Know it or not, if you’ve got a guitar, and you play it often, you should be changing your strings periodically.
Given time, your guitar strings will lose their liveliness and tone, begin to fall out of tune, cause intonation issues, and even break.
Yes, guitar strings do break. And when they do, it doesn’t mean your guitar’s broken. It’s perfectly normal to break a string. Which is why it’s a good idea to learn how to replace your strings.
In this guide, we’ll look at how often you should change your guitar strings and answer a few other related questions.
So, How Often Should I Change My Guitar Strings? Short Answer
If you’re a beginner guitarist without a regular practice routine or any other commitments, then changing your strings once every three to six months should be fine.
If you’re an intermediate guitarist with a routine and some minor commitments, then it’s worth looking at changing your strings once every four to eight weeks.
Advanced guitarists with more commitments should consider changing their strings every two to four weeks.
And pro guitarists – who probably don’t need much guidance – should change their strings at least once per week. Many pros will swap out their strings before every gig, which is a more intensive schedule, but can certainly put the mind at ease because newer strings means fewer issues on stage.
So, How Often Should I Change My Guitar Strings? Long Answer
There are a few factors to consider here, with the main one being how often you play your guitar.
The more you play, the faster you’re going to wear out your guitar strings. Which means you’ll probably want to replace them more often too.
And when you think about it, strings are subjected to a lot of abuse. It’s not enough that they’re under significant tension when tuned up. They’re also subjected to various techniques, like string bending, that put more pressure on them.
Some strings are made to last longer than others (this is proven out by my experience), but if you’re playing a lot, you’ll likely want to change your strings more often too.
So, whether you’re practicing, jamming, recording, performing, or otherwise, if you’re spending several hours per day on your instrument, it would be advisable to change your strings once every two to four weeks.
If you’re a beginner, and you don’t play much at all, then maybe once every three months is fine. In some cases, you might be able to get away with six or even 12 months. But it’s fair to say those strings aren’t going to last long if you end up picking up momentum with your practice routine after the fact.
Next, if you’re a professional gigging musician, or you gig several times per week, you’ll probably want to look at changing your strings more frequently.
Guitarists in this position will change their strings once per week, and in some cases, before every gig.
After all, you don’t want to break a string on stage. Even if you have a backup guitar, it’s not a lot of fun breaking a string mid-song, even though you can power through.
Some gigging or pro guitarists prefer the sound of newer strings to older strings, too.
Another factor is tone. If you play your guitar often, or if your strings are subjected to the elements (grime, dirt, oil, etc.) a lot, they are going to lose their liveliness faster.
You would assume that most guitarists would replace their strings once they’ve lost their twang, but the late, great Eddie Van Halen was said to have kept old strings on his guitar, because he liked their “warmer” tone.
On stage, he would often break strings during performances, because he was in the habit of using old strings. It didn’t matter to him – he liked the sound of them.
And I’ll be honest – I basically never replace my strings until they break, unless I have an important gig coming up. And if I have a string of important appearances, then of course, I will change strings more often.
The key point is that wear and tear is normal. But depending on where you live, things like weather, humidity, sand or dirt, and other factors can affect your strings.
There’s no definite answer here. But you should keep an eye on your strings, and if they seem to be showing signs of wear and tear (corrosion, loss of tone, breakage, tuning issues, etc.) then it might be worth considering swapping out your strings every two to four weeks. Every two months might be sufficient.
Finally, there’s the issue of tuning. As strings age, their tuning and even intonation stability can be affected.
Some guitarists can work with this and even compensate for the small difference.
And if you’re just practicing, it might not bug you much.
But if you’re planning to perform or record, you probably shouldn’t keep an old set of strings on your guitar.
If you want to wait until your strings lose their stability to replace them, you can certainly do that. But if you want to avoid it, you should look at swapping out your strings every two to four months.
So, in summary, there isn’t a catch-all answer. How often you change your strings will have a lot to do with how much you play, as well as how you prefer your guitars to sound and function. The gauge of the strings, coating or no coating, as well as brand and model can all have an impact on the longevity of your strings as well.
How To Make Your Strings Last Longer
So, I get that you might not want to change your guitar strings all the time. And that leads you down this line of thinking: “What if I could make my strings last longer?”
And the reality is… There’s not a whole lot you can do. There are a few habits that can make a bit of a difference, though, so we’ll cover them here.
Firstly, you can wash your hands before each use. Your hands tend to collect dirt, grime, and oils throughout the day, and these can severely affect the lifespan of your strings. So, wash your hands before playing guitar.
