When the time to change your guitar strings comes up, the doubts appear.
Once you finish installing the brand new set you may wonder:
“What can I do with this old set of rusted, damaged strings?”
“Should I keep it? Should I throw it away?”
Well, the fact is that you can hold them, and that is what most players do.
Old strings can be re-used and, in some cases, they could help you out of a squeeze. You definitely can remove your guitar string and then put them back on. Although obviously, used strings won’t have the sound and intonation of brand new ones, they are perfectly reusable if they were not cut too short.
Some guitarists use them as a backup in case they break one of their newer strings but, are old strings actually useful?
Do they lose their sound quality?
Are they still fully functional?
Through this article, I will try to evacuate every doubt related to this topic. In the end, you will know every needed aspect of old guitar strings.
Can you put old strings back on a guitar?
This is a common question for those players who had accidentally broken a string at home.
In short, you can install used strings in your guitar but that depends on how you removed them before.
If you want to re-use old strings it is important that they hadn’t been cut too short, otherwise, the length of the string wouldn’t be enough.
However, you must know that although is a good way to solve the problem, old strings will sound dull and might have intonation problems being them wobblies or ringings.
Needless to say, the touch sensation wouldn’t be the same and you may feel playing that specific string uncomfortable.
That is because strings tend to get rusty over time which is also a factor that affects their sound.
Why would you want to re-use guitar strings?
Sometimes, it happens that you need to re-use your old guitar strings, and this could be because of different reasons.
The most common is the one mentioned before, cutting a new string so you can use an old one as a spare.
Although this could be helpful I believe that there is no point in reusing old sets of strings.
A pair of decent strings is around $6 or $7 and its premium counterpart costs around $14.
Furthermore, buying a new set of strings won’t cost you an arm but assuming that you are not able to afford them, or all guitar stores nearby are closed, you can use your old string to go out of a hurry.
How to remove old strings if you plan on using them again
The first you need to do is loosen the strings and this might sound obvious but don’t cut them!
Remember we are going to use them again in the future.
Bear in mind that if the string had a hard bend at some point, that will be its weakest point, and where it’s more likely to break in the future.
So try avoiding these kinds of bends, either when removing the string or when storing it.
After carefully removing all strings, if you are planning on having them as a spare set for the future, I’d recommend you try to clean them up as much as possible.
To clean your used strings, first, rub them with a piece of cloth to remove all the superficial rust.
After that, you could try with some rubbing or isopropyl alcohol for a deeper rinse.
If you decide to scrape them with steel wool be extremely careful when removing all the small metal pieces that detach from both wool and strings since guitar pickups are magnetic and will attract them.
This last thing could generate serious problems with your guitar.
Is there something that can be done with old strings to restore them?
As a matter of fact, if you want to use old strings, you will have to restore them. Otherwise, the rusted strings will feel uncomfortable while playing.
A good option to bring them back to playing order would be removing the corrosion.
The only thing you need is a little piece of sandpaper, perhaps two.
After removing the strings, grab a piece of sandpaper and wrap each string to take out the rusted sections.
Be careful, again, with any metal shavings that could detach during this procedure.
Repeat the process in each string and after doing that, you will see that they will start to shine up.
Once every string is cleaned, tight them again and apply a few drops of guitar oil on the fretboard.
Finally, take a microfiber cloth and spread the oil along the neck with it.
If you do this process every time you are going to play, you will extend the lifetime of the strings.
However, strings will never last forever so think about replacing them in the future.
Another well-known option could be boiling the strings.
To do this, you will need to remove each string individually and put them in a pot, pan, or saucepan.
Fill the recipient with water and boil the strings for three to five minutes.
Once all the grease and dirtiness is removed, wipe them with a clean microfiber cloth.
Give them some time to rest and then dry them with a paper towel.
By doing this, you are removing all the materials that make them sound bad.
Nevertheless, as the string will be worn out due to the repeated use, they will sound a bit better but they won’t sound as good as they once did.
Would old strings from a guitar fit in another one?
Maybe you have cut one of your strings and a friend of yours can lend you an old one that he doesn’t use anymore.
You might think that is a perfect solution to your problem but it is not that simple.
An old string taken from a different guitar won’t probably fit due to the specific hard bends from points of contact with tuning pegs, the nut, and the bridge.
Even though they could possibly fit, there is a higher chance of failure.
In addition, you have to be aware of the scale length of both instruments.
If they vary in scale, the strings may be shorter than required, mainly if you have cut them.
In short, strings from another instrument might probably fit in a different one but in most cases, they don’t.
Is it worth it to use old strings again?
As I mentioned before, I can’t see the point of reusing old strings.
Their quality will be lower in terms of sound and comfort and, what is more, they aren’t expensive at all.
If you have an emergency and the only possible solution is using older strings, go for it.
Although they aren’t high-priced, on some occasions some players won’t be able to pay for them.
I suggest you do the same if you don’t have enough money to afford a new set.
But if you can replace them with a brand new set of strings, it would be the best choice.
How to prevent having to use old strings
We reach up to this point with a lot of information about old strings, their bad sounding, how careful you need to be when removing them, and more.
Nevertheless, we do have to discuss how to prevent having to use old strings.
To avoid that, an interesting solution would be having a spare string set with you.
In that way, you won’t have to worry about string accidents and they are small enough to fit in your guitar case.
What is also important is taking care of the strings and your guitar.
This not only will keep the strings away to break but also will enlarge their durability.
Last but not least, it is relevant to properly maintain your strings.
Wash your hand every time you grab your instrument to play.
A lot of dirt and grease from your hand will get in your guitar and that is harmful to the string and the instrument.
Use a common soap or maybe a hand sanitizer.
After you are done playing your instrument wipe your strings down, even if you have washed your hands previously.
Finally, use a string cleaner to have proper maintenance.
Hello there, my name is Ramiro and I’ve been playing guitar for almost 20 years. I’m obsessed with everything gear-related and I thought it might be worth sharing it. From guitars, pedals, amps, and synths to studio gear and production tips, I hope you find what I post here useful, and I’ll try my best to keep it entertaining also.