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Learning to play the guitar can be one of the most exciting and rewarding things to do. There is nothing more exhilarating than being able to play your favorite song at the drop of a hat on either an acoustic or electric guitar. Whether you are a professional guitar player or simply picked up playing guitar as a delightful hobby, knowing how to care properly for your guitar is of utmost importance. This includes knowing how to safely and successfully change your guitar strings.
Change guitar strings by cleaning and preparing the guitar, acquiring the necessary equipment, learn to hold the guitar properly, loosen existing strings, remove guitar pins, replace and pull the strings through the turning post, wind the strings, and snip off extra string remnants.
Understanding the ins and outs of how to change guitar strings will not only make your life easier but also help you become a better musician. When you know your instrument's inner workings, you will be able to diagnose reverberation problems and more easily tune your guitar strings to get the sound you want. You can effortlessly change your existing guitar strings in ten easy steps by following our suggestions below.
How to Choose the Right Guitar Strings
Choosing the right guitar strings is a very important part of properly changing your guitar strings. In order to choose the right strings, you need to know the type of guitar you plan to play as well as what style of music you are interested in playing.
If you are a brand new musician and aren't sure of your musical style yet, or a seasoned pro who loves to play many different music styles, don't worry. You simply need to go with the sound of the music you typically end up playing the most.
Once you have decided what type of guitar you will play and what type of music you will most likely be playing with that guitar, you will need to find a string supplier. The best way to find a guitar string supplier is to contact your local music store. Frequently, local music stores have a wide selection of guitar strings to choose from, with the added benefit of a professional retail expert that can assist you in your buying process.
After you decipher which type of guitar strings you will buy, make sure to research the best guitar string companies. While some guitar string manufacturers create excellent quality guitar strings, others can also offer great value and affordability that otherwise could not be matched.
The Difference Between Acoustic and Electric Guitar Strings
While acoustic guitars and electric guitars both have strings that might look similar to each other, the strings used in each instrument are actually quite different. This is in part due to the materials that make up each set of strings.
Acoustic Guitar Strings
Acoustic strings for acoustic guitars are often made of metal alloys like bronze and brass in order to make a more resonant sound.
A resonant sound, or a sound that carries far and wide, is important when it comes to playing an acoustic guitar, especially if you are not choosing to play one that can be plugged into an amplifier. Unlike an electric guitar, an unamplified acoustic guitar relies solely on its own body makeup to relay sound outwardly to an audience.
If you choose to play an acoustic guitar with the capability to be amplified, opt for the same type of strings with a slightly higher gauge or thickness. This will ensure that the sound produced is not overpowered by any electric reverb but rings clear with every pluck.
Electric Guitar Strings
Electric guitar strings for electric guitar are usually made of nickel, steel, and chromium alloys. This gives them a very magnetic quality that affects their tone and sometimes even the speed at which they can be played. Unlike acoustic guitars, electric guitars do not need to have specifically resonant strings because they are plugged into amplifiers to be played and heard.
Nylon Guitar Strings
Nylon guitar strings are different from both electric and acoustic guitar strings. While they can technically be used in both kinds of guitars, they must always be used in guitars that have specifically been made to accommodate nylon guitar strings.
How to Change Your Acoustic Guitar Strings
For both novices and professionals, changing your guitar strings can be a tricky process. Ensuring that your guitar is clean and that you are following the right steps to both remove and restring your guitar will help ensure that the process is done correctly and that your guitar will sound great afterward.
Clean and Prepare Your Guitar for Restringing
Cleaning your guitar and making sure that your guitar is ready will be the difference between changing your guitar strings successfully and running into some guitar string challenges. You can properly clean your guitar by:
- Using a microfiber cloth to dust the body and neck of the guitar.
- Using a slightly damp cloth to clean any residue off of the existing guitar strings.
- Wiping down a bench, table, or designated area on which you plan to set your guitar and change your guitar strings.
