Do New Guitar Strings Need To Be Broken In?
New guitar strings do need to be broken in to help prevent them from stretching too much, and detuning your guitar. They will also produce a better tone once they’re broken in too. The time it takes to break in new strings varies depending on the type of string but it can be shortened by correctly stretching the strings.
Why Do New Guitar Strings Need To Be Broken In?
When new strings are installed on a guitar and tuned to the correct pitch, they are placed under a great deal of tension. That tension and the pressure it causes on the material that makes the string, whether it’s metal or nylon means the string needs time to settle in. This is because there is a certain amount of elasticity in any material used to make guitar strings and this takes time to settle down.
According to the University of Illinois  the average guitar string is under anywhere between 60 to 80 Newtons which is between 13 to 18 pounds of force. Which might not seem like much, but when you consider the thickness of a guitar string at 0.009 or even a bass string at 0.052 that’s a relatively large amount of tension.
Tonal Quality Changes Over Time
The tone of the strings improves once they’ve been played for a short while too. Many guitarists tell us that new strings sound metallic or tinny until they’ve been broken in. While others say new strings sound brighter.
The tone of new strings is preferable to some whilst others cannot wait for the strings to settle in and get that warmer, more mellow tone again.
How Long Do New Strings Take To Break In?
Most of the better quality guitar strings don’t take more than a couple of hours to break in and even less if they’ve been fully stretched before playing.
How Long Does It Take To Break In Electric Guitar Strings?
Strings on an electric guitar tend to break in the quickest. The break in time can be as little as one hour of playing time. But the average is more like 2 to 3 hours.
How Long Does It Take To Break In Steel String Acoustic Guitar Strings?
Steel acoustic guitar strings take slightly longer, around 3 to 4 hours of constant playing, maybe slightly more if they haven’t been stretched properly. You can reckon on anywhere between 2 to 6 hours of playing and retuning before new metal guitar strings settle in properly. Obviously this is dependent on the quality and type of strings you have used on your guitar.
As for the tonal quality, it takes up to a week to lose that tinny sound from new strings, after that they will sound warmer.
How Long Does It Take To Break In Classical Guitar Strings?
All classical acoustic guitars are fitted with nylon strings, which take the longest time to settle in because nylon has far more elasticity than metal. They might take as long as 2 to 4 days of continuous playing to settle in.
How Long Does It Take To Break In Bass Guitar Strings
Bass guitar strings can usually be broken in within an hour or two of constant playing. As they are that much thicker than other types of guitar strings they are the hardest to stretch and as such don’t create so much resistance to being stretched.
How Do You Break In New Guitar Strings?
There are a number of ways to break in new strings and different guitarists prefer different methods. Let’s take a look at a few of these methods and see which one you prefer.
Breaking Guitar Strings In By Over Tuning
Once the strings have been replaced, over tune them all by a half step and allow them to settle in. Once you have them tuned a half step higher than normal, play the guitar using the harshest playing techniques you usually use including string bending, hard strumming etc.
Then retune the guitar and play again until they go out of tune, then retune them and leave the guitar alone for 10 minutes or so. After 10 minutes or so, tune the guitar below standard pitch and gradually bring it up to standard pitch. Play as normal but be prepared to have to retune more than usual for the first day or so.
Breaking Guitar Strings In By Stretching The Strings
This involves stretching the strings as you string the guitar, the technique is simple but it’s important that you get it right to avoid damaging the strings. String the guitar as normal but once the string is a half step below standard tuning you stretch the string across its whole length. Be careful to only stretch it upwards and not side to side as a sideways movement can weaken the strings at the saddle or nut.
The technique involves placing the thumb below the string, with the fingers above and lifting the thumb upwards whilst simultaneously pushing down on the fingers. You are effectively stretching the string from your palm to your thumb and this should be completed along the length of each string.
Once the string has been fully stretched, tune to standard pitch and repeat with every string. Take care with the thinner strings as these need less stretching as they are made using less material and are not as robust as the thicker strings.
Breaking Guitar Strings In By Playing The Guitar
If you don’t need the guitar for a performance in the near future, this way can be suitable. Just restring the guitar, tune up to standard pitch and play as normal. As soon as the strings go out of tune, retune them and continue playing. Keep playing and retuning until the strings stay in tune without the need to retune them.
What If The Strings Don’t Stay In Tune?
If after a couple of weeks of regular playing, the strings still won’t stay in tune, there are a few things you can check. The most common cause of guitar strings not staying in tune is not securing them to the tuning screw correctly. If you don’t allow enough string to overlap and fully tighten, the string can and will slip causing the guitar to go out of tune.
