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This might sound harsh but I truly believe that knowing how to play the guitar is not enough to call yourself a guitarist, you also need to know how to maintain your guitar and strings.
You can’t just leave your guitar exposed when you’re not playing it, and if you’re taking a break from your guitar then you have to properly store it to help your instrument last longer.
But do you just put your guitar in its case and end of story, or should you loosen guitar strings when not playing?
Loosening guitar strings when not playing isn’t necessary. Most guitars have a truss rod in their neck that is built to handle the tension of the strings, so by loosening them you can cause the neck to bent backward. If you want to loosen the strings you will also have to slacken the truss rod.
The internet is full of opinions on this matter, so if you’re confused about whether loosening your guitar strings is a good idea, and you want to learn how to properly store your instrument then keep on reading!
Should You Loosen Guitar Strings When Not Playing?
Most guitarists I know including myself don’t loosen the strings on their guitars when not playing, instead, they always keep them in tune.
But if you’re a new player then you might be wondering if the same rules apply to short-term and long-term storage, and that’s what we’re here to uncover, so you can see what works for you best.
For those of you who are playing your guitar regularly loosening the strings isn’t necessary, even if it’s as rare as once a week, or a couple of sessions a month. After all, guitars are resilient instruments and they are designed to handle the tension created by the strings at all times.
In fact, most guitars, electric and acoustic have a truss rod built into their necks that offer counter tension against the tension of the strings. So, by keeping the strings tight you are making sure that the neck of your guitar remains straight and properly aligned.
In fact, by constantly tightening and loosening the strings you might cause more damage, like wearing out the strings themselves or your guitar and the parts of your guitar that come in contact with the strings.
Instead of loosening the strings on your guitar, you should make sure that it’s properly stored in a hard case that can protect the instrument and the strings from humidity and temperature changes that can cause the wood to expand, dry out and crack and the metal of the strings to corrode, rust and eventually break.
When it comes to long-term storage, longer than 6 months at least, loosening your guitar strings isn’t a prerequisite, especially if the truss rod is adjusted properly to counter the tension of your strings.
If however, you’re afraid that your heavy strings are too much for your guitar to handle, or your guitar is simply too fragile then you could loosen the strings one or two half steps. In this case, you should also adjust the truss rod otherwise the neck will start to bend backward instead of forward and what you want is for the neck to stay perfectly aligned.
What’s even more important is how you store your guitar, especially if you’re not going to be playing on it for the next few months or years.
So, make sure your guitar is protected from humidity and extreme changes in temperature by keeping it stored in a hard case with a humidifier as well as in a room where the elements won’t be running wild.
I would also advise you to check on your guitar from time to time to make sure that the neck is not warped, that the wood hasn’t changed in any way and there are no cracks on its surface or other signs of damage.
Should You Loosen Guitar Strings For Storage?
Depending on the type of guitar you are planning on storing away, acoustic, electric, or classical, loosening the strings might be worthwhile.
So, let’s see which guitars should be stored with loose strings!
When it comes to their construction acoustic guitars have a truss rod and this thin metal rod that runs the length of their neck from the nut to the heel balances out the tension created by the strings.
Since acoustic guitars are usually strung with heavy steel strings that tension is much greater, and while loosening the strings is still not necessary, it makes sense for some of you to think that by loosening your strings you’ll prevent the neck from warping forward.
This can be true if you’re planning on storing your acoustic guitar for a few months, and in this case, you could loosen the strings one or two half steps. Otherwise, the tension from steel strings could potentially cause the acoustic bridge to lift, or the neck to reset.
However, I do want to point out that if you are planning on storing your acoustic guitar away and you want to loosen the strings you will most likely have to loosen the truss rod to prevent the neck from bending backward when the tension from the strings is lost.
This is definitely a process not worth going through if you’ve never adjusted the truss rod before, or if you’re planning on storing your guitar for a short time.
To go through all of that you will also have to take the quality of your acoustic guitar and the type of wood used into consideration. In my opinion, the way you store your acoustic is far more important since humidity and fluctuations in temperature can cause more harm than loose or tight strings.
You don’t have to loosen the strings on your electric guitar, because just like the acoustic, electric guitars also have a truss rod that is designed to provide enough counter tension against the strings.
A solid-bodied electric guitar that is manufactured from high-quality materials is also strong enough to deal with steel strings, and even though electric guitars are equipped with steel strings they are usually lighter and don’t apply as much pressure.
Instead of loosening the strings, you should make sure your electric guitar, whether it’s a Fender Stratocaster or a Les Paul, is stored properly and the right levels of humidity and temperature are maintained.
While there’s no real need to loosen the strings of acoustic and electric guitars, classical and flamenco guitars can benefit from having their strings loosened when not in use.
That’s because most classical guitars don’t have a truss rod built into their neck, which is also the reason why classical guitars are strung with nylon strings that are much more flexible and they don’t offer the same tension as steel strings would.
So, if you’re planning on storing your classical guitar away for a long time without playing it then it’s recommended that the nylon strings be slackened slightly, otherwise, the neck could bow forward and remain like this permanently.
Loosening the strings is not necessary however if you are planning on storing your classical or flamenco guitar short-term.
When Should You Loosen Guitar Strings?