Purchase the Proper Equipment
When planning to change your guitar strings, you will need to plan ahead. Make sure that you are completely equipped with the following tools that make changing your guitar strings not only possible but simple and enjoyable:
- A new set of guitar strings: You can purchase a new set of guitar strings at your local music shop or online through a large guitar trading company. In order to know what type of guitar strings you need for your guitar, you need to know the answers to the following questions:
- Are you playing an electric guitar or acoustic guitar?
- Have you changed your guitar strings before, or is this your first time?
- Is your guitar set up for nylon strings?
- What is your financial budget?
- What string gauge sound are you interested in having?
- What type of music will you mostly be playing with this guitar?
- What type of old strings are in your guitar?
- A string winder: You can purchase a string winder online or at any local guitar shop. Make sure to get a portable string winder so that you can work on your guitar in any convenient location you choose.
- A tuning machine: Tuning machines are often purchased at any music shop or electronics store. It is important to buy a quality professional tuning machine so that your guitar tuning will be accurate.
- An amplifier and affiliated cable wires if changing the strings of an electric guitar: In order to play your electric guitar, you will need to amplify the sound. This can be done only by having the proper cables and amps, which depend on what type of electric guitar you choose to use.
- Microfiber cloths: You can purchase a microfiber cloth at any music shop, convenience store, auto parts store, or online. Your microfiber cloth should be soft and malleable so as not to scratch the neck of your guitar.
- Sharp wire cutters: Your wire cutters will be used to snip pieces of old guitar string and trim excess remains of your new guitar strings. Ensure that your wire cutters are small and sharp so that they can be easily maneuvered while cutting through the wire without difficulty.
- A darning needle: While not always completely necessary, a darning needle can sometimes be helpful in stringing your brand new guitar strings through small spaces. Since your guitar strings will be brand new out of their packaging and mostly likely coming straight from the manufacturer, they will not be very bendable or pliable. Threading a thin guitar string through the wide hole of a darning needle can help you get the end of the string through difficult nooks, crannies, and turnkey holes.
- A clean space to work: Having a clean workbench or table is of the utmost importance when changing your guitar strings. This ensures that your guitar will not get damaged or dirty in the changing process and that you won't lose any of your important tools or equipment.
- A neck balancer or support hold: A guitar neck balancer or support hold can be helpful for when you need to use both of your hands to work on the guitar. This will keep the guitar safe when you cannot put your complete focus on holding the guitar properly while changing your guitar strings.
Learn How to Hold and Balance Your Guitar's Neck
When becoming a guitar player, all musicians must learn how to hold and balance the neck of their guitar without dropping it or causing damage. Properly holding your guitar's neck is one of the first steps to being able to change your own guitar strings.
In order to secure the neck of your guitar the right way, opt for a neck holder that can be purchased at your local music shop. If you cannot find a specific neck holder, opt for soft rubber or curved polystyrene piece to act as a makeshift DIY guitar neck balancer or holder.
How to Restring Your Acoustic Guitar
While it is a big responsibility, restringing your acoustic guitar is not as challenging as it may seem. Once you have taken the necessary precautions, such as creating a clean work station and dusting off your guitar neck and strings, balance the neck of your guitar safely and get to work.
You can change your acoustic guitar strings by following these ten easy steps:
Step 1: Loosen Your Existing Guitar String Tension
The first step is to loosen your existing guitar strings to release the tension that they hold. This is important because if you attempt to remove them without loosening them first, they have the potential to snap and cause injury.
Use a tuning key to loosen the strings to avoid getting hurt by tight guitar strings that break. You can do this by turning the key in the direction that causes them to release tension. This must be repeated for every string, one by one.
Step 2: Remove all the Bridge Pins from the Guitar Bridge
The second step in changing your acoustic guitar strings is to remove all of the bridge pins from the guitar bridge. This can be done by using your string winder to remove each pin one by one. When every pin is removed, you can now remove all of the strings successfully. After you have loosened all of your guitar pins and strings from the bridge, unwind each string and remove it carefully, placing it on another clean surface.
