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If you’ve played the guitar for long enough then you may notice that different guitarists approach this instrument in different ways.
Some of them are searching for “the one” the guitar that will be by their side for many years to come. Others are more like guitar collectors that are trying to explore the capabilities of multiple guitars, but still, they’re not quick to part from their electric, acoustic, or classical guitars.
So, how long do guitars last?
While cheap and poor-made guitars won’t last more than a few years, the average lifespan of a well-made and well-maintained guitar is around 10 years. Expensive models, electric and acoustic, made from quality wood and rigid construction can last over 20 years with the proper maintenance, while classical guitars can last 50 to 100 years.
As we’ll discover later on most guitars won’t last you for a lifetime, but knowing the potential lifespan of your guitar can help you keep an eye out for the early signs of wear. So, let’s see what impacts the lifespan of your guitar and how you can extend it!
Can A Guitar Wear Out?
Even if you take good care of your instruments guitars can wear out, the cause could be accidental damage from a fall or the slow degradation of the fretboard and frets. The neck of the guitar could warp under the tension of strings, and the wood could expand or dry out because of humidity.
Electric guitars could also face the deterioration and failure of their metal parts or the failure of their electronics.
How much your guitar will wear down and last will depend on the quality of the guitar, how often and how aggressively you play it, and how well you keep up with its maintenance.
Most of the wear your guitar will face in its lifetime can be fixed and replaced, for example, if your fretboard is completely worn out you can re-fret it but you won’t be able to do it indefinitely. The metal parts of an electric can also be replaced and most guitars can be refurbished.
How Long Do Acoustic Guitars last?
If you take care of your acoustic guitar properly, you keep it stored away in the right conditions, away from the dangers of humidity and extreme temperatures, then it could last you for many decades to come.
To make sure your acoustic guitar can actually serve you for a long time you need to first know its weaknesses.
Acoustic guitars have a thin metal shaft called a truss rod that runs the length of the guitar’s neck starting from the nut all the way to the heel where the neck meets the bout.
The role of the truss rod is to stabilize the neck against the tension of the strings, which are usually made from metal. The constant tension over the years can wear down the instrument’s neck and change the angle at which it joins the body. That’s why acoustic guitars will need a neck reset.
Since acoustic guitars can be made from different woods the strength of these materials can vary, some are strong and resilient enough to withstand the tension of steel strings and some are not. So, depending on the guitar and its maintenance, resetting the neck should be done once every ten years or once every twenty to thirty years
Because the wood of acoustic guitars is thinner compared to electric ones it’s easily affected by the outside elements. That’s why your acoustic guitar should be kept in a controlled environment where high or low levels of humidity can’t get to it, as well as extreme temperature changes.
Additionally, cheap acoustic guitars or acoustic guitars that are not properly maintained can age to the point where they start losing sonic qualities, to a point that they will be deemed useless.
How Long Do Electric Guitars Last?
If we’re talking about high-quality electric guitars then you can expect them to last longer than acoustic guitars. The average life span of an electric can last from ten to thirty years and there are vintage guitar models that are almost two to three times older than that.
Apart from maintenance and proper storage, there are a few more things that help electric guitars last this long.
Unlike the acoustic guitar electric guitars are usually made from a thicker piece of wood for the body, which means that humidity won’t affect the instrument as much and as fast. However, it can damage the metal parts of the guitar, but we will get back to that later.
Aside from the wood’s thickness electric guitars also have some sort of finish over the wood that adds an additional layer of protection against humidity and temperature changes.
While electric guitars also have a truss rod running through their neck the strings used on an electric are usually much lighter and they don’t apply the same tension on the neck, so there’s less chance of the neck warping.
Going back to the metal parts and electronic components, these can affect the longevity and playability of your electric guitar. Especially with older models that aren’t equipped with a permanent magnetic alloy, you might notice the tone of your guitar losing its fullness as the magnetic field of the guitar’s pickup loses the output and frequency response.
Corrosion and rust can also deteriorate the metal parts of your guitar, which include pickups, tone and volume knobs, tuner keys, tuner pegs, the bridge, fret bars, and the input jack plate.
Thankfully you can replace these metal components and the electronics and prolong the life of your electric guitar.
How Long Do Classical Guitars Last?
While classical guitars share some similarities with acoustic guitars like they both have six strings, a soundhole, frets, and tuning pegs, there’s one major difference between them and that’s the truss rod.
Classical guitars don’t have a truss rod built into their neck and that’s because they are equipped with nylon strings and nylon strings place less tension on the neck compared to steel strings that we often see on electrics and acoustics.
You might be thinking what does this have to do with a guitar’s longevity, however, this seemingly small difference allows the classical guitar to last longer since there’s less risk for the neck to bend backward or forward. That’s why when it comes to long-term storage it’s safer to leave classical guitars without strings.
If you own a high-quality solid wood classical guitar and you properly care for it then it could last you anywhere from thirty years up to a hundred. Of course, that doesn’t mean all classical guitars will last this long. Entry-level classical guitars that are cheap and not well made might not even last you for five years.
