How to Change Guitar Strings


Guitar String Changing Tools

Changing strings can be a quick and easy with these tools:

  • String winder tool
  • Wire cutters
  • Polish cloth
  • Allen wrench (for locking nuts and bridges)

Tools for changing guitar strings

The string winder tool is the primary string changing tool. Most tuning heads turn with a 1 to 1/4 ratio. This means every time you turn the flat knob one complete revolution, the peg the string is threaded through makes one quarter of a revolution. If you need to turn the string peg 5 times you must turn the flat knob twenty times. The string winder allows you to make those twenty turns quick and easy. Just slip it on and start turning.

The polish cloth should be a lint free, scratch free cloth similar to those used for cleaning computer monitors or car finishes. Cleaning your guitar while you have the strings off is a great idea. There are lots of cleaners, waxes, and polishes on the market you can use. Be sure to wipe off the frets, paying special attention to the little crevice where the fret touches the wood on the fingerboard. This is where a lot of grime accumulates. Oils and salts from sweat can be corrosive so be sure to clean your guitar each time you change strings.

If you have a locking bridge and nut you will need an Allen wrench to unlock them. Floyd Rose® style bridges anchor the strings by tiny vise mechanisms, one for each string. An Allen wrench is used to adjust the tension of each the vise.

The wire cutters are used for trimming the guitar strings once they are in place and in-tune.

Changing Guitar Strings Step-by-step

Step One - Remove the old strings. Some people say remove and replace each string one by one but I can't see how you could possible clean your neck with only one string at a time removed. I've always taken all the strings off on both electrics and acoustics and never had a problem with neck warping or some other defect.

Step Two - After all of the strings are removed clean your instrument thoroughly. Wipe off the neck being sure to get the grit from around the frets. Wipe off the body paying special attention around the knobs and other places oil from your hands might accumulate.

Step Three - Now for putting on the new strings. Start with the bridge. Strings are threaded through standard bridges like threading a needle. Generally, the strings are pulled from behind the bridge but guitars with simple tremolos may pull the strings through from the back of the guitar. For Floyd Rose® style bridges, the strings will need to be secured by the tiny vises.

Save time by putting all the strings on the bridge then moving on to the headstock. Be sure to put the strings on in the correct order starting with the thicker wound string at the top and each string getting thinner as you move down. To be sure, string sets are numbered as well as lettered, the larger the number the higher the position of the string. With letters the strings are E A D G B E with the wound E going at the top (6th string).

Once all the strings are in place at the bridge and you are sure they are in the correct order it's time to attach the strings to the machine heads. The rule of thumb is: the string is threaded from the opposite direction of the flat knob. See the image.

Threading a guitar string

Pull the strings through the peg but leave a little slack. Do not try to put the strings on tight or you may not be able to get them to stay in tune. You should leave enough slack to pull the string out from the fret board about two or three inches. Now the string needs to be kinked in the peg as described below. You should set, kink, and wind each string one at a time. You can tune the guitar once all the strings are wound.

It's important to get the kinks right so the strings will not slip while the guitar is played. After sliding the string through the hole in the peg and leaving some slack, use the edges of the peg hole to make a kink (bend) in the string on the outside of the peg and away from the neck. Then make another kink on the inside of the peg towards the neck. See the image.

String kinks

These kinks are how the machine pegs grip the string. If these kinks aren't set right the strings may slip a little when played causing the instrument to go out of tune. NOTE - This is a general guide for most guitars. However, some tuning keys require some other kinking strategy. If the tuning keys have a slit through the top they need to be kinked differently. NOTE - Some people loop the string through the peg hole twice, essentially wrapping, or even tying, the string around the peg. If you kink your strings correctly there is no need to do this.

After making the kinks wind the string tight (but not too tight) use the string winder tool. To make the string wind on the pegs nicely, hold the string taught as you wind it. See the image.

Winding guitar strings

Step Four - Tune all the strings then give each one a gentle pull above the twelfth fret. Don't try to pull the strings off the guitar, just give them a gentle pull. You'll notice the guitar is no longer in tune. This is due to the fact that strings stretch a lot when you first put them on. You'll need to tune and stretch about 3 or 4 times before the strings stay in tune after being gently pulled. The strings will still stretch until they are worn out but the stretching will be slower.

After you finish putting on new strings you have a bunch of extra string hanging off your headstock. This is where the wire cutters come in. Cut the strings but leave just a little sticking out. You don't want to cut them back to the hole on the peg where the kink is. See the image.

Cutting off extra guitar string

How often should Guitar Strings be Changed?

So how often should you change your strings? The answer to that question depends on:

  • How much time you spend playing the guitar
  • How much oil and sweat is on your hands and fingers
  • How humid the air is where you play
  • Your playing style
If you play everyday for a couple of hours you will need to change strings about every two to three weeks. You may need to change more often if you have very sweaty or oily hand due to the salts speeding up the corrosion and tarnishing of the strings. Playing your guitar outdoors in humid conditions will require more frequent string changes. If your playing style incorporates a lot of bending you may need to change strings more often. Super benders usually break strings as soon as there worn out.

Generally, you need to change strings when:

  • They sound dead and flat
  • Feel rough to the touch
Performers generally change before each performance to have the best sound and reduce the chance of a string breaking.

Waiting until a string breaks before you change the set is a bad idea. You should change your strings as soon as they wear out for many reasons:

  • New strings produce a brighter, clearer tone
  • Old worn out strings can damage the frets and fingerboard since they no longer stretch and are usually corroded
  • New strings feel good on your fingers and help you maintain healthy calluses on your fingertips

Players generally let their strings go as long as possible because of cost and/or the hassle of changing. You can extend the life of strings a small bit by wiping them off after each time you play. However, wiping the strings does not prevent them from loosing their stretch. Once strings no longer stretch they are very prone to breaking. Also, frets can become pitted where the string touches. Some pitting is normal but deep pitting is from not changing strings often enough.

Additional Guitar String Tips:

  • If you break a string, change all the strings, not just the broken string. Adding a new string to a set of worn strings will only lead to a tuning nightmare. The sound of a new string mixed among old strings will stand out more as well.

  • Be careful using string lubricating products. They make the strings feel nice and smooth. So nice, in fact, that some players get to where they can't play without the stuff. If you change your strings when they need to be changed you won't need string lubricants.

  • Excessively dirty strings can be cleaned with rubbing alcohol.

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