Would it sound unusual if I say I love the feel of a brand new set of strings on my guitar? It is like having a new sheet on your bed. If you are a beginner or hobbyist guitar player, you might wonder “how often do professional guitarists change strings?”
In my experience, I had to change the strings every four days on Thursday. Back then Fridays and Saturdays were big nights for our band, lotta club goers and I did not want my strings to break in the middle of the set on those big days. So Thursday was like a night to stretch out those strings before the weekends. Again, a bit unusual but that worked for me.
For years, I used to play in the club every night for three sets, forty-five minutes each set. And I always had three sets of guitar strings in my gig bag. It became my routine to change strings every four days and going to a music store to buy strings and other goodies every two weeks.
Nowadays when I have a new recording date, I change the guitar strings a day prior to the recording session. But when I have a side gig like a wedding, I’ll change the strings a couple of hours before leaving the house. At church, I change my guitar strings every two months or more. These are all with my electric guitar, as it is my main instrument at work.
There is no single answer to how often do professional guitarist change strings. Every one of them has their own personal preferences. There are several factors one professional guitarist considers before replacing the guitar strings.
How Often You Play Your Guitar?
Regardless if you are a professional guitar player or hobbyist, the number of hours you play your guitar will be the first decisive factor in how often you should change the strings.
In the mid 90’s, I was playing in the club every night and still practiced after the set. That was about five hours a day of playing the guitar, six days in a week for straight three months. Sometimes six to nine months depending on the contract we signed. You could imagine why I had to change the strings every four days. Even then, sometimes the E-string breaks in three days.
Now, I probably play my guitar for about eight hours a week only. I do not change my guitar strings like I used to be. Plus, I have collected about seventeen guitars now. I would not even think of changing all my guitars strings every week. That would take a lot of time. But I know which one I should change based on how it sounds.
Does Your Guitar Sound Dull?
When my guitar strings start to sound muffled or dull, I knew it is time to change the strings. If you only use one or two guitars and play it regularly, most likely you will be able to hear the sound difference from the time you replaced the strings up to several days or weeks of playing.
The first thing you will notice with the guitar sound is the tone clarity. Any new set of strings will always sound bright and clear. It doesn’t matter what brand of strings you put on your guitar. Some might be brighter depending on the brand you pick.
You will notice also that the clarity of some brand of strings fades quicker than others, and some get out of tune quicker too.
Does Your Guitar Often Get Out of Tune?
Another factor to consider when it is about to change your guitar strings is pitch stability. It does not matter whether the clarity is still there. Even with the use of the most accurate digital tuners available on the market, if it is difficult to tune your guitar properly or if it gets out of tune easily, then you know its time to change the strings. Forget about the brightness. You might also purchase a bad set of strings.
For me, if I play the same guitar for three weeks (roughly 27 hours), I notice that it gets out of tune pretty quickly. And when I have to retune my guitar repetitively, that means it is about time to replace the strings.
How Do You Care and Maintain Your Guitar Strings?
What is the most important thing that our mother told us to do before eating our meal? If you say hand washing, you are absolutely correct. A simple hand washing before eating is also a very good habit before playing your guitar. After that, you should wipe the strings every time you played for half an hour or longer. You would not notice the dirt building up on your guitar, especially if you sweat a lot since you are focusing so much on your playing.
It became a habit to me having a piece of cloth within reach. Every time I pause or stop playing, I immediately wipe each string or the neck or the body of the guitar. It is part of my playing routine.
Check my two Gibson Les Paul. Which one do you like? The right side strings are all over the place. I have the old habit of not snipping the strings, as I prefer it that way than clean-cut strings.
Here’s a story. I was once replacing the guitar string of my Fender Stratocaster, and I hated it so much because I accidentally poked my right pointer finger from the trimmed G-string that was sticking upward. Ooohhh, it was bleeding horribly, and who knows if it was rusty too. It was not the most pleasant feeling at all. So I learned my lesson.
Be careful! If you prefer trimming your guitar strings, make sure you use pliers to bend the end-cut downwards. When you are in the rush to change your strings, bad things can happen. You can opt to leave the strings without trimming the end. But make sure you pull each one so it gets squiggly. Yes, I like the squiggly-ugly looking string end. I prefer ugly than painful.
I would also recommend you to make a habit of wiping your guitar with a piece of cloth. Not that you want your strings to stay longer only but constant wiping makes your guitar looks tidy. That will make you look cool too wearing anything black.
Even at the gig or after every session, I always have a piece of soft cloth to wipe my guitar strings one by one. Caring for your guitar, in general, makes your guitar strings last longer even if you do not play that much.
Strings Price vs. Quality
Different brand of strings has different prices and sound quality. If you are a hobbyist but has extra bucks to spare, try to get what is the recommendation of your favorite guitarist. You are probably using the same exact guitar model as your idol.
A professional guitarist has different preferences when it comes to guitar strings’ brand. If I tried a certain brand and gives me what I’m looking for in terms of sound and durability, I stick to it for a long time.
Sometimes my selected brand name discontinues before I even change to a different brand of guitar strings. That’s how faithful I am when selecting my strings. I would not trade the sound quality for slight high pricing, as I like to chase a better tone. Your sound is your identity and you want it to be consistent.
A beginner guitarist may not immediately experiment with different brands of guitar strings yet. But keep in mind that once you have the budget, do not cheapen your guitar strings. It is your sound, and you want to have some kind of standard even if you are just starting to play or gig around. Same goes with your pedals, amps and other guitar accessories. We’ll get into that later.
Tweedly Bits: When I was still attending Berklee College of Music, I saw a show at Johnny D’s in Sommerville, MA. It was the Tribal Tech, a progressive fusion band. One of my guitar heroes back then was the original member of the band, Scott Henderson. I was so excited as I was sitting in front. The band was doing a sound check a few minutes before they start while Scott was changing his guitar strings on stage. It was almost like part of the show.
You probably wondering how long did it take him to change his strings. He was pretty quick and I can tell he has done it a million times. I also saw he used Ernie Ball Strings back then. Not sure what he uses now.
Pro Tip: Here is a real pro frugal tip for you. You already know that musician does not really earn that much as compared to Wall Street blokes. Sometimes we need to get creative, not just on playing but also on how we spend that hard-earned bucks. Back in Asia before I even got a steady gig, I used to boil my guitar strings and reused it. Hey, it worked for me and my strings extended for another week. I do not do it anymore, as I can afford to get my favorite guitar strings online.