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How To Change Guitar Strings (A Helpful Guide)
Posted on February 26, 2019
Oh no, you were jamming to your favorite song and broke a string! Whether you’re playing an acoustic or electric guitar, knowing how to replace guitar strings is an essential skill for all guitar players, regardless of skill level.
We’ll go over how to change guitar strings, so we can get you back to playing and learning guitar in no time. The same method for one string is more or less the same for all of your strings, so you can change only a single string or all of your old strings while you’re at it.
Table of contents
- Equipment for changing guitar strings
- Optional, but highly recommended:
- If you’re changing an intact string
- If you’re changing all of your strings
- How to choose acoustic guitar strings?
- Strings for electric guitar
- Learn to play guitar with Yousician
Equipment for changing guitar strings
When the time comes and you find yourself in a situation where you have to change one or all the strings of your guitar, you need to be prepared with the right tools.
You will need:
- New Strings (check which gauge and type you need)
- Something to cut the excess strings with. Wire cutters work well for this purpose.
- A guitar tuner. We recommend using a handy tuner app that’s always available on your phone.
Optional, but highly recommended:
- A string winder. This tool will make winding the new strings much less tedious.
- Soft cloths to protect your guitar body. The excess string can scratch your guitar, so it’s a good idea to protect it. Be careful also not to get the broken strings in contact with your eyes either.
- 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 around which the strings are wound. Turn the tuning pegs to adjust the strings’ 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, at the joint where the headstock meets the guitar fretboard. Its grooves 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.
- Trussrod – The truss rod is 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 and transmits the vibration of those strings to another structural component of the instrument—typically a soundboard, such as the top of a guitar or violin—which 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 even 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 your single broken string in place with no issue. If you’re going to change all of the strings, we still recommend changing your strings one at a time. This helps reduce the amount of tension lost across the neck of the guitar at once.
If you’re changing an intact string
You will need to loosen the string and then cut it in two. On the headstock of the guitar, turn the tuning peg attached to the string you’re changing so that the tension starts to decrease. You can check this by playing the string and listening for the pitch to get lower little by little. 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. Be careful with the loose ends of the broken strings here. The excess string can go flying in different directions as you cut it.
If you’re changing all of your strings
This is a good time to clean your guitar. You can use a slightly dampened cloth to do this. You can also look for some special cloth and cleaner products just for this purpose.
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 very soon. If it’s 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 guitar’s headstock by carefully unwinding the string out of the tuning peg. Be careful not to let the ends of the string scratch your guitar.
Install your new string
First, you’ll need to get the correct gauge string from your pack of new strings.
The 1st string is the thinnest, 6th is the thickest. Check on the packaging of your strings to make sure you’re putting your new string in the correct position.
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 move on to securing the string 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 guitar’s headstock and pull it straight. Thread the string about 2-3 cm back through the machine head so there is some slack. Turn the machine head so the string begins to tighten. If you have one, use a string winder here to make the process a bit faster.
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. Make sure the winds on the machine head are forming below one another. 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 bring it up to pitch. You can use a guitar tuner app for this. Always make sure to tune up towards the correct pitch, rather than down from a higher pitch.
Once the new string is in tune, you can clip off the dangly end of the string with wire cutters.
Your new guitar string is now in tune, but there’s still something to do before you’re ready to play. 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 changed your string!
Now you can get back to playing your guitar songs!
How to choose acoustic guitar strings?
To choose just the right acoustic guitar strings, consider the following when shopping for a new set of strings:
- The number of strings. Most acoustic guitars have six strings but you might need a different kind of set if you have a 12-string guitar, for instance.
- Gauge. The gauge of guitar strings tells you how thick they are. The right gauge matters as certain types of strings can suit different musical genres and playing styles better than others. All individual strings in a full set have a different gauge, so always pick the correct one when replacing old strings.
- Material. Nylon and steel are two common materials used for the strings of an acoustic guitar. If you’re playing classical guitar, you’re going to need nylon strings which are also easier on your fingers. Consider getting a set of nylon strings especially if you’re a beginner.
- Winding. The winding of a guitar string refers to the way the string is wrapped around its core. Guitar strings are generally flatwound or roundwound.
- Coating. You can prevent the strings from getting dirty and improve their lifespan by choosing ones with a special coating.
Strings for electric guitar
Do the strings for an electric guitar differ from those for an acoustic one? Well, there are some things to keep in mind when picking strings for your electric guitar. Here the gauge of the strings plays a big role, especially if you want to play rhythm guitar and heavier genres, like rock, punk, and heavy metal. These genres often require you to use some alternate tuning, such as drop D. In case you’re down-tuning your strings, consider getting thicker strings that will not buzz or make other unwanted sounds as they’re tuned to a lower pitch. Playing guitar solos higher up on the fretboard, on the other hand, is easier with a lighter gauge.
Not sure what kind of strings would fit your playing style? Better go with “regular” or “medium” strings that are a good compromise for most cases. There are also plenty of options by different guitar string brands, so compare different manufacturers and their products to find your favorite.
Learn to play guitar with Yousician
Guitar maintenance is an integral part of every guitar player’s routine. Check out our video below as Sonja from Yousician shows how changing the strings of your guitar is done.
Yousician is your personal guitar teacher. Learn to play with Yousician’s interactive guitar lessons that are perfect for both beginners and advanced players. You can learn using either an acoustic or electric guitar. Try Yousician for free and start learning.
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