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Guitar's Variable Reactions to Strings Aging


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I was having a conversation on a different topic with a guitar repair professional recently. He told me that some guitars sound far worse with stale strings than other guitars do. He used a different description afterwards,  saying some guitars really liking new strings than other guitars. He said two of his (nice brands) guitars are like that.

That is my 2018 Hummingbird Standard in a nutshell. I'll get 2-3 weeks before they need replacing using John Pearse or Martin. My Martin D41 is not far behind the Hummingbird in this regard. Others can play aged strings with far less sever tonal changes and do so for months.

While I'm not particularly worried about it, I do like to manage things when I can.

Anyone have any theories on the how and why of this sort of characteristic? I've considered humidity. I've also considered with my small sample size that it might be unbaked vs baked. 

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The story is Dave Van Ronk used to leave the strings on his Guilds until they would no longer intonate properly as he liked the sound.  Different ears though hear things differently so I might have a totally different take on when it is time to restring a guitar than you.  But what may well be coming into play is the simple  fact that Gibsons characteristically have a quicker bass decay than Martins.  The bass on a Martin sustains longer so when combined with more overtones you get a lot of after strum resonance.  Then again how pronounced this is with Hummingbirds as opposed to slope shoulder jumbos I do not have a clue.

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Difference in scale length and the inherit characterstics of a specific guitar are the only things I can think of.  I hate metallic/trebly sounding strings/guitars. So in that sense I would probably leave the strings on a guitar longer if the guitar itself has a tendency towards the higher frequency range. I would then like it more and more as the strings age, but only to a certain point of course. On the other hand, if a guitar has a tendency towards the mellow side, the strings aging would make the guitar go “dead” faster to my ears, and the strings would come off sooner.  
 

Lars

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Jackson Browne said he changes strings when they break? I just found a set on one of my guitars that were one year & four months old. They still sounded good. I changed them just because.

Edited by Paul14
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Reading this makes me wonder if the shorter scale of a J-45 (or whatever) with less tension allows strings to stay "fresh for longer."  I've noticed that on my longer scale guitars which sound brighter strings tend to sound dull sooner, while my shorter scale guitars seem to need fresh strings considerably far less often.  

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Talk about a wide range just with a few of us. We already have some opposites from one another with both brand and scale.

Although a newish guitar, I'll be able to add the J45 to one list or the other within a few weeks. Same strings as the HB, and just a few days apart when strings were changed.

I'm definitely talking about a box or top no longer being driven as opposed to a simple dulling of the strings.

One weird thing for me is that I used to have a hard time knowing when to change strings.

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My SJ200 sounds serviceable with old wires, but not stellar. Sweet spot is a couple of days into a new set. Ah!
 

The maple AJ shines with old strings and, unless using it for a run of shows, I’ll change them when they start to break.

My Dove sounds great whatever is on it, just different. Never too harsh with new strings, never too dull with old ones. What a great guitar. 

My ‘67 J45 is a little harsh with new strings and gets nice and old-timey with old strings. They do reach a point where they’re cacked though. 
 

My Hummingbird 12, like all 12s, sounds a bit woolly when the strings are past it, but that takes a LONG time as I use Martin Lifespans on it. Last set went on at the end of 2018 and still sounds great-that’s after several tours and two albums. I broke the plain G which is so thin it’s basically mermaid hair, but that usually happens after a bit. Great guitar and the Lifespans are a really stellar choice for a 12.

