Changing guitar strings is a bit of a chore, right? But it’s essential to get your guitar sounding and playing well. Old strings sound dull and are more prone to breaking. But you may be wondering how long do guitar strings last?
Do you need to change them every week, month, year? Can you get away with not changing them for long periods? What if you don’t play that often, does it make a difference?
Well let’s take a look at how long guitar strings last. We’ll see if there’s a difference between how long electric and acoustic strings last, do they last if they’re unplayed or unopened and when the optimal time to change strings is.
How Long Do Guitar Strings Last?
A regular set of guitar strings should last on average between 2 to 4 months. That is if you are playing a fairly average amount (once a day). If you’re gigging regularly then you can expect the strings to last much less time and need changing around every 30 days.
It is important to remember though that there are other factors that play a role in how long guitar strings last:
- The type and material of strings – steel, nickel, nylon etc. Some are going to last longer than others. For example regular nickel electric guitar strings will be more resistant to temperature changes and humidity than nylon strings.
- The brand of strings – using a well known brand is probably going to both sound better and last longer than a no name brand. Choosing well established brands like Ernie Ball or Elixir can guarantee you a certain quality of string.
- How often the strings are being played – it’s not rocket science that the more often you play the strings the quicker they wear. On the flip side the less often you play the guitar the longer the strings will last. So if you’re practicing 5 hours a day you’re going to need new strings a lot more regularly than someone who only plays 5 hours a week.
- How they are cared for – string maintenance makes a difference and can help them last longer. Regular cleaning and correct storage is important and will help prolong your strings quality and life.
- String Coating – You can get coated strings that protect them from rusting, corrosion and humidity. They cost more but will increase their lifespan.
- Whether you are playing live – if you’re strictly a bedroom player then it’s less important for your strings to sound and play as good as they can as opposed to if you’re playing live.
How Long do Electric Guitar Strings Last?
Electric guitar strings are made from metal, mostly nickel plated steel. This makes them quite good at withstanding some temperature and humidity changes.
But that doesn’t mean you don’t have to worry about them going bad. Over time they will wear from use and the oils in your fingers will degrade them. Any exposure to the temperature and air will begin to corrode the strings too.
The average lifespan of electric guitar strings is roughly 2-3 months. If they are well looked after – that means cleaning the strings regularly to remove the oils from your fingers, using string conditioners and keeping your guitar at the right temperature and not in humid conditions – then they may last longer. Potentially up to 6 months.
Coated strings are a great way of making your strings more resilient to all that’s thrown at them and in turn last much longer. Coated strings are coated in a thin liquid polymer that protects them from the acidity and oils from your fingers, humidity etc. It’s estimated coated strings last 3-5 times longer than regular strings.
How Long do Acoustic Guitar Strings Last?
Acoustic guitar strings tend to be made from phosphor bronze or 80/20 bronze. They are similar to electric guitar strings in that they last roughly 2-3 months before they should need replacing.
Acoustic strings face the same problems as electric guitar strings: degradation from use, corroding and oxidization from the air and the general build up of oils and acidity from our fingers.
So in order to help acoustic guitar strings last longer they should be looked after the sane as electric strings: regular cleaning, proper humidity control and applying string cleaner/conditioner.
How Long do Nylon Guitar Strings Last?
You can expect nylon guitar strings to last 1-3 months with regular playing. Those who play every day for 1-2 hours (or longer) may find the strings only last 4-6 weeks.
Nylon guitar strings are the least strong when it comes to withstanding the oils in our fingers and temperature fluctuations. That’s because they are made from materials – nylon and synthetic plastics – that are sensitive and easily degraded.
How Long do Guitar Strings Last in the Package?
Guitar strings don’t have a specific expiration date. But many manufacturers of guitar strings say that it’s fine to leave them unopened for a few years and they will still be fine to use.
However, if the packaging is compromised and they are exposed to the air and humidity then it’s likely they will rust. Most strings are sealed in air tight packaging but it can be damaged. Even a tiny hole will let air in and lead to rusting or corrosion.
Check for any wear, rusting or corrosion when you do open and come to use them. If you find they are rusted or worn then the packaging may have been damaged at some point.
And if you are planning to buy packs of strings in bulk then you haven’t got anything to worry about. Multiple unopened packs should last for years and still be good as new when you come to use them.
How Long do Guitar Strings Last if Not Played?
If you leave a guitar unplayed for any length of time do the strings go bad? Over time they do degrade, even without use, but it will be slow.
If you keep your guitar in a good environment without too much humidity then they shouldn’t degrade very quickly. If possible you could occasionally come back to the guitar and give the strings a quick wipe over just to keep them clean.
Doing that along with ensuring the humidity where the guitar is kept is suitable will reduce the degradation of the strings to a minimum.
Do Guitar Strings Go Bad Over Time?
‘Bad’ is a vague term. Over time guitar strings will degrade, be that through regular use or just the nature of being exposed to humidity and the air. So technically they do get get worse and go bad over time.
But how well strings play or sound is subjective. Some people prefer to change their strings after every performance. Others are happy to leave them for 6 months or more.
Some people like the feel of brand new strings and the brightness you get from them. Whereas others like the worn in feel they get from well played strings.
There is no definite answer. It comes down to individual preference and what you like. Everyone is different so there isn’t a correct answer. It’s best to just use your own judgement.
Do Guitar Strings go Bad if they aren’t Played?
Not playing the guitar strings doesn’t cause them to go bad or need changing more frequently. They may in fact last for longer. Playing exposes them to your fingers and the acidity of the oils in them as well as the general wear. So if you play less the strings can experience less degrading and may retain their “freshness” and bright tone for a bit longer.
How do you Know if your Guitar Strings Need Changing?
It again comes down to your preference. The main reasons guitarists change their strings is:
- Poor tone.
- Inability of strings to stay in tune.
- Rusting and wear to the strings.
- Generally feeling flat and lifeless when playing.
- You have a gig coming up.
If you experience one or more of those then it’s probably time to change those strings.
What you should keep in mind though is that some of those are subjective. One persons poor tone sounds great to someone else. You might see dirty strings whereas someone else see’s nicely worn in strings.
So it’s better to judge it based on feel and sound. Are you enjoying playing your guitar and strings? Does it feel right? Do they sound good? If so then forget how they look or how old they are!
Alternatively if you love the feel of fresh, new strings and can afford to buy new ones regularly then go for it!
And don’t feel you need to restring your guitar just because your current strings are 2, 3 or 6 months old. Again, if they feel good and sound good then just keep going with them.
What Happens to Guitar Strings as they get Old?
As you use your strings they stretch out and accumulate dirt, oil, dry skin and other nasty bits and pieces. The moisture in the air and humidity constantly affects the strings and cause them to loosen and tighten, wearing them even further.
All of these combined have the affect you see after using your strings regularly for months on end. The strings become discolored, they feel sticky and grimey and lose any of their snap.
It’s actually very easy to tell when strings are old. They just feel wrong. Not to mention sounding flat and lifeless.
So, roughly speaking guitar strings last 2-3 months of average playing. But the best way to decide if your guitar strings need replacing isn’t by how old they are, it’s by how they sound and how they feel when you play them.
Forget the look or how many months you’ve been playing them. Does your guitar still sound great and feel right when you play it? If so then your strings are fine.
That’s really all there is to it. Guitar strings last as long as they sound and feel right.