Even though you don’t actually have to loosen the strings on your guitar when it’s not in use, this method might actually benefit certain guitars. As we’ve already seen classical and flamenco guitars in particular can benefit from having their strings lightly slackened for long-term storage.
Certain guitar brands might actually have their own manuals with advice on long-term storage, so pay attention if they actually advise you to loosen the strings before storing your guitar away.
I also want to mention that cheaper brands or guitars that are not made up of solid wood, can have a harder time counteracting the tension of the steel strings, so loosening the strings might actually save the guitar’s neck from warping.
If you’re used to playing on really heavy strings then you know how much tension they can put on your guitar just by how much more difficult they are to press down and manipulate. So, in this case, it could be advisable to slightly loosen those strings especially if are equipped on a more fragile guitar.
When it comes to guitar and string maintenance I believe that if you play on different guitars long enough you begin to develop an intuition of your own and you see what works best for you and your stringed instruments. So, remember to also listen to your intuition!
Can You Store Your Guitar Without Strings?
Guitars are designed to handle the tension of strings at all times, and while you can leave your guitar without strings for a short time, like a few days or weeks, the sudden lack of tension for a prolonged period of time can cause the neck of your guitar to warp.
That’s why it’s best to store your electric and acoustic guitars strung at all times even if you choose to keep the strings loosened. What is even more important is to keep your guitar properly stored, no matter if we’re talking about short-term or long-term storage.
Long-Term Guitar Storage Tips
No matter how tight or lose you’re going to keep the strings on your guitar if you want to make sure that your guitar will withstand the test of time you need to give your guitar the best storage conditions, especially when it’s not being used.
So, let’s take a look at some of my tips!
Use A Hard-Shell Guitar Case
The safest way to store your guitar is to use a hard-shell case that is specifically designed for your guitar. Not only will a hard case provide protection from high-impact accidents, but it will also protect your guitar against humidity and temperature changes.
Since hard-shell cases can be a bit more difficult to maneuver you can still use gig bags to bring your guitar with you on a short trip to a music session in your local pub or even for a studio recording.
However soft bags are useless against humidity and extreme temperature fluctuations and they won’t do anything for you if you and your guitar get caught in the rain.
So, if we’re talking about long-term storage, ergonomic support, and not getting caught in the rain then a hard-shell case that is waterproof is the way to go!
Humidity And Temperature
Storing your guitar is important because your guitar’s biggest enemy is the environment around it. High or low levels of humidity can both cause damage and deteriorate the wood, and the same can be said about extreme cold and heat.
According to one of my top favorite guitar brands, Fender, “guitars typically like air humidity to fall around the 45-55% range, with an optimal temp of 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit.”
If your guitar is exposed to high levels of humidity the wood will absorb the vapor in the air and expand, your guitar might even grow mold! If the levels of humidity are too low then the wood will dry out instead. Sudden humidity fluctuations will also deteriorate the wood and cause it to crack and warp faster.
By keeping your guitar in a hard-shell case you can protect your instrument from the cold and heat that can damage the wood, as well as the humidity. However, if you live in areas with extreme temperatures and humidity then the case won’t be able to do much.
That’s why consider buying a case that offers humidity control by measuring the humidity levels in the room and regulating the humidity inside according to what your guitar needs.
Since these cases can be quite expensive you can simply get a humidifier and a hygrometer to monitor and keep under control the levels of humidity inside the case.
That being said, I do want to mention that you should also keep your guitar stored away from heated rooms, your garage, or the attic, and instead choose rooms where the levels of humidity and the temperature are more regulated and meet the needs of your guitar.
Loosen The Strings One Or Two Half Steps
Most guitars can be stored with their strings properly tuned and tightened, after all the lack of tension can lead to neck bowing problems. However, there are plenty of guitarists that believe that you should loosen the strings when you’re not playing your guitar for a prolonged time.
If you are playing the classical or flamenco guitar then your guitar will actually benefit from havings its strings loosened.
My problem with this stance is that electric and acoustic guitars have a truss rod, and by loosening the strings you are giving more power to the truss rod to bend the neck backward.
If leaving the strings at their standard tuning feels risky for your or your guitar then you can stay on the safer side by loosening your strings one or two half steps. I only do that to some of my guitars and only when I know I’ll be storing them for a long time.
Detach The Neck If Possible
Some guitars are actually designed with detachable necks and they are meant to be stored with their necks detached and their strings loosened.
These collapsible guitars are usually made from either wood or carbon fiber and they are great for traveling because they are lightweight. Carbon fiber guitars are also less vulnerable to humidity and temperature changes and they can get wet.
They are also pretty cool as you can see in this video!
So, if you have a guitar with a collapsible neck and you are planning on storing it then you already know that these guitars can’t handle strings with high tension, so instead of loosening the strings, you should simply detach the neck.
I think what we can take away from this article is that you don’t have to loosen the strings on your guitar when you’re not playing it, in fact, slackening the strings can do more harm than good.
Your guitar was meant to be strung and it’s designed to counter the tension of the strings at all times, whether it’s in your hands or in its case.
I do however understand your concerns if your guitar is very fragile, or made from cheap materials, in that case, you could loosen the strings by one or two half steps for long-term storage, but you might need to loosen the truss rod as well.
If you are truly in doubt then my advice for you is to talk with a guitar technician and see what personalized advice they can give you for your specific guitar model, brand, and build.