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Ring Music

Torontos guitar specialists since 1969

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Keeping Your Guitar Strings Clean and Bright

By Jason Fowler

The crisp, bell-like tone of new guitar strings is unfortunately, for many of us, short-lived. This may be due to lack of proper string cleaning procedure, excessive humidity, or naturally acidic sweat, all of which cause the alloys used in string manufacturing to oxidize. This results in a "plonk" instead of a "zing". Many players also have unrealistic expectations of how long a string should last. Most string manufacturers will tell you that strings really only sound their best for 4 to 10 hours of playing. This of course runs counter to their advertising claims but such is the nature of all consumer products. This means that if you play a lot, you may be changing your strings every week or every day depending on your tonal preferences. At between $7-$10 a pack this could get expensive, I hear you saying. Well, I guess that's true. However, think about what else you might be spending that much on in a week without batting an eye; cigarettes, a couple of pints in your favourite pub, a movie, acab ride somewhere, a coffee or three at your local café...

Of course there are some players that would prefer the sound of old, dead strings and that's just fine too. As long as their "tone concept" is not getting in the way of people enjoying their music. There are also guitars which seem to only sound their best with a fresh set of strings. I have generally found the newer guitars, which tend to be "stiffer" that older, played-in guitars, need good strings to really project much sound. Many older guitars, particularly those that are lightly built, seem to sound great no matter how lold the strings are. Go figure.

Here are some sample steps you can take to maximize the life of your strings:

  1. Before playing, apply a dime-size drop of sanitizer and rub your hands together briskly. The sanitizer will not only kill whatever bacteria are hiding out in your palms but will also evaporate harmful oils which will dull strings. (You can buy a bottle of hand sanitizer in your local drug store). I recommend using this method over washing hands in soap and water because this tends to soften both the left hand calluses and right hand fingernails, two possible deleterious side effects.

  2. When you're through playing, wipe the strings with a dry dish towel or my personal fvourite, a cotton diaper. These make great polishing cloths as well. Really reef those strings - wrap the cloth around the string and go all the way along its length. You should see the dirt on the towel.

  3. You may also want to try one of the commercially available products to clean and maintain your strings. The Kyser Capo people also offer Dr. Stringfellow String Cleaner and Lubricant, Lem-Oil for preserving your guitar's fingerboard and bridge, and polish for shining up your axe. "Fingergrease" spray and "Fast Fret" glide-on string lubricants also purport to protect the strings from corrosion.

Lastly, even if you don't have a problem with prematurely dead strings you may experience tuning problems. That's because as you play strings they are wearing down where they mash against the frets. If you notice your guitar won't seem to stay in tune, and it's otherwise okay, try changing the strings. You may be pleasantly surprised.


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