Boiling Guitar Strings
Have you ever heard of the old trick of boiling your guitar strings? This method is used more by bass guitar players, however acoustic, lead, and rhythm guitar players have used it as well. This little trick goes back some years in the music industry, especially amongst session's players of old. When you boil a guitar string, it causes the string to expand, and thus allows the oil and dirt to be released from the string.
While boiling your guitar strings will make your old, flat sounding strings sound much better, they will not make them sound as new. This is an assumption that many make, but after 25 plus-years in the business I can tell you--this is not the case. However, boiling your old strings will make them sound much better, allowing you to get more use from them. Moreover, boiling new guitar strings before you string them on your guitar will help with the stretching process as well as allow better tone and tension.
Boiling your old, used strings can cause them to produce a much sharper, crispier, and springier tone. You will be surprised at the amount of dirt and oil you will extract from your strings in the boiling process. Once you have finished, the water in the pan will show the results. Below I will illustrate the steps and the process; but first, I will list the items you will need and how to prepare the strings.
What you will need:
- One set of new or used strings (coiled)
- One sauce pan
- Tin foil
- Regular fork
- Kitchen tongs
- A clean cloth towel
A Recipe for Better Sound
Step 1: If the strings you will be boiling are new, leave them coiled. If you are boiling old, used strings, coil them tight enough to fit in to the sauce pan.
Step 2: Fill the sauce pan with water. (Note: Many musicians use regular tap water; however, with the amount of chemicals and minerals that is found in tap water today, I use only distilled water.) Once you have filled the pan with water, place it on your stove with the burner on high.
Step 3: Once the water is boiling, carefully lay in the coiled strings in the water one at a time. (I use tongs to drop the strings in as well as remove them from the water).
Step 4: You should boil acoustic or electric guitar strings for only 3 to 5 minutes. If you go any longer than this, you risk relieving the tensile-strength of the string material. Bass guitar strings should be boiled for 10 to 15 minutes, but no more than 15 minutes.
Step 5: Once the time has elapsed, remove the strings from the water and lay them on a clean towel (Do not use paper towels). Using the towel, dry the strings thoroughly removing as much water as possible.
Step 6: Next, preheat your oven to its lowest temperature. (Shoot for approximately 200 to 225 degrees).
Step 7: While your oven is preheating, wrap the coiled strings in the tin foil (Two strings to a foil) and use the fork to perforate the foil several times. This will allow the air to circulate inside the foil, drying the strings thoroughly.
Step 8: Once the oven is preheated, place the strings in the oven letting them dry for 15 minutes.
Step 9: Once the elapsed time has passed, remove the strings from the oven and let them stand until they are cool to the touch.
Step 10: Restring them on your guitar.
NOTE: There are risks
There are some risks when it comes to boiling guitar strings. One such risk pertains to cheap strings. If you are using cheap guitar strings, you would be better advised to simply purchase new ones. Boiling cheap strings (with their inherently low tensile strength) will make the strings much more brittle, and thus more susceptible to breakage. Also, it is recommended that you boil your guitar strings no more than twice. If you continue to boil strings (expensive or otherwise) the tensile strength will be reduced. Also, another risk to boiling guitar strings too many times is that they will require more tension to stay in tune, possibly causing damage to the neck of your guitar.
The best recommendation is to buy good quality guitar strings, boil them only a few times when needed, and then replace them with new ones. This will keep you and your guitar sounding good while saving you some money.
Written by Keith Andrews