Guitar strings tend to detune frequently upon first set up. The reason for this is because they are mostly made from a highly resilient material. By applying tension, the strings will try to revert to their previous position, but, as they are attached to the bridge and tuning peg of the guitar, being pushed in opposite directions, they eventually retain a straightened resting pose. This process is called a break-in.
How long does it take to break in new guitar strings? New guitar strings can be broken in within a few hours using proper techniques (manual stretching and focused playing). Without stretching and playing, they may take up to a few weeks to begin holding their tune. Additionally, the brightness of new strings tends to fade within the first week.
In this article, we'll consider the typical break-in times for the common types of guitar strings and discuss the typical techniques for breaking in guitar strings along with the factors that may prolong the break-in process.
How Long Does It Take For New Guitar Strings To Break In?
So, “breaking in” is a break of the string material's resistance and elasticity to remain straight and tense. The process of breaking in guitar strings will stabilize their tuning and level out their tone (many new strings have a certain brightness in tone associated with not yet being broken in).
Guitar players, especially newcomers, may find the first few tries on their new strings rather unpleasant since they expect new strings to sound perfect upon initial usage. Expert guitarists, however, can make new strings sound perfectly stable without much delay.
New strings take a relatively short time to break in, especially steel strings. Steel strings, notably, may take only a few hours of intensive stretching and fastening to develop a stable pitch. However, steel strings will still carry a “tinny” sound for a longer period, extending to a couple of weeks. Nonetheless, after breaking in, they will remain in tune for much longer than when first installed.
Nylon strings are a bit more resistant to break-in. They take a bit more time to get fully settled in their tuning, but the difference in tone between a new set and a set that's been broken in is much less apparent than a steel set.
This process also varies according to string and guitar types:
How Long Does It Take To Break-In Steel Acoustic Guitar Strings?
- Steel acoustic guitar strings: acoustic guitar strings usually take a couple of hours to fully settle in and find their place in the guitar without detuning. Their excessively bright tone should dissipate in around 2 weeks.
How Long Does It Take To Break-In Nylon Classical Guitar Strings?
- Nylon acoustic / classical guitar strings: nylon strings are the most resistant to break-in. You could spend as many as 4 days with a destabilized classical or acoustic guitar due to the sensitivity that nylon has to external agents. They are also more elastic than steel, a factor that has a huge impact on the string's tension. The tone of nylon strings usually settles within a week, but the difference in brightness between new and broken-in strings isn't as noticeable.
How Long Does It Take To Break-In Steel Electric Guitar Strings?
- Electric guitar strings: electric guitar strings are the least difficult to break in. 1 hour is commonly enough to enjoy a wholly settled tune, without the need to apply special break-in techniques. Their initial brightness generally fades within 7 days of consistent playing.
How Long Does It Take To Break-In Bass Guitar Strings?
- Bass guitar strings: bass guitar strings can often be broken in within 2 hours of regular playing. Their initial brightness generally fades within 7 days of consistent playing.
• Why New Guitar Strings Go Out Of Tune Faster Than Old Strings
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• Top 11 Best Acoustic Guitar String Brands On The Market
• Top 11 Best Bass Guitar String Brands On The Market
• Top 10 Best Classical Guitar String Brands On The Market
Ways To Accelerate The Break-in Process
There are three methods to force the break-in:
Using your thumb to press the string against the fretboard, lightly pull the string up for a few minutes. Start from the 12th fret and move up a couple more positions until you reach the 5th or 6th fret.
By doing this, the string will lose its tune. Fasten with the tuning peg and repeat the process until it no longer detunes.
You can try tuning the string a half step higher from the correct intonation and play moderately hard for a few minutes.
After you retune it, leave the guitar aside for about 10 minutes. Lower the tune and slowly fasten it again until it reaches the correct note. Play normally, adjusting the tuning whenever necessary.
Playing The Guitar
Usually, simply playing the instrument does the trick, but you may not get results as quickly as with the other methods outlined above.
Factors That May Delay The Break-in Process
Of course, a myriad of external elements come into play when bringing a guitar string to perfect tune stability. Let's consider these factors to end this article.
Warm and damp environmental conditions can deter a guitar string from fully stretching and fixing its tuning. Plus, moisture corrodes the string's material, causing it to lose the strength needed to withhold the tension caused by both extremities of the guitar.
Guitar's Construction And Age
The second one is the guitar's build itself. A poorly assembled guitar may struggle to provide the necessary tension for the string to break in. In general, you can tweak a guitar's truss rod to increase the neck's interaction with the string and apply more tension, but a badly built guitar will not benefit from these adjustments, as helpful as they may seem at first.
The age of the guitar is another huge variable. Good guitars could last decades or years, but some pieces may start losing their sturdiness. It's always good to check the nut slots and the bridge to determine whether they've been affected by age or not. The wooden body itself may turn hollow and be unable to provide a firm base for the neck and bridge to do their proper job.
String Build Quality
The strings themselves might have been inefficiently built. The alloy is probably of poor quality or the winding badly made. This is probably the first concern guitarists have when restringing their guitars. Notwithstanding, you shouldn't automatically assume that the strings are always at fault since virtually all strings perform erratically at the beginning of their life cycle.
New guitarists will often struggle to find the perfect string gauge for their guitar build. Heavier guitar strings are able to hold their tuning a bit better than lighter-gauge strings, but this also depends on the guitar's architecture. The longer the scaling, the heavier the gauge should be to be capable of rendering the correct pitch.
To learn more about the relationship between string gauge and tuning stability, check out my article Do Heavier/Thicker Gauge Guitar Strings Stay In Tune Better?
Lastly, your six-string guitar should be configured to deliver accurate EADGBE notes. If you don't tune the strings correctly, they will not have the proper tension and will not withhold their pitch. Avoid flat or sharp notes.
A way to diagnose improper intonation is by comparing the note delivered on the 12th fret to the open string. If you notice a dissonance, it might be due to improper intonation since the fretboard, in principle, is meant to match the correct tuning.
You can achieve correct intonation by employing an electric tuning device. Various handy mobile applications can help you discern each one of the notes.
Have any thoughts, questions or concerns? I invite you to add them to the comment section below! I'd love to hear your insights and inquiries and will do my best to add to the conversation. Thanks!
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