An online guitar kerfuffle I hadn't come across: stretching strings

After playing for 37+ years, I thought I know where all the big battle lines are drawn: which elements contribute most to tone, etc. But here is an issue I had never come across, and had honestly never thought about: when you first put on the strings, they detune a bit as they settle on the guitar. A common practice is to “stretch” the strings - use your fingers to physically pull on the string, without adding pull on the guitar neck (!), to try to take the play out of the string, and minimize the number of tune-ups required before the tuning is stable.

When you do that string-change stretching, are you: a) “taking the elasticity out of the guitar/string system”; or are you b) “plastically deforming the string”?


Well, all this geekery and more is available in this thread on the Acoustic Guitar Forum:

Many posters state that this is a topic often discussed on this guitar 'board, and isn’t it amazing some folks think one of those options is true when it simply can’t be. In my years hanging out on guitar 'boards I don’t recall coming across this topic, but maybe my eyes selectively glazed over until now :wink:

Enjoy the geekery. For those wanting to be spoiled:

In that thread, various engineer guitarists scoff at the notion of plastic deformity - humans can’t stretch the metal in strings, and if they could, would damage the string! Hah-hah, you silly fool! You are taking the elasticity out of the system as the string ball end settles against the bridge saddle/pin, etc.; pulling the wraps tighter on the peghead, etc. That is the only effect being experienced, silly non-scientist guitar player! Again, I had no idea. I did kinda assume that some stretching of the metal was a factor in this, but…apparently I just typed something stupid. :wink:

In the spirit of fighting ignorance, I offer this OP :wink:

I can’t confirm whether it’s actually the string “stretching” or what, but I can confirm that this process works. If I stretch the string several times (stretch and re-tune, stretch and re-tune) after installing, it will stay in tune. If I don’t stretch it, the string will take hours or days to finally stay in tune.

What the procedure does is remove slack from the string at the tuning peg. I’m pretty sure both sides of this argument (which I have no intention of reading) are wrong.

ETA: I should have opened your spoiler.

Right? You hadn’t thought about it much over the years, right? Are you aware of this as a long-standing engineer/scientist nitpick?

Seems a quite petty thing to argue about. So you have to retune a few times. That’s been a plain and simple reality of stringed instruments since time immemorial. How much hassle are you really saving yourself here?

Exactly why I have never thought about it. I put on the strings, stretch 'em out a couple of times, then tune up the guitar.

I don’t think anyone disputes the stretching step in the process; the question is what effect is it having? Like I said, I guess I had assumed a bit of both…

At least one string maker has a video on their website that recommends doing just that. Next thing you know they’ll be arguing about ketchup on hot dogs.

I “pinch” up and down the strings with my thumb and forefinger when I put on a new set (which is when one breaks). It takes a smidge of the brightness off of them, and I don’t have to re-tune a new set as much.

Plastically deforming? A little bit, but it’s more work hardening, because the string goes back to it’s original shape. But, any engineer that says I can’t generate enough force to deform a guitar string doesn’t deserve to ride on a train, much less design one. I can place an acute bend in a loose bass string without much effort, guitar strings are easier. Besides, if you really want me to change the string, I can just yank them off the guitar. Both would be plastic deformation with my bare hands.

I’ve been giving new strings a good “stretch” for years, but just to settle them on the tuners and bridge. That was the original reason I heard to do it.

I’ll add:

By “pinching”, I mean that I introduce a small bend in the string along it’s entire length, when I have it mostly tight, but before I bother tuning the string to pitch (it’s easier to put a tiny bend in when it’s looser). My problems with the guitar staying in tune after adopting this practice are virtually nonexistent, because the string has stopped losing a good deal of it’s flexibility through work hardening by the time I get it to pitch.

The people in that thread that categorically say things like “steel doesn’t stretch” aren’t winning me over at all. Steel is ductile, and it being deformed and stretched through ever smaller dies is how the unwound strings and the cores of wound strings are made. It stretches just fine until it breaks. When it gets to your guitar, it hasn’t been to pitch yet, and will still stretch some, no matter how sweet your stringing technique is.

Again, I hadn’t appreciated the Tastes Great - Less Filling nature of this topic. On the linked-to thread, pretty much everyone acknowledges the value of stretching at string changes. But clearly there are POVs about the effect that stretching is having.

I tend to stick with my Rule #1: whatever keeps you playing. If your method works and your guitars’ tunings are stable, then yay.

There is nothing cooler (to me, but then I am a geek) than going to an 80 year old, lightly-built acoustic guitar that I haven’t played in a bit, pulling it out of the case and have it be in tune. In a “stuff that works; stuff that holds up” sort of way.

If you could deform the string with a few seconds of stretching when you first put it on, why wouldn’t the string keep stretching and going out of tune for its entire lifespan when you play it?

I think it’s way more credible that you are taking irregularities out of the guitar-string system.

Here’s an issue I was all wrapped up in a few months ago:

Do your strings touch the fretboard when you play? I’ve felt differently about it and been accused of trolling by suggesting both opinions at different times.

I take it you don’t know many musicians! :dubious: That’s ALL we have to argue about!