Step 3: Put the New Strings into the 6E Bridge Hole
After you have removed the old existing strings from your acoustic guitar, you can begin to put the new string into the 6E bridge hole. This can be done by making the groove of one of the bridge pins face toward your guitar's body or soundhole. When you have turned the pin, slide the pin into the hole with your new string.
In order to do this step accurately, you will need to use both hands. Simply pull on the new string while you push the other pin through the hole. When it is in place, you can let go.
Step 4: Pull the New Strings Through the Tuning Post
To pull the brand new acoustic guitar strings through your guitar's tuning post, you must tighten the strings. Tighten your new strings quickly while at the same time pushing them nearly 4 inches into the tuning post.
When they have gone through the tuning post, the strings need to be turned slightly and pulled to the bridge. This part can be tricky, so do not be afraid to start over multiple times until you can pull the new springs fully through the tuning post.
Step 5: Wind your Strings
Use a professional-grade string winder to wind your new strings to an accurate tune. Rather than looking at them, try to tune completely by ear for this step. This will ensure that the string tightness gets properly set up so that it does not unwind without warning.
Step 6: Tighten the Remaining Strings
Tighten the remaining strings that you have not yet wound. It is often most practical to tighten your strings in the following order: 5A, 4D, 3G, 2B, and 1E. After you have wound and tightened them, give them an extra stretch by holding down the strings across the body of your guitar with one hand while gently tugging them upwards toward the neck of your guitar with the other.
Step 7: Tune Your Guitar
The best way to tune your guitar, whether you are a professional or just a beginner, is to do a double tune. You can double tune your guitar by first tuning by ear and then using an electronic guitar tuner.
If you do not yet know how to tune by ear, first find a tuning assistance video like this one by searching on the internet.
Step 8: Cut off the Extra String
Once you have restrung your acoustic guitar, your new strings will have a lot of extra remains. These string remains can be dangerous or hazardous because they can sometimes conduct electricity. It is always good to remove them for safety reasons, as well as to make it easier to play, as they often get in the way when playing chords. Use a pair of sharp wire cutters to trim off any excess wiring.
Step 9: The Final Wrap
After trimming off your excess acoustic guitar strings, it is important to wrap the ends so that you do not get scratched on the tails. You can do so simply by bending the wire string around the tuning pins with your fingers so that they are lying flat and out of the way.
Step 10: Test Play your Guitar
It is important to always give your guitar a good test run after changing your guitar strings. Play your guitar in an open space that replicates your regular use of your guitar. This way, you will be able to hear any noticeable differences or tonal changes that need to be made in order to perfect your newly improved acoustic sound.
How to Restring Your Electric Guitar
Restringing your electric guitar, while slightly more complicated than restringing an acoustic guitar, can be done just as easily.
In order to begin the restringing process, make sure you have cleaned off a workspace and dusted your guitar's neck and existing strings. After balancing the neck of your guitar properly, make sure that your electric guitar is in its ‘off' mode and unplugged from any amps or accessories. You can change your electric guitar strings by following these ten easy steps:
Step 1: Cut the Existing Strings with Wire Cutters
Ensure that you do not drop the electric guitar. Place your guitar on a steady surface and prepare your wire cutters.
Up by the neck of your guitar, create some slack by pushing your strings with both hands. Cut your strings with your wire cutters close to the neck of your guitar, holding onto the springs tightly.
Electric guitar strings tend to snap and rebound when cut, so the utmost caution should be used here.
Step 2: Place the New Strings Through the Guitar
Grab hold of your new strings and unravel them if necessary. Take the new electric guitar strings and string them through the tailpiece.
The tailpiece is often located underneath your electric guitar body but can be located in other places depending on the exact guitar model you have.
Step 3: Make your Turnkey Post Hole Perpendicular
Step three involves making your turnkey post hole perpendicular to the body of your guitar. You can do this by turning the turnkey until you see the hole begin to move. When it is facing your electric guitar's body, you can stop turning.
Step 4: Tighten the Strings
On step four of changing your electric guitar strings, you will need to tighten your new strings.
This can be done by measuring around three inches of excess string or slack while pulling the string. Pull until you can thread your string all the way through your turnkey post hole.