Other causes include the tuners themself failing or the string being incorrectly placed at the nut or the bridge. Ensure the strings are sited correctly at the bridge and the nut before tuning the string to pitch.
Climatic conditions can affect the guitar’s tuning ability too. The wood that the guitar is constructed from can shrink or swell depending on the humidity in the air. All of which can cause the strings to go out of tune to some degree.
If after a few more weeks of playing, the strings are still not staying in tune and the guitar is a decent make/model you might want to take it to a guitar luthier or guitar shop and get it looked at professionally.
Other Ways To Break In New Strings
There are other, less conventional ways to break in new guitar strings and speed the process up, these include;
Using The Whammy Bar
Using the tremolo arm or whammy bar on your electric guitar can help to speed up the breaking in period. The whammy bar works by stretching the strings of the guitar to create different notes, this can be used to your advantage immediately after changing strings on your guitar.
Use Heavier Gauge Strings
Light gauge strings will lose their tuning far quicker than heavy gauge strings. Heavier gauge strings once fully stretched are far more likely to remain in tune than thinner gauge strings. Also heavier gauge strings have a warmer tone than lighter gauge strings.
It’s Also Worth Noting
If new strings continuously go out of tune and you’re sure they’ve been fitted correctly and there’s nothing wrong with the hardware of your guitar, it could be that you never stretched them correctly.
Try A Different Brand Of Strings
Different brands of strings will react differently in relation to staying in tune. Try a few brands and keep note of which brand works best for you.
Remember to check the intonation of the strings when tuning new strings. The best way to check the intonation is to play an open string and then press down on the 12th fret and play the same string. The note should sound the same but an octave higher.
If you notice any dissonance, you might have an issue with intonation and we advise you to get the guitar checked out professionally.
When guitar strings are new they will have a different tone compared to once they’re settled in. But the actual notes should sound true and clear.
What About Boiling Strings?
Some guitarists swear by boiling new strings to help them keep in tune faster. We don’t necessarily recommend this method but if you would like to try it let us know in the comments how you get on. Boiling strings is usually a trick used on old bass guitar strings to clean them and make them last slightly longer.
Don’t get discouraged, all new strings will go out of tune to some degree. It’s normal and every guitarist experiences the same issues. That’s one of the reasons professional guitarists swap guitars during performances.
Should All Of The Guitar Strings Be Changed At One Time?
Ideally, when changing the strings on your guitar, you should replace the whole set at one time. But it is recommended to remove them one at a time especially if you have a floating tremolo. You’ll notice the string packets within the packet are numbered 1 to 6, number 1 is the high E string (the thinnest string) working through to number 6 which is the low E string ( the thickest string).
Having the strings numbered makes it easier to identify which string goes where as long as you remember that number 1 is the thinnest string and number 6 is the thickest you can run through them one at a time in order.
How Soon Before A Performance Should Guitar Strings Be Changed?
Most professional guitarists change their guitar strings regularly to keep their guitar sounding bright. Professional guitarists also employ technicians to change their strings for them and make sure they are at their peak playing point just in time for the show. As an amatuer guitarist, you might be about to do a concert or performance and naturally you want your guitar to sound its best.
We would recommend the optimum timings for changing the strings on your guitar are as follows;
- Classical Nylon Strings
As nylon strings take the longest time to settle in, we would recommend changing them around 6 to 7 days before any performance.
- Acoustic Steel Strings
As long as you have correctly stretched acoustic steel strings, you should allow 2 to 3 days after changing them before any performance.
- Electric Guitar Strings
We would recommend changing electric guitar strings at least a day or two before any performance.
- Bass Guitar Strings
They probably won’t need it, but we would recommend changing bass guitar strings a day or two before any performance if necessary. Because bass strings last so much longer than standard guitar strings.
Frequently Asked Questions
The length of time needed for new guitar strings to settle depends on the brand and type of strings. Electric guitar strings take the least amount of time (2-3 hours of playing) followed by steel string acoustics (2-6 hours of playing) and finally nylon strings take the longest (2-4 days of playing). It also depends on how often you play the guitar, the more playing time, the less time it takes for the strings to settle in.
You can break new guitar strings faster by stretching them as you fit them. One of the easiest techniques is to hold the string between the thumb and hand and push upwards from the thumb while pushing down slightly with the rest of the hand. Do this all along the length of the string remembering to only stretch the string outwards, not from side to side. A sideways stretch can weaken the string at the bridge or nut which will cause the string to break more easily.
New guitar strings don’t need stretching really, it just speeds up the settling in period by taking some of the elasticity out of the strings. So although they don’t necessarily need stretching, it does help.