The frequency with which you change your guitar strings can differ based on several reasons that we will explore in this article. Strings are vulnerable to becoming worn from things like the environment and oils from your skin, so it’s essential to know how often they need changing out for a fresh set.
Knowing how often you should change your electric guitar strings will vary for every individual for several reasons. We all sweat (some more than others), play and practice for different amounts of time each day, and also keep or store our instruments in different places and countries with higher humidity levels – along with other things like general maintenance and cleaning practices.
- Electric Guitar String Types.
- Signs That Your Electric Guitar Strings Need Changing.
- How To Make Your Strings Last Longer.
- Ghs Fast Fret String Cleaner
- When Should I Change My Electric Guitar Strings?
- Guitar Strings That I Have Tried & Recommend
- D’Addario Nickel Plated Steel
- Elixer Nickel Plated Steel With Nanoweb Coating
- Final Thoughts
Electric Guitar String Types.
Technology has moved a long way when it comes to guitar strings. The strings of old had a steel core with silver plating. As time moved on, string companies started to use different types of alloys and wound different metals around the core of the heavier low-end strings and added plating to the high, thinner strings. Electric guitars have a few different types of strings to choose from
Steel and Nickel Strings
Most electric guitar strings are made with a steel core with a nickel coating that has either been wound on or plated. You can also buy just nickel and steel strings that are made from one material. These materials can play a big role in the sound and longevity of the strings.
Steel strings have very jangly, sharp sounds, which is great for cutting through and standing out, whereas nickel strings have a more mellow, warm, and full-bodied sound which lends them to be better for rhythm work and warm blues solos.
Nowadays, strings come with a protective coating that can really boost the longevity of each set. I have personally tested a fair few sets of coated strings over the years and can say, hands down, that they do make a huge difference in the lifespan.
The coating technology on these types of strings works by using a plastic polymer-type film. The strings are coated in a very thin layer of plastic that will stop the oils and sweat from your hands from getting into the metal and setting off the corroding process.
Coated strings are a little more expensive overall than non-coated. The reason for this is simple. They last a lot longer than a standard set, and they don’t compromise on sound. Some people will argue with this and say that they can dampen the strings and make them a little more mellow, especially the high strings. They can also add more of a slippery feel at first, but nothing out of the ordinary if you already use something like fast fret, which we will discuss further a little later in the article.
Signs That Your Electric Guitar Strings Need Changing.
Always be on the lookout for corrosion which is something that naturally occurs from the oils, moisture in the air, and salt from sweat. You will often see that there may be some little black rough marks starting to develop on the strings over time. The other places that you will see some rust and general grime are behind the strings; this looks like a black dusty, sometimes sludgy substance.
When guitar strings are coming to the end of their life, you will start to hear a noticeable difference in the sound quality and resonance. The strings become dull sounding and a little flat and tired compared to a fresh set that has a bright and lively sound.
The Feel Of The Strings
When guitar strings are on their way out and due for a change, you start to get an unpleasant feeling when playing. The guitar strings become grimy and gritty and not smooth or silky like a new set. This is because the strings have accumulated a build-up of oil, sweat, and dead skin cells that take the natural smooth finish away.
Harder To Tune
Guitar strings will constantly be stretched and then slackened, only to be restretched again and again to keep the guitar in tune. Some guitars are tuned into many different tunings along the way. Going from standard tuning to then drop tuning or even open tuning. This can really take its toll on your guitar strings and shorten their life a fair bit. This process, over time, will start to weaken the material of the string, causing them to break or just go out of tune regularly.
String kinks occur over time when the material from a string is constantly being pushed down onto a fret which is also made of metal. You can see these kinks, especially on the high strings; keep an eye out for small dark marks along the string’s surface. You can also feel these kinks as little dips or bumps, especially when sliding your fingers along the strings. String kinks are another cause of strings breaking and snapping, causing weak points in certain areas that get used a lot.
When strings are in need of a change despite looking after them well and not noticing any of the above, you will start to feel that the strings have become stiff when playing bends or solos. They just lose that slick, effortless feel that a new set has. You will notice that something is off and doesn’t quite feel right.
How To Make Your Strings Last Longer.
Cleaning Your Strings
It is important after every use to clean your strings to remove any oils or sweat that may have gotten onto them from your hands. This is something that can be easily done using a few different products on the market. One of the products that I personally use is called Fast Fret. This comes in an easy-to-carry round tube with a brush-like tool that has the cleaning product soaked into a cotton-type swab and a cleaning cloth.
After every use, I apply the fast fret by rubbing the brush up and down the strings and then taking the small cloth provided and wiping it over the fretboard. Once I have wiped over the top of the fretboard, I then take the cloth and thread it through the back of the strings and pull it upwards onto the strings from one end of the neck to the other, removing any grime or oil.
The fast fret cleaner will leave your strings looking, feeling, and sounding brand new for a long time if you use it every time you finish playing your guitar. The liquid within the fast fret brush also keeps your fretboard clean and prolongs the fingerboard life on your guitar.
One of the main things I love about this product is it keeps your strings feeling silky smooth and fast, especially when sliding up and down the fretboard.