Step 5: Twist to Make an S Shape
After tightening your strings properly, you will need to twist an S shape with your guitar strings. You can do this by holding one hand about the post and another hand around the string. Then, twist an S shape into the string in a clockwise motion. If you accidentally twist counterclockwise, simply unravel and twist the correct direction. This step must be done using both hands.
Step 6: Slide the String Through
When you are ready, wrap the threaded guitar string around the electric guitar post. Pull it between the nut and the post, taking the top of the string's S curve and putting it through the bottom loop.
You will be tying a bit of a knot with your string, so feel free to consult the directions on your electric guitar string packaging for step by step directions depending on the type of strings you purchase.
Step 7: Create a Loop
For step seven, take the two remaining ends of your electric guitar strings and create a loop.
This can be done by turning the ends of the string towards each other to form a circular shape. Then, crimp and tighten the ends of the loop toward your electric guitar's headstock. Lock the string into place by tying a firm knot and pulling the tail outwards.
Step 8: Anchor the New Strings and Tighten
Take your string winder and put it onto your guitar's tuning key. Then, turn it clockwise. Make sure that you turn the correct way because this tightening process cannot be undone. After turning clockwise, use your thumb to feel when the string becomes taut.
Step 9: Simultaneously Stretch and Tune
Simultaneously stretch your guitar strings while tuning your electric guitar by starting with the 5th fret. Pull your guitar strings up with one hand while moving your guitar fret with the other hand.
This will both stretch your guitar string and slowly begin the tuning process.
Step 10: Play to Test Your Guitar
It is important to always give your guitar a good test run after changing your guitar strings. Play your guitar in an open space that replicates your normal use of your guitar. This way, you will be able to hear any noticeable differences or tonal changes that need to be made in order to perfect your newly improved electric sound.
The History of Guitar Strings
Guitar strings have a very rich, long, and colorful history. The mythology behind the first guitar strings includes stories about the Greek and Roman God Apollo, finding a tortoiseshell, and making music out of it.
The guitar string's practical history is said to have evolved from the Nordic North, where tightened strands of silk were plucked to make beautiful noises. In other regions, horsehair was also used, strung across a variety of different instrument bodies, in place of the guitar strings that we recognize today.
In warmer climates, plant fibers were woven together to make strings and an unconventional material, animal intestines, was also often used.
Some of the earliest ever guitar strings found were discovered by archeologists when they were digging for tombs. In 1823, harps with gut strings, or strings made from animal intestines, were found in Thebes. After 2,000 years of being buried in a tomb, these strings were still miraculously able to produce sound.
Guitar Strings Evolution to Today's Standards
While they do not have as old a history as gut strings, Nylon Strings also have an interesting past. Manufactured by Albert Augustine Limited, nylon strings were created to have ultimate strength. They were very strong and also manufactured to be very light, giving them the advantage of being suitable for almost any guitar.
Nowadays, nylon strings are manufactured differently. This makes it so only nylon appropriate guitars can be correctly strung with special nylon guitar strings.
It was not until 1858 that Henry Bessemer made some of the most popular guitar strings still used in modern guitars today. Steel and metal strings began the revolution for guitar strings. They enabled guitar strings to be made and distributed in large amounts, in turn dropping the cost of guitar strings.
This made purchasing new guitar strings more accessible to more musicians and encouraged young musicians to learn how to change their own strings. While steel strings became very popular, it was not until the early 1950s that metal strings for electric guitars were specially made to accommodate their unique electric sound.
How To Change Guitar Strings At Home, Final Thoughts
Knowing how to change your own guitar strings will be one of the most beneficial skills to know as both a professional and novice musician. Whether one of your strings breaks before a big performance or you simply get tired of your old, dingy set of strings, changing your guitar strings quickly and easily will make your life more simple.
By being prepared, having the right tools, and taking the proper steps to switch out your strings, you will ensure that you are back to playing your favorite songs on guitar before no time.
Side note, do you want to learn to play guitar songs the easy way? Learn how here – results are guaranteed!