The first time I asked myself this question was when I started to build my own guitar collection.
I first started playing guitar with a classical guitar. However, after some time, I bought an electric guitar. Before I knew it, the electric guitar had become my first choice of instrument.
A long time passed before I played the classical nylon guitar again. However, when the time came, I noticed that the strings had lost their sharp and fresh sound. It was also hard to keep the guitar in tune.
This got me wondering, how long do guitar strings last if not played?
As a general rule, strings attached to the guitar can last forever as they will not break. However, they will be prone to oxidation and dirt, making them lose their clarity and tunability within 2 to 6 months, depending on the quality of the strings.
The number one quality factor affecting the duration (lifespan) of the strings is the material they are made of.
The division is simple – nylon strings and metal strings.
Nylon guitars are most commonly used for playing classical, flamenco, and bossa nova music.
If you are thinking in buying a classical guitar our article “Ultimate Beginners Guide To Buying A Classical Guitar” will give you all the tips you will need to buy a guitar that will last you for a long time!
The nylon strings are made of nylon and plastic, materials that are very sensitive to temperature change.
If the strings are exposed to extreme temperatures, they lose their elasticity and quality very quickly. This makes them more susceptible to tearing and/or shrinking.
In stable conditions, used nylon strings can last up to 3 months, depending on the manufacturer and the quality of the product.
Brand new strings, that have been taken out of the package, can last up to 6 months before they expire. However, as they are out of the packet and exposed to changes in humidity and temperature, they will eventually expire.
If, however, you keep them in the package, they can last for years.
Some of the best nylon-strings are:
- The EJ45 D’Addario Pro-Arte Nylon Strings: offer regular tension, comfortable resistance, and a warm blended sound. They hold their intonation well, providing a full-ranged well-balanced tone and feel. They come in an antioxidant bag, perfect to avoid expiration dates!.
- The Savarez 500AR Alliance Corum Strings: They are very comfortable, and offer a bright and punchy sound with an abundance of volume and projection.
These are two of the biggest and most reliable manufacturers of nylon strings: The D’Addario and Savarez.
The situation with the metal strings is a little different.
The material from which they are made (Steel, Nickel, Brass, and Bronze) is more resistant to temperature changes than nylon strings.
However, this does not mean that they last forever.
Poor quality strings can last between 2-3 months. In contrast, good quality strings such as Elixir, Fender, D’addario, and Ernie Ball can last up to 6 months before they go bad.
The biggest enemy of the metal strings is humidity and moisture.
If the guitar is not stored correctly, the humidity and moisture will cause corrosion, and the strings will begin to rust.
However, if the guitar is stored in the right conditions, the strings can last twice as long.
To learn how to store your guitar correctly, check out our article “How to store your guitar properly.”
Strings without special protection such as coating will last considerably shorter than coated strings.
This is because metal strings without the coating are directly exposed to humidity, as well as the oils and acidity from your hands.
Apart from storing the guitar properly and using coated strings and of good quality, regular cleaning of the strings can also prolong their life span.
What Happens When Guitar Strings Get Old
Old guitar strings lose their elasticity, tuning stability, the freshness of the sound, and they become brittle. This is because, over time, they stretch, causing them to lose shape. They wear out, causing them to lose the ability to hold tension, and they corrode from humidity, dirt, and hand sweat.
In the beginning, strings need some time to settle.
This period can last from a few hours to several days, depending on the type of strings.
If you want to know more about how long it takes for new guitar strings to settle, check out our article “How long do new guitar strings take to settle.”
When they are still “young,” they sound sharp and fresh. The strings are also straightforward to tune and can keep the guitar in tune for longer. Especially if the guitar is well balanced and the tuning pegs are in good condition.
However, once they set, they begin to stretch, losing elasticity and balance throughout the neck.
A similar effect is achieved by storing the guitar at a variable temperature.
Constant loosening and tightening of the strings due to constant temperature changes will sharply accelerate their aging.
Humidity and moisture will shorten the lifespan of the strings, no matter how old they are.
Therefore, if the strings are not appropriately protected, these external enemies can be fatal for both new and old sets of strings, and in a short period, they will turn the strings into rust metal waste.
To protect your strings against humidity and moisture, you must keep the guitar in a dry environment and keep the strings clean after every session.
The last and perhaps the greatest enemy of the strings are our hands and fingers.
This is because the build-up of dirt, sweat, dead skin and oils found naturally in our fingers will cause the strings to lose tone and intonation.
To avoid this, ensure you clean the strings every time after playing and wash your hands before you start to play.
How do I know if my guitar strings are bad?
As whole guitar strings are bad when they sound dull, feel uncomfortable on the fingers, have discoloration, are impossible to tune or when they break. Strings go bad because they get weaker by the build-up of dirt and constant stretching, causing them to lose tunability, strength, and sound.
The problem with knowing when it is time to change your strings is that all the changes mentioned above happen gradually and sometimes are hard to spot.
The most apparent indicator that the strings have gone bad is the loss of tunability.
When the strings are bad, it’s impossible to have perfect tuning.
I am not just talking about open strings. To do this with the help of a tuner is easy.
The part you can not fix is that even when the open strings are perfectly tuned, every other fret will sound out of tune, especially the barre chords or a single note on a different position on the fretboard.
This can be very frustrating, and you may start to suspect that something is wrong with your guitar.
Fear not. It’s just the strings. A new set of strings will do the trick
check the videos below on how to change the strings on your
Another way to determine if your strings have gone bad, and perhaps the most obvious way to determine this, is with touch.
If the strings feel rough on the fingers, or they leave an orange stain on the tip of the fingers, or they leave your hand with an unpleasant rusty odor, your strings have gone bad.
If you notice any of the above, ensure you act quickly. Rusty strings can sound bad, give you an inconsistent tone, snap in the middle of a song and potentially even cut your fingers.
Do not expect too much from a guitar that has not been played for months.
The lifespan of the strings is between 2 to 6 months, depending on their quality. This means the guitar won’t sound perfect if it has been stored for longer than 6 months.
If you do not plan to play the guitar, do not spend money on new strings.
If you already have new strings, do not set them until you have decided to reactivate the guitar. This will save you money and time.
It is a bad investment to set a new pair of strings to a guitar that you are not planning on using daily. It is better to keep the strings unpacked and change them once you plan on playing them regularly. Especially if your guitar storage conditions are less than ideal.
From everything we have talked about so far, we can come to the conclusion that the best answer to the question “How long do guitar strings last if not played” is simply “not long.”
Guitar strings have an expiration date when they have not been played for a while, even if they are brand new. Found out if your strings have expired!