If there is one adage about true guitars, this will be it. Guitars age like wine, while guitar strings age like milk. The reason is that guitar wood develops better sounds as they age. Strings deteriorate as they age. What happens when guitar strings get old?
When guitar strings get old, they lose their brightness and sound dull. Old strings may also develop discoloration, possibly from corrosion and humidity. Old strings are also difficult to tune and may run out of tune faster. Finally, older strings may also feel rough to touch, signaling rust.
This article discusses what happens when guitar strings get old. It will also look at how to change guitar strings and whether new strings make guitars sound better.
What Are The Types Of Guitar Strings?
There are generally two types of guitar strings – metal and nylon. Both strings are used in guitars and may have different qualities, performances, and lifespans.
Nylon strings are known for their smooth, warm tone, which makes them well-suited for classical and flamenco music. They are also generally softer and easier to play than steel strings, which makes them a good choice for beginners or players with sensitive fingers.
Nylon strings are typically made by extruding the nylon material into a thin, continuous strand wound around a core to create the finished string. On the other hand, steel strings are typically made by winding a thin wire around a core.
This difference in construction affects how the strings vibrate and produce sound, which is why nylon and steel strings have different tones.
One issue with nylon strings is that they tend to be less durable and may need to be replaced more frequently.
Metal strings are made from steel, nickel, and various alloys. They are the most common guitar strings used on various guitar types, including electric, acoustic, and resonator guitars.
Metal strings are known for their bright, punchy tone, making them well-suited for various music styles, including rock, pop, and country. They are more durable than nylon strings and can withstand aggressive playing styles.
One of the main differences between metal and nylon strings is how they are made. Metal strings are typically made by winding a thin wire around a core. In contrast, nylon strings are made by extruding the nylon material into a thin, continuous strand and then winding it around a core.
This difference in construction affects how the strings vibrate and produce sound, which is why metal and nylon strings have different tones.
One issue about metal strings is despite their better sound quality, they tend to be more sensitive to changes in humidity and temperature.
What Happens When Guitar Strings Get Old?
As guitar strings age, they can lose their tone, become harder to play and break more easily. This can be brought about by various factors, including corrosion, dirt and grime build-up, and play wear and tear.
Guitar strings get old, and as they age, they lose their initial quality. Most guitar strings start to lose their sound quality after 6 months, depending on humidity and playing time.
As your guitar strings age, you may notice they start to show the following signs:
Loss Of Sound Quality
New guitar strings usually sound bright, punchy, and strong, giving you the confidence to strum and pick them hard.
This is because the strings are very elastic and can vibrate very well. The vibration also dies down slower. The guitar sound box has a good sound base to amplify and project out.
However, older strings lose elasticity, meaning when strummed or picked, they may not vibrate as well. The vibration also dies down faster. This translates into a less vibrating, dull, and lifeless sound.
More Difficult To Tune
New guitar strings are not just more elastic. It is also to keep itself at the right elasticity. This makes new strings incredibly easy to tune and keep in tune. This is because once stretched to be in tune, the string will keep the stress well and not loosen up.
The same cannot be said about older strings. As they age, they lose elasticity and the ability to sustain the same stress.
This means the strings may take longer to tune, and once tuned, the strings may lose their tune faster since they cannot keep the string stress well.
This can be frustrating, as strings may lose tuning at different rates. This means you may hear odd chords, as some strings remain in tune while others don’t.
One of the biggest enemies of guitar strings? Our hands play them. This is because we also introduce the oil, sweat, and grime from our fingers when we play the strings.
Over time, this oil, sweat, and grime may interact with the metals from the strings, causing discoloration and deterioration. Discoloration may happen faster if you have acidic sweat or play the strings more often.
Discolored strings may look dark, usually around the soundhole and the fretboards close to the guitar nut. These are where our fingers interact most with the strings.
Aside from sweat, grime, and oil from our hands, the general humidity around the strings may also deteriorate them. The most humid the guitar is kept in, the worse it gets.
As the sweat, grime, and oil break down the coating of the strings, bare metals get exposed, which may rust. As a result, these strings start to look rusty and brittle.
One easy way to tell if your strings may be rusting is to run your fingers through them. If they appear rough and uneven, chances are they have deformed due to rust.
More Prone To Breakage
You get one brittle string when you add flexibility, deformity, and general loss of elasticity. Brittle strings may not have the strength to handle being played roughly, so if you play the strings hard enough, you may break them.
Broken strings can be dangerous. When broken, they may bounce around in a violent snap and injure you. Broken old guitar strings may also be sharp, meaning they may poke into your skin, fingers, or, worse, eyes.
How To Change Guitar Strings?
Changing guitar strings usually involves loosening and removing the old string before replacing them with new ones. You then tune the strings to the right before trimming any excess strings at the tuning peg.
Changing guitar strings is a relatively simple process that most guitarists learn on their own. However, having someone show you the steps for the first time can be helpful.
Here are the steps to change your own guitar strings:
- Gather your materials. You’ll need the following:
- A new set of strings
- A pair of wire cutters (or a string winder if you have one)
- A cloth to clean the neck and fingerboard of your guitar.
- A guitar tuner
- Loosen the old strings. Turn the tuning pegs counterclockwise. It’s a good idea to loosen and change all the strings on your guitar in one go.
- Once the strings are loose, you can carefully pull them out of the tuning pegs and through the guitar’s bridge.
- As you pull, be careful not to let the strings snap back, as this can cause them to hit you or damage the guitar.
- Use a cloth to wipe down the neck and fingerboard of your guitar to remove any dirt or grime. Focus on the lower end of the neck, close to the headstock. This is because your fingers may press on the strings much more here. Your palm also may rest more here when playing guitar.
- Install the new strings. Start by threading the new strings through the guitar’s bridge and up to the tuning pegs. Please leave a little slack in the strings, so you have room to wind them up.
- Tune the strings. Once the new strings are in place, you can start tuning them to pitch. You can use an electronic tuner. As you tune each string, hold it down at the first fret to ensure it’s properly seated in the nut.
- Once the strings are tuned up, use wire cutters to trim off the excess string at the tuning peg. Make sure to leave a little slack, so the string doesn’t break when you’re playing.
Will New Strings Improve My Guitar Sound?
New strings will improve your guitar sound. Your guitar may sound more lively, vibrant, and bright. You can experiment with different types of strings to see which works best with your guitar.
New strings can often make a noticeable difference in the sound of your guitar. Fresh strings tend to have a brighter, clearer tone and may also be easier to play due to their smooth surface.
New strings can also help improve the overall sound of your guitar by bringing out the nuances in your playing and allowing the notes to sustain longer. Some may describe this sound quality as ‘creaminess’ or ‘stay.’
That being said, new strings alone may not necessarily make a huge difference in the sound of your guitar. Many factors can affect the tone and sound of an instrument, including the type of strings, the guitar itself, and the way you play.
Suppose you’re looking to improve the sound of your guitar. In that case, it’s a good idea to experiment with different string types and brands to see what works best for your playing style and the music you’re making.
It’s also worth considering other factors that may affect the sound of your guitar, such as the instrument’s condition and the way it is set up.