Let’s face it: Replacing guitar strings is no fun at all.
That’s why we, the laziest of players, tend to push them to the limit and keep using them until they are almost unplayable.
But what’s the limit?
Is it worth trying to find it?
Ultimately: Is it bad to don’t ever change your guitar strings?
Not changing your guitar strings can cause issues because old strings get rusty and coarse, and could damage your guitar frets and fretboard way faster. Also, they start feeling rough on your fingers and will cause intonation issues. It’s recommended to change your strings every 3 months.
In this article, I will go in-depth about what are the main issues with making strings last for longer than they are intended.
After leaving this page you will have a clearer idea about what are the issues and dangers of still using old strings after they became harsh and rusty.
Are you ready to get started?
Why do guitar strings need to be changed?
Acoustic and electric guitar strings are made of steel and nickel, and although in many cases are treated to prevent rust and wear, since they are in constant contact with your sweaty hands they decay over time.
But it’s not only about rust.
Nylon strings such as the ones you could find on a classical guitar also wear off with time.
Prolonged use of strings makes them lose their original properties because dirt and other materials stick to them changing their shape and making them vibrate irregularly.
All of these issues combined result in an inevitable deterioration that can’t be reversed in any way.
But that’s ultimately fine since strings are not intended to last for years.
The only issue is having to pay for a new set, obviously.
Do old guitar strings sound bad?
How old guitar strings sound might be a hot topic.
In my opinion, there’s a certain charm that slightly used strings have. They sound darker, and I prefer darker tones.
But a lot of players really like the extremely bright sound of new strings. So there’s that.
However, what I can objectively mention is that used strings start having intonation issues when they are reaching the end of their intended lifespan.
You see, when rust, debris, and dirt start building up on their surface, combined with normal usage deformations, the way they vibrate starts getting messy.
Since notes (pitches) are a result of the frequency at which the vibrating part of a string resonates, you can immediately see why this is an issue.
You could end up having a string that vibrates almost normally on certain parts of the fretboard, but that is gravely deformed after a certain fret and gives slightly out-of-tune notes.
Think of playing chords like this, and if you have a somewhat developed ear you will start cringing just from the idea of it happening.
Can old guitar strings damage your guitar?
The main issue with old guitar strings is that they lose smoothness, and with time they become coarse and start grinding against the surfaces of the guitar they come in contact with.
Namely, decayed strings will wear out your frets and fretboard faster.
It’s not that new strings won’t also damage these fundamental parts of the instrument, they naturally do because of how guitars work, but their impact is way milder.
Can old guitar strings hurt you?
As strings get worn out and start rusting they become brownish and rough on your fretting hand.
This roughness doesn’t only difficult playing, but also can, in an extreme case, cut you.
And although it’s unlikely that they could cause great harm, it’s surely not a pleasant situation.
Also, old strings are more likely to snap, and a string snapping on your finger releasing all the tension it was under is also not a funny thing.
Finally, worn-out strings can stain your fingers and leave a stronger smell than usual, something that a lot of players can’t live with.
How to know when to change your guitar strings?
Knowing when to change your guitar strings is something that comes naturally as you get more experienced with the instrument.
Because the decay is slow and gradual, you will probably not notice how your guitar sounds darker week after week.
However, when strings start having intonation issues, you would probably notice it, especially when playing chords on different parts of the fretboard.
Feel is another way to determine when it is time for a string swap.
Whenever you start noticing that your guitar is getting harder to play, and for instance, slides don’t feel as smooth as you remember, then it might be a good time to get a new string set.
How often should you change your guitar strings?
How often you should change your guitar strings depends purely on how much you play it, if you clean the strings up after playing, and how you store your instrument.
Also, some higher-end strings are manufactured in ways that make them last for longer, by having special chemical coatings, for instance.
Taking proper care of your strings will undoubtedly expand their lifespan. Just have a dry cloth at hand to wipe them one by one when you finish playing.
There are also specific products to clean them you could try.
However, no matter how much you care for your strings, they are not built to last forever, and that’s alright.
But to not leave you without an estimate, players who practice regularly can expect strings to last for about 3 months.
However, if you don’t play that much, or if you are on a budget you could probably stretch that period to even 6 months.
It should be noted that gigging artists can change their strings before every show, or every few shows since the hard and sweaty playing of a proper gig really takes a toll on them.
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.