Tips From the Tech: String Maintenance

By: Josh Lucas

Most of us have a favorite string brand, whether it’s through the power of pretty packaging and marketing, or through gigs and experience.

Whichever you prefer, one thing that changed my guitar playing experience drastically was the use of string cleaning/maintenance products.

It seems like a no-brainer now, but for years I went without any sort of string maintenance. It seemed like my sweat would chew through an endless amount of strings. At the minimum, I had to change strings on my main guitar every two weeks.

Needless to say, if you multiply that by any number of guitars (does anybody really have just one?) the price goes up exponentially. Then one day at the music store I saw a bottle of string lube/cleaner, and it hit me just how silly and wasteful I had been.

Now, not many years later, I’ve developed a method for cleaning my strings that works for me. Most string cleaner comes with a rub-on stick, or maybe even a spray-on container, and it should come with a cleaning cloth. If it doesn’t come with a cloth, a microfiber cloth is a good starting point, or even something as simple as an old t-shirt will do the trick. 

I start by rubbing the open end of the cleaner down the length of the strings. I wipe away the excess from the top of the strings. Then I rub the cleaner down the strings again, and this time push my fingernail against the cloth, and use this to wipe/scrape away the debris (or skin flakes, as I like to call them) from the bottom of the strings. Then I give the strings one more wipe down for good measure.

You’ll find your own method and balance. Personally, I like to have enough slickness for my fingers to glide effortlessly across the strings, but not so much that it’s particularly noticeable. As much as possible, I like to replicate the feeling of brand new strings. Slick on the treble strings, smooth but with substantial grip on the bass strings.

I hope this little tidbit helps. It’s one step that I’ve taken that’s allowed me to extend my string life to over a month and be able to wait until the tuning starts to slack before I’m forced to change the strings. It has allowed me to try more brands and not be restricted to only the cheapest strings, or coated strings. And that’s no dig at coated strings–for me it’s just better, and flat out more fun, to have options.