To get right to the point, there is no written rule about when you need to restring your guitar. Some musicians love the broken-in-sound of their old strings, while others like keeping it fresh. So, there is a thin line between changing your strings as a matter of personal preference or a matter of necessity.
Changing your strings depends on a number of factors. This can refer to your preference of sound quality or the number of hours you spend with your guitar. With time, you will be able to know when to restring before a string breaks, which is the most important reason for changing them.
Here are 10 questions to ask yourself when determining when you need to restring your guitar:
1. What Kind of Strings Do I Have?
The kind of strings your guitar currently has will influence when you will restring. Choosing strings aren’t as easy as buying milk from the grocer. There is a wide variety of strings available and getting the wrong ones will only be a waste of time and money.
Bright bronze strings lose their sound qualities only after a few hours of playing, whereas silk and steel strings can be played for a 100 hours or more before the sound qualities are lost.
One of the newest innovations in strings is the coated guitar strings. These strings usually have been treated with Teflon, which is a polymer coating that helps prevent sweat, grime, and oxygen from damaging it. In other words, it helps the strings sound brighter for longer.
Along with knowing what kind of strings you have, your decision also relies heavily on when you start to feel that the sound of your guitar isn’t what it used to be.
2. How Long Do the Strings Last?
The longevity of your strings not only depends on the type you use, but also on the time you spend on your guitar. A beginner might not care about the sound difference and will only change it once a year. A professional will easily change his strings once or twice a month.
As a general guideline, it’s best to change uncoated strings every two to four months before it really loses its tone. If you have coated strings, you can change it between four to six months, as it keeps its tonal qualities for longer.
Always keep in mind the hours you put into your practice sessions. The more you play, the more you will need to change your strings.
3. Is the Fretboard Clean Or Dirty?
Every time you play, dead skin cells and oils build up on your fretboard. Over time, this build up will lead to a gray clay-like substance.And checking whether your fretboard is clean from this substance will also give you an indication if it’s time to change your strings.
When you decide to change your strings, remember to clean the fretboard with lemon oil or any other fretboard cleaning solution. This will then help you to see when you need to restring the next time.
4. Any Gunk Under the Strings?
Another method to know if you need to change your strings is by checking the accumulation of rust and dead skin cells under the strings.
To do this, take your finger and place it between the fretboard and string. Gently run your finger up and down the fretboard and pay attention to the coarseness of the strings.The coarser the surface of the string, the more rust and gunk there is.
5. Do the Strings Look Splotchy Or Discolored?
With age, the strings will become discolored and look splotchy, so look for any change in color of your strings. This gives you a good indication of the string’s condition.
One easy way to check is by looking for the string’s original color at places where you don’t touch the strings often, like where the strings wrap around the tuning posts. When you see a clear difference between the string’s original color and its current color, it may be time to change it.
It’s also important to remember that there is a wide variety of strings and each one ages differently. Here's a quick guide to string colors:
Depending on the metals used, acoustic strings are usually a bright bronze or gold color. If the strings lose their shine and appear closer to a darker shade of brown, it’s time to change.
Electric strings look silver and shiny. On some occasions, they also have a slight blue and purple tint to them like cobalt. When the strings look more like gray and lost its shine, you need to restring.
6. Is the Guitar Holding Tune?
You can’t always blame your tuning issues on the strings, but it can also do the trick if you restring. If you have tested all the other possibilities and your guitar is still struggling to keep tune, it’s worth a try.
At the end of the day, if that wasn’t the reason for the tuning issues, you will at least get a new and bright sounding guitar.
7. Were the Strings Wound Properly Around the Post?
When a guitar isn’t strung properly, it won’t stay in tune. Make sure you have enough wraps around the tuning post to prevent it from slipping and coming loose. If you notice your strings weren't wound properly, it’s best to redo it.
As a general rule, you have to wind the string two to three times around the tuning post on the bass side and three to four times on the treble side.
8. When Am I Performing Again?
Keep your next performance in mind when deciding when you need to change your strings. So when you do want to change the strings, do it at least 12 days before you perform. If you can do it earlier, even better. This is because the top strings take longer to settle.
To guarantee your strings have settled before your performance, keep your strings at the right tension. In other words, try tuning your guitar three times a day. The more you keep the tension where it’s supposed to be, the quicker the strings settle.
As you’ve probably noticed by now, there is no clear cut answer to when you need to change your strings. The amount of hours you play and the sound you prefer play a huge role in your decision making. By paying attention to these different factors, you will soon learn when it’s time for you to restring.
About the Author: Joseph Evans
My name is Joseph Evans and I am a guitar playing, freelance writing, online teaching music lover based in Seattle, WA. Growing up in a musical family naturally lead to obtaining my Bachelor of Music (BM) in Composition & Music Theory degree, after which I taught and traveled my way across Europe for 7 years before returning back home to settle in beautiful Seattle. On a typical day, you would find me playing my guitar, pottering around in the vegetable garden, going on long hikes, reading and/or writing.