It’s not really one of the fun things to do with guitars, but everyone needs to change strings at some point, you just can’t keep playing on those old strings! It is by far the cheapest way to improve your guitars sound whether you play acoustic or electric. Here’s how to change your strings.
So here are the basic steps:
- Slacken off the old strings
- Remove the old strings
- Clean the fret board and headstock
- Fit the new strings
- Stretch the new strings and tune
- Play them in
Ok – now the detail
1. Slacken off the old strings
There’s a lot of debate whether you should remove only one string at a time or remove all six strings at once. In my experience I’ve never had a problem removing all six strings at once, but I will offer the following advice.
- If you do remove all the strings at once, you should restring the guitar straight away and not leave it in an unstrung state. Leaving a guitar unstrung for a long time is not good for it.
- If you have a high end or expensive guitar and the instructions specifically state you should change the strings by removing only one string at a time then follow that advice otherwise you may invalidate any warranty.
- If you have a vintage instrument or a guitar that has had a major neck repair then change them one at a time.
- Never ever cut your strings while they are at tension, always slacken them and only then if you want, cut them off. This may damage your guitar or may cause damage to you if you get hit by a flying string!
Today, many modern makers including Taylor Guitars recommend removing all six at once.
It’s best to slacken the strings in a way so as to relieve the tension on the neck evenly so my preferred order is: – 6th (Low E), 1st (High E), 5th, 2nd, 3rd,4th.
A string winder is a really handy little tool to help speed this up.
Once the strings are slack you can then remove them.
2. Remove the old strings
If you can remove the strings easily without cutting them then do so.
On acoustic guitars you will need to remove bridge pins. Sometimes they come out easily but more often you need to use a tool to get them out. There are some tools specifically for this but you can use a pair of side cutters which you will need any way to cut your strings later on. Lean the side cutters on the saddle and gently grip the end pin. Now, using the saddle as a lever point, gently pull the pin out.
On electric guitars the strings usually come off easily. Sometimes a ball end from a broken string can get stuck in which case you need to poke it out.
3. Clean The Neck
Now is an ideal opportunity to clean the fretboad and headstock from dust and dirt. A clean soft cloth should be enough for most guitars. If you can see ingrained dirt on your freboard then a gentle rub with a nylon scouring pad should loosen it. Make sure to clean all the dust from around the tuners on the head stock. Don’t use any cleaning products or polishes – even ones designed specificaly for guitar. A clean 1″ paintbrush with soft bristles is ideal for dusting and cleaning out all the nooks and crannies.
4. Fit The New Strings
Again there are a lot of different techniques for winding the strings on to the tuners so I will only outline one way of doing it. The method given here is good for beginners as it makes it easier to get the strings wrapped in the right direction and also helps gets the right number of wraps around the tuner.
First fit the string at the bridge end and pull the string until it is firmly seated in position. On acoustics particularly, make sure you have pulled the string tight at the bridge. Now bring the string up to the headstock.
On ‘six tuners aside’ guitars like Fenders all the strings are wrapped around the tuner in an anti-clockwise direction. On other guitars which have three left hand and three right hand tuners you wrap the strings on the left hand tuners anti-clockwise and on the three righthand tuners you will wrap the strings clockwise.
With the three bass strings (E, A, D), have the string on the right hand side of the tuner and wrap it round the tuner post two or three times anti-clockwise and then thread the string throught the hole on the tuner post. (The number of wraps you can achieve will depend on the thickness of each string.) Now, keeping some tension on the string to stop it unwindng from the tuner, turn the knob anti-clockwise to bring the string up to a decent tension to hold it in place. Cut off the excess string close to the tuner with your side cutters.
Move on to the next string and repeat.
If you are stringing a ‘three left, three right’ guitar you will wrap the string clockwise around the right hand tuners for the treble strings (G, B, E) but still turn the tuning knob anti-clockwise to tighten. Also try and get an extra wrap (3 or 4) on the treble strings before threading the string throught the hole.
5. Stretch The Strings
When all the strings are fitted they will need stretched to help get them into tune quicker.
Tune the guitar roughly. There’s no need to be accurate as it’s going to go out of tune again very quickly. The idea is to get the strings roughly at the right tension. Now grip each string at the twelfth fret and pull it away from the fret board by about one inch (2.5cm). If you sound the string before and after doing this you will notice it drops in pitch. Do this for all six strings. Now do another rough retune. Repeat the stretching process again for all six strings but this time when you’re done, retune the guitar accurately.
6. Play Them In
All new strings need a while to bed in and stabilise and the best way to do this is by playing your guitar. Pick a couple of good strumming tunes and give your new strings a workout. You will need to retune as you go but each time they will need less and less adjustment. This is why it’s never a good idea to change your strings just before a performance, otherwise you will have all sorts of tuning problems and you will remember that performance for a long time – but for all the wrong reasons!
Finally remember to dispose of your old strings safely.