As unlikely as it may seem, it is very common for me to meet customers who don’t realize that the strings on their guitar need to be changed periodically, even though none of them may be broken. Even more common are customers that think changing strings once every year or two is plenty. What follows is a general guide to helping you notice when it is time to change your strings.

1. Can you remember the last time you changed them? If the answer is no… go ahead and change them. If it has been more than a few months, you are probably due. Generally speaking, if you practice a little every day, your strings will probably last about a month or two. (If you tend to have sweatier hands, or more acidic sweat than others, your strings may need to be changed more often). However, even if you rarely play, a new set of strings doesn’t stay new forever. In my opinion, for the average bedroom hobbyist, change your strings and give your instrument some love three to four times a year minimum.

2. Are they visibly dirty? The oils in your skin get left behind on the strings and collect dust. Over time, this will make them look dull and faded, particularly in the areas where you play the most often. Compare these areas to parts of the string that never get played – like behind the nut – and you will likely see a clean/dirty contrast. Dirty strings may also start to develop little black spots, or even little stalactites. Run your fingers up the under-side of the high e string. Can you feel gunk on there? Does it leave a thin black line on your finger? Oily, dusty build-up on strings will make them sound dull and lifeless. There are a number of string cleaning products available that work fairly well, but in my opinion, if your strings are dirty enough that you think you should clean them… you should probably just change them.

3. Do you feel like your guitar has lost some of its sustain or developed intonation issues, or are you having trouble keeping it in tune? These can all be signs that your strings are dead. Dead strings don’t ring or sustain very well, they are less tuning stable, and can keep your instrument from staying accurately intonated. If you are experiencing any of these issues, and you are fairly confident that your instrument is free of structural and hardware problems, try changing your strings to see if that solves the problem.

4. Do you have an important gig or recording session soon? If you are just playing around the campfire, or like to have a guitar laying around just for fun, the items listed above may not concern you. However, if you are going to be performing, and certainly if you are planning to record your music, you will most likely want a fresh set of strings on your guitar. Professionals that gig often and spend time in the studio often, change their strings often.

One of the best reasons to change your strings on a semi regular basis, is to spend a little time looking over and caring for your instrument. A little bit of maintenance every month or two can help you notice and hopefully avoid bigger problems that can result in a costly repair, or even permanent damage. Between string changes, it is good practice to always wash your hands before you play, wipe your strings down with a dry polish cloth after you play, and always store your guitar in a case or bag.

This is one technician’s perspective.

What are your thoughts?