No, you do not need to detune your guitar or loosen the strings when you’re not playing it. In fact, do not do this as it will most likely cause damage to the neck of the guitar over time.
Guitar necks are designed and set up with enough counter pressure to the strings that under normal tension, everything is balanced. By releasing the string tension on the neck, the wood will bend the other direction. While okay during string changes, keeping string tension off the neck for long periods of time will cause damage.
How Much Tension is on a Guitar Neck?
Let’s use my favorite acoustic strings, the D’Addario EJ16s as an example.
|lbs of pressure
An acoustic guitar with a set of EJ16s tuned in standard tuning has 160.54 lbs of pressure from the strings pulling on the neck. Tensions will increase with larger string gauges, but this gives you an idea of how much pressure we’re working with.
The guitar neck most likely has a truss rod that reinforces the wood to help combat the pull of the strings and even everything out straight again. That’s why it isn’t bad to leave your guitar tuned. The guitar is built with the tension already accounted for.
Storing A Guitar
If you’re storing a guitar for long periods of time (greater than 6 months) it’s a good idea to tune the guitar down ½ to 1 full step. However, the most important thing is that it is kept in the correct humidity conditions. Read my article on guitar humidity for everything you’d want to know about guitars and humidity.
The biggest danger to a guitar in storage is the potential for poor humidification. If you plan to store a guitar, also plan to open the case 2 times a month and refresh the humidifier in the case. My article on solid top guitars has some links to my favorite guitar humidifiers, either of which would work great for a guitar in storage.
Shipping A Guitar
Same goes for shipping a guitar, either by air or by land, there’s no need to detune a guitar. Again, the biggest problem a guitar faces while being shipped is the difference in humidity that it will face on its journey. Make sure there’s a good humidifier in the case and the guitar will be just fine.
I’ve unpacked hundreds if not thousands of new guitars, and let’s take a page out of the premium guitar manufacturers books. All new guitars are shipped with full string tension on them. Impressively, most of those that were shipped within the continental U.S. were almost perfectly in tune when I pulled them out of the case.
What if the Bridge is Starting to Raise Up?
If the bridge is starting to either pull off the top of the guitar, or move upwards and towards the nut, you’ve got some bigger issues. Take the guitar to a competent repair shop and have them address the issue.
If the bridge is pulling off the guitar, that is a defect and it will need to be repaired. If this is happening, release the tension on the strings and go see your local repair shop.
If the top of the guitar is starting to move, then this points towards a humidity issue. Make sure that the guitar is getting proper attention in the water department, then go see you local repair guy. There’s a good chance that if this is happening your guitar is playing like garbage because the setup is now all out of whack.
Will Detuning too Much Cause Problems to the Nut?
The concern is that detuning strings over and over will cause a sawing action of the string over the nut and will ultimately damage lower the nut slots too far. Thankfully after reading this article, you won’t be detuning that much.
However nut damage is something that often happens after years and years of use on a guitar. This is normal, and cutting a new nut to replace one that’s been worn down is quite common.
Don’t worry about nut damage, and don’t let it stop you from switching up from standard to other tunings like drop D or DADGAD.
Can I Take Off All Strings At Once While Changing Guitar Strings?
When I was in college I had a friend that found out I take off all of the strings at the same time when I change my strings and he about had a heart attack. “Don’t ever do that,” he exclaimed still gaining his composure, “you’ll ruin your guitar!”
Turns out that’s not true at all. Not only can you remove all of the guitar strings at once, but you should because it gives you a chance to really clean the fingerboard and get your nasty finger junk out of the frets.
About once every year I like to hit the fretboard with some very fine steel wool and then apply lemon oil to the fretboard before restringing. This makes sure to pull off all of that skin oil and residue, and recondition the wood keeping it in good shape.
Guess what that guy’s guitar looked like. You don’t even need three guesses to know that it was pretty disgusting, one that would give an unsuspecting repair man a strong shiver down the spine.
Now, don’t get distracted and leave the guitar without strings on it for a couple weeks, but in the repair world, it’s not uncommon to pull strings off of a guitar for a couple of days to complete a repair. I have never once seen any issues with this, and as long as the wood has been accustomed to life under normal tension, the neck and all related components will snap right back into place once you get the new strings on the guitar.
How to Properly Detune or Remove Strings From a Guitar
If you are going to detune your guitar or remove the strings for replacement, there is a right way to do it. Release tension evenly by detuning each string by only a couple steps before going to the next one. Don’t pull a string off the guitar while the others are at full tension. Doing this correctly gives the neck a chance to move slowly as opposed to moving too fast or unequally across the neck.
Most importantly don’t cut the strings with your snips while the strings are under tension. This will cause a considerable shock to the neck and will result in damage to the guitar.