Changing strings on your guitar is easy to do. As a new player, it's common to be intimidated by this and have no idea how to do it. I've put together this quick guide with pictures so you can save time and money by changing your guitar strings yourself.
- A guitar (This guide details how to change strings on an acoustic guitar with standard tuning pegs (not slot head) and bridge pins.) If you have an electric guitar, you can still use this as a guide with exception to how the strings go into the bridge.)
- New strings - I like D'addario Phosphor Bronze. Note: Make sure they are the same gauge as what is on the guitar already. If you are unsure, there is a really high probability that they are light gauge acoustic guitar strings. Different gauge strings place different amounts of tension on the neck. So if you change the tension, your guitar set up can get out of whack.
- Wire cutters
- String winder
- Neck Support
- Soft cloth
Step 1: Find a Workspace
This whole process will be much easier if you have a clean desk or table to set the guitar on during the string change. I like to lay a towel down so that I don't scratch the back of the guitar. You'll also need something to support the neck of the guitar. You can buy a product made specifically for this, or you can use a stack of books or something of similar height. Again, I like to lay a small towel or rag down to keep the guitar from sliding around while I am working on it.
Step 2: Remove Strings
Here we have a decision to make. Are you going to restring the guitar one string at a time without removing all the strings at once? Or are you going to remove all of the strings at once and then put the new strings on? For me, I like to change them one by one. My guitar is set up just how I like it, and I am weird about removing all the tension on the neck. I am paranoid that the action will end up different when I am done. It's unlikely, but that's just me.
If you guitar is filthy with dust and grime all over the fretboard, you'll probably want to remove all the strings at once so you can give it a good wipe down.
Should you cut the old strings?
I don't. I painstakingly unwind them, and I save the old set in the case as spares. If you already have a spare set, you can loosen the strings and then clip them. It's easier to do it this way, as it makes getting the string off the peg a lot easier.
How do you get the strings out of the bridge?
Each string is held in place with a bridge pin. A string winder has a little slot for removing these. You can also stick your hand inside the sound hole and push them up gently. I've also used my fingertips to pull them out, but this can be difficult as they are wedged in very tightly.
Step 3: Put on the New Strings
The first thing you need to do when putting the new string on is to seat the ball end under the bridge pin. The ball end is the little round piece of metal at one end of the string. The way I like to do this is to slide the string into the hole, then loosely insert the peg about 3/4's of the way in. I then pull up on the string until I feel the ball end touching the bridge pin. From there I pull the string gently and push the pin all the way in. I like to give it a little test pressure by pulling the string towards the headstock of the guitar to make sure it's seated and secure before I go winding the string.
This is where most people make mistakes when changing their strings. There are a few key things you want to get right. First, you want to make sure you give yourself enough slack so that the string can wind around the peg enough to stay put. How much? About two inches. A good trick is to use the amount of space between the current tuning post and the next tuning post.
The next thing people mess up on is the direction the strings are wound. You want to wind them towards the center. This is so they don't interfere with each other.
Finally, and this is especially true for the first and second string, you need to wrap the string a certain way so that it can clamp down on itself and not slip when you bring it up to pitch. You do this by inserting the string through the tuning peg hole, giving it the right amount of slack, then pushing the string up and around the peg towards the center. The key is to make sure the wrap goes above the hole with the excess string sticking out.
From here you begin winding the string making sure each wrap goes under the hole with the excess string. Doing it this way keeps the string from slipping. You'll know you've done it correctly when you see a single wrap above the hole, then the excess string, then all subsequent wraps below that.
After this it is just a matter of winding the string up to the correct pitch.
Tuning the Guitar Up
Use a guitar tuner app to tune your strings up to the correct pitch. Once you get the guitar in tune, gently pull on each string to give it a little stretch. After you do this, you'll have to tune it again. Repeat this step 2-3 times until it stays in tune.
Trimming the Strings
I save this step for last, just in case one of my wraps doesn't hold. I once had the pleasure of a 2nd string that wouldn't hold (I didn't leave enough slack), and since I had already trimmed it, it was nearly impossible to get it to grip onto the peg. To trim the strings, use the wire cutters to trim the excess string off as close the the peg as you can. Keep a keen eye to make sure you don't accidentally snip the string that is under tension instead of the excess piece.
Final Step: Play a G Chord
Once your guitar is tuned up and ready to go, you do what 9 out of 10 guitarists do next. You play a G chord and relish in the bright, cripsy tone of the new strings. Ahhhhh.