When and Why To Change Your Guitar Strings

Updating your guitar strings is part of routine maintenance

Young woman playing her guitar
Young woman playing her guitar. Tetra Images/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

Over time, dirt and oil from your hands and the environment build up on your strings, causing them to tarnish. Dirt buildup on your strings will have a negative effect on your guitar because it will begin to sound dull and lifeless. You can extend the life of your strings simply by washing your hands before playing.

But even precautions like this are no panacea for aging strings. You will have to change your strings as part of the regular maintenance all guitars require. The natural stretching of strings over time, stress on strings, environmental factors, and other variables make this absolutely necessary. 

So why exactly and when should you change your strings? Here are a few thoughts based on experience and research.

How Often Should You Change Your Strings?

It varies from person to person, but guitarists will need to change their strings more often if they:

  • Sweat a lot 
  • Smoke or play in smoky clubs
  • Spend hours a day performing or practicing
  • Play "hard" with, for instance, a heavy grip in the fretting hand or an aggressive picking hand 

How Do You Know if Your Strings Need to Be Changed?

You'll know if:

  • You have a harder time than usual getting the guitar in tune
  • Your guitar tone begins to sound flat
  • Your strings begin to discolor or rust
  • It's been several months since you last changed your strings
  • A string breaks

What Do You Need to Change Your Strings?

First of all, make sure you know how to change guitar strings; you'll need a few pointers. Once you are acquainted with the process, you'll need some tools, which can be bought one at a time or in a kit. Here are a few of the required materials and tools that you'll need to change your guitar strings:

  • A set of replacement strings. Electric guitar strings come in varying gauges (thicknesses). The lightest-gauge strings are easier to press down on but are much harder to keep in tune, and they tend to have a thinner tone. If you've never bought strings before, then pick up a few packs of light-gauge electric strings, which generally hold up fairly well and sound good.
  • A string winder. This isn't a requirement, but one of these will make the job of changing strings much simpler, and they only cost a few dollars.
  • A clean cloth. Since you're removing the strings, you might as well use this opportunity to clean and polish hard-to-reach places on your guitar.
  • Pliers. This tool will do a fine job of cutting away excess new string length.

The First Time You Change Guitar Strings, Go Easy

Now that you have a better idea of when and why you should change your guitar strings, go ahead and put your knowledge and new tools and materials to the test. Take it easy the first time you attempt to change a string to avoid pitfalls like snapping a string because it was tightened too much. Try one string first: You'll know the tension is right from the sound the string emits and the ease of playing. Then proceed with the rest. After a few changes, the process will feel like second nature.

Watch Now: Steps to Removing Guitar Strings