How Long Does A Cheap Guitar Last?
Cheap guitars often get a bad rep and I see new guitarists that don’t necessarily have the means, trying to save up to buy an expensive guitar.
While I do think buying a good guitar is a great investment, it’s not necessary, especially if you’re just starting out. Cheap guitars might wear faster, but with proper maintenance, you can actually get them to last for a decade or more.
In fact, I think starting with a cheap guitar or having one to practice things like setting up your guitar and experimenting with the sound can help you gain a lot more knowledge on how guitars work without the fear of damaging the instrument.
In this video, Darrell gives a great insight on how you can make a cheap guitar work for you and learn from it probably more things than you would from a vintage model that you would be afraid to breathe on!
When Should I Replace My Guitar?
Depending on what kind of guitar you own, and I mean brand, model, build and type your guitar could last you for decades to come and it won’t need to be replaced. High-quality classical guitars made from solid wood might even outlive you and still be playable.
There are 80 year old electric vintage guitars that are still in perfect condition and have an incredible tone. However cheap guitars as we’ve already established are not as resilient and they will need to be replaced sooner.
What is more difficult in this situation is actually accepting the fact that your guitar needs to be replaced.
If you’re struggling to explain the attachment you feel to your guitar and the difficulty to let go of an instrument that isn’t serving you properly anymore then I’m here to tell you I get it.
The first guitar that ever I bought with my own money was a used Yamaha Pacifica and it last me for a solid seven years. Don’t get me wrong I still have this guitar stored away, but as the years went by I noticed that it constantly needed repairs and it cost me more money than to actually buy a new guitar that would last me much longer.
As a guitarist, you also need to feel good about the sound you produce and you want your guitar to be an instrument that helps you improve your skills and not get frustrated during practice, or god forbid during a gig.
If you’re trying to make it work with your guitar, but the sound is off, the signs of wear are constantly getting in the way, you experience fret buzz, it doesn’t hold its tune, the strings are hard to press down and the trips to the guitar tech are draining your pocket then it’s probably time to say goodbye to your instrument.
What Impacts The Lifespan Of A Guitar?
Your guitar is not going to survive for too long if it’s not properly maintained, stored, and protected from outside elements like humidity, temperature, and harsh sunlight.
So, let’s take a closer look at how all these factors can decrease or increase your guitar’s life expectancy and playability.
No matter what type of guitar you are using, whether it’s an acoustic, electric, or classical regular maintenance can help it last twice or three times as long, but what does guitar maintenance involve?
Regular string maintenance and change are important because any dirt and grime they accumulate will lead to corrosion and rust. If that happens you’re not just risking breaking the strings, but the dirt and grime will also transfer to the fretboard, affecting the frets and wood.
Changing your strings is also a great opportunity to check on your guitar. You need to remember to keep the fretboard and the rest of the guitar clean and the wood properly oiled.
This is also a great time to check the guitar’s setup and you can make sure that the alignment between the neck and body is correct.
You may need to readjust the truss rod if it doesn’t offer enough counter tension against your strings, or if it does the exact opposite in which case the neck is in danger of warping backward.
Most guitars are made out of the same parts, so you need to familiarize yourself with them and make sure they are clean, that they are working properly and there are no signs of wear. These parts include the tuners, nuts, the bridge, the saddle, and the strings posts.
With electric guitars, you will also have to make sure all the guitar’s components are working properly like the volume and tone controllers, the pickups, and the output jack, or if some of them need changing.
Whether you know how to properly maintain your guitar yourself or not it’s essential that you pay a visit to a professional technician or a luthier at least every six months. That’s if you want to make sure your guitar is going to last you a long time.
I also want to add that you might have a hard time finding a luthier if you have a read vintage guitar because it takes a certain amount of skill and knowledge to repair these instruments that certain technicians might not have.
For those of you who are on top of your guitar’s maintenance you probably know how important it is to also store your guitar in a case whenever it’s not being used.
A hard-shell case that is designed for your guitar is the safest option when it comes to long-term and short-term storage. Unlike soft cases, a hard case can protect your guitar from high-impact accidents, but it will also protect your guitar against humidity and temperature changes.
I think gig bags are great if you have to take your guitar to a session close by or to a recording, but even then I prefer my waterproof hard case because it can protect my guitar from the rain.
If you are planning on storing your guitar for months or years, then make sure to keep a humidifier in the case, and check on the humidity and temperature levels occasionally.
You should also leave your guitar strung during storage and if you’re worried about the impact the string tension may have on the neck you could simply loosen them one or two half steps, as long as you also loosen the truss rod.
When it comes to guitar longevity, humidity is enemy number one, and it can cause irreparable damage in a short space of time.
In high levels of humidity, the wood will start to absorb the vapor from the air and expand, and if the climate you are living in is dry then the wood will dry out which can create, dips, bends, and even cracks in your guitar.
To stay healthy your guitar should be receiving the right amount of moisture According to Fender, “guitars typically like air humidity to fall around the 45-55% range, with an optimal temp of 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit.”
That’s why storing your guitar in a case that can control the humidity levels or with a humidifier and hygrometer is crucial.
