Is Stretching Guitar Strings a Myth?

Is Stretching Guitar Strings a Myth

Do guitar strings actually stretch? Like, do they literally, actually, seriously stretch? Or is it a misnomer? Let’s talk about it…

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What’s up everybody. I’m Scott from Stringjoy Guitar Strings, and today we’re talking about stretching guitar strings. We’re going to talk about what’s actually happening, whether they actually stretch at all or whether it’s something else.

If you look around online, and you might see a number of different people claiming that guitar strings don’t actually stretch for one reason or another. When they do this they usually are saying that the strings are doing something different than stretching when you do stretch them. Most commonly they’re talking about the strings seating itself a little bit better on the guitar. What this means is that the tension behind the nut, between the nut and the tuning peg, and the tension behind the bridge, between the bridge and the tailpiece, is evening out a little bit with the tension over the scale length of the guitar.

Now people that say this aren’t wrong. Guitar strings do need to seat properly on a guitar, and that can take a little bit of time once you string them up. Depending on the bridge that you use with your electric guitar strings, whether it’s a roller or it’s more of a tune-o-matic like this, that can have a different effect on how easily the strings will seat properly between the bridge and the tailpiece, and at the same time, depending on how effectively you have your nut cut for the gage of strings that you’re using, that will play a part as well. If your nut’s a little bit too narrow for the string gage that you’re using, it might take a little bit longer for the strings to sit, just because there’s a little bit more friction occurring there at the nut.

A lot of times this is what you’ll see when you hear like a string pop into tune when it hasn’t been in tune for a little while, and suddenly there’s a little squeak or something, and its at a different tension, that usually is because your nut isn’t cut correctly, or it just takes a little bit longer to balance out there.

So, when you stretch your guitar strings is that all that’s really happening? Are they just seating effectively, or are they actually stretching themselves? Well, the truth is strings, in fact, do stretch. They really do, literally, stretch. Hooke’s Law tells us that extension will happen depending on the force that is applied, and tension, as you have on your strings and your guitar, is a type of force, so it will cause your strings themselves to actually, literally, physically, stretch out a bit.

The first time when you change your guitar strings, and your guitar teacher or a video that you saw, or whatever, told you that you needed to stretch your strings out, they weren’t lying to you. Strings really do stretch. They need a little bit of time to hit their optimal point at which their going to intonate really well, and they’re not going to lose their tuning or pitch over time.

The good news is this really doesn’t take very long to take place. A lot of strings will stretch out in a few minutes to an hour. Sometimes they might take as long as a day or two to really settle in just right, but most of that stretchings going to happen early on in the process.

How do you stretch your strings? There’s a number of different approaches and none of them are wrong. Personally, what I’ve always used is the two-handed technique. Basically, I’ll take three fingers on each of my hands. On my right hand I’ll put it right underneath the string that I’m going to try to stretch, and on my left hand I’ll put it on top of that string. I will just push and pull in opposite directions getting quite a nice bit of stretch on the string. You don’t have to do it for too long. Just stretch them out a good bit. Tune them back up. Stretch them out again, and repeat the process until your string is staying at pitch. This even works with acoustic guitar strings.

I hope this has been helpful. If you’re ever in a bar, or anywhere, and you have a bet with somebody as to whether strings actually do stretch, or whether it’s just a myth, you can tell them with certainty strings themselves do stretch. All materials will stretch when enough force is applied, whether you can see that or hear that will depend on the material, but when it comes to guitar strings there’s definitely some stretching happening.

What do you think? Do you have a technique for stretching your strings that’s a little bit different than mine? Do you find something really, really works better for you? Let us know down in the comments.

7 Responses

  1. You have the answer on the black and white pic above with someone playing a headless Steinberger with double ball end strings. Once tuned up, they stay, they have no excess slack behind the zero fret and very little behind the bridge saddles. Only string that I can retune, and drop down to D without the string starting to creep in tuning upwards while playing a song. You don’t need to bring a string UP to pitch from down under it either as you have to do with all other strings. Win-Win situation. Now, most people doesn’t play or own headless guitars which makes me come with this question : Do you make double ball end strings?

  2. If strings didn’t stretch you wouldn’t be able to turn the tuning pegs at all. The length of the string from the tuning peg to tailpiece hardly changes at all when you tune (negligible difference in length from nut to bridge), yet the amount of string on the tuning peg changes much more.

  3. Super vid Scott. I agree with every point you mention. Strings those strings! Tuning issues are probably the number 1 headache for most guitar players and this is such an easy fix.
    Thanks for sharing!
    Steve B.

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