Oh no, you were jamming to your favorite song and you broke a string!
We’re sorry to say, but every guitarist will experience this nightmare at some point in their playing career, whether due to intense shredding, bending strings or experimenting with those alternative tunings.
Changing the strings of an acoustic guitar
Next we will go over how to change a guitar string. This method of changing strings remains the same for all strings on your guitar.
YOU WILL NEED:
- New guitar strings (check which gauge you need)
- Wire cutters or other tool to cut the excess strings with
- A guitar tuner
OPTIONAL, BUT HIGHLY RECOMMENDED:
- A string winder
- Soft cloths to protect your guitar body
Headstock – The widened piece at the end of the neck of a guitar, to which the tuning pegs are fixed.
Tuning Peg / Machine Head – Any of the pegs in the neck of a stringed musical instrument. The strings are wound around the peg and are turned to adjust their tension and tune the instrument.
Nut – The nut is a small strip of bone, plastic, brass, Corian, graphite, stainless steel, or other medium-hard material. It’s located at the joint where the guitar’s headstock meets the fretboard. The grooves of the nut guide the strings onto the fretboard, giving consistent lateral string placement.
Neck – The neck of a guitar includes the guitar’s frets, fretboard, tuners, headstock, and truss rod.
Truss rod – The truss rod is the part of a guitar or other fretted stringed instruments that stabilizes the lengthwise forward curvature (also called relief) of the neck.
Bridge – A bridge is a device that supports the strings on a stringed musical instrument. It transmits the vibration of the strings to another structural component of the instrument—typically a soundboard, such as the top of a guitar or violin. This in turn transfers the sound to the surrounding air.
Bridge Pin – Most steel-string guitars use bridge pins to hold the strings against your guitar’s bridge and bridge plate. Bridge pins come in various sizes and can be made from plastic, wood, ivory, bone, and brass. Each material offers a different tone and various degrees of longevity.
If you’re desperate to get back to playing as soon as possible, you can change a single broken string in place with no issue. If you’re going to change all of the strings, we recommend changing them one at a time to reduce the amount of tension lost across the neck of the guitar at once.
IF YOU’RE CHANGING AN INTACT GUITAR STRING
You will need to loosen the string and then cut it in two. Make sure to turn the tuning peg to loosen the string before cutting. Trust us, you don’t want to cut a tight string and send it flying, so be careful.
On the headstock of the guitar, turn the tuning peg attached to the string you’re changing so the tension decreases. You can check this by plucking the string and listening for the pitch to lower. Once there is some slack to the string you can use your cutting tool to cut the string in the middle, near the playing area of the guitar.
IF YOU’RE CHANGING ALL OF YOUR STRINGS
This is a good time to clean your guitar. Once the strings are out of the way, wipe away dust and fingerprints from the neck, stock and body of the guitar using a soft cloth.
REMOVE THE STRING
With your string in two pieces:
You can remove the part attached to the bridge of the guitar by firmly holding the pin that holds down the string with your fingers and lifting upwards. Keep this pin safe, you will need it again soon. If the pin is very tight, you can wrap it in a soft cloth and get a firmer grip using a pair of pliers.
You can remove the part attached to the headstock of the guitar by gently unwinding the string from the tuning peg. Be careful not to let the ends of the string scratch your guitar.
INSTALL YOUR NEW STRING
First, you will need to get the correct gauge string from your pack of new strings.
The first string is the thinnest, and the sixth is the thickest. Check on the packaging of your strings to make sure you’re putting your new string in the correct position. To make this step easier, the strings in a new set are usually color-coded. You can find the corresponding colors for each string on the packaging of the new set of strings. When unpacking the new string, be careful as the coiled string can unwind unexpectedly.
Once you have the new string in hand, place the ball end into the hole, past the length of your bridge pin. Insert the bridge pin afterwards, with the notch facing the string. Apply firm downward pressure on the pin while gently pulling the string up and away from the pin. Once the string feels firmly in place with the pin, you can secure it to the tuning peg on the headstock.
SECURE THE STRING TO THE TUNING MACHINE
Thread the free end of the string through the tuning machine on the headstock of the guitar and pull it straight. Thread the string about 1 inch back through the machine head so there is some slack. Turn the machine head so the string begins to tighten. Once the string has completed half a revolution on the machine head, pull it tight to form a kink in the string. Continue to wind the string around the machine head, winding the string from top to bottom on the machine head. Ensure the string is lined up with its corresponding slot in the nut.
TUNE UP AND CLEAN UP
Once the string is in place and has some tension to it, it’s time to tune. You can use a guitar tuner app for this.
Then you can clip off the dangly end of the string.
A new guitar string will need stretching out before use, otherwise it will stretch as you play and constantly fall out of tune.
Firmly grip the string and pull upwards, while securing the string with your other hand. Do this along the length of the string. Repeat this two or three times, retuning the string between each stretch.
If you’ve stretched the string and it hasn’t gone out of tune, congratulations, you’ve successfully changed your string!
However, there’s nothing wrong with your new strings or the guitar if the strings keep getting out of tune soon after changing the strings. This is perfectly normal. Once you’ve played with your new strings for a while, they will stay in tune.
Play with your new acoustic guitar strings
Now you can get back to playing your favorite songs on the guitar!
You have now learned how to change strings to an acoustic guitar. The process of restringing an electric guitar is slightly different and there are differences between different types of guitars. However, once you have mastered the technique of changing guitar strings for one type of guitar, changing the strings of other stringed instruments will come naturally.
In case you want to learn more about changing guitar strings, make sure to check out our video lesson where we go through the different steps of changing the strings of your guitar.