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Guitar Recording – Old Vs New strings

I hate changing guitar strings. I seem to injure myself every other time I do it, so I usually put it off as long as possible. The strings on my telecaster were sounding very dull and some were blackened. These have probably been on for several months.

Today I’ll do a quick comparison of recording with old and new electric guitar strings. I recorded some clips with an amp and direct to the computer before cleaning the guitar and putting new strings on.

While I was doing that I asked a question to the studio guys on twitter – How often do you like strings changed when recording?
Here are the replies
@EvilPowerMaster: if it’s not being gigged? Change it’s strings two days before a session. Change again if it’s been a week of sessions.
@brandonshire: Nirvana’s “Polly” from their Nevermind album was recorded on a pawn shop guitar with uber-old strings.
@MDsounds: depends on the guitar and the player, once the sustain sounds kind of dull change them!
@FrankieMariano: I like to change strings before every new session. Except for bass, which lasts a bit longer for me.
@sonicvalentine: if you’re playing all day. Everyday.
@rumbletone: “when they need it” – which depends on tone, style, etc. For a bright, finger-squeeky acoustic, older/grimier can be better. .
@TizocEstrada: I like to have my strings slightly worn in. Brand new strings are too trebly for me.
@RyanCanestro: I recommend that players change guitar strings for every session. Bass strings are expensive and often left on for too long.
@timgosden: more often than not they’ve got a few guitars and they only need re-stringing at the start of the recording sessions!
@sydneygalbraith: 2 days before any guitar tracking, then again after 5-8 hours of playing the same guitar, and then a wait of at least 24 hours
@AudioPhile777: depends on how fast the songs are tracked… I was able to get 7 songs tracked w/ 1 set of strings in about 5 hours. YMMV
@ahendy: On an electric, maybe once per session. On an acoustic, 2 or 3 times per session.
@CalebBHawkins:On electric I change them once in a while. Acoustics I like to change them often, only I don’t like the sound of new ones. I try and break em in for at least three days before tracking anything, or they are too Bright or harsh sounding…
@theRyanHarvey: every song or other song

Notice how no one said every 6 months. Most engineers prefer brand new or slightly worked in strings for recording. When I was in a band I would change the strings a day before a gig or if they were so dull that I had to crank the treble on my bass amp. I was young and poor at the time and couldn’t afford to change them any more often.

Ok so let’s hear some before and after clips. All clips are with a Fender Aerodyne Telecaster tuned to C# and using the bridge pickup. All examples went through my True Systems P-Solo preamp.

Here is a clean guitar through an amp. This is a low watt vintage tube amp miked with a Shure SM-58 going into the preamp. The amp buzz was removed with iZotope RX.

Old Strings
[audio:|title=Old Strings Amp]

New Strings
[audio:|title=New Strings Amp]
I didn’t play it exactly the same the second time but it should be clear there are clearer transients and an overall brighter tone.

The next example is direct (no effects) to the computer. 2 bars of old strings, then 2 bars with new strings
[audio:|title=Direct Guitar No FX]
Direct guitar without any processing usually sounds pretty crap, with new strings it sounds less crappy.

Now here’s the same part double tracked with some amp simulation and drums in the background.
[audio:|title=Direct Guitar with ampsim and drums]
This didn’t seem to be as obvious of a difference. There is a clearer attack but also more finger noise.

My examples don’t demonstrate how much nicer it is to play the guitar with new strings. Notes are clearer, sustain longer and stay in tune while sustaining. Old strings have a really dull tone and the guitar just doesn’t feel right, it’s not fun to play.

Change your strings!

Thanks so much to all the replies from my Tweeps. Apologies for the crappy performances in the examples. 🙂


  1. Marcos Ficarelli
    Marcos Ficarelli November 18, 2010

    I play for 50 years. So now that I have the money to do it, I stay with a set for 3 months in each of my 2 electric (1 Strat, 1 custom) – 1,5 month change, OK?. If needed (a tremendous gig or recording), I will change one set, but bring both guitars. With acoustic, two days before, always.

  2. Riley
    Riley December 10, 2010

    Bigger difference in acoustic guitars; how they sound with old vs new strings

  3. danny bullo
    danny bullo March 29, 2012

    great article. advice: clean string once a week with a rug with mineral oil and a drop of alcohol. the string will last much longer, but retaining the qualities the author talks about!!!!!!

  4. Yo Oelm
    Yo Oelm July 14, 2013

    dude wich song where u playing in the first example???? sounds so epic i love that kind of chords! it even inspired me for writing a new song but i need ur permission or telling me that it’s not ur song

    • Admin
      Admin July 14, 2013

      Just made it up on the spot. Have at it.

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