How to Change Guitar Strings

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Changing guitar strings is really not a complicated task, but it is for some reason intimidating to new guitarists. Intimidating or not, it is an easily-acquired skill that any guitarist should have. At concerts, there is someone assigned to do speedy string changes between songs. If they can do it, so can you. (Note: This guide presumes you are changing strings on a "dreadnought" style acoustic guitar. Electric guitars are somewhat different but many of the same rules apply.)

Steps

  1. Decide how to restring. There is much debate about whether it is wise to remove and replace every string individually, or simply to unstring everything and then restring everything. The argument to be made here is that by using the one-at-a-time method, you maintain most of the tension the neck is used to, and therefore keep string tension in balance with truss rod tension. However, because fingerboards accumulate a mix of skin oil, skin and dirt (which saps tone and acoustic sustain from the guitar), removing all the strings at once permits you to clean and wipe the fingerboard without lifting up the strings or having to work around them. The choice is yours as to which method to use.
  2. Remove the strings. Loosen the strings until they are no longer under tension. Then, either clip them using nippers or continue to loosen them via the tuning machines until they can be pulled out of the tuning pegs. An inexpensive tool called a peg winder, available at any music/guitar shop, is very handy for this.
  3. Remove the bridge pins. Once your strings have been removed from the headstock, take out the bridge pins. These are the knob-looking things (usually white or black) that allow the strings to hook themselves onto the inside of the guitar. Bridge pins can be quite stubborn, especially if either they or the guitar is new. Occasionally you may be tempted to grab these from the outside with pliers. While this is acceptable if done with the utmost caution, it is generally not necessary. The best method is to use a bridge pin puller, which comes in all varieties (and therefore prices), and can be purchased at any guitar/music shop. Another method would be to push the pins out from inside the guitar instead, if necessary using a hard object such as a coin. Actually pushing the string further into the guitar as you do this sometimes helps since the end of the string is wound and "wedges" itself in with the peg. Once the pegs pop free you can pull them out of the peg holes. Note: Over time, each peg is grooved by the strings theyve been holding. It is very advantageous to keep your pegs laid out in the order they are removed so you can put them back in the same holes from which they were removed.
  4. Remove the strings from the peg holes.
  5. Clean your guitar, if desired. This comprises cleaning the body, fingerboard, back of the neck, and headstock. Use a decent cleaner from a guitar or music shop if possible. Never use furniture polish, glass spray or other common household cleaners. If nothing else, simply use a slightly dampened* chamois cloth, terrycloth, diaper or lint-free cotton cloth. Oils from your hands will build up on the fingerboard of the guitar with remarkable speed causing a thick gunk. Many frown upon applying any water at all to the guitar, especially the fingerboard, as it can negatively affect unsealed wood. A dry cloth is safest, but if you must use water, you should apply such a minuscule amount of water to the cloth that you can barely tell it is damp.
  6. Get your new strings ready. Some strings ball ends are color-coded to indicate what note they are to be tuned to.
  7. Choose your own order. There are many theories about what order strings should be applied. Some guitarists start at the thin end and work their way up, or start at the thick end and work their way down. Some say it is best to first put in the thinnest string, then the thickest, then alternate to the next-thinnest, then the next-thickest and so on (1, 6, 2, 5, 3, 4). Alternating in this fashion keeps a more even left-to-right pull on the neck of the guitar and makes later tuning less problematic, especially for older guitars.
  8. Insert the knob end of the string into the peg hole and re-insert the end peg, all the while holding in the string. It is helpful to pull a little tension on the string toward the head of the guitar. Ultimately this tension is what keeps those pegs from falling out. Youll wish you had 3 hands for this.
  9. Stretch each string. Once each string is in its peg hole, stretch it up to its appropriate tuning peg and insert the end through the hole in the peg. Keep in mind that you will want to be turning the guitar tuning key ALWAYS TO THE RIGHT to tighten. If the tuning keys on your guitar are on opposite sides of the head (as is usual) you bring the string up between the two rows of key pegs and to the outside.
  10. Thread the string through the hole and pull tight, but not too tight. You will want to leave just a little bit of slack to have some excess string to wind around the tuning pegs. If you do not, you will run out of string too quickly and the strings will loosen up when you are playing. This is, regrettably, a trial-and-error process and is different for each string. Too much excess string will cause a huge "spool" of wire on your tuning pegs (a bad thing, not just cosmetically) and too little can cause the string to literally come off. Just remember, you can always cut off more if you leave too much. You can never add back what you cut off.
  11. Bend the string UP (90 perpendicular to the guitar) and turn the tuning key so you get several winds around the peg. This can take a good deal of winding (again, the peg winder is very handy for this part). Make sure that when you tighten the string, that each subsequent wind stacks one below the last, so that none of the winds overlap. This takes a lot of practice to do alone, but it ensures both a cleaner looking wind and a longer life to the string itself, and the guitar itself staying in tune. Do not tighten the string to its usual pitch, but a few semi-tones below. You want it tight enough to hold in place and put enough tension on the bottom peg to not come out again, but now is not yet the time for "tuning".
  12. Repeat from step 8 with the rest of the strings.
  13. Tune your guitar now (see How to Tune a Guitar).
  14. Use some wire cutters to snip off excess string, leaving only about 1/8 of an inch (1/2 centimeter) of "stub". Cutting the string too short can make the "stub" end slip back into the spooled string and loosen your strings.

Video

Tips

  • After this process, your guitar will be badly out of tune. Tune it up to a piano (if you know how) or tuning machine. The notes to tune to are (from thickest string down): E A D G B and e. They are noted in this way because the bottom string (the thinnest) is two octaves higher than the top string.
  • Avoid cutting the strings by quickly pulling the excess string with a pick. Hold the string between your thumb and a pick which rests on the lower part of the first finger and pull quickly. The string will curl and will not need cutting.
  • To achieve the correct amount of excess string for winding around each peg head you can insert four fingers between the fret board and the string being installed at the twelfth fret.
  • Once everything is tuned up, grab each string one at a time between thumb and forefinger at the 12th fret (halfway). Give each a gentle tug up (not very hard). This will stretch the string just a little. Now tune everything back up again, since it will now most likely be a little lower than before. Repeat a few times. Be careful not to pull too hard, you do not want to stretch them much. This will help keep you from having to constantly retune so much after putting new strings on.
  • Another method for removing bridge pins involves the use of an old, round shoelace. Form a loop with the shoelace and place it around the pin. Make sure it fits between the pin and the bridge and tighten the loop by pulling from both ends. With a little patience, the pin will come out without the damage that bridge pin removers can cause.
  • if your bridge pins are VERY stubborn, you can cover the target pin with a cloth and then try to pull it out with pliers. this prevents your bridge pin from looking like it got ran over from repeated pullings of pliers.
  • Another useful tip for removing the pins is to use a small teaspoon.Rest the bottom of the spoon on the bridge for leverage with the tip of the spoon at the edge of the pin and apply a small amount of pressure down on the handle to lift the pin up. You can slide the tip of a terry cloth rag between the bridge and spoon if you want to be real careful.

Warnings

  • You do not need to remove the pegs from inside the guitar. The peg remover has a semi-circular notch on it that slides under the peg so you can gently pry it out.

Things You Will Need

  • Wire cutters.
  • Guitar strings.
  • Guitar peg winder.
  • Lint free cloth.
  • A guitar.

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Sources and Citations

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