Regardless of whether it is an acoustic, electric, traditional or avant-garde guitar, without strings, a guitar simply cannot sound. This is because most parts of the instrument work around them. With a few exceptions, each part of the guitar has been specifically designed to work in conjunction with the strings for the instrument to produce sound either by anchoring, tuning, amplifying, and allowing fingering of the guitar chords.
As much as they are essential, the strings of a guitar require plenty of care and maintenance. The material from which they are made is sensitive to humidity and ambient temperature, and even as they remain taut, they are constantly vibrating. How long you can preserve your guitar strings also depends on the following:
The type of strings (metal of various alloys, nylon, coated or not, tension, gauge)
The hours of use
The moisture from your hands
Whether it is played with fingers, or with a pick
All of these cause the strings to be damaged relatively quickly, which in turn has a negative effect on the sound of the guitar. Taking good care of your guitar properly can be tricky, but to maintain the sound quality of the instrument, the condition of your guitar strings should be checked regularly. If the strings have had a lot of use or are visibly damaged, they should be replaced.
Before changing the strings, we must first consider a few questions:
Have you been using the same strings for the last 2 months?
Is there rust on the strings?
Are the strings rough?
Do the strings sound muffled?
Did any of the strings break recently?
If you answered YES to some of these questions, it is probably time to change your strings.
For Electric and Acoustic Guitars
Due to moisture on your fingers and in the environment, the strings corrode and oxidize over time, and their ability to vibrate decreases. This not only affects the clarity of the sound when strummed, but the feel of the strings also becomes coarser, which could hurt your fingers. Strings can also become brittle from too much vibration; just think how a paper clip breaks when you twist it too much - the same happens to the guitar strings.
With that said, there is an alternative to changing your strings so frequently: you can buy coated strings instead. These last longer due to a coating on the strings that prevents corrosion and dirt from accumulating. Coated strings tend to last 3-5 times longer than regular strings, so you won’t need to change them too often. However, this is not to say that they won’t ever need to be changed. Guitar strings should still be changed at least every 4 months as they are prone to breakage from the constant vibration. Coated strings are a bit more expensive, but they last longer, making them more cost-effective in the long run.
For Classical Guitars
The strings for this type of guitar are made of a mixed metal and silk wound, or they may be made entirely of nylon. Because of the material they are made from, classical guitar strings are less susceptible to rust, and last longer than the strings of acoustic and electric guitars. However, with constant and prolonged use, the sound they produce eventually becomes dull and tuning them would become challenging as well. As with all guitars, the strings on classical guitars need to be changed regularly, and we recommend changing them every 3 months for uncoated strings, or every 6 months if they are coated.
Other Important Things to Note
Regardless of whether you have coated your guitar strings or not, always keep them clean. Be sure to wash your hands each time before playing, and after touching the strings. When you’re done playing on your guitar, use a dry, clean cloth to wipe away any sweat or oil from your skin that has transferred to your guitar strings. To keep any imminent corrosion at bay, consider using a string conditioner.
Take all this information as a reference since the frequency with which the strings of a guitar or a bass are changed is not an exact science. It depends on several factors ranging from environmental humidity, the type of strings used, the hours played and more. Therefore, check the strings periodically and clean them often. After all, no matter the type of guitar strings, regular cleaning and a good conditioner can extend the life of the strings considerably.
Should you need help to restring your guitars, at What's Your Jam, we have guitar servicing and maintenance services.