The main reason that guitar strings lose their initial sound properties over time is their design. Two factors are decisive:
- In the gaps between the turns of the winding clogged dirt;
- The metal from which the winding and core are made reacts with air and oxidizes.
On the first point, the tip is simple: to prolong the life of the strings, you need to wash your hands before the play and try to keep the guitar clean. You can also use special cleaners that wash the dirt out of the winding without damaging the surface of the strings.
The action of the second factor cannot be prevented (except for compliance with the above recommendations on cleaning, because fat and sweat from the fingers contribute to the process of oxidation). However, it is actively fought by string manufacturers themselves, producing alloys with high oxidation resistance. Such strings serve much longer, but also cost significantly more. The most common of these alloys is phosphorus bronze.
An interesting fact: phosphorus as an element is almost not part of the string of phosphorus bronze. Such material is more properly called bronze, purified phosphorus. Whereas conventional bronze is 80% copper and 20% zinc, copper is at least 92% copper in phosphorus bronze, and the remaining 8% is other metals.
Also available are polymer-coated strings (for example, the entire Elixir string line). This coating protects against dirt in the winding and reduces the contact of the strings with air, extending their life cycle. But such strings are much more expensive and the benefit of their use is no longer so obvious.
How do you know it’s time to change the strings?
This can be determined by several features:
1) The strings darken. Regardless of the material and coating, the strings will darken over time. As mentioned above, this is due to dirt falling into the gaps between the winding turns and metal oxidation.
High-quality strings are made of «pure» metals that react well with oxygen in the air. As a result, the strings form a dark plaque (on copper or other cheap strings it can be green), which changes the amplitude of vibration of the string, and in advanced cases can even increase its diameter.
2) Strings stop tuning. They are much more difficult to adjust even with a tuner and they are noticeably worse to keep in tune.
This problem arises for the same reasons. On the surface of strings and in the gaps between winding turns accumulate dirt and metal oxides. Because of this, its thickness (especially the uniformity of the diameter along the entire length), elasticity and acoustic characteristics change. If the new string is easily tuned and holds the line for a long time, it can be quite problematic to adjust the old one and it gets out of tune after almost every play session.
3) The third symptom is the most common, but also associated with pollution and oxidation, is the deterioration of sound. Sound becomes «dirty» when playing. As if to the main sounding notes is added to the foreign noise, there is a metal clanging and rattling. This is a clear signal of the need to replace the strings.
What’s normal string life?
Some professional guitarists change the strings after each performance to make the sound as clear and as loud as possible. But you don’t have to do that.
On average, normal strings without special coating serve 2-3 months without deterioration of sound characteristics, with covering — 4-6 months. This period depends on how often you play and how you care for the instrument and hands. The material and the string manufacturer is also important. But here the choice is usually made on the sound preferences and feelings in the game, and only second — the longevity.
Change the strings in right time and your guitar will always sound good and tune well.