Guitar and bass strings wear out with use. Your playing style, frequency and the environment all have an effect on how fast strings wear out. For this reason, it is recommended that strings be replaced at frequent intervals. But what about strings that haven’t been used? How long can they be kept in your closet or guitar case before they are unusable? Do guitar strings have an expiration date? This is something I have thought about before. So instead of speculating, I decided to write to major guitar string manufacturers and ask them.
Here’s what I wrote:
Do electric/acoustic guitar strings have a shelf life and an expiration date? How long does an unopened pack of strings last? Also what can one do to extend the life of strings when they’re on the instrument?
And the responses I got from string companies-
Jeremy from Cleartone Strings:
“They do, but it’s a very long time. Moisture is the #1 killer of guitar strings. Provided they’re in a moisture free room at room temperature, they can last decades though I don’t have info on any specific expiration date. An unopened pack can last many years. I’ve played a set that was 10 years old here and it worked out just fine. The best way to extend the life of your strings on your instrument would be to wash your hands every time before you play, and to wipe down your strings with a lightly damp cloth after each session.”
George Santos from D’addario:
“Generally speaking if the strings are kept in a neutral place (nothing too humid, etc) then they can fare well for quite some time. Especially with the type of bags we use. I have opened classical string sets that were made 7 years ago and you’d swear they were just made. Classical wound strings can be notorious of oxidation issues because of the silver plated copper scenario. So the same is applicable for electric and acoustic. I would say 5 years is safe. Anything outside of that I look at like, “well I don’t need to play strings older than that”. As far as when they are on the instrument : just some basis type things – Wash your hands before you play, wipe down the strings when done playing. There are products out there to help promote longevity as well as other products on the market. Some of those others do not interact well with say coated strings from other string manufacturers. So another thing to suggest is coated strings as well.”
Gregg Pakosz at Dean Markley:
“There are too many variables to just have one answer. I have seen them last for over 10 years in a controlled environment and I have also seen them rust in a matter of months while left out in really high humidity. While on the instrument I would suggest wiping them down after playing to get as much body oil and dirt off as you can.”
Mark Dronge at DR Strings:
“The life of a string depends on so many things. How they are packaged, and how they are stored are the 2 most important things I know. Recently, about one year ago, we changed to corrosion proof packaging. Now, we believe that in our new packaging DR strings may be good for several years. Once packages from any company are opened oxidation starts to take place. To a lesser extent regarding coated strings. Do they actually go bad? I don’t think so. But they may lose a small degree of brightness. Of course, if any strings, of any brand, are exposed to humidity corrosion will start. That could end the life of a string. We have a product called Stringlife which will extend the life of a string – new or used.”
Frank Aresti at Dunlop Manufacturing:
“That is a very good question: The only thing that is possible, depending on how you store the strings, is that if excessive moisture seeps into the packaging they may develop rust spots. This kind of thing can happen with any pack of strings, in any type of packaging. It is best to buy strings when you need them, but if you have to store them we recommend keeping them in a cool, dry place.”
Sheila at Elixir Strings:
“Thanks for the question. As you may already know, Elixir® Strings do not have an expiration date on their packaging. How long a string lasts has a lot to do with personal preference and playing style. We encourage players to let their ears be the judge of a strings tone and tone life. We do stand behind the quality of our products, however. If you’ve purchased a set of Elixir Strings and found the tone or tone life to be less than you are accustomed, please contact one of our Inside Sales Associates. The NANOWEB® and POLYWEB® Coatings on Elixir® Strings serve as a protective barrier against tone-killing dirt and debris that builds up between the windings of a string. Although it is good practice to wipe off your strings with a dry cloth after playing to remove any loose debris or moisture, we do not recommend the use of any cleaners or lubricants.”
Ernie Ball customer support:
“Our strings do not have an expiration date as long as they remain in the sealed package. Our element shield packaging resist humidity and keeps your strings as fresh as the day they were made. How long they last once installed on the instrument is relative to the player. Some players notice a tonal difference after a week and some feel they last months. We cant really say exactly how long our strings will last because there is so many factors to consider, however keeping your instrument in a case and wiping the sweat off your strings when you’re done playing will help with the longevity of your strings.”
La Bella customer support:
“Guitar strings don’t have a strict shelf life. It depends on how they are stored and packaged. La Bella adopts a “MAP” (modified atmosphere packaging) process for packaging where we remove all of the oxygen inside the plastic pouch and insert nitrogen to halt the tarnishing process in its place. So assuming the packaging is not compromised, it could last years and years on the shelf. Strings life after opening a packaging depends on how many hours you play, the acidity/cleanliness of hands, humidity level of where the strings are stored and other factors, too. You can wipe the strings with alcohol to clean them. We do make a new set (Vapor Shield) that has received amazing feedback — they are treated so they last much longer physically and tonally.”
Jason How at Rotosound:
“Our strings now in foil packs will stay perfectly fresh until the time you open them.”
SIT Strings customer support:
“While they do not have a specific guaranteed shelf life, guitar strings can remain fresh in their packaging on average from one to three years depending on the climate in which they are stored. It’s also not unusual for guitar strings older than that to work just fine. Many of our sets are now available in Moisture Barrier Packaging which are sealed to keep air away from the strings and maximize shelf life. Once exposed to air they cannot be guaranteed to last a certain amount of time. However, if you wish to extend the life of your strings while on the instrument, your best bet is to wipe them off after every use. This can be done with either a plain lint-free cloth with nothing on it or apply a light dab of lemon or orange oil to the strings then wipe clean with a separate dry cloth.”
John Carey at StringDrop
“In our experience, guitar strings don’t quite have an expiration date, but, do suffer from degradation and quality loss. Most companies do not bother putting an ‘expiration date’ on packages because they simply do not care enough to make sure that guitarists get the freshest strings possible. Due to middle-men and antiquated business methods, most strings don’t get into shops or into the hands of players for at least a 4-8 months. We simplified the method of manufacturing and selling guitar strings by cutting out dealers and distributors and ship our strings directly from us to you. We are proud to say that our strings are only 20-30 days old by the time they reach you. Your best way to maintain the life of a guitar string is by cleaning it after use. You don’t have to do anything fancy, just wipe them down to prevent sweat and oil (from your hands) from staying on them.”
No response was received from GHS Strings.
The main thing here is that all string companies recommend wiping down your instrument after your playing session. I remember to wipe my instrument and strings with a dry cloth after every practice or playing session.
What has your experience been with guitar strings? Let us know in the comments below.
(Photo courtesy of Alberto Music)