Secondly, you can wipe down your strings after each use. It might seem tedious, but if you want to make your strings last longer, this is what you would need to do. As noted, it’s not going to make a huge difference either way, but it can help.
You can also use a string cleaner, which will boost the effectiveness of wiping down your strings.
Thirdly, you can store your guitar in a case. Again, having to take your guitar in and out of a case is tedium, but it does help with prolonging the lifespan of your strings.
Finally, some players insist boiling their strings (in water, for about 15 minutes) helps give them new life. But this seems like a waste of time and energy to me, since you’d have to take your strings off, boil them, and put them back on your guitar again.
Even when I was practicing three hours per day and teaching guitar for several more hours at night, I didn’t break enough strings to justify boiling them.
I think some players underestimate string choice, and stick to whatever is recommended or what their heroes use. I experimented with a variety of strings, and I’ve always gone back to those that have a longer life than those that do not (namely, Fender Super Bullets). It does make a difference.
While we’re on the topic, you can use coated strings (like Elixirs) on your guitar too. These can cost quite a bit more, but to be honest, I don’t think they’re miles ahead of regular strings in terms of longevity. It’s always worth experimenting with though.
How Do You Know When It’s Time To Change Your Strings?
Guitarists eventually learn to develop a good intuitive sense of just about everything – when to solo, what riff to play on a specific song, what their band mates are thinking, and so on.
In the same way, you can develop an intuitive sense of when it’s time to change your strings.
That said, it depends on a lot of the factors we already talked about.
Do play you guitar for several hours per day? Or do you just play 15 minutes here and there?
Are you a gigging pro? Or do you just jam with your friends?
Does the liveliness and tone of the strings matter to you, or do you not mind playing with dead sounding strings?
Would you prefer your guitar was more reliably in tune, or are you okay dealing with some tuning issues?
There is no right or wrong. Only what works for you based on your habits.
That said, you can certainly pay attention to these signs:
- Are your strings starting to lose their luster? Are they corroding? It might be a good time to replace them.
- Are your strings beginning to lose their liveliness and tone? Some guitarists like the “warm” sound of broken in strings, but otherwise, it’s a good time to replace them.
- Having a tough time keeping your strings in tune? Putting new strings on your guitar might solve the issue.
- Did you break a string? Might be time to replace the whole set.
Can I Replace One String At A Time?
So, you’ve broken one string. Can you get away with just replacing the one string and leaving the rest as is?
The short answer is “yes.” And this can work if you’re just practicing or jamming.
The longer answer is this. Because one string broke, it’s quite likely the others are on their way out as well. It doesn’t mean they don’t have some life left in them, or that they’ll necessarily break tomorrow. But when one string breaks, it is an indication that the whole set is starting to break down.
After all, all the strings on your guitar have been subjected to some abuse. They’ve been under tension for a while, and unless you’re in the habit of playing just one string, chances are you’ve played the other strings about the same amount.
Replacing one string at a time is not a bad strategy if the guitar is only being used for practice. But you should always prepare well before a performance or a recording session, and that will likely mean replacing the entire set.
Is Changing Strings A Matter Of Preference?
In many ways, yes. Everybody has their own preferences.
As I shared earlier, unless I have an important engagement coming up, I tend to play my strings until they break or until they’re completely dead. Then I will put a new set on.
But I am always prepared for gigs and recording sessions. You don’t want there to be any friction with professional engagements, as that could impact your career.
Another example I pointed to earlier is Eddie Van Halen. Although I would venture to guess he’s a bit of an outlier, for whatever reason, he preferred the sound of old strings to new ones.
I’m certain there are other guitarists who can’t stand the idea of having anything older than two weeks on their guitar, as they prefer the sound of a fresh pack of strings.
When you’re first getting started, it’s a good idea to get into the habit of swapping out your strings regularly. It’s good practice, and it ensures you’re ready to play wherever, whenever.
But once you’ve gotten used to playing the guitar and changing strings, the rest is up to you. You can change them when it suits you. You’re welcome to adopt whatever habits work best for you.
How Often Should I Change Guitar Strings? Final Thoughts
In closing, just remember to keep plenty of replacement strings on hand. You never know when you might need them, and if you’re one to play a lot of guitar, chances are you will need them sooner or later.
At performances and recording sessions, always come prepared with extra strings. You just don’t know what could happen, and you don’t want a professional engagement to be ruined by the lack of strings.
The more you play, the better you will get at assessing how often you need to change your strings. So, don’t worry too much about it, and just enjoy the journey.
And above all, focus on playing guitar, not on how often you need to change strings.