Taking care of your guitar is important. You want it to sound its best and last as long as possible, right?
So you do the right things like storing it properly, keeping it at the correct temperature and humidity etc. But what about the strings and the tension they put on the guitar? Do you need to loosen the strings when not playing?
This crops up a lot and the answer is categorically no. There is no real benefit to detuning or loosening your strings between playing. Guitars are designed to deal with the tension the strings exert on the neck.
In fact by loosening the strings frequently you’re actually far more likely to cause issues or damage.
I’m tempted to leave it at that but you might be wondering why exactly it isn’t a good idea and how this advice became common amongst guitarists.
So let’s take a closer look at it and dispel some bad information.
Why You Shouldn’t Loosen Guitar Strings When Not Playing
If you are playing your guitar even semi-regularly then there’s no need to loosen the strings between playing. If you do here’s a few ways it can actually damage your guitar:
- The constant increasing and decreasing of pressure on the strings as you loosen and tighten them will wear them out a lot faster. You will find your strings breaking extremely quickly if they are being detuned and retuned on a regular basis.
- The machine heads and tuners will get worn out more quickly from the constant use. If you’re having to turn them to both detune and loosen the strings every time you finish playing and then retune each time you pick it up again that’s a lot of wear they’re receiving.
- You may find you wear out the nut quicker too. The increasing and decreasing amounts of tension will start to wear the grooves in the nut. You’ll have to replace it far sooner than you would have had to otherwise.
So you don’t need to loosen the strings. It will only cause you more issues. Keep your guitar strung up.
How Did Loosening Strings Become Advice
A long time ago guitars were built without truss rods. The truss rod is a metal rod running through the neck of the guitar. It acts to keep the neck stable and straight and works against the pressure the strings place on the neck.
So when guitars didn’t have truss rods and no counter to the tension it meant that the strings would bend the neck over time. In that case loosening the strings was necessary to avoid the bending and distorting of the neck.
But that was many, many decades ago. Guitars today, and for decades, have been built with truss rods. Every electric guitar has one and most acoustic guitars do too (but not classical guitars).
That means they can easily withstand the tension of the strings. In fact they’re designed to do exactly that.
So the advice to loosen strings when not playing is widely out of date. How it came to be something we still talk about today is a mystery.
It seems to be one of those recommendations that won’t die out. Maybe people intuitively think the strain of the strings will cause damage. Either way it’s wrong and not helpful.
When is Loosening Strings The Right Thing to do
There is one situation where loosening the strings is the right thing to do – when storing your guitar for a long period of time.
By a long period of time we’re talking a minimum of months but more likely years. Frankly even a few months in storage shouldn’t need you to do anything to the strings.
However if you’re going to be putting a guitar away for potentially years then it’s probably a good idea to detune it and loosen the strings a bit. But you will want to make sure you adjust and loosen the truss rod at the same time.
If you only loosen the strings and leave it that way for years then you risk the neck getting a back bow. Which you definitely don’t want!
What About Classical Guitars?
It’s true that classical guitars don’t have truss rods so you might be thinking they need their strings loosened. But because classical guitars are strung with nylon strings rather than steel strings the tension on the neck is far less.
The fact they use nylon strings is the reason they don’t need a truss rod. So there’s no need for adjusting or retuning the strings either.
How You Should Be Storing Your Guitar
Rather than focusing on loosening the strings, which we’ve established isn’t necessary, there are more important things you should be considering when storing your guitar.
Keeping your guitar at the right temperature is absolutely vital. Guitars don’t like extreme temperatures at all.
Both heat and cold will distort wood and can lead to damage. If you’re somewhere where the weather changes often or gets very hot/very cold then it’s worth investing in a humidifier.
It might sound drastic but you’ll come to appreciate how useful one is. Especially if you experience what the weather can do to a guitar and yours ends up ruined.
On top of that hard shell cases are better for storage than soft or gig bags. Only because they’re more durable and will protect the guitar of it falls or has something dropped on it.
Before you go…
If you’re interested in guitar strings :