The Four Tale-Tell Signs You Need to Change Guitar Strings
In this week’s quarantine blogging, we ask when the last time you changed your strings was? If you have to think more than a few seconds about it and can’t remember the last time you changed them, chances are you need a fresh set of strings. There are several reasons all of your favorite professional guitarists sound consistently good show to show. One of the straightforward reasons is they have their strings changed, often leading to increased sustain, resonance, and more articulate clarity. We’re going to go over some of the easy signs you need to know to spot dead strings like a pro!
How to Know When Your Strings are Deader than Elvis:
Who Turned Down the Brightness?
Often the first thing to go with anything string is the brightness and shine in your guitar’s high-end frequencies. You might start turning up the treble a little on your amplifier to compensate for your increasingly “dull” sounding guitar tone. You’ve probably started to notice your solos seem to lack natural sustain. These are two of the most apparent indicators to determine if you need a string change. Fresh strings immediately breathe life back into your guitar with added sustain and resonance. All that friction you’ve poured over your guitar strings by practicing wears out the string material over time. Do yourself and change strings whenever you hear your instrument start to sound dull.
If you can’t stay in tune, your guitar effectively becomes a costly paperweight instead of the kick-butt musical instrument you know it should be. Chronically out of tune musicians also don’t get many calls to come back to play with other musicians, so do yourself a favor and change your set of strings. If your guitar is structurally sound, you shouldn’t have issues with tuning. Regardless of playing style, good strings always come back to pitch. So if you notice you’re having to retune every few minutes after rocking those Albert King bends, it’s probably a good sign to change your strings.
Do you notice any kinks or separations starting to form on your strings? Do your wound strings look like there are patches where the outside winding has broken and exposed the core of your string? These are the tell-tale signs of string abuse from playing guitar too long in between string changes. While you might be thinking you can get away with it until your Amazon order of strings, the longer you play the guitar with strings in this condition, you are setting yourself up for massive fret wear. The cracked, or kinked, strings have spots that will provide unequal wear to your frets, which can affect your playability and get you to a much more expensive re-fret much faster. Remember, strings are cheap-refrets are not.
What color are your strings right now over the fingerboard? Are they a different color than the strings tied to the tuning keys? Do the strings over the fingerboard look rusted, or black? Natural oils and sweat and grime that are excreted from your hand are corrosive to guitar strings and can help wear strings out faster. You can help slow this process down by wiping off your strings with an old cloth, or t-shirt, after each use. If you see discolored strings on your guitar, it’s time for a string change. Discolored or black, strings that have been successfully worn out and collected a bunch of dirt and grime act like little buzz saws on your frets. If you want to have a trip to “Uncle Kenny’s” for a fret-mill during a pandemic, be my guest, but changing your strings frequently will help you avoid damage to your frets that could result in tuning instability and intonation issues.
How Can You Extend Your String Life?
Embrace your Inner Dr. Faucii and Wash Those Hands:
It seems like one of the more obvious solutions to having longer lasting strings is cleaning your hands often. But who hasn’t had a time where they’ve picked up their guitar while eating Cheetos mid television binge? All joking aside, our hands carry dirt and grime that can start the string corroding process earlier, so helping yourself to a quick wash before each playing session will help your guitar strings last and play better longer.
Don’t Bastardize a Fresh Set of Strings for a Single Replacement:
Hey, we’ve all had to do it in a pinch, but opening a new pack for that single high-e you need is a habit you don’t want to start. First off, you’re just throwing a temporary emergency band-aid on a building problem. Instead of recognizing you broke your high-e because the entire string set was likely worn out, changing a single string only gets you one fresh string in the bunch and forces you to throw the other ”good strings” in a forgotten junk drawer. Those other strings still on your guitar are just as worn-out and messed up, and they won’t feel like the new string you’ve only replaced, leading to inconsistent playing. Trust me, take the extra ten minutes and change the rest of your strings. It's worth it.
Making sure your strings are clean after every use is a great way to prolong string life. Just grab a microfiber cloth and wipe down each string from top and bottom. Wiping your guitar down helps remove whatever oils and grime accumulated during your playing session. If you have acidic sweat as I do, maybe consider investing in a string cleaner like DR Strings Stringlife, which, when properly applied, adds a protective barrier between your string and the dirt, dust, and other grime that comes off your hands when you play guitar.
I also recommend giving your fingerboard a good cleaning when you change strings. Even if you change strings frequently, a dirty fingerboard can help wear strings out. I use Dunlop 65 to help clean down my finger boards in between every string change. Spray a couple of pumps onto a microfiber cloth, wipe down between each fret, and then buff with the other side of the microfiber cloth. Your fingerboard should be good as new!