I think it tends to be guitar and job specific for me. Sometimes a project really calls for thunky old strings, sometimes shiny new wire. Different strokes and all that 🙂

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I've stated this here before, but my opinion is that when the strings are new, we are hearing much more of the strings themselves when it comes to their impact on the overall tone/sound of an acoustic guitar. But as the strings age through the act of playing, you start to hear more of the guitar itself and less of the strings. A really resonant guitar is far less dependent on having new strings when it comes to sounding lively. Whereas those guitars that are less resonant have little to offer once the new-ness has faded from the strings. Those who prefer the sound of brand new strings and who don't mind changing them often don't have to concern themselves with such things.  I myself have never been all that crazy about the sound of brand new strings and generally speaking I simply prefer the tone of more resonant guitar. I didn't tend to hang on to those few guitars I owned that basically sounded lifeless unless they had relatively new-ish strings on them

This is why I always liked to find older stings still on the guitars in a shop back when I was hunting for guitars. You can always ask a shop to put on a new set of strings, but if a guitar has new strings on it then you're out of luck when it comes to learning how it sounds with old strings. My first Gibson was a J30. I had a friend who could kill the "new" from strings after just an hour or so of playing, it was amazing. I could change the strings on my J30 right before he showed up, but by the end of the evening that guitar would more or less sound dead. It wasn't a bad guitar, but I never missed it once it was gone.

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On my Gibson Hummingbird, I change my Elixir strings ( Nanoweb 80/20  .12-.53 lights ) ...every very three years whether they need it or not! And the sound remains consistent, crisp and clear most of that time, and it is played often. I did get VERY tired of changing uncoated strings every two or three weeks because they went flat so quickly. Elixirs solved that problem for me when I started using them 20 years ago.

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I think another factor is body chemistry.  Some of us have more acidic sweat and body oil in our hands, also some probably have flakier skin than others, thus more dead skin gets into the  wraps and deadens the strings.  Elixirs being coated claim to prevent the dead skin getting into the wraps as much and my experience has been that they do stay livelier sounding a lot longer.  I don't have experience with any other coated strings.  

Not sure about scale length.  While short scale does have less tension, longer scale usually uses a heavier gauge string to begin with.  My Collings is long scale, then I have three 24.75 scale guitars and while I have not kept detailed records of string changes they all get played about the same amount and I feel the strings last (sound good) about the same amount of time.

The type of metal in the string probably plays into as well.  I usually use 80/20s, sometime PBs, but I bought a guitar that had nickel strings that were pretty old, but still sounded lively.

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On 9/1/2021 at 12:12 PM, Twang Gang said:

I think another factor is body chemistry.  Some of us have more acidic sweat and body oil in our hands, also some probably have flakier skin than others, thus more dead skin gets into the  wraps and deadens the strings. 

My son had a friend who had the opposite issue. Acidic hands. My guess is that he's like .....

On 8/28/2021 at 2:30 AM, Guth said:

I had a friend who could kill the "new" from strings after just an hour or so of playing, it was amazing. I could change the strings on my J30 right before he showed up, but by the end of the evening that guitar would more or less sound dead.

That kid could destroy a set of strings in 30 minutes' of playing if I was not Johnny-on-the-spot to clean them. He went after the same guitar each time he was here. My Epi Les Paul Custom MIK. (what an awesome guitar that one was - such a dummy for selling it.) Ironically, I think he's still trying to make it in the heavy metal world as a guitarist.  Have not seen him in 10 years.

 

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On 8/26/2021 at 4:26 AM, Jinder said:

My Dove sounds great whatever is on it, just different. Never too harsh with new strings, never too dull with old ones. What a great guitar. 

Ours our decades apart and feature different tops (baked/unbaked), but so far, this is holding true for my Dove. It's early yet.

On 9/1/2021 at 10:49 AM, ALD323 said:

On my Gibson Hummingbird, I change my Elixir strings ( Nanoweb 80/20  .12-.53 lights ) ...every very three years whether they need it or not! And the sound remains consistent, crisp and clear most of that time, and it is played often. I did get VERY tired of changing uncoated strings every two or three weeks because they went flat so quickly. Elixirs solved that problem for me when I started using them 20 years ago.

This is pretty darned impressive for a guitar that's played often. Or not played at all. I did try a set on my old (sigh!) SJ-200 Standard and really dug them. My problem with them was stupid microscopic shards of "whatever" digging into my skin and taking forever to get out. That may be all coated strings, actually. At least at some point in time. Just yesterday I put a set of XTs on a PRS semi. TBD.

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