I’ve always known it to be good practise to change strings every month or so, but when there’s no lesson or jam session or gigs involved, I opted to save some cash and not change any guitar strings, unless a string broke. They’ve held out, but I’ve recently come to realise it’s been two years almost to the day since I bought my guitar and although the strings are all still in one piece, I can tell they’re looking very shabby, so I thought it was time to re-string and hopefully the difference will be noticeable enough for you to see the importance of maintaining your strings.
Why I’ve decided to change my guitar strings
I’ve been playing more guitar than ever over the last few months and my confidence is building, but every note I play feels a bit lacking – a little dull, weak… dead even. And that’s whether I play on my amp or through my PC. My guitar pedals add a bit of a mask, but it doesn’t solve the problem and I come out of every practise session feeling like I haven’t improved, even though I know I have.
So, I’ve come to realise, if it’s not the amp or the pedals, it’s likely the strings at this point. The steel strings have lost their shine and now are a dull black and the nickel-plated bass strings are also quite dull now. It’s probably worth mentioning I’ve never replaced the guitar strings since I bought my Stratocaster two years ago (!) – and if you factor in how long before that it was manufactured, and you’ll realise those strings needed replacing a long time ago!
Do old guitar strings get worse with time?
Every time you press down a fret, the oils and sweat on your fingers transfer to the guitar strings. Sweat and grime are completely natural to be on your hands, but they are corrosive to steel and nickel – the main materials used to make electric and acoustic guitar strings.
The same is true for classical guitar strings, which are silver-plated. They corrode over time and start sounding dull, so if you’re a gigging player, you’ll need to change your strings long before they ever break.
Also, as the strings suffer more and more with corrosion and the other hazards of life, strings stay in tune for shorter periods of time – and if you’ve ever wondered why your playing doesn’t sound as good as you expect it to, it’s likely your instrument is out of tune – especially with old strings.
Old electric guitar strings vs brand new electric guitar strings
For science and posterity, I’ve decided to document how my Fender Player Stratocaster® sounds with the same two-year-old strings I bought it with before replacing them with brand new strings of the same gauge (9-42), although a different brand: the guitar currently has Fender® brand strings and I’m replacing those with Ernie Ball Super Slinky® strings.
I don’t imagine there’s much separating them for this blog post.
As there’s a lot of road traffic in my office, I am playing a simple chord pattern, riff and an arpeggio in A major straight into my audio interface and from there into Reaper. There’s a small amount of delay to give the sense of being in a room, so that the audio doesn’t sound sterile and for the over driven segments, I’m using a Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer pedal into the audio interface. Video comes from my phone and the camera’s audio has been removed.
Let’s see a brief example of what the two-year-old strings sound like:
Uninspiring, tepid and flacid.
Here’s the new strings, same set up, after giving them a few days to settle in:
Hopefully you can tell from the video, but personally, I think the new strings have made a world of difference.
The tone is fuller, richer and brighter – so much more alive, especially in the lower positions which suffer the most from not sounding as vibrant as position one. The guitar stayed in tune the whole time, so the playing remained consistent. The strings are putting up less resistnce to my fingers, so it’s easier than ever to move up and down the neck.
I’m actually so much more motivated now to have a livelier sounding instrument and it’s enabled me to play with so much more conviction!