiration date written on the package.
There are a few reasons for that. First of all most guitar packages are air-sealed to protect the strings from coming in contact with air. If stored properly sealed strings could potentially last for many years. Lastly, I believe it’s also sort of expected that you won’t leave your strings sitting in a sealed package for decades to come.
While vacuum-sealed strings can last anywhere from 3 to 5 years, if we are talking about strings that are sold in paper sleeves then this will put a shelf life on them, and it will definitely be less than three years.
If for whatever reason your fresh strings come out of their sealed package with signs of rust then it’s likely that the packaging was compromised. In that case, if you contact the brand you are likely to get a refund or a replacement.
it’s also important to mention that just because your strings are stored in a vacuum-sealed package it doesn’t mean things can’t go wrong. Storing said packaging in a proper environment or according to the guidelines of the manufacturer will ensure the strings will stay fresh for many years to come.
Basically, if you wouldn’t leave your guitar in a car, or other similar uncontrolled environments, you shouldn’t leave a sealed string package there either!
Do Guitar Strings Go Bad If Stored In A Package?
There’s also another detail I want to mention here and that’s storing your strings after you open the packaging.
I think this a relatively common thing to do, especially if you need to replace one string and you only have a whole set available to you, or if you buy a box with a few sets that are not individually wrapped.
Once that package is opened it’s important to store your strings in their original packaging unless they were stored in paper sleeves, or you don’t have the original packaging, in which case you should put them in an airtight container or bag.
Your strings won’t go bad if you keep them from being constantly exposed to the air and humidity. Most importantly you should also keep the packaged strings in a controlled environment, whether that’s a room where you have full control over the temperature and humidity or a special guitar string storage box.
Additionally, you can add a silica gel packet to keep the moisture under control as well. I tend to keep my strings in my guitar cases, and in a room that is cool and dry.
What Are The Signs Your Guitar Strings Need Replacing?
Aside from the obvious lifeless sound, the bad tuning stability, and the loss of flexibility that an experienced player will spot easily, there are a few more obvious signs that will tell you that it’s time you changed your strings.
If you look at strings that need replacing you will notice discoloration which is the result of corrosion and rust and the buildup of dirt.
The moment you take a fresh new pack and compare it to your old strings you will actually see a stark difference. Plus when you play on old strings grime will actually start to flake off.
You might observe or feel small kinks and dents along the length of your strings, which appear from the constant friction between the frets and the string itself.
Another thing that can happen over time are the windings becoming loose, making the string very unpredictable.
Finally, a broken string or more is the most obvious sign that your strings should be replaced. While even new strings can break under too much tension during serious bends, or if installed improperly, older strings will simply break when they are too worn out.
A broken string is usually a sign that the strings could’ve been replaced much sooner.
How To Make Your Guitar Strings Last Longer?
While you can’t expect your strings to last forever we’ve talked about all the ways you can actually help your guitar strings last longer and you can read all about it here.
Here is a quick recap of the most important steps that can prolong the life of your strings:
Make sure to keep the strings clean by wiping them after each session and even in between breaks to make sure the strings won’t accumulate any sweat and grime from your hands.
You can condition your strings and fretboard with proper oil suitable for guitars. This way you can help reduce friction and protect the strings from corrosion and grime, thus improving their longevity.
You should also store your guitar in its case to protect the strings and the guitar itself to last longer.
Finally, remember to store your unused strings whether the package is still sealed or not in a controlled environment where no humidity or air can cause the metal to oxidize any further.
Whether you play your guitar daily, once a month or you’re taking a long break, you might be wondering how long they’re going to last- or how long until they start to get funky in a bad way.
Perhaps you found a set still sealed in a package and wondering whether it’s worth stringing your guitar with them. What if the package was already opened, are these strings a lost cause?
While there are many variables to consider when it comes to strings that have been already strung on your guitar, one thing is certain, unopened packaged strings will last you for many years as long as the package is kept in a cool and dry place combined with moderate temperatures and humidity.
It’s also important to remember that strings are meant to be changed, and while it is a hassle, their fresh sound is always worth it!