If you've been a guitarist or bassist for a long time, the chances are that you've restrung your guitar or bass numerous times. This means that you may have a lot of string sets saved somewhere if you haven't thrown them away.
Should guitarists and bassists save their old/removed strings? Old strings can be saved for budget reasons and restringing in emergency situations but will never perform as well as new strings. The wear and tear from the stringing/unstringing processes, environmental oxidation, and playing stress cause damage to the physical and tonal properties of strings.
Notwithstanding, after restringing, you're probably wondering what to do with your old strings. Luckily, they're not totally useless. In this article, we'll discuss saving old/removed strings and what to do with them after they're removed from guitars and basses.
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Should Guitarists & Bassists Save Their Old/Removed Strings?
Old strings can still be useful if you need spares on the road. Guitarists and bassists with a limited budget can definitely benefit from saving their old strings for emergency restringing.
Just make sure that they remain in a playable state for when you need to use them. As a word of caution, old strings could prove to be dangerous and unsatisfying to handle if they already have rust spots or kinks.
Ordinarily, acoustic guitar strings need to be changed every three months or 100 playing hours.
Nylon strings don't rust, but you should be expected to change them every 2 months or 80 playing hours to keep an optimal tone, as they wear out and lose some of their original tonality.
Bass guitar strings, on the flip side, can last a lot longer due to their mass, but they're usually changed on a yearly basis.
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It's always advisable to restring with fresh strings, though a new set may not always be available. I don't personally keep my old strings, though admittedly, I often surpass the typical 3-month/100-playing-hours “time limit.”
I'm personally of the opinion that it's better to keep strings on the guitar for longer rather than taking them off and trying to put them back on at a later time.
These are the issues worth thinking about when considering whether to save old guitar/bass strings:
Strings can suffer permanent damage once removed from the guitar since they develop weak points and kinks from twisting on the tuning post and bridge. This means that you could end up with shorter or weaker strings as you won't be able to match the exact same position they had before.
For this reason, some guitarists recommend buying strings with extra length to account for these situations, as well as other circumstances which may compel you to remove them (such as for performing reparations or general maintenance).
For example, cutting the strung strings just after the tuning key is important for the overall safety of the instrument (we don't want loose ends poking us and others in the eye.
However, if we were to take one of these strings off, we'd have a deformed end (since it's wrapped around the tuning peg). Upon restringing, we'd have very little length to work with past the tuning pegs and a somewhat damaged end to wrap around the peg once again.
Similarly, suppose your guitar has a fixed bridge. In that case, you may have to cut your string to the point where it was pressed, as it cannot be pressed again without breaking or developing a serious weak spot at the bottom (with the danger of potential slippage or snapping while playing).
Also, keep watch of their build, as they may have already started to corrode or rust. Rusty strings can still be played, but they will be highly uncomfortable to fret, and their tone will suffer. They can also cause serious injuries to your fingertips.
Wound strings could also experience loose windings, which will inevitably fall apart. The nylon or steel core will most likely remain intact, but the string may be rendered unplayable due to the obstruction created by the material around it.
Although this may be seen as overkill, if you have a vacuum sealer, you should probably consider storing your old strings in an airtight container (preferably a plastic container) so that they're protected from corrosive agents lingering in the environment.
This is especially important if you really plan on using them and the weather in your area is very humid year-long.
Also, avoid storing them in damp cellars. Rather, conserve them in drier and cooler storage rooms to ensure that they won't corrode further. Be mindful that moisture is very hazardous for metal strings, while extreme heat can permanently deform nylon strings.
Before storing the strings (in case you plan on using them as spares), clean them in-depth, removing all the debris, dead skin, oil and sweat gathered on them.
Additionally, it'll be a good idea to boil the wound strings (especially if they're roundwound), for they can corrode due to the action of all the fat, sweat, and filth accumulated on the grooves.
You need to make sure that you use plain water with the least amount of calcium or minerals. Also, wipe thoroughly after boiling so that the strings are not exposed to the water's acidic electrolytes.
Finally, ensure that the strings can be identified easily.
Certain manufacturers (such as D'Addario) use colour-based codes to identify their corresponding notes or positions on the fretboard (that information can be found online in case you throw out the packaging).
Others opt for packaging each string in separate envelopes, in which case you have no choice but to jot down the information as you remove each string and find a way to tag them individually.
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Emergency Use Only
Old strings normally should only be reattached in emergencies, with the expectation that new strings will soon replace them in the immediate short term.
Among other reasons, old strings are prone to causing damage from breaking. This happens either because they could already be stretched beyond their resistance point or their weak spots developed from destringing are more exposed.
In both scenarios, the strings can break unexpectedly, followed by a whipping effect that can produce harm on your hands or face.
In terms of tone, a string that is considerably older (or newer) than the other strings of the guitar will likely sound duller or brighter, respectively. Keep this in mind when restringing single strings from your pre-used collection or a new set.
When strings have rust in them, they are more abrasive on the fingers. Thus, you are very likely to cut yourself or develop severe soreness while playing them. Although these injuries are unlikely to cause tetanus, you may find yourself unable to perform most everyday tasks for a considerable amount of time.
Understandably, if you don't have enough money to buy a new set of strings, you could possibly live through these shortcomings and use the strings until they break.
Other Uses For Old Strings
Old strings don't necessarily have to belong to a trash can. If you find that you really have no use for your old strings, you can still put them to good use by tossing them in the recycle bin.
Alas, some locations have regulations against recycling metal strings. Fortunately, several options online allow you to ship old strings for recycling purposes, such as Players Circle.
Finally, if you're so inclined, you can use them to craft items such as bracelets, keychains, or home decorations. Just be wary of rust.