Today I’m going to explain whether ukulele strings go bad, which is a pretty common question among uke players.
Let’s start with a quick summary:
Unused ukulele strings will usually not go bad when stored well in their original packaging. Ukulele strings are made primarily from nylon or fluorocarbon, which have an extremely long shelf life. However, used ukulele strings will wear out much more quickly, typically after about 6-12 months of active use.
I admit, this is a super simplified answer.
But don’t worry, I’ve gone into much more detail below, and I’ve highlighted several common scenarios that ukulele players tend to encounter.
Let’s dive right in!
Do Unused (Still Packaged) Ukulele Strings Go Bad?
Ukulele strings that are still sealed in their original packaging will last almost indefinitely. However if they’re exposed to extreme temperatures or direct sunlight the strings may warp and go bad. Some strings also come in unsealed packaging which would likely give them a shorter shelf life.
Ukulele strings are primarily made of nylon and fluorocarbon materials, which are both forms of plastic. And plastic strings will usually have a longer shelf-life than metal strings (like those used on guitars, and occasionally on larger baritone ukuleles), because they aren’t prone to rusting.
As a result, as long as your ukulele strings are unused, and stored in a dark and cool environment, they are likely to last an extremely long time.
So don’t be afraid of buying extra sets of spare strings when the local music store runs a big sale. Those unused strings should last as long as you possibly need them to.
BUT, that doesn’t mean that ukulele strings never go bad. They do, especially if they are used and played frequently.
Do Used (Unpackaged) Ukulele Strings Go Bad?
Ukulele strings that are unsealed and in use will eventually go bad. For example, the tension from the fretboard alone will gradually stretch nylon and fluorocarbon ukulele strings. And when the strings are played, then the friction against the frets will also cause the plastic filaments to wear out over time.
But, this is just a couple of examples. There are several things that can cause uke strings to eventually go bad. So, let’s jump into an overview of 6 common causes of ukulele string damage.
6 Things That Destroy Ukulele Strings
When you install strings on a ukulele, you are stretching those strings across the body and neck of the instrument. In order to hold a tune, the ukulele strings are held under a certain amount of tension.
Simply by keeping a ukulele “in tune”, you are putting the strings under a decent amount of tension, which will cause the strings to stretch over time.
Of course, this only applies to strings that are currently installed on a ukulele, which is one reason why packaged ukulele strings last much longer than strings that are installed.
2. Fretboard Friction
There are several ways that the fretboard will cause wear to your ukulele strings. First, the strings will rub against the frets which will cause the strings to wear or fray overtime.
In addition, when you play the instrument you will frequently be pressing and stretching the strings in order to play the notes and chords required to create a melody.
So, the more you play your uke, the faster the strings will get damaged. But, don’t let that discourage you from playing! Strings are meant to be replaced.
3. Hand Oils
Another factor that will wear on your strings when you play, is the oil and dirt from your hands that will get rubbed into the strings.
But this really only has a significant impact on wound strings. Wound strings are somewhat rare for ukuleles, but they are the standard for the lowest strings on most guitars.
Wound strings are made of a core, with a secondary material wrapped around the core in a spiraling pattern.
As a result, this creates opportunities for oils and dirt to get stuck inside the outer wrap, which can cause the strings to sound different and to wear more quickly.
4. UV Light Exposure
Whether ukulele strings are packaged or installed on a ukulele, UV light exposure can cause damage. UV light is a nuisance when it comes to preserving almost any product.
Everything from toilet paper to your favorite sweater will decay more quickly when exposed to UV light. And ukulele strings are no exception. Keep them someplace dark if you want to maximize their shelf life.
5. Extreme Temperatures
Extreme temperatures is another factor that can damage BOTH sealed strings and ukulele strings that are actively being used.
You are probably aware of the fact that plastic stretches and then melts when exposed to enough heat. So, keep your strings away from bonfires and garages that are not air conditioned, and you can expect them to last considerably longer.
On the flip-side, plastics that are exposed to really cold temperatures can actually become brittle. So, if you live somewhere that gets very cold in the winter, be careful where you store your ukulele or the strings might actually snap.
This only applies to metal ukulele strings, which are quite rare, but air contains some amount of moisture which will cause any unsealed metal strings to rust over time.
Since the vast majority of all ukulele strings are made from various forms of plastic, this is actually one notable reason why ukulele strings are likely to have a much longer shelf-life than guitar strings. Because plastic doesn’t rust. Nifty.
How Long Should Ukulele Strings Last?
For average players, ukulele strings should last at least 6 to 12 months of use. If you play frequently (e.g. an hour daily) or if you tend to play the strings hard, then you’ll likely need to replace the strings more frequently. For example, once every 1-3 months.
Unless you’re a professional player, or a serious hobbyist, you’re probably going to be safe replacing your strings less frequently (i.e. every 6-12 months).
And as I mentioned earlier, if the strings aren’t being used, they can last for many years.
For example, I have a ukulele that has had the same set of strings installed for well over 5 years. Those strings haven’t been played regularly, and they are still in good shape and sound perfectly fine.
If you love playing the ukulele, and will play regularly every week, then I definitely wouldn’t recommend that you leave the same set of strings on your uke for over 5 years!
However, if you’re an occasional player, who just picks up the uke from time to time for a little musical dabbling, then it’s probably not going to hurt anything to keep one set of strings for many years.
Can You Reuse Old Ukulele Strings?
You can reuse old ukulele strings on the same ukulele or a different ukulele, as long as the strings are still in good condition. Removing the strings and reinstalling them, should not make the strings unusable.
In other words, if you have a set of strings that are in good condition on ukulele A, and you want to use those strings on ukulele B, that’s no problem.
That is, as long as ukulele A and B use the same kind of strings. For example, you wouldn’t be able to install a set of soprano ukulele strings on a baritone ukulele, which is a much larger instrument.
The same concept applies if you only have one ukulele. In other words, if you want to try a new set of strings, but you want to keep the old strings for later use, you can. That also works fine.