Ghs Fast Fret String Cleaner
The environment in which we live can have a huge effect on the life of our guitar strings. There is always an element of moisture within the air, some countries are hot and humid, and others can be cold and damp. There isn’t really much we can do when it comes to where we live, but there are products you can use, like Ghs fast fret that I mentioned above, using good quality protective cases, and if you are really serious, keeping your guitar in a stable environment like a bedroom or living room and not taking your instrument out to the beach or out into the yard where the elements are going to cause havoc.
Storing Your Guitar
When it comes to keeping your guitar stings in tip-top order for longer, a good quality case is a must. You really want to have something that keeps the guitar dry and away from the moisture in the air. You can get some great soft and hard cases now that have a beautiful plush, almost fluffy wool type of material inside with a top layer that will lay over the guitar’s neck and strings, like the picture below.
You don’t have to use expensive hard cases to keep your guitar and strings in good condition. There are plenty of Soft cases and gig bags that work just as well. I have listed 2 of the soft cases I personally own and use for my guitars, and they offer great padding and protection and keep my guitars away from moisture and dampness.
First Is The Donner Soft Case: This case is great for storing your guitar and keeping it away from dampness, moisture, and the elements. This case is made from a rip-stop material and is waterproof and dustproof. I bought this case when I was out playing shows and open mic nights and wanted to wear it like a backpack for easy transport.
The case also has two decent-sized pockets, the large one on the front is great for notebooks or lyric books and guitar chords, and the top pocket is where I usually store things like my fast fret, a guitar tuner, picks, capo, and my mobile phone, etc.
The second Choice is the Cahaya Soft Case: This case is very similar to the Donner case above; the case offers good protection with a decent amount of padding and pockets for all of your accessories. The front pocket breaks down into smaller compartments, so your things don’t move around if you are traveling. This case also has reflective straps front and back so you can be easily seen if you are out at night.
When Should I Change My Electric Guitar Strings?
There are no set rules on when you should change your electric guitar strings. Most people will change their electric guitar strings every three months or so unless they are playing out live or recording. I don’t feel there is a real need to change them regularly unless they start to feel weird, sound bad, or have corrosion.
The main thing to do is keep your strings clean and away from moisture. I once had a guitar teacher who was running an experiment with a set of the Elixer nano web-coated acoustic stings that he put onto one of his guitars; he was only using the guitar for tuition but managed to keep this particular set of strings in good condition for over nine months until that started to sound a bit dull and lifeless.
I guess the point here is if you buy a decent set of coated strings and only practice or play by yourself, then you could find yourself saving a lot of money on strings when one set with the right aftercare could last you three times as long as standard uncoated sets.
Guitar Strings That I Have Tried & Recommend
D’Addario Nickel Plated Steel
D’Addario Nickel Plated Steel – These strings have been great on my 1982 Fender Stratocaster. I put these on my main guitar to really put them through their paces, as it’s an instrument I play every day and leave on a guitar stand and not in a case. (This guitar is left out in a stable studio room that has a dehumidifier running to keep moisture out of the air as it houses microphones and other electrical equipment.)
I found that the corrosion resistance on these strings has been brilliant. The strings have a really bright sound to them, and they still feel great after four months of playing and practicing daily. I do clean these strings after every use, and they are still sounding and feeling great.
They do have something on them called an ultra-thin XS film coating, but this has not dampened the sound at all, and I don’t find they feel or sound any different from the D’ Addario uncoated strings I used before. The real difference is the lifespan and the anti-corrosion properties you get with these strings. I would have changed my uncoated strings by now due to build-up and having that gritty feel and corrosion starting to set in on them, as my left fretting hand does tend to sweat a bit when playing.
Elixer Nickel Plated Steel With Nanoweb Coating
I have always been a big fan of Elixer strings, and I have been using them on my acoustic guitars for years. I decided to buy a set of these “Elixer Nickel Plated Nano Web coated” strings for my Gibson Les Paul, and they have really impressed me just as much as the acoustic ones have over the years.
Before I got into the coated electric strings, my go-to set was always the D’Addario nickel wound XL mediums. But after changing my two main guitar setups to the coated strings, it’s safe to say that I won’t be going back to the uncoated set. For that little extra that you pay, you get a set of strings that really do last a lot longer and take nothing away from the sound quality.
These strings don’t go dead or dull sounding like a lot of other coated strings on the market. The only thing I have noticed is after about three months, the strings start to look a little discolored. There is no sign of corrosion or rust, just a dull color in areas, mostly where I strum and fret, but I think this may be due to having dirty hands or the oil on my fingers coming off onto the plastic coating and staining them. Having said that, the string quality and overall sound have not been affected by this at all, and they still sound bright and full of life.
As you can see, there are no set-in-stone rules on how often you should change your electric guitar strings. All I would say is, keep an eye out for general wear and tear, clean them after each use with something like fast fret, put your guitar in a case when it’s not being used as opposed to a guitar stand or up against a wall, and if you really want to save money in the long run and have a set of strings that last a long time, I would definitely recommend trying a set of coated strings.
If you do decide to give them a try, I would love to hear how you got on with them, so please leave a comment below and tell me about your experience.