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.

guitar strings in coils

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).

guitar strings boiling

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.

drying guitar strings with a towell

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.

guitar strings wrapped in tin foil tin foil perforated to allow air to circulate

Step 8: Once the oven is preheated, place the strings in the oven letting them dry for 15 minutes.

drying guitar strings by baking them in the oven

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

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Comments (27)
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I usually don't bother correcting people anymore, but the generally scornful attitude I feel toward dorks, I mean....musicians...means I must speak up.

SO, the author makes a point that string boilers of the guitarist type be careful not to subject their fragile little twangers to more than a few minutes of torture, so as to avoid "relieving the tensile strength." He's essentially saying that the risk of breakage increases.

Sorry, but, WTF?

Nonsense. Water boils at what, 212f? Yup. 212 degrees won't affect a SINGLE characteristic of even softer steels.

Secondly, dude then goes on to recommend wrapping strings in foil and putting them in an oven heated to "200 to 225 degrees" for 15 minutes!

So...the issue is submersion? Again, NONSENSE.

Listen, nerds. You're taking this too far. It's fun to watch, tho.

by Doesn't matter on

Musician

I think it was a documentary on YES, like 1990. Chris Squire was in his kitchen boiling his strings. The interviewer was completely amazed. Chris said that he boiled his strings to clean and give him his trademark nickel pick sound. He said the strings he used for that nights performance were over a year old.I usually boil my strings 3 times. Also use EB Slinky strings. But with all the discount no shipping string stores, I can get a new set for under 15$ so boiling is cut to once. If your a painter and have some denatured alcohol around, wipe wet boiled strings and see how much more grime comes out. Also clean that nasty fretboard. Furniture polish works great, but be careful not to let any fluids get between wood and fret. You will wonder why you have a sudden buzz.

by James Alan White on

I live by the sea (salt air -> oxidation) in a developing country (strings harder to find, less choice and more expensive), so I've been saving old strings for years. I am definitely going to try the vinegar, although lime or lemon is a lot stronger, maybe too much so (try it neat on a coin, cold, overnight).

by Peter on

I am gay

by Keith Andrews on

Thanks for the simple tip... I'm a "can't be bothered, will just buy new strings" kinda gal... but... I've been collecting all my old strings to make bangles :) I've decided after reading all the comments that I will boil the strings, then soak a makeup wipe in vinegar and polish them all up once they have cooled

by Minerva-Ann on

brother

i am inspired with this understanding thanks

by SAVIOR FRANCIS on

Guys I wrote this like 3 years ago and it was satire. You guys are ****ing idiots. I thought I had made it obvious enough; seriously, you guys are more gullible than chicken little.

by Keith Andrews on

I wanna try this now!!

by GetRekt69 on

Thanks for this, giving it a go after realising all my spare sets are missing the g! Hopefully it'll get me through the gig.

As for Mr Clean, unless you have them fancy 'prosthetic hands' your fingers have oils in them, no amount of washing your hands before touching your guitar will eliminate this.

by missed on

want to try,let's see if this wierd thing works.
if not ,simple, buy new.

by jo on

Thank You

Vinegar and Water worked Great!

by Mark on

Instructions unclear. Watched pot. Never boiled.

by David on

Um....you could just not touch your freakin face and hair all the time, and wash your hands before touching your guitar.....

by clean on

Thanks for the tip! For those who are complaining that it makes more sense to go buy new strings, that is certainly true if buying $6 guitar strings. If you're buying $45 bass strings, you could certainly extend their life this way.

by Jim on

I can't think of anything dafter than going to all that trouble of boiling and drying strings just to save a few bucks. And don't forget the cost of energy used anyway.
Go on, treat yourself to a new set of strings each time!

by RichS on

It is a good trick in case you suddenly need to revive your strings and have no time to order new ones. Beside, I find played strings responds sometimes better and I like when they loose a bit of brightness.

by Marco on

Boilers.

Are people really busting their asses boiling strings to save 5 or 6 dollars?

Wtf? I know you are musicians but damn, can't you deliver some newspapers or something?

You can't be that much of a loser, even if you are a bassist...

by James Scott on

Thank you so much for mentioning this! another great tip for bass players

by John Cena on

Thank you so much for mentioning this! another great tip for bass players

by John Cena on

Sorry I misread the notes. Everywhere I said "Travis", i was referring to Keith, the author.

Great article Keith!!! : ]

by Julian on
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