Do you put a new set of strings on when you buy a guitar?
Do you only replace a broken string?
Don’t feel bad if you’re a beginner and you’re surprised to learn that strings may need to be replaced – even if they’re not broken.
At this point you will probably be wondering ‘how do I know when to restring my guitar’?
We’ll provide some common signs to look out for that will let you know when it’s time to restring your acoustic.
5 Signs You Need to Restring Your Acoustic Guitar
Is it Time?
Time plays a role in string longevity, especially if you play your guitar a lot, like every day. Typically, steel strings will last about 2-4 months. Coated/treated strings from brands like Elixir may last up to six months.
Coated strings protect against damage from environmental effects and from oils and sweat that come from fingers. If you play as often as a professional, you might be restringing your guitar every few weeks.
But, what about pre-strung guitars straight from the box?
A new guitar doesn’t mean that the strings are necessarily “new.” Some buyers are lucky and get a guitar with strings with decent life left in them. It might just take some stretching, re-tuning, and they’re good to go.
However, some new guitars can sit on the shelf for a long time before the strings ever see any action. Oxidation and corrosion can occur causing your new guitar to have bad stock strings.
But, all it takes is a quick finger test and visual once-over of the strings to determine if your new strings need replacement.
Let’s check that out next.
Dirty Fretboard and Strings
Yes, a guitar needs cleaning, and the part of the guitar that gets a lot of built-up gunk will be where you touch it the most – the fretboard and the strings.
To test if it’s time for new strings, place your index finger with soft side up underneath the strings and over the fretboard. Run your finger along the strings to feel for rust, grime, and grit.
You will feel roughness, friction, and perhaps even some grease.
If the strings are due for a change-out, the fretboard most likely needs a cleaning, too. Natural oils, dirt, sweat, and skin cells that gather on the strings also accumulate on the fretboard.
If it’s never had a clean before, it may be covered in gray grime that looks like it would need a jackhammer to remove! Cleaning your fretboard when restringing your guitar is important for guitar longevity, and if properly done, may only need to be cleaned once or twice a year.
Covered in the previous section, you should now know what old and dirty strings should feel like, but what do they look like? They may be discolored, splotchy in some places, and they may just have lost their shine.
To get a good idea of what the strings should look like, peek at where the strings aren’t touched that often – by the gear heads and headstock.
They should be bright, shiny, and have retained their natural color.
Now, look at the rest of the strings where you do play them. If they’re darker, rusted, and lost their glimmer, it’s time for a change.
This is another great indication if it’s time to restring your guitar. How does it sound?
Some players swear that they’ve never changed their strings, or it’s been a long time and their guitar still sounds great. It can be hard to tell if you can’t remember or you don’t know what to compare it to.
But, your guitar should have great intonation, resonance, and sound if your strings are up to par.
Of course, there are also other factors that play into how your guitar sounds, but a new set of strings could bring back the vibrancy, brightness, and warmth that you didn’t know you were lacking.
When one string has been plucked one too many times, don’t just replace that one string. Take the time to replace all of them as one broken string may just be the sign that “it’s time.”
If it’s the same string that keeps breaking repeatedly, you might want to look at other causes such as how it’s wound around the post or the nut and saddle to see that it’s not being pinched or caught in place.
Let’s just start off by saying that tuning issues could be caused by a wide variety of reasons. But, when it comes to the strings, it doesn’t always mean it’s time to change-out.
It could be because…
- Old strings have lost tension – solution: replace strings
- Incorrect wrapping around the post – solution: no less than 2 wraps for bass strings, and up to 7 wraps for a high string if you’re not using knots.
- Overlapping strings around post – solution: rewind the wraps to spiral down versus overlapping.
- Dirty strings sound dull – solution: replace strings or clean them to prolong string life.
- New strings – solution: manually stretch/bend your strings to reduce tuning issues.
- Strings pinched in the nut or saddle – solution: nut and saddle may be to be filed/sanded down to achieve appropriate depth and/or angle, so the string doesn’t get caught or held from free and smooth movement within their grooves.
If you’ve eliminated all other possible causes for tuning issues, it may be worth buying a new set of strings.
Worst-case scenario, it only cost you a few bucks.
Best-case scenario, your guitar sounds great!
Now that you have a better idea of when to restring your guitar, do you know how to do it yourself? If not, we can help with that too right here in our ‘How to Restring an Acoustic Guitar‘ article.