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Updated: November 28, 2020
Those of us who’ve been playing guitar for at least a few years… we just know when it’s time to change our guitar strings. We can feel it and we can hear it, and it’s blatantly obvious to us.
However, the signs and symptoms that we experienced players recognize are not at all obvious to beginners, no matter how hard we might try to describe them.
So if you’re a new guitar owner wondering how often you should change your guitar strings, I’m going to instead give you some basic timeframes to follow. That’ll serve you well until you gain the experience you’ll need to better judge, based on sound and feel, when it’s time to change your strings.
A Note to the “Highly Corrosive Sweaters” Out There
I’ve met a number of guitarists over the years who have a sweat chemistry that just annihilates guitar strings. It’s like their superpower: within hours or days of installing a brand new set, their strings become severely corroded, even if they’re diligent about wiping their strings after they’re done playing.
If you’re one of these people, you’re not abnormal. It simply means your guitar string bill is going to be higher than it is for us mere mortals. It also means the timeframes I’m going to outline in this article don’t quite apply to you.
For you, I’d highly recommend trying a couple things that may help you squeeze more life out of your strings.
1. Try coated guitar strings. Here are a few suggestions:
- Elixir Coated Guitar Strings
- D’Addario Coated Guitar Strings
- Ernie Ball Coated Guitar Strings
- DR Coated Guitar Strings
2. Try a string cleaning aid like GHS Fast Fret or plain mineral oil.
A number of corrosive sweaters have told me that coated strings, combined with wiping their strings after every play session with a string cleaner, has really helped them squeeze more life out of their strings. There are other coated guitar strings out there in addition to the ones I’ve listed here, so search around a bit and find the brand you like best.
When to Change Your Guitar Strings
Okay, for the rest of us who have a less corrosive body chemistry, I’m going to lay out some general guidelines and timeframes for how often you should change your guitar strings.
Note: these timeframes apply to regular (uncoated) guitar strings.
The Infrequent Player
If you play: Less than 15 minutes per week
Change your strings: Once a year
You really only pull the guitar out of its case a few times a year–maybe at a rare family holiday. Or, maybe you’re a collector of high-end/rare/vintage guitars that you rarely play. You might spend 5 – 10 minutes strumming some basic chords, and then the guitar goes back in its case (or display case) for a few more months.
Even if you’re one who rarely plays your guitar, strings naturally begin to oxidize over time–they don’t last forever.
The Occasional Dabbler or Learner
If you play: 1 – 3 hours per week
Change your strings: Every 6 – 8 months
You play your guitar a few days a week for only about 15 – 30 minutes at a time, and you’re not very consistent. Perhaps you enjoy playing, but it’s just not a big priority for you. Or, maybe you’re a new guitarist still building your calluses and hand strength, so you can’t yet practice very often or for very long.
The Avid Hobbyist
If you play: 3 – 12 hours per week
Change your strings: Every 3 – 5 months
You’re fairly serious and play your guitar consistently 6 – 7 days a week for 30 minutes to 2 hours at a time. FYI, this is the category I fall into.
The Serious Player or Aspiring Pro
If you play: 12 – 25 hours per week
Change your strings: Every 1 – 2 months (more frequently, if needed)
You’re someone who’s playing 6 – 7 days a week for anywhere from 2 – 4 hours at a time. Maybe you’re a music student, or in a band that plays the odd gig here and there. Or, maybe you just really, really love playing guitar and make time to indulge your passion.
The Pro Musician
If you play: 30+ hours per week
Change your strings: Once a week, or possibly daily
You play guitar for a living, and your guitar is in your hands every day. At any given time you might be rehearsing with your band, recording, giving guitar lessons, or playing a live show (sometimes all in the same day). You eat, sleep, and breathe guitar.
These Are Just Rough Guidelines
How long any given set of guitar strings will last before you need to change them isn’t an exact science. Your mileage may vary from the timeframes I gave above, but if you’re a beginner and aren’t sure when to change your strings, this’ll give you something to go by until you can judge for yourself just based on how the strings feel and sound.
How to Help Your Strings Last Longer
There are two things you can do to help your strings naturally last longer:
- Wash your hands before you play
- Wipe your strings every time you’ve finished playing
Washing your hands before you play may not always be feasible, but if you’re like me and play your guitar at home 99% of the time, definitely give your hands a quick wash before you play. When you’re done playing, give the guitar strings a quick wipe with a clean, soft cloth. Using a string cleaner or a little bit of mineral oil is optional.
You can see my demonstration of how to wipe guitar strings here.
Give your guitar strings a quick wipe after you’re done playing
Ask 10 different guitar players when you should change your strings and you’ll get 10 slightly different answers. There’s a bit of personal preference involved in this, and as you gain experience you’ll start to recognize when your strings are wearing out and need to be changed.
