#5: When should I change strings?

Haha – I can’t believe how often I hear this!

The simple answer is change strings as often as you feel you need to, as often as you can afford!

String wear depends on:

  1. The type of string – some cheaper strings rust quicker than others.
  2. How often you play – One of my electrics I play nearly every day, one of my acoustics I might not have played for years….
  3. You! – Yep believe it your skin, sweat and oils play a huge role in this.  I’m lucky, I can play a set of strings and they’ll last for ages if I just give them a wipe before I put the guitar away.  BUT I lent the same guitar and same strings to a pal who played one gig with it, and his acid sweat literally resulted in the strings having rust on them when I got the guitar back!
  4. Where you live…  If it’s overly humid and you live near the sea the strings will dull and go rusty all on their own – atmospheric problems can be minimised by keeping the guitar in its case.

Why change?

If you’re asking this –  you’ve never had that “open E chord on new strings” moment on an acoustic 🙂

Well – look at this photo of an acoustic I got in recently – look at the rust on the strings – I mean how did this guy even play this guitar!

Now not only are the strings hard and painful to play, the rust actually accelerates fret wear, resulting in those aggravating little dips in the fret surface that result in the need to have the frets re-crowned, or audible clicks and awkward playing action as the string almost gets “seated” in another nut groove!

They also sound appalling – dull – lifeless.  Not much fun at all!


If you’re still reading – you probably are in need of new strings as no-one who has ever changed strings will still be reading!

Get some strings, change them, tune ’em, assume the “Marty McFly stance” and play that open E chord – so much better right?Amplifier

What strings?

I only ever use Ernie Ball Regular Slinkys (10 – 46) on my electrics.  A lot of people rave over D’Addario strings but I just couldn’t get on with them, the G string in the D’Addario sets was made of a stiffer metal and was hard to bend.

Acoustics are where you see the biggest gains and losses from string changes.  The “open E” moment is awesome, generally I always opt for phosphor-bronze coated strings, I’ve tried Martins – they were OK.  Usually these days I use Elixir Nanoweb coated 12-53 Phosphor Bronze. The Nanoweb is like a “Gortex” for your strings – it stops sweat and dirt getting lodged in the wound string grooves – these are the main cause of both string decay and loss of tone.  OK – they cost about double the price of a “normal set” but last 3-5 times longer and preserve that “zzzzinng” for most of their life! – plus they’re not prone to atmosphere damage – an all ’round “win – win” situation.



Changing Strings on a guitar with “holes” in the side of the capstan (Most guitars)

Changing strings on a guitar with “holes” in the top of the capstan (Many Fender models)

Interesting little conversation regarding string gauges….

Darren Sienkiewicz Nice article, but always 10s on a leccy? For all scale lengths?

POSH guitars Call me boringly predictable Darren Sienkiewicz – I sometimes go to 12’s or 13’s on my White Falcon arch top – as it gives a bit better stability with the floating bridge. I’d certainly not go any lighter than 10’s – I find that with 9’s I just bend all the notes in a chord out of tune all in different directions – all of the time

Darren Sienkiewicz Not gonna try Billy Gibbons 7s then?!

POSH guitars Ha ha – yeah I saw that in an article – and Jimmy Page on 8’s or 9’s – I even think BB King uses 9’s. It must be my rubbish technique that means I can’t get on with 9’s etc. I also recall someone saying that on HB guitars there was no tone loss with lighter strings (hence BG, BB and JP!) but on Single coil guitars there was more tonal change – SRV used 13’s!!  One day I probably will – things are always changing





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2 Responses to “#5: When should I change strings?”

  1. Les Ong says:

    I use 10’s on short scale length electric guitars (Gibson Les Paul Pro Deluxe & ES345 & ES355) and 9’s or 10’s on long scale electric guitars (Fender 25th Anniversary Strat & a couple of Ibanex RG 570’s). Like you I prefer Phosphor Bronze strings on my acoustics 10’s or 11’s usually, Martin are good.
    Unlike you, I love D’addarios which last ages, but find Ernie Balls just don’t last long for me. Must be my type of sweat.
    What you don’t mention in your article is playing-in time. This varies enormously between string manufacturers. Sometimes I find the brightness of brand new strings a bit too much, a bit too much rattle to start with, but after a few hours playing I know what you mean about the ‘open E chord’. The playing-in period also affects tuning so much as the strings get stretched out from new. This is a pain with locking nuts a la Floyd Rose on my Ibanez guitars.

    • Phil says:

      Great to hear other points of view – I welcome other peoples advice and opinions. I don’t claim to be “the answer” all I hope to do is suggest what I have personally found works the best for me. As for “playing in” strings – I find the Ernie Ball’s to be a very quick string to adjust – Personally I “overtune” them by a semitone on the first tuning and then relax back – and up again – to standard pitch. Usually then it’s “job done.”
      Floyd Rose Trems – yep I agree – they take several tuning up and down to pitch sessions before locking them down. Pulling up on the strings 2-3 inches after an initial tuning does settle them in quicker though. Generally I let everything settle in like a “normal” guitar before I lock down the nut…. (The pulling thing is such a stressful thing though – I’m always expecting the strings to ping out of the bridge on the Floyd Rose, or snap at the capstan….)

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