Temperature And Sunlight
If humidity is enemy number one then the temperature and sunlight are enemy number two, and they can also cause incredible damage to your guitar if you leave it exposed.
Extreme temperatures like heat or freezing cold can either shrink or expand the wood of your guitar, but they can also mess up with the metal and plastic parts on your guitar like the frets, tuning pegs, and pickups.
Harsh sunlight can also chip away the color of the guitar, and crack the wood, affecting the string’s life expectancy especially if they are nylon, but it could even melt the glue that keeps certain components in place.
Rapid temperature changes can lead to an even more devastating result that’s why make sure your guitar is kept in a hard case when not played, and stored in a room that also has the right humidity and temperature levels.
As I’ve already mentioned, taking your guitars to a guitar technician every six months can help you prolong the life of your instrument because it can help you spot a problem before it becomes permanent, and your guitar unusable.
The professional technician can also have your guitar refurbished which is especially important for electric guitars because their electronic components can stop working.
If you notice that your guitar is getting old, that the sound is no longer the same as it once was or you just bought a vintage guitar, then a luthier can repair any seen or unseen damage, they can replace all the electronics, reset the neck, and even reapply the surface finishes to make the guitar look as good as new.
This might not be the most budget-friendly option, but it can definitely breathe new life into your aging guitars, and help your guitars last for decades to come even generations.
How To Extend The Life Of My Guitar?
Let’s start with the strings, using the right type of strings and the right gauge on a particular guitar is important. For example, you should only use nylon strings on a classical guitar, because most of these guitars don’t have a truss rod and the tension from steel strings can simply bend the neck forward.
Similarly, an electric or acoustic guitar that is more fragile might also have a hard time dealing with heavy gauge steel strings and even if the truss rod is strong enough to provide adequate counter tension the wood and all the other components that make up the guitar might not endure for long.
When you change the strings make sure to check your guitar and every part of it for signs of wear so you can actually change them in time.
Remember to also clean and oil the fretboard at least once or twice a year. Rubbing a little oil into your fretboard will keep the wood from drying out and it will maintain its fresh and new look for longer as your guitar ages.
You should also keep your guitar in its case when not in use to protect it from humidity, temperature changes, and dust. Keeping your guitar from getting wet is another thing to remember and after you clean the wood make sure to dry your instrument thoroughly.
Finally, try using soft microfiber cloths whenever you want to wipe or dry your guitar since they don’t leave behind any particles, and they are better at absorbing water, plus they’re super soft so they won’t end up damaging your guitar’s finish.
Do Guitars Sound Better As They Age?
Let’s presume that you have a good quality guitar made from solid wood that you play regularly, as well as store and maintain properly. In that case, the sound of your guitar wouldn’t necessarily improve but it might change.
Plenty of guitarists believe that solid wood acoustic and classical guitars will “open up” as they age, and they will sound differently. This change in sound will depend on the individual instrument, its size, the construction, as well as the wood that was used to make it.
Even though some believe that the vibrations that travel through the wood are responsible for this change, it’s more likely that it has to do with the wood drying out which can affect the tone of your instrument.
While your guitar might start naturally and gradually lose its weight and strength the wood will not lose its stiffness and it might become harder. For some guitars, this might mean that they will sound better or simply different.
Electric guitars won’t necessarily sound better as they age because the wear of the electronic components can really affect the tone and playability of these guitars.
It’s also important to note that while some acoustic or classical guitars may “open up” with time and improve acoustically, they will also wear, the wood might become brittle and that can deteriorate its performance.
So, Can Guitars Last A Lifetime?
There’s no definitive answer on whether guitars can last a lifetime or not simply because there are so many factors at play.
I would say that even with proper care if you only have one guitar that you constantly play the chances are that it will end up wearing down after a decade. Only by refurbishing it and basically constantly restoring it will you be able to prolong a guitar’s life for much longer.
If you have several guitars then you could prolong their life for longer than a decade, if of course they are stored properly and maintained and you also remember to switch between them regularly.
Solid wood classical guitars are more likely to outlive you, while you might have to fight to keep your acoustic alive for just as long. The problem with electric guitars made from solid wood is that even though they could hypothetically last for a lifetime, the pickups and frets will need to be replaced eventually.
I also want to add that vintage guitars whether electric or acoustic are usually not played as regularly, especially if the collector wants to keep them alive for more decades to come, and they spend a lot of their time and money to maintain these legendary stringed instruments alive.
The relationship I have with each of my guitars is very personal, I see them as my musical companions that help me transform my sound into music that can touch other people.
I do have a few favorites and I do hope that they will stay by my side for as long as possible. I know that the only way to achieve this is by keeping my guitars well-maintained, stored in a hard case, and in a safe and controlled environment. I also make sure to take my guitars to the luthier regularly.
But despite all my care, I know that some guitars have their own lifespan, it could be 5, 10, or 50 years, and all I can do is prolong it as much as I can.
So, if you don’t think I’m a freak and you want to follow me down this path then perhaps your guitars, whether it’s electric, acoustic, or classical will also last a long time!