Should I Change My Guitar Strings?

How do you know when it’s time to change your guitar strings? Are there signs that tell you? Is there a routine that works best for changing strings?

The answer to these questions is not always straightforward on the classical guitar. But there are ways you can decide what’s best for you.

How Do You Know When to Change Guitar Strings?

On classical guitar, strings can last a long time and remain playable. The sound of the nylon strings will dull over time. But unless the strings unravel or break, we can still play them.

The treble strings on classic guitar will become “beat up” by our fingernails. They will get knicks and dents. And these in turn can wear down our fingernails faster. This can affect our tone quality as well, as our fingernails roughen.

The bass strings will lose their brightness and “punch” over time. And because of this, the balance between bass and treble strings can change. This will require us to play with more force than we may with new strings.

The bass strings can also unravel. This makes them less enjoyable to play. But there’s no harm in playing with unraveling bass strings.

Acoustic and Electric Steel-String Guitar Strings

The question is easier to answer on steel-string acoustic and electric guitars. The strings will rust. When they do, they become unpleasant to feel and can hurt our fingers.

The bass strings of acoustic guitars can also lose much of their resonance and punch when old and dead. So a wimpy bass sound is a good indicator you need new strings.

Are Fresh Strings Necessary?

On the classical guitar, we can play on old guitar strings for years if we choose to. As long as the strings stay in tune, they are fine to play.

Steel-string acoustic guitar strings can rust and cut our fingertips. This will not happen on nylon classical strings.

So there is rarely a “need” to change classical guitar strings. But despite that, we may choose to.

Benefits of Changing Strings

New strings come with both benefits and costs. New strings are a joy to play and hear. Our guitars will usually sound at their best with new strings. They will be louder and each note more distinct.

New strings tend to have a rich, warm sound. They are resonant and full-bodied (like an Italian baritone sitting in our lap).

New strings are also more responsive. This means that we can play with more nuance, and the guitar will project small changes in volume and tone. This can help our practice by giving us clearer feedback.

Another benefit of new strings is the surge of motivation and engagement we get. When we put energy and attention onto our instrument, we often feel more impetus to pick it up and practice. So new strings can help us to breathe new life into our guitar practice.

Downsides of Changing Strings

But new strings are not all glory and bliss. There are downsides to new guitar strings.

First, it takes time to change guitar strings. Even if we’re very experienced, it can still be at least 15 focused minutes to make the swap. And if we’re new to the process, it may take up to an hour.

Next, new strings take time to “settle in.” Guitar strings stretch and loosen when they are brand new. They do this until they are able to stay in tune. Until then, we find ourselves tuning much more often. At this stage, we may need to retune every few minutes in practice.

We can reduce the stretch-time by pulling gently on the strings and playing loudly. Hard-tension strings stretch out much faster than normal or low-tension strings.

So Do You Need New Strings?

On classical guitar, new strings are more often a choice than a necessity. As long as the strings can stay in tune, we can play them.

But new strings are a nice treat. We feel a sense of accomplishment after changing them. And fresh strings are a joy to play.

So it may be nice to change your strings any time you need a boost. Or when you know you’ll be away from your guitar for a few days, to let the strings stretch and settle in.

Over time, changing strings will become a quicker and more comfortable task. And then we can enjoy fresh strings more often.

Allen Mathews

Hi, I’m Allen Mathews. 

I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
Click here for a sample formula.

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