Changing Guitar Strings

Everything You Wanted To Know About Guitar Strings

By Mike Hayes

“How often should I change strings?”

We’ve had quite a few people write in about this. How often you change your strings really is a personal matter, but I’d like to pass on a few little guidelines here just to give you something to think about.

Now, I know a lot of guitar players leave the strings on their guitar until they break, but that is something I really don’t recommend. Worn strings are by far the most common cause of a bad tone and contribute to a lot of tuning problems.

The strings are really the very life of the guitar. The strings wear down because they are making metal to metal contact; that’s the bottom of the string touching the top of the metal fret of the guitar.

That wears away the underside of the string. So the string might look quite okay from above as you are looking down at the guitar, but really on the underside of the strings in particular, if you have a close look and sort of roll the string over a little bit, you will see those little indentations forming on the underside of the string. That is where the fret has been rubbing against the string.

Eventually, things like acid from the perspiration of the guitarist’s hands, rust, wax, grease, dirt and all these types of things change the diameter of the string. This means that the string cannot vibrate at the correct frequency.

So you can see there are a lot of variables involved here such as the climate and where you live. For example, if you live near the beach and you’ve got a lot of salt water and things like that, it will contribute to the string deteriorating really quickly.

Let’s have a look at a few survival tips for strings. These will increase your string life, they will make it more fun to play, and they will sound better for longer.

Okay, one of the things that is really important is to wipe your strings down with a soft, dry, lint-free cloth. After you finish playing, just wipe the strings down on top and also get underneath the strings. In other words, put the cloth in between the strings and the fingerboard and run it all the way down the length of the neck of the guitar. This will help dry out the perspiration and clear off the rust and things like that.

I do this every time I finish a session. When I finish playing for the day or when I finish a recording session, I wipe the guitar down; I wipe the strings down. The next day the strings feel really good. This is a very, very, very, very important tip.

Here’s another tip I’d like to pass along, particularly for new players because you may not know about this. It is a great product called Fingerease. This is basically a spray pack like an aerosol can and you spray it on your strings. It reduces the friction between your fingers and the strings.

It also helps protect the strings so they don’t rust out as quickly as they normally would. It is a great idea and I highly recommend it.

The next tip is to always use a good quality string. All strings are not created equal.

There is a brand that I like to use on all my guitars. I’ve been around the block many, many times with all the various brands of strings. I used to have different brands on different guitars. On my acoustic guitar I’d use one brand and I’d have a different brand on my solid body electric and things like that.

But the brand I use and recommend is D’addario. They are really a great string. They are very, very consistent; you put them on and they sound great first up.

Okay, let’s move on to types of strings so you can determine which string suits your type of guitar.

First I’m going to speak about steel-string guitars. If you have a look at your steel-string guitar, the two thin strings are just a plain wire; they are just a straight wire.

If you are playing an electric, you will find the first three strings are plain wire. If you are playing an acoustic guitar, you will find the first and second strings, the two thin ones, are plain wire and then all the other strings are wound.

With these wound strings, they have a center core. That center core is just a straight, plain string like your thin strings and it has a wrap wire around it. Depending on what type of alloy they use on this wrap wire, it will give you different sounds.

Here are the three main types of strings you will find. There’s the nickel-plated wrap wire. This provides a great overall tone and sound. It is probably the best selling type of electric guitar string in the last 50 years.

If you are playing electric guitar, the gauges, this is the thickness of the strings; I’d go for a nickel-wound string.

Gauges for nickel-wound string

First string: 009
Second string: 011
Third string: 016
Fourth string: 024
Fifth string: 032
Sixth string: 042

You can also get a stainless-steel wrap. This gives you an even brighter sound. They are generally used on electric instruments, but they can be used on acoustic guitars as well.

Then there are the phosphor-bronze strings and I really recommend these for acoustic guitars. They give you a full, rich, acoustic tone, a great, deep bottom end and nice, high, clear bell-like sounds on the high strings.

Now if you are playing a nylon-string guitar, that means the first three strings will be clear nylon, I would recommend on the low three strings that are wound that you use silver-plated wound strings.

Here’s another tip while we are talking about strings. Please don’t put steel strings on a nylon-string guitar. Steel strings exert about 60 pounds or approximately 27 more kilograms more tension than nylon strings. That can do so much damage to your nylon-string guitar.

You can put nylon strings on a steel-string guitar, but it is not a great idea. A steel-string guitar is more heavily braced inside. When you put the nylon strings on it will essentially make the guitar sound very dull.

Now I’d like to give you the string gauges that I use and recommend for acoustic guitar.

String gauges for acoustic guitar

First string 011
Second string 015
Third string 022
Fourth string 032
Fifth string 042
Sixth string 052

Another helpful hint is regarding the nut on the guitar. That is that white plastic part or it might be bone depending on which type of guitar you are playing. It is on the end of the finger board, right at the top and it holds the strings. It’s got little grooves in it and that is what holds the strings in place.

A good idea to do there is to get a lead pencil and just rub it over the grooves so that some of the graphite will fall down into the groove. This is before you put the new string in.

The idea is that it will help the string slip and it won’t get stuck in that groove when you are bending strings and so on. It will help the tuning of the guitar. It will help you get the guitar in pitch without hearing all those clicking sounds you often hear when you are putting strings on.

Now a fantastic accessory that I use and recommend is a string winder. These little devices don’t cost much but, boy, they will save you so much time when you are changing your strings. I really do recommend them.