Did you just buy a new set of guitar strings, but they do not want to stay tune? That is because when a brand new set of guitar strings are put on a guitar, they go through a dramatic change. Their whole life, these strings have been coiled up in a little package, and suddenly they find themselves under stress as they are being stretched like a tendon. This is why when you put on new strings, they go flat rather quickly.
As a general rule, steel strings take 1-2 hours, while nylon strings take 48 hours of active use to settle to the point where they will hold a tune. If you are playing during this period, ensure you regularly re-tune your guitar.
For steel strings: fretting notes, bending, and strumming the strings will help break them quicker. Light to no play after installing new strings will delay this process.
After the initial settling and stabilizing of steel strings, they will begin to lose some of that brightness. This usually takes a couple of days of heavy use or about 7-10 days of light to moderate use.
Some people find this “second settling” to be the sweet spot.
The strings have mellowed out a bit, and there is some warmth to the sound. Others prefer the initial brightness, and when that brightness is gone, it’s time for another set of strings.
Nylon is a more sensitive and elastic material than steel or nickel. It is more susceptible to temperature and humidity changes.
These strings also have to be put under more tension to achieve the desired pitch than steel strings due to the material and thickness. These factors all contribute to the extended settling period of nylon guitar strings.
Do New Guitar Strings Go Out Of Tune Quickly?
Have you ever put fresh new strings in your guitar only to find out that they will go flat several times within seconds of being tuned? I find this extremely frustrating. The first time I changed the strings on my guitar I thought I did something wrong. my strings kept going flat no matter how many times I tuned, play, and returned. However it turned out that I did nothing wrong, it is normal to have your new strings go flat rather quickly.
As a whole, new guitar strings do go out of tune quickly. This phenomenon can last somewhere between 1 to 2 weeks. This is because strings require to continuously be stretched out until they are fully stretched. To help accelerate the process you can manually pull and stretch the strings. For more information on this check out our “How do you break in new guitar strings?” section below.
Once you have broken them in, you will likely need daily tuning throughout their life.
Why Do New Guitar Strings Need To Be Broken In?
When new strings are put on a guitar, they go from a coiled, static state to being pulled tight in a very short period of time. This rapid change will cause significant stress to the strings making them go flat, often creating the need to continually re-tune. As strings are broken in, and they get used to the tension, the stretching slows, and the tuning stabilizes.
According to a University of Illinois study, the average tension that a guitar string is under is between 60 and 80 Newtons.
This is equal to between 13 and 18 pounds of force. It may not seem like much, but for a string with a diameter ranging between .009 and .052, this is a relatively significant amount of tension.
Therefore it is necessary to break the strings in to properly acclimate.
How Do You Break In New Guitar Strings?
The best way to break in new guitar strings is to manually stretch them beyond the 13-18 pounds of force that is put on them by being tuned up to pitch.
There are two ways to do this:
1. Pull The Strings To Manually Stretch Them
This is done by installing the strings until they are tight (not necessarily to pitch), then stretch the strings individually by grabbing under them as if they were handlebars. Use the thumbs as leverage against the fretboard, and pull them up and away from the guitar.
Stretch the strings in this manner firmly but slowly. Be careful not to overdo it. It only takes between 40 to 50 pounds of force to break the upper strings.
Pull the strings along the length of the fretboard a few times and be done with them. That is usually enough to significantly decrease the amount of time it will take for the strings to settle.
2. Strech The Strings At The Nut And The Saddle
Another method that can be used either separately or in conjunction with the pulling process is to stretch the strings at the nut and the saddle.
At the nut (where the strings rest near the headstock of the guitar), use a finger on each side to press down on a string to stretch it. Do the same at the saddle of the bridge.
I have spoken to professional guitarists, and they use this method 30 minutes before a show.
The manual pulling and stretching of the strings really help to break in new guitar strings.
How Often Should You Change Guitar Strings?
Most players should look to change their strings every 4-6 weeks, depending on string type and playing time. Performing guitarists that play shows every week will likely need to change every 1-2 weeks. While touring musicians who perform daily will need to change strings after every concert.
Strings continue to stretch after the “settling” period. However, at some point, the strings can stretch no longer and lose elasticity.
It is a gradual process for most, so it can be hard to be aware of this, but the strings’ tone is dramatically different from when they were first installed.
Strings that have lost their elasticity are deadened and sound almost muffled. Other than just time under tension, a player who plays many hours per day or plays very intensely can expect to need to change strings more often.
Speaking with a professional player (Andrew Wilson), he stated that he played three shows per week at the peak of his performing career with about 4 hours of rehearsals.
He mentioned that his electric guitar strings were changed every week, while his acoustic guitar strings were changed every 6 to 8 weeks.
The only reason his acoustic guitar strings lasted longer was because he used very high-quality strings, and his acoustic playing style was not as intense as his electric playing.
Why Won’t My New Guitar Strings Stay In Tune?
If you only just put your new strings in your guitar, the chances are, you just need to be patient and let the strings acclimate. Try manually stretching out the strings to help them. However, if you are experiencing tuning issues beyond the 1-2 hours of a typical acclimating period. In that case, there may be another issue that should be addressed by a luthier or repair technician.
If you change string gauge, material, or even brand, this can often cause equilibrium issues. Some strings require a different amount of tension than others. Nickel will be different than brass. Regular light gauge will be different than hybrid sets. Strings with a coating are different than strings without a coating. The list goes on.
Also, over time, the woods of a guitar will go through changes due to temperature and humidity differences, which will, in turn, affect the strings.
To avoid having issues with your guitar, I would recommend doing annual maintenance and adjustments. You can either learn to do it yourself or outsource to a repair tech for $50-$75.
Should I Change All Of The Guitar Strings At One Time?
If you are not a player who is seasoned at guitar maintenance, it is recommended you change the strings in your acoustic guitar one, two, or three at a time rather than taking off all six strings, removing all the string tension from the neck and bridge. If you have an electric guitar with a floating tremolo, best to go one at a time.
You should change all of the guitar strings in one sitting. It is not a good idea to only change two strings per month, then do another two strings next month, and so on.
New strings are great but can be frustrating to tune at first. This doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong with your guitar. It just takes an hour or two for most new strings to settle in. If you are in a hurry, manually stretching the strings can really speed up the process!