Knowing When to Change the Strings on Your Guitar

8 of 12 in Series: The Essentials of Maintaining an Electric Guitar

Many people consider their guitars to be delicate, fragile instruments: They seem reluctant to tune their strings, let alone change them. But knowing when to change the strings on your guitar is crucial to maintaining your instrument.

Old guitars improve with age, but old strings just get worse. The first time you play new strings is the best they ever sound. Strings gradually deteriorate until they break or you can’t take the dreary sounds they produce.

Old strings sound dull and lifeless, and they lose their tensility (their capability to hold tension), becoming brittle. This condition makes the strings feel stiffer and harder to fret, and because the strings no longer stretch to reach the fret, they get tighter, causing your notes to go sharp, particularly up the neck.

If your guitar strings start to exhibit any of the following conditions, you should probably replace them:

  • They exhibit visible signs of corrosion or caked-on dirt and grime.

  • They don’t play in tune, usually fretting sharp, especially in the upper register.

  • You can’t remember the last time you changed them and you have an important gig (and don’t want to chance any breakage).

Changing strings isn’t something you should be shy about: You can jump into it with both feet. The task’s sort of like giving your dog a bath: It’s good for the dog, you’re glad you did it, and it gives you an opportunity to get closer to man’s best friend. Similarly, changing your guitar strings has few drawbacks: It improves the sound of the guitar, helps to prevent broken strings at inopportune moments, and aids you in identifying other maintenance problems.

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The Essentials of Maintaining an Electric Guitar

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