Anyway, has anyone ever measured how much a string stretches over it’s life? Depending on how much/little that is, it might shed some light on whether a good quick stretch when first used make that much of a difference.

Well, it seems that when work hardening is brought up on page 5, the resident engineer kind of flubs for a moment. I think if he thought about the difference in the rigidity of new and old strings, he’d find out something new. The rigidity of the material seems like it’d have a very strong effect on the tuning since the pitch is caused by the frequency of the sting flexibly vibrating, and the flexibility of the material will affect the tension necessary to get it to beat a the desired rate. Nope, don’t have the requisite education to prove this, and the interaction between string rigidity, tension and pitch is complex. But to pretend that they are independent appears to be ignorant of the fundamentals to the problem.

Well, that’s the magic of a set of strings that have been work hardened and aren’t going to get much more stiff. :wink:

But, that’s also why I basically don’t change strings until one breaks or I notice a groove from the frets. I usually play electric, and there’s a couple of tone knobs I can employ if the strings aren’t bright enough, and an alcohol cleaning can bring back a grungy set. That Epi GT-275 that drad dog made me think of in another thread was within a few cents of perfect when I pulled it out after sitting in it’s case for something like 15 years. I may have played 5-6 practices on that guitar before I put it away. Mmm, humbucker guitar.

If your strings ain’t broke, don’t change 'em…Oh, and carry a backup guitar. Old strings are more likely to break; work hardening, you know.

On preview: drad dog, as is detailed in the thread that WM linked to, there’s more than one sense of the word “stretch”. English is great, until it’s not.

Instead of fretting, I’ll talk about bending, because it doesn’t involve changing the length of the string. When you do a bend, you’re not stretching the string in the physics sense, at least that’s not what (mostly) causes the change in pitch. If the string stretched in the sense that physics thinks of it, it would be much harder to get a guitar string to change pitch when you bent it. Since it doesn’t stretch (much), it changes pitch. However, the string does stretch and permanently deform a bit over its lifetime, and some of the drift to flat is caused by this.

And while I’m sleep deprived, drunk and thinking about guitar string materials: why hasn’t anyone impregnated nylon with ferrous materials to make a guitar string? Seems it’d be the easiest way to make an electric that was easy on the digits.

Did I just invent something?

ETA: And matter of fact, I play slide about 1/3 of the time, so no, they don’t always touch the fretboard :slight_smile:

scabpicker your posts make sense even though I don’t have the science to have my own POV - and ultimately only care about having a guitar in tune to play :wink:

Yes, I kill strings with acid sweat, so I have learned to seek out acoustics that sound great because of the guitar, and less because of the string. A lot of Taylors, for instance, really benefit / sound better when fresh strings are on them.

I don’t understand. Are you reframing Zeno’s Paradox? The string never touches the fretboard because there is always another distance to cut in half? Or are you debating proper technique, i.e., should they touch, or should you be all Yngwie Malmsteen and play a guitar with a scalloped 'board?

Define ‘fresh’: once a year?

Depends on your fingers/sweat and the environment. If you have reasonably dry hands and it isn’t overly humid, a couple of months…but that is a thumb-in-the-air guesstimate at best.

And, to be clear, I rarely change my strings, because I just kill them anyway, so it is not like I am an expert on strings. Some folks geek so hard about the differences between different brands and materials. They all sound the same after an hour or two with me :wink:

ETA: the obvious test - change your year-old strings. If you are like OMG! about the difference, do it after 6 months next time. Keep shortening until the OMG! isn’t nearly as big, or you simply can’t be bothered :wink:

I hear ya. The science is hard when you try to apply it to real life. The pinch method is what I arrived at when I was playing with a 2mm pick, and breaking a string every other show. It was the method I arrived at that got me a stable guitar even if I had to change strings just before I headed off to a show, just pulling on the strings wasn’t as good (back then, I only had the Goya for me, my other guitar went to the other guitarist).

My, you may be my chemical twin. Do you strip the chrome off watches and watchbands? I do. Any string loses it’s new “snap” after one song of my sweat, and 24 hours. There’s no helping it.

I don’t understand. Are you reframing Zeno’s Paradox? The string never touches the fretboard because there is always another distance to cut in half? Or are you debating proper technique, i.e., should they touch, or should you be all Yngwie Malmsteen and play a guitar with a scalloped 'board?[/QUOTE]

I think you’re over thinking it (so then, just who’s overthinking?). I believe they’re asking a much simpler question: how does the string change it’s length to reach the fretboard when I fret a note unless it stretches? It does stretch some, but within it’s limit of elasticity, and changes pitch a little bit too, before you reach the fretboard and change the effective string length.
Chefguy, if they break or develop a groove, they’re no longer fresh. :slight_smile:

No, no philosophy involved.

On first asking I thought it was obvious that the strings touch the board. I could “feel” it.

Had a number of conversations on threads about it. I had all kinds of reasons for the way I thought.

My guitar tech said no they don’t. I believe it. I’ve checked my initial sense at the door, and really looked. And they don’t.

If you look at the board it wears down between the strings and not under them, that’s the main physical proof. Doesn’t matter whether it’s scalloped or not.