A common question we receive – and even a topic that is still debated by some guitarists, is whether or not you should loosen or detune your strings when you’re not playing.
The short answer is no in most instances, and there are some good reasons for that. For long-term storage (such as many months or years), the answer is more complex and may depend on the type of guitar you own.
In this article, we’ll go into the details that explain why you shouldn’t loosen your guitar strings when you’re done playing, as well as what to do when storing your guitar – both for the short and the long-term.
Without any further ado, let’s get into it!
Your Guitar’s Anatomy – Explaining String Tension
The whole idea behind detuning the guitar when not in use, is that it will prevent damage to the neck of your guitar, or the guitar strings themselves. There are also theories that changes in humidity can cause serious damage over time if the guitar is left fully tuned.
Thankfully, this isn’t true.
Not only will frequent detuning increase the likelihood of neck damage, it may also wear down your guitar’s nut and strings more quickly. And while the strings and nut of a guitar can easily be replaced, there is no reason to damage it unnecessarily.
To put it simply, your guitar is built to stay in tune. It is true that strings do apply tension to the guitar’s neck, and that too much tension over a lengthy period of time can cause it to bend, bow or warp.
However, to combat this, all electric guitars and most steel-string acoustic guitars have something called a truss rod inside of the neck. The truss rod is a steel rod which can be adjusted to balance out the tension of the strings, ensuring that the two are always in equilibrium to keep your guitar’s neck straight and prevent bowing issues.
(Tip: When changing guitar strings to a new string gauge, you’ll want to adjust the truss rod to compensate for the change in string tension. To learn more about string gauges, view our Ultimate Guide to Guitar Strings.)
When you detune your guitar, you are loosening the tension on the strings. However, if you do not also adjust the truss rod, this equilibrium is now out of balance – causing tension the other way.
This is not significant enough to cause damage during standard playing, or even playing in alternate tunings. However, if detuned significantly enough, and for a lengthy enough period of time, it will be enough to cause damage.
Should You Detune Your Guitar When It’s Not In Use?
Due to the reasons just mentioned, it can therefore be concluded that there is little benefit to detuning the guitar when you’re done playing it.
Not only will the frequent retuning wear down your guitar’s nut more quickly, but it will also cause issues with tension – as the guitar will probably be detuned more frequently than it is actually fully tuned.
The same can be said for short-term storage – say, less than 6 months.
If you really think about it, if you’re leaving the guitar tuned while playing, there is no difference whether it is being used every day or it is sitting in a closet. Either way, it will still be at full tension for months on end.
If leaving strings fully tuned for short-term storage was more of a problem, we’d hear a lot more about it – guitar manufacturers ship the guitars fully tuned themselves. And hey, could you imagine how frustrating it would be to own a guitar shop if all the guitars in the store had to constantly be detuned?
In the case of long-term storage – longer than 6 months, you may wish to detune the guitar slightly, and give the strings some slack.
However, you should also adjust the truss rod in the guitar as well, to counteract the change in tension.
We also recommend storing the guitar inside of a hard case, and preferably in a place that will not have drastic changes in temperature or humidity. If humidity is a concern, you may consider picking something up like the D’Addario Humidipak Automatic Humidity Control System that can go inside of your guitar’s case during storage.
What About Classical Or Flamenco Guitars?
Classical or flamenco-style guitars can be benefit from the strings being loosened slightly for long-term storage. For daily storing or short-term storage, it isn’t really necessary.
Classical and flamenco guitars do not have truss rods inside of them, and typically use nylon strings rather than steel strings. Nylon strings apply a lot less tension, which is why a truss rod isn’t needed. Therefore, there is less damage likely to be done regardless of what you do.
Thankfully, loosening the strings on your guitar is not really necessary, and is something you should only consider if you’re storing the guitar for longer than 6 months.
While frequent detuning does not really provide you any benefit, over time it may cause damage to your guitar’s strings, nut and neck.
We hope that you’ve found this article useful. If you have any questions or there’s anything you’d like to add, please feel free to leave a comment via the comment form below.
Thank you, and have fun!