Not only will you require extra guitar strings immediately after you hear that unique "POP-twang-scratch" sound, but you'll also discover that strings wear out. Always have extra strings on hand (I recommend two complete sets).
Over time all guitar strings stretch out and get dirty. In addition, steel strings can rust, and bronze strings will tarnish.
All of these conditions cause that once bright responsive sound and great sustain to disappear. But it may happen so gradually that you don't notice... until you replace them, or you hear someone else play with newer strings.
There's nothing like playing with a new set of strings on your favorite guitar!
How often should you replace guitar strings?
The answer depends on three factors: the quality of the strings now on your guitar; how often and how roughly you play; and, how clean and oil free your hands are. Only you can answer these questions.
Some guitar strings stretch out relatively quickly. Some players strum or bend strings harder or farther. Some people have naturally oily skin. You can control these factors to some extent.
- Quality strings will not stretch out as quickly.
- You probably will not want to adjust your style to protect strings, but be aware that how you play is a factor.
- To reduce oil and dirt buildup, clean you hands before you play, and wipe strings down afterward.
A traveling artist is likely to replace the strings on their primary guitar every day. An instructor who also plays with others and practices frequently may replace them once each week, to as little as once per month. Many casual players replace strings every three months.
What are the names of the strings?
Take a look at the String Names page.
What types of strings are there (for six-string guitars)?
Each type of guitar: Electric, Acoustic (Steel String), and Classical (Nylon String), uses a different type of string. So, when you replace the strings on your guitar make sure you purchase the right type.
To tell the difference between a steel string acoustic guitar and a classical guitar, look at the strings. If all of them are metallic, it's a steel string acoustic. If three of the strings are nylon, it's a classical guitar.
What are guitar strings made of?
Companies make strings using a variety of materials, thicknesses and coatings to create a sound pleasing to a group of guitarists.
The term "string" is held over from earlier generations of guitars. Unless you are using a toy guitar, which might actually use string, the 'strings' on a guitar are made of nylon and/or metal.
All strings have a central portion, called the 'core'. For nylon strings, the core is, not surprisingly, nylon. For all other strings the core is metallic.
Metal string cores are usually either round or hexagonal (six sided). This core is often steel or nickel. The steel cores are often plated with nickel.
The lower frequency guitar strings (E-A-D) have another wire wrapped around the core. The dominant types of 'windings' are: round, half-round, and flat-round. Each winding type produces a unique combination of squeak, sustain and tone.
Round windings are the the most round, and the most common. Half-round produce a smoother string and less squeak. Flat-wound are the smoothest, with the least squeak. The tone tends to change from bright to less bright as you move from round to flat-wound strings.
What does it mean to buy "10's" or "Light's"?
As you can tell by looking at the strings on a guitar, the highest notes are produced by the thinnest string and the lowest are produced by the thickest.
In addition to the changes for frequency, guitar strings are sold in a variety of thicknesses. The thinner strings are easier to press down to the fretboard, something a new player will appreciate. Thicker strings provide more punch, tone, and sustain... but will be hard for a beginner to play well.
Guitarists refer to the entire set based on the gauge (diameter) of the high-e (thinnest) string. So, if the gauge of the high-e string is 0.10 (one tenth of an inch in diameter), the strings are called "10's".
Common string sizes are:
- Extra Light's are 8's.
- Light's are 9's.
- Regular are 10's.
- Medium are 11's.
- Medium Heavy are 12's.
- Heavy Duty are 13's.
What About Coated Strings?
I use and recommend Elixir Strings.
Are they right for you?
Let's look at what they are, the advantages, and (yes) disadvantages.
What are Coated Strings?
The folks at Elixir recognized, and most guitarists agree, that there's nothing like the sound of new strings. The tone, the sustain, the stability for remaining in-tune. That's why traveling and professional musicians tend to change strings every single day.
If new guitar strings are so great, why do they need to be changed? Because every time you play your guitar, you damage them.
The amount of damage you inflict depends on a number of factors: how wildly you tune them; how clean your hands are; how much you sweat; the oils your hands naturally produce; the contaminants in the air around you; and how well you clean your strings after you play. In short, the more skin, sweat, dirt, and debris you leave on your strings, the faster they wear out.
Elixir decided to help you by putting a barrier between your strings and all these contaminants. What they came up with, after lots of testing and customer feedback, is a very thin tube of material around each string. The tube creates a 'skin' to protect the string. It's tough enough to hold up to fingers and picks, without interfering with the ability of the string to vibrate and create great tone.
Advantages: Tone, Longevity, Reduced Squeak
Most people think the only advantage of coated strings is the extended life they provide. But if they don't sound great, long-life is just a long time you spend with annoying strings. For me, an advantage of Elixir strings is the great tone they provide.
Elixir estimates that their strings should last 3 to 5 times longer than non-coated strings. Do they? Unfortunately, that depends on how you play.
For me they easily provide the promised life expectancy. However, a friend of mine who tried Elixir's and found that the coating became shredded in about the same amount of time that his other strings wore out.
So, they are cost effective for me, but not for him (although he did like the tone).
Finally, the coating significantly reduces the squeaking sound you get as you run your fingers up and down the strings when you change chords or play a riff. Some people like this sound, others don't. If you want to minimize the sound (which, to me, is like fingernails on a chalk board!) coated guitar strings will restore your sanity! (Well, maybe.)
Cost is the primary disadvantage of coated strings. Elixir's cost $12-14 per set (although I've found them on sale for as little as $7). Similar uncoated strings cost $3-5.
Are they right for you? I encourage you to try them and see for yourself.
Reminder: Regardless of which strings you use, clean them after every use for the longest possible life.
Can I change the size of the strings on my guitar?
In general, yes... but check your owner's manual before you increase string gauge more than one size.
Some guitars can accommodate the larger gauge strings, some cannot. Also, the larger the gauge the higher the tension placed on your guitar. Too much tension could result in damage to your instrument.
Always check your owner's manual, the manufacturer's web-site, or ask a qualified guitar technician.
Time for Action!
Get quality strings for your guitar!
Strings And Beyond offers guitar strings and accessories for acoustic and electric guitar at great prices. Order several sets and get free shipping on orders over $35.
Then take a look at the Change Guitar Strings page for information and videos on exactly how to do it.