How often should I change strings? - Jun 2001

As usual, the answer is, "that depends..." Musicians change strings for two main reasons: strings break or time or play degrades their ability to produce good sound (dead strings are hard to tune & make a dull, thudding sound). The type of instrument, the kind of string, your body chemistry, the frequency with which you play & your expectations all influence when to change strings. 

 

Type of instrument: In general, players change strings on fretted instruments more frequently than on instruments without frets. The difference stems from the way that fretted & unfretted instruments produce sound, the kind of sound that they each produce (the way that violin-family instruments make sound is less affected by string degradation), from fret-wear on strings (that fretless instruments don't experience), & a substantial difference in cost between fretted & fretless instrument strings. 

 

Guitar, banjo & mandolin string sets cost from about $6 to $15, while violin string sets start at about $18. Cello strings are about $20 each, as are the least expensive upright bass strings (most bass string sets are over $100). Players are more inclined (& able) to change strings when it costs $6. 

 

Some professional players change their guitar, mandolin or banjo strings daily, or before each performance. Most accomplished players who play daily change their strings monthly (beginners change strings often because they break them while tuning). 

 

Professional violin, cello & bass players also change their strings more often than amateurs. However, even accomplished amateurs seldom change their strings more than twice a year (fretless beginners also break a lot of strings tuning). 

 

Type of strings: String materials include steel & bronze alloys, nylon & gut. String degradation results from two phenomena: corrosion, & stretching/fatigue. While, nylon & gut don't, "corrode," they do degrade from exposure to oil & dirt on players' hands. "Corrosion products," form on the surface of metallic & non-metallic strings, damping vibration & tone. In addition, sustained tension & vibration alter the microscopic structure of the metal, nylon or gut in the strings & the sound they produce. 

 

Your body chemistry: Each person's body oils affect string materials differently. Some people find that their strings degrade in a few hours, while other people see little degradation in a month. The best way to extend string life is to wash your hands about half an hour before playing (so that your hands are clean, but your callouses aren't still soft when you play), and to wipe the strings with a clean cloth after you play. 

 

Frequency with which you play: Even strings that are not played will degrade under tension & exposure to air; it just happens more slowly. That's why professionals & accomplished amateurs have to change their strings more often. 

 

Your expectations: Another reason that pros & advanced amateurs change strings more often is because their more trained ears hear the diminished quality of sound sooner than a novice. 

 

The short answer is, change your strings whenever the sound that they produce is no longer rewarding to you.

How often should I change strings?

 

As usual, the answer is, "that depends..." Musicians change strings for two main reasons: strings break or time or play degrades their ability to produce good sound (dead strings are hard to tune & make a dull, thudding sound). The type of instrument, the kind of string, your body chemistry, the frequency with which you play & your expectations all influence when to change strings. 

 

Type of instrument: In general, players change strings on fretted instruments more frequently than on instruments without frets. The difference stems from the way that fretted & unfretted instruments produce sound, the kind of sound that they each produce (the way that violin-family instruments make sound is less affected by string degradation), from fret-wear on strings (that fretless instruments don't experience), & a substantial difference in cost between fretted & fretless instrument strings. 

 

Guitar, banjo & mandolin string sets cost from about $6 to $15, while violin string sets start at about $18. Cello strings are about $20 each, as are the least expensive upright bass strings (most bass string sets are over $100). Players are more inclined (& able) to change strings when it costs $6. 

 

Some professional players change their guitar, mandolin or banjo strings daily, or before each performance. Most accomplished players who play daily change their strings monthly (beginners change strings often because they break them while tuning). 

 

Professional violin, cello & bass players also change their strings more often than amateurs. However, even accomplished amateurs seldom change their strings more than twice a year (fretless beginners also break a lot of strings tuning). 

 

Type of strings: String materials include steel & bronze alloys, nylon & gut. String degradation results from two phenomena: corrosion, & stretching/fatigue. While, nylon & gut don't, "corrode," they do degrade from exposure to oil & dirt on players' hands. "Corrosion products," form on the surface of metallic & non-metallic strings, damping vibration & tone. In addition, sustained tension & vibration alter the microscopic structure of the metal, nylon or gut in the strings & the sound they produce. 

 

Your body chemistry: Each person's body oils affect string materials differently. Some people find that their strings degrade in a few hours, while other people see little degradation in a month. The best way to extend string life is to wash your hands about half an hour before playing (so that your hands are clean, but your callouses aren't still soft when you play), and to wipe the strings with a clean cloth after you play. 

 

Frequency with which you play: Even strings that are not played will degrade under tension & exposure to air; it just happens more slowly. That's why professionals & accomplished amateurs have to change their strings more often. 

 

Your expectations: Another reason that pros & advanced amateurs change strings more often is because their more trained ears hear the diminished quality of sound sooner than a novice. 

 

The short answer is, change your strings whenever the sound that they produce is no longer rewarding to you.