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It can be frustrating, especially for beginners, to always feel like they’re changing guitar strings — after all, that’s time not spent doing what they love: playing the guitar.
One things guitarist both new and experienced wonder is how to make guitar strings last longer.
The best way to make guitar strings last longer is to keep them clean and avoid extreme, sudden changes in temperature and humidity. You should change strings when you notice a change in the way they sound, when they start to have trouble holding a tune or when you feel corrosion on their surface.
While you can definitely do several things to prolong the life of your guitar strings, there’s only so much you can do. Let’s look at why strings might need to be changed and ways to keep things lasting as long as possible.
Why Do Guitar Strings Wear Out?
Guitar strings wear out for a variety of reasons, but the two major ones are loss of tension and corrosion. You can do some things to avoid both of those.
Every string, no matter what it’s made of, will eventually start to weaken and not be able to hold its tension. You’ll notice that happening when your guitar seems to go out of tune while you’re playing it and without an obvious reason.
A weakened string might also break at the bridge, the nut, or the tuning mechanism.
Many guitar strings are metal, and corrosion takes its toll on them. Everything from the air to the oil in your skin can have an effect on that.
7 Tips On How To Make Guitar Strings Last Longer
You can break down ways to prolong the life of your guitar strings into two broad categories: keeping them clean and controlling tension.
Here are some things to try to make your guitar strings last longer.
- Wash your hands before playing. The oil and dirt on your fingers is transferred from your skin to the strings when you play guitar. Some of that is unavoidable — the sweat from your hands is destructive to guitar strings — but to keep it to a minimum, wash and dry your hands thoroughly before playing.
- Wipe down your guitar after playing. Another way to keep corrosion at bay is to wipe down your strings and fret board after playing guitar. This makes sure you don’t leave any stray oil or dirt on the strings when you put the guitar away.
- Consider coated strings. New chemical formulas are giving manufacturers new abilities to produce strings that look like plain steel but are far more corrosion resistant. The coatings allow the strings to shed dirt, oil, and other things that cause corrosion.
- Always use a case for your guitar. This one might qualify as both avoiding corrosion and controlling tension. Keeping your guitar in a case keeps the strings from being exposed to the open air and any environmental contaminants. It also helps insulate it from changes to humidity and temperature, which can help weaken strings.
- Get a proper set-up. It might not seem like it, but making sure your guitar is in top playing shape will almost certainly get more use out of your strings. That’s because a good set-up helps ensure strings break at the correct angles and are under the correct tension.
- Stretch your strings to start. Here’s a simple trick to get the most out of your next set of strings. With clean hands, install new strings and bring your guitar up to tune. Lay the guitar on its back and gently use both hands to stretch each string into a broad “S” shape. After you finish this for all six strings, bring the guitar back up to tune. This helps stabilize the tension in the strings and makes them both last longer and stay in tune better.
- Store your guitar properly. Make sure to avoid big changes in temperature for not only your strings but your entire guitar. That means it’s never a good idea to leave your guitar in the car or other areas without any temperature control.
This video takes a look at how guitar strings stretch which can help you understand why some these factors are so important:
How To Make Acoustic Guitar Strings Last Longer
If you start to notice your acoustic guitar strings aren’t lasting as long as you want, one of the first things to try is to check the humidity where the guitar is being stored. Try a humidity-controlling packet in the guitar case to see if that helps.
Another thing to check is the neck angle. If your acoustic guitar is older and maybe has led a hard life, the neck might be shifted.
Use a straight edge to check the neck relief and sight down the neck to make sure the top of the frets and the top of the bridge are in line with each other.
How To Make Electric Guitar Strings Last Longer
If you think your electric guitar is going through strings faster than it ought to, think about what’s giving you that idea.
If your strings aren’t holding tune like they should, take a careful look at the tuning mechanisms. Make sure they’re working properly and not allowing the strings to loosen and lose tune.
If you’re breaking strings, then your biggest clue will be where the breaks are happening. If they’re at the bridge, go over it carefully.
Sharp edges or an improperly installed part could be causing extra friction on the strings, which would make them break. A poorly adjusted vibrato system can also cause problems with breaking strings.
If the break is higher, look at problems with the neck, the nut and the tuners and eliminate any burrs or other sharp areas, which could be causing the string breakage.
How To Make Classical Guitar Strings Last Longer
Classical guitar strings today are almost all made of nylon and other synthetic materials, which makes them essentially corrosion proof.
That’s compared to old “gut” strings that were literally made from the intestines of animals. They had a much shorter life.
Nylon classical guitar strings can still lose tension over time, however. Making sure you don’t store the guitar fully tuned for longer than a few weeks will help prolong the life of the strings.
You can also choose lower tension strings, like the kind Willie Nelson uses on his famous guitar, Trigger.
To keep nylon strings from breaking, make sure they’re properly attached to the bridge and that the bridge doesn’t have too sharp of an edge.
Does Boiling Your Guitar Strings Make Them Last Longer?
This is something just about everyone who learns guitar hears about at least once: if your strings are starting to sound dull you can bring them back to new by boiling them.
So does boiling your guitar strings make them last longer?
No, boiling your strings doesn’t make them last longer, though it probably will make them cleaner, and, in fact, it almost certainly will shorten their life instead.
As we looked at above, the two things that cause a guitar string to wear out are tension and corrosion. While submerging strings in boiling water for five minutes will remove the oil, dirt and other chemical compounds that can cause corrosion, it won’t remove any damage already done by corrosion and it won’t do anything at all to help with tension.
If someone tells you that boiling the strings anneals them, making them softer and more resilient, they don’t know what they’re talking about.
While annealing helps in some cases where metal has gotten brittle from use, that isn’t what’s happening with strings. And even if it were, annealing steel takes temperatures of between 850 and 900 Celsius, which is way hotter than you can get on your stove.
Whether any of that makes your strings sound brighter is a matter for your ear, but it seems like a lot of work compared to changing guitar strings, which are rarely very expensive. And there’s a similar problem to the one we started off with: you can’t play guitar while your strings are boiling in a pot of water.
How Long Should Guitar Strings Last?
How long guitar strings last is hard to answer because it depends on a lot of factors.
How often you play the guitar, where you’re playing it, where you’re storing it, your playing style and the kind of strings you’re using all have a big impact on how long your strings will last. And there’s the other thing to think about: sound is subjective.
We’ve already covered some thoughts about how often to change your guitar strings, but here’s a brief rundown.
Some people think their guitars start to sound dull after just a few hours of play on a set of strings — maybe two or three performances for a working musician. Others can’t tell the difference after weeks or even months worth of regular use.
Neither of them is right or wrong, because how long guitar strings last has a lot to do with personal preference.
But there are some signs that just about everyone should see as meaning “It’s time to put on new strings.”
- When you can actually feel changes in the surface of your strings, especially pits and chips that don’t go away when wiping down the strings, you should change them.
- If you notice your strings are not holding tune, you should change them out.
- If one string breaks, especially if you aren’t in the middle of a performance, it’s probably worth changing all the strings.
Strings are not a major expense for most guitarists, but it’s still worth making sure your guitar strings last as long as they can. Not only are you getting your money’s worth, you’re getting to play more and it’s never fun to have a string go dead or break.
If you take a few basic steps you can keep them looking — and sounding — as good as new for as long possible.
I’ve been a musician, particularly a guitarist, for more than 25 years. I love writing about guitars, gear, recording, music in general and more.