How often do you change your guitar strings? Let me know in the “Leave a Reply” section down below.
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I do it after playing on the new set of strings for about 3-4 months.
How do I know it’s time to change?
Well, usually the E or the B string breaks and I know, I need to get new ones.
I don’t recommend this method because you don’t want this to happen while you’re on stage or jamming with your buddies (I always make sure to change my strings before a gig, that’s the key.)
i do 4-5 hours a day, i just change them when they get annoying for slides
I play about 1/2 – 1 hour a day on average. I can usually tell when to change strings by the way the wound strings sound (steel acoustic or electric)
The new strings sound bright and twangy. As they age they sound dull and your guitar sounds like a boxy cheap guitar.
For me, every 6-8 months though I sometimes get lazy and live with the dull sound for a while.
I Also noticed that a digital tuner will have problems displaying the pitch on dull strings.
I use string lub which helps but extends the life only a bit.
I hate changing strings and sometimes have my guitar tech do it for $20.
For me, changing strings is like doing my taxes.
I change them when they get “spongey”.
I tend to play off and on everyday and usually need to change strings every couple of months
Sounds about right Joy. Everyone’s a little different, and eventually we all start to get a feel for how often we need to change our strings.
I play electric guitar for about 2-6 hours a week, sometimes more. Today i decided to change my strings since they were making this annoiyng scratchy sound, almost as if the frets were scratched. After taking my strings of, i had a look at them. There were really big indents where there had been contact with the frets, especially on the D string. That set of strings lasted ~40 days. So yeah, go with the feel and sound and change them if something just doesn’t feel/sound right.
…my strings haven’t been changed in over 20 years…. I got my guitar from my grandfather who didn’t use it anymore and had been storing it for over 20 years. Might need to change these things somehow, classic acoustic guitar strings look complicated to tie though :,). I play for around 1-2 hours each day so yeahhhh fun times.
Hi Katelyn. If it’s been 20 years, it’s definitely time for new strings 😀 Classical guitar strings ARE a bit different in how they’re tied onto the bridge and wound onto the tuning posts, but just watch a couple YouTube tutorials on how it’s done and you should be all set. It’s not complicated, just different (than steel strings).
I just invested in a few sets of strings. I recently started playing again since my grandfather had my guitar for a while. The strings haven’t been changed for about 6 years and when I tune it just doesn’t sound right. This was a big help considering I’ve never changed strings but the sound makes it obvious to me.
Wow… 6 years! Yeah, at that age you’ll have all kinds of issues. In fact, the strings will get to where they won’t stay in tune nor intonate properly, so best to change them at least a couple times a year (if you rarely play).
Haha the price of strings had gone up in the past two weeks. I guess theres a string shortage from us avid sweaters. So im going to try the fast fret but the lazt i tried was fret ease and to me it sounded and felt dead so i stopped using that. Anyway inflation is going up and time to save. Greedy people gotta love them
I find these posts fascinating. I fall between the Learner and the Avid Hobbyist, and was recommended when I began learning to use FastFret on my strings regularly. I’m almost ashamed to say that I had the same strings on my acoustic guitar for nearly three years, until I realised and had them changed (oops!) I still use FastFret regularly and always wash my hands before I play or have my lessons, which is probably why my first set of strings lasted so long! I have now marked it on my calendar when I should change my strings again.
Wow! Although, yours wouldn’t be the first guitar I’ve seen that’s had the same strings on for years. Did you happen to notice any ill effects… such as the guitar not staying in tune, or perhaps the notes sounding out of tune (despite the guitar being IN tune)? Even if the strings stay relatively clean and smooth over all that time, tuning stability is usually what starts to become a problem. Then again, there are always a few exceptions!
I’m with Karl. I mostly play archtops with flatwound strings which NEVER sound jangly, so I change my strings infrequently despite a lot of playing.
I don’t know how many of your readers use flat wound strings (probably not very many), but I do. I play the guitar for 3-4 hours every day and I find that I am able to go for one whole year between string changes, so I guess that every case is, indeed, unique. Appreciate your advice and tips a great deal!
I like the stuff you write about.
I’m in the same category you are in, to me the sound and feel are most important to me. It’s also important to learn how to change them , that may be another topic later on ( if you haven’t already covered that one ).
Doug, thanks for the feedback. I’ve considered writing a how-to article on changing strings, but there seem to already be a lot of good ones out there. However, I’m starting to realize that people still want to know MY opinion and advice on such things, so I’ll put string changing into my queue of future topics.
That’s a really good point. I remember thinking for months, that changing guitar strings was some kind of witchcraft. Watched a youtube tutorial and never looked back.
It’s really the bare minimum of guitar maintenance that people should learn.