I get asked about storage from time to time and I’ve written something about safe storage of instruments in the past. Another aspect to safe storage — and one that concerns many players — is whether to leave the strings tensioned to pitch while storing.
Should I slacken guitar stings for storage?
We’ve all got some appreciation of how much pressure your guitar or bass neck is under. The tension of the strings can be a couple of hundred pounds. Therefore, it seems to make sense to loosen the strings when we’re not using that instrument for a while.
It’s all about equalisation, you see.
Yes, the strings can exert a huge pull on an instrument’s neck.
However, your truss rod applies tension in the other direction in order to counteract that string tension. That’s the truss rod’s job.
So, if you slacken off string tension, the truss rod is now pulling too hard in the other direction. Really, you should slacken the truss rod too.
This seems a lot of effort if you’re putting your guitar away for a couple of weeks and, my view is that it’s unnecessary anyway.
Think of it this way: that ‘equalisation’ word is really what you’re aiming for. If your guitar’s truss rod is properly working and strong enough (i.e. almost all modern instruments) your neck is already essentially ‘equalised’.
So don’t worry about slackening strings for shorter-term storage.
Long-term Instrument Storage
Now, if you know that you’ll be putting up an instrument for many months or years, I’d advise you to slacken the strings and the truss rod.
And, if you’ve got an older instrument with a ‘weaker’ truss rod, or an instrument without an adjustable rod, you should slacken strings for longer-term storage.
Don’t sweat it
For shorter storage periods, don’t worry about the loosening-strings thing.
Think of it this way:
If you’re picking up your guitar every day and playing it, you don’t loosen strings each time you finish.
So, that string tension is present all the time.
The only real difference is that, during storage, you’re not going to notice if a problem is developing.
That last point is important.
The string tension is relentless and, from time to time, an instrument may need a little truss rod adjustment as the neck 'succumbs' a little. If you're playing the guitar, or getting it set up on a regular basis, this gradual change will (hopefully) be noticed and corrected so the equalisation is maintained.
When a guitar's tucked away for a long period, nobody notices if anything's going wrong. Which is why I say:
The bottom line
Longer-term storage: loosen strings and rod.
Shorter-term storage (or general, everyday use): don’t sweat it. Just keep an eye out for any potential problems.