Part of the guitar-playing experience is to change the strings. However, this can be intimidating, especially if you have not done them before.
To restring your guitar strings:
- Prepare the tools
- Remove the old strings
- Clean the fretboard
- Prepare new strings
- Install new strings to the guitar bridge
- Install new strings to the tuning bridge
- Tune with tuner
- Test play
This step-by-step tutorial will walk you through changing your guitar strings, from selecting the right strings to fine-tuning them for the perfect sound.
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Prepare The Tools
Here’s what you need to restring your guitar like a pro:
String Winder: A string winder only speeds up the winding and unwinding process but often comes with a notch to pull the bridge pin. Pulling the pin with your bare hands can be frustrating, and you will appreciate having a string winder.
Wire Cutters: Next, you need a pair of wire cutters. You’ll need to cut the strings once you’ve given the string enough slack. This is where a good cutter comes in handy. It’s not just about cutting the old strings; you’ll also need it to trim the excess from your new string.
Tuner: It doesn’t really matter if they are clip-on, an app, or a pedal tuner; just have a tuner within reach. After you put the bridge pin back and start winding, tuning your acoustic guitar precisely is crucial.
New strings tend to slip out of tune as they stretch in the strings, so a tuner helps you keep track.
Guitar Strings: There are many guitar strings to choose from, from D’Addario to Fender. What you choose will depend on your guitar and style.
Remember, the thickest string (6th string) goes nearest the top of the fretboard, and the thinnest string (1st string) toward the headstock.
Cloth & Guitar Fretboard Cleaner: An often-optional step is cleaning your guitar’s fretboard while the strings are off. It’s an opportunity to maintain your guitar and ensure longevity.
Use whatever you prefer for cleaning – some use special guitar cleaners, while others swear by a simple cloth.
Removing The Old Strings
Start by loosening the strings. This is crucial. Use your string winder to turn the tuning pegs, loosening each string.
Rotate them clockwise, looking from the guitar’s body toward the headstock. The goal here is to reduce tension, making it safe to cut the strings.
Use wire cutters to cut the strings. You might be tempted to pull the strings from the bridge without cutting, but resist this urge.
Cutting the strings near the sound hole gives you more control and reduces the risk of a string snapping back.
With the strings cut, remove them from the tuning post. Unwind any remaining bits of string. Here, you’ll see the winding and how the string was secured. Observe how the string was wrapped, especially when you restring. This may be helpful later.
Now, focus on the bridge pins. These little pins can be stubborn, so gently use the notch in your string winder to pull the pin. If a pin resists, a drop of lemon oil is to help ease it out. Be gentle with these pins.
Pull the string from the bridge, noting how the string’s ball-end was seated. The ball end must be firmly seated for the string to resonate correctly.
Repeat these steps for all 6 strings, from the thickest to the thinnest. It’s good practice to change your guitar strings one at a time to maintain tension on the neck, but removing all strings is necessary for a thorough cleaning or inspection.
Cleaning The Fretboard
With your acoustic guitar strings off, you have unobstructed access to the fretboard. This presents a good opportunity to clean your fretboard.
Start by wiping away any loose dirt with a soft cloth. You’ll notice some grime build-up if your guitar has seen a lot of play.
Use a specialized fretboard cleaner or a little lemon oil on a cloth for deeper cleaning. Apply it sparingly; a little goes a long way.
Rub it gently along the fretboard, ensuring you reach every corner. This cleans and conditions the wood, preventing it from drying out or cracking.
Preparing The New Strings
Start by identifying the correct string for each peg. This might seem obvious, but mixing up strings is a common error, especially between the thickest and thinnest strings.
Each string, whether for a Fender, D’Addario, or another brand, is typically marked by gauge. The thickest string, often the 6th string, is usually the lowest in pitch, and the thinnest string is the highest.
Lay out your strings from the lowest (thickest) to the highest (thinnest) to avoid confusion.
Before you start winding, check the ball end of each string. This little detail is crucial as it secures the string in the bridge pin.
Make sure the ball end is intact and without any deformities. A damaged ball end can cause the string to slip out of the bridge, leading to tuning problems.
Finally, pull each string slightly to stretch it. This should help during the latter processes.
Attaching Strings To Guitar Bridge
Now, pick up a new string and gently place the ball end into the bridge hole. As you do this, pull the string tight to make sure the ball end is snug against the bridge plate inside the guitar.
This is a step where paying attention to detail pays off. A loose ball end can result in the string slipping out of the bridge, affecting tuning stability.
Now, it’s time to replace the bridge pin. While holding the string in place, push the bridge pin into the hole. Some find it helpful to gently rotate the pin while pushing it down.
The trick here is to ensure the pin is seated firmly without being overly forced. Once the pin is in, give the string a gentle tug upward to ensure the ball end is properly caught and the pin securely holds the string.
Repeat this process for all 6 strings, from the thickest to the thinnest. Ensure each string is aligned correctly from the bridge to its respective tuning post. This alignment is key to ensuring even tension across the fretboard.
Attaching Strings To Tuning Bridge
Start by threading the end of the new string through the holes in the tuning post. Each string, from the thickest bass string to the thinnest treble string, has its designated post for acoustic guitars.
Pulling the string tight while leaving enough slack for winding is important. A common rule is to allow slack equivalent to about two to three fingers’ width.
Start winding the string using your string winder, a tool that significantly speeds up the process. Wind the string around the tuning peg, guiding it to coil neatly.
The winding should be done in a clockwise direction when you’re facing the tuning peg. This detail is crucial for ensuring the string stays in tune.
As you wind, keep tension on the string with your other hand. This helps in achieving a tight, even wind.
The tail end of the string should be securely wound around the post, with the excess string neatly trimmed off using a cutter or wire cutters. Be cautious not to trim too close to the peg to avoid the string slipping out.
Tuning And Stretching
After you have put the strings in, it’s time to tune and stretch the strings.
Start by using your tuner. Clip-on tuners, pedal tuners, or even tuning apps work well. Begin tuning from the thickest (6th string) to the thinnest (1st string). This sequence helps maintain even tension across the fretboard.
Tune each string to its correct note, but expect them to slip out of tune quickly. New strings need time to settle in.
Once tuned, gently stretch each string. To do this, pull the string away from the fretboard, then release it.
Be gentle yet firm. You’re looking to stretch the string just enough without causing any damage. This process helps the strings settle into their final tension.
After stretching, retune your guitar. You might need to repeat the tune-stretch-retune process a few times. New strings, especially acoustic guitar strings, naturally stretch and slip out of tune until they are properly broken in.
Remember, patience is key. Properly stretched and tuned strings sound better and enhance your playing experience.
Start by playing each string individually, from the thickest to the thinnest. Listen for clarity and sustain. A string might need a tuning adjustment if it sounds muffled or dull.
Next, play out a few open chords. Play those that use different positions across the fretboard. This will let you hear how the strings respond in various fret positions. Strumming chords also helps to stretch the strings further, ensuring they settle in.
Try fingerpicking or a few lead guitar lines, especially if you frequently play these styles. Pay attention to how the strings feel under your fingers. New strings can feel different compared to the old set,
Lastly, listen for any buzzing or unusual sounds. If you notice any, it might indicate a need for further tuning or even a slight adjustment in how the strings are seated at the bridge pins or tuning posts.