Note: This article is not intended for classical guitars.
Choosing Your New Strings
Before you change your strings, you choose new ones. Everyone has different playing styles and preferences when it comes to strings, so there are no hard and fast rules.
Hear are the basics:
Strings come in three varieties, Electric, Acoustic, and Nylon. Electric strings are lighter than Acoustic strings. Some Acoustic strings have nylon cores that make electric pickups useless. Nylon strings should only be used on classical guitars, because they have a significantly lower tension and would cause warping of the neck on a non-classical guitar.
Strings come in a variety of gauges which vary somewhat from manufacturer to manufacturer. Lighter strings are easier to bend and easier on the fingers of beginners. Heavy gauge strings tend to have a clearer tone but are more likely to buzz if the players fingers are not strong enough. Some high end guitars have the intonation and action set so precisely that using the wrong gauge of string will cause buzzing. This is uncommon on mass market guitars.
Strings come in a variety of materials. Bronze has become popular for its “brighter” tone, but as in all things, use your ears and choose what you like.
Some strings, such as Elixers, have a special thin coating that minimizes guitar screech and helps preserve calluses that can be filed down by rough strings. However, the coating does affect the tone of the string, but to what degree is debatable. Some guitarists swear by coated strings, other despise them. These tend to be more expensive as well, but they “last longer” because dirt, grime, and oil from your fingers does not stick to coated strings as readily.
From a recording engineer standpoint, if an artist is not a particularly skilled player, coated strings can help reduce the guitar screech on recordings and the difference in guitar tone is unnoticeable by the average listener.
- Wire Cutters
- String Winder (Optional)
Step By Step
Loosen the strings until there is no tension left (do not completely remove them). Use the string winder to make this easier.
- ‘WARNING’: If you have a guitar with a removable bridge, such as a jazz box guitar, DO NOT REMOVE ALL YOUR STRINGS. Only remove three at a time to prevent the bridge from moving. If your bridge does shift, it will greatly affect your guitar’s [intonation]] and will need to be reset in accordance with the scale of your guitars neck.
On an Acoustic Guitar, remove the tone pegs from the bridge where the strings disappear into the body. You may need to pry these out. The safest way to do this is with a string winder.
- ‘WARNING’ Some Acoustic Guitars have a loose saddle (the white part that has grooves for the strings.) Be careful not to move it.
Unwind the strings from the tuning pegs.
- ‘WARNING’ Be careful, guitar strings are notoriously sharp. Stabbing Use caution, you don’t want the urban legend of the guitar player who blinded himself while changing guitar strings to become urban fact.
Carefully wrap each old guitar string in a circle (like your new strings are) and take the ends through the center as if you were tying a knot. This will make it safer to dispose of the strings.
- ‘WARNING’ Your guitar may have a nut that is loose. It may fall off, but it is easily put back on as long as you do not lose it.
You may want to take this oppor-tune-ity to polish your guitar. Use only a lint free cloth (thing glasses) and no polish unless its specifically designed for use on guitar finish. Whatever you do, do not put polish on your guitars fretboard. It will make it gunky and the residue will rub off on the strings.
- ‘WARNING’ Do not leave you guitar without strings for any length of time. Inside the neck there is a [Tension Rod|tension rod]] that pulls backwards to counter the force of the strings. This rod will bend and warp your guitars neck if your guitar is left without strings, even over night.
With your new set of strings, find the low E string (the thickest string).
- Be sure to note how your guitar strings are packaged. Some companies have the (annoying) practice of putting multiple strings in the same envelope which can cause some confusion
- Whatever you do, do not take all of the strings out of their envelopes at the same time. You will be much more likely to put a string in the wrong place if you do so.
- When the string comes out of its envelope it may spring out violently. Again, use caution!
If you are stringing an acoustic guitar, Take hold of the ball end and push it into the hole where the pegs go. Then push the tone peg down into the hole. Be sure the groove is facing toward the headstock so that the string flows in the right direction.
With your finger pushing down on the peg, pull the string until the ball is stopped by the peg. Be sure not to crease the string.
- Note: It is common for the peg to put up during the stringing process. Simply push it back down each time this happens.
Turn the Low E’s tuning peg so the hole is facing the neck. Pull the string through the hole on the tuning peg.
Turn the tuning peg so that the string bends at 90° towards the inside of the guitar head, goes through the hole, and points to the outside of the guitar head. Make sure there is some slack between the guitar neck and the string when you pull up on the string (an inch or two of slack is good.) DO NOT TURN THE TUNING PEG ANY FURTHER.
Take the end of the string wrap it around the tuning peg 180° clockwise, push it under the sting and hook it around, creating a crimp in string. This will prevent the string from slipping as you tighten the tuning peg and keep your guitar in better tune.
Tighten the string until there is no slack, but not too tight. Be sure that the string if flowing to the inside of the guitar neck. Do not use your string winder for this! Using string winder puts you at high risk of breaking the string. If you have to turn the peg an excessive number of times, you’ve used too much slack. Back sure its in the right notch of the guitars nut.
- Note: Don’t attempt to tune the string yet. It will go out of tune anyways as the tension of the guitar neck changes as you add the rest of the strings.
- Note: It is normal on acoustic guitars for the peg to pop out a little while tightening the string. Just push it back down.
- Note: Do not clip the string at this time. Only clip the strings when all of the strings are on and you are entirely sure that they are in the right order. Too often guitarists clip the strings early only to find they’ve put the A string in the E strings place!
Repeat these steps for the rest of the strings. Remember that if your guitar has tuning pegs on both sides, you will need to reverse the directional instructions for the last three strings.
Now that all the strings are on the guitar, tune the low E string by first detuning it until it is well below what you think E is. Then, using a electric guitar tuner or the low E from another guitar (ONLY IF YOU HAVE GOOD PITCH) slowly tune up to the E. This ensures that you will not break the string by tuning the string too tightly, snapping it. When in doubt, tune it down and start over.
- NOTE: Always Tune ‘UP’ to a note. Strings slip less when tension is added rather than tension released.
Tune the rest of the strings the same way.
You will have to tune the guitar two to four times before the tuning sticks. This is because the strings are stretching and slipping a bit with the tension and it is completely normal. Let the guitar sit for an hour after tuning it, retune it, and the tuning will probably stick (depending on the quality of the guitar and the strings.)
Now you can clip the loose ends off the strings with your wire cutters. Be careful, again, these ends are sharp and should be disposed of carefully. Don’t worry about cutting too close, just be sure not to leave it dangerously long or to accidentally cut the wrong part of the string!
Your guitar now has new strings!