Happy New Year! The ball dropped and the champagne popped, and now we look forward to the future. We’ve all made resolutions in years past, and maybe one of your resolutions for this year is to finally nail the intro section in Cliffs of Dover (good luck!) Of all the changes you will make this year, make sure one of them is regularly changing your guitar strings.
Why Should I Change My Strings?
There are many reasons to change your strings, but simplest reason is tone. Over time, as you play your instrument, the oils and grease from from your fingers will get left behind on the strings. This causes a deadening in the string’s initial tone, because the strings cannot resonate like they did when your first put the strings on. Your strings may not ring with the same sustain as they did when you first strung it up to play.
Additionally, the stress placed on the strings from use impact their structural integrity. Have you noticed after a few months of playing on the same set, grooves will appear on the underside of of your strings? The combination of oils from your hands and pressure from fingering the fretboard cause these groves to form in the positions you most frequently fret the guitar. Playing the guitar places wear and tear on the strings, and makes them more prone to breaking. It’s every guitar player’s nightmare to break a string while performing. Regular maintenance can help mitigate that situation.
How Often Should I Change My Strings?
There is a lot of information on this topic, but to be honest, it really depends on the player. The main questions you need to ask yourself is how often do you play, and what sort of tone are you looking for? Many guitar players prefer the tone they get out of deadened/worn strings when compared to a fresh set. There are a lot of variables, but we’ll go point by point to help figure out what works for you.
You are using your instrument regularly. That means you are putting more wear and tear on your strings. Since you trying to provide the best performance possible, and you want to sound as good as you can for the audience, we recommend changing string every 1-3 months. This allows you to become comfortable with the set of strings on your instrument, and allows for the instrument to resonate.
Some gigging musicians will change their strings every week to maximize tone. Kirk Hammett of Metallica will change his strings after every set. You can absolutely change your strings as often as you see fit, but make sure to break the strings in after you have installed them. The best way to do that is to play! Strings will naturally set into the guitar after playing it for a while.
This is your hobby, and because it’s your hobby, it can be as much or as little as you want to put into it. We recommend changing strings every 3-6 months. You’re not breaking the bank buying strings super frequently, but you’re getting a consistent tone throughout the lifetime of the strings as you change them.
There are simple ways to increase string life, the simplest and most effective is to wash your hands before picking up the guitar to play. This allows for less oil and grease to get on the strings, and therefore transfer less corrosive oils to the strings. An added bonus to this, it will help keep your guitar clean.
In the Studio
On behalf of studio engineers everywhere, change your strings 3 days to a week before you begin tracking guitar. We don’t recommend changing them
on the day of recording, and for good reason. We discussed it earlier, but it bears repeating. It takes a few days for you to “break in” new strings. In the initial days following a restring, your guitar may fall out of tune from time to time. New strings need to adjust to the idiosyncrasies of the guitar, until the strings fit perfectly into the nut, bridge, and tuning pegs.
Studios are generally booked based on time, so being prepared is key to saving money. We may tackle that topic in another blog, but the main takeaway today is change your strings a few days before tracking.
Use Your Better Judgement
Remember, the frequency in which you change your strings can be an artistic and stylistic choice. The recommendations that we have curated above are based on experience and customer interactions. Remember, these are moresoe suggestions than gospel. Tone is key, and strings can have a massive impact on it.
What Kind of Strings Should I Use?
Since string changing preference is subjective, string type also varies from each musician. A lot of jazz players will use a heavier gauge of string to maximize tone, whereas a shredder might opt for a lighter gauge string for maximum ease of performance. In general, you can’t go wrong with a set of 10 gauge strings. They are a happy medium (literally) in terms of string tension and ease of playability, but also provide a thicker tone than a lighter gauge string.
Some musicians who play in dropped tuning prefer a heavier gauge string for the bass notes, and lighter gauge for the notes in the higher register. It allows for a crunchy low end, and easier to play top end.
If you are experimenting with different gauges of strings, we recommend getting your guitar setup to the tension of the strings. Changing strings impacts tension and stress placed on the neck and body of the guitar, and can lead to intination, neck relief, and string height changes. Additionally, the nut at the top of your guitar may need to be adjusted or replaced to account for the thickness of the string. If you are looking to change to a different gauge of strings, stop in at Dave’s so we can give your guitar a setup.
January 1st is the start of a new year, but the quest for tone is neverending. Perhaps changing those strings can help nail that tone you’ve been looking for (and maybe that Eric Johnson song.) We encourage you to try all varieties of string gauges and types, and find out what works best for you. If you’re not sure where to start, stop in at Dave’s and one of our staff members would be happy to help guide you to the right direction.