Written by Bobby
The average set of uncoated electric or acoustic guitar strings lasts anywhere between one and three months, depending on the amount of playing. Coated guitar strings, like the Elixir electric and acoustic string sets, are known to last and hold their tone for around six to nine months or even longer. Again, this would depend on the frequency and intensity of playing.
Of course, this can also depend on a number of additional variables, including:
- The size and gauge of the string
- Brand and construction quality of the string
- Amount of sweat (it's really hard on strings)
There are also different understandings of what it means when we say "How long do guitar strings last?" Lasting, to some people, means the strings still make noise and don't crumble into dust. If that's your standard, strings can last for years, even though they'll end up leaving a really weird smell on your fingers.
Let's talk about some of the markers of guitar strings that need changed.
Early Stages of Aging Guitar Strings
First, it's important to note that not all aspects of a guitar string aging is bad. For example, keeping them in tune is something that takes some playing and "breaking in." When you put on brand new strings, expect it to take an hour or so of playing before they settle and don't crack or "shift" when you tune.
As you play, you'll notice the brightness of the string start to decline, especially with acoustic strings and lighter gauges.
Some people prefer strings that are a few weeks old because of the more "mellow" sound they produce. I'm one of those people. I'd rather have a string sound full and bass-heavy then bright and brittle.
None of this means the strings need changed.
Signs of Guitar Strings Needing Changed
After the initial breaking in you won't notice a significant change in your string quality for another month or two, longer if you're using a coated string. Signs that strings are starting to wear and need changed could be any of the following:
- Coloring: Strings will become more pale or stained
- Tone: Sound will lose its "thickness" and become thinner, like a tin can
- Feel: Strings will feel rough and harder to slide on
Any of these signs could mark the beginning of the end for your guitar strings operating at their most optimal quality level. Again, they might not break or stop making noise, but they'll no longer be producing the best possible tone or sounding like they were made to sound.
How long to push it?
There's no de facto answer once you get to this point. Again, replacing them depends a lot on how often you play, how much you sweat and what type of strings you use. I've been playing guitar for a long time and have used a few different strings consistently, so I can list them and give you some exact numbers in terms of how long I wait to change them.
- Ernie Ball Electric Light Top Heavy Bottom: 5 months (light to moderate playing frequency)
- Ernie Ball Baritone Electric Strings: 12-14 months (light playing)
- Elixir POLYWEB Coating Electric Strings Light: 10 months (moderate playing)
- Elixir NANOWEB Coating Electric Strings Medium: 10-12 months (moderate playing)
- Elixir NANOWEB Coating Acoustic Strings Light: 8 - 10 months (light playing)
As you can see, I tend to push strings pretty far past their conventional "expiration date." At the same time, some of the guys I've worked with change their strings every month, just because they like the sound of new strings. In either case, it's a big matter of preference.
While I can't speak for other string brands, my experience with Ernie Ball and Elixir coated strings it that they can handle some some age, especially the Elixirs. If you're primarily concerned with string life and longevity, Elixirs and larger gauges (heavier string gauges) are going to be your best options. Uncoated strings and thinner gauges just don't last as long.
I wouldn't be afraid of pushing string life, but I've also almost exclusively used the coated string design.
My advice: Spend more on a strong, good-quality string and run it into the ground.