Is there any component of a guitar more important than the strings? Without them, it’s just a pretty piece of wood.

We were shocked, and quite honestly appalled to learn about the string-changing habits of many guitarists out there. So today it’s our mission to explain how, and why we regularly change our strings.

In a moment we'll take you through our step-by-step guide on how to change guitar strings but first, let’s talk about why it’s so important.

Why change guitar strings?

Besides them looking (and sometimes smelling) gross 🤢 old guitar strings can ruin our sound, and playing experience.

  • Over time, strings accumulate dirt, oils, and sweat from your fingers, resulting in a loss of tone clarity and intonation.
  • Worn-out strings may also hinder your ability to play smoothly and comfortably, affecting your overall performance.
  • By changing your guitar strings regularly, you ensure a consistent tone and improved playability.
  • You will notice the guitar is more in tune across the fingerboard as well.

What tools do I need to change guitar strings?

Before you begin the string-changing process, make sure you have the following:

  • A new set of guitar strings
  • Wire cutters or pliers
  • A cloth/cleaning gear
  • String-winder (non-essential)
  • Guitar tuner

Having these tools on hand will make the process much easier and more efficient.

Guide for changing guitar strings

Changing strings is a fundamental skill that every guitarist should learn. If you play your guitar a lot (as you should!) then changing strings should be a regular occurrence.

After reading through this step-by-step guide, you’ll be able to confidently change your guitar strings and revitalize your sound whenever you need to!

Let’s get started!

Step #1 – Remove the old strings

Before you do anything, take a photo of your headstock – it’s good to have a reference of how things should look.

  1. Start by loosening the old strings one at a time (make sure they’re totally slack).
  2. You can cut the string in the middle to make this easier.
  1. Once the string is loose, carefully unwind it from the tuning peg.
  2. Now pull the string out through the bridge.
  3. Repeat this step for all the strings.

Be careful! The ends of the B and E strings are very sharp – make sure not to puncture your fingertips!

Step #2 – Clean the guitar

While the old strings are off, take the opportunity to clean your guitar.

  • Use a soft cloth to wipe away any accumulated dust or grime on the body, neck, and other parts of the instrument.
  • If there is a lot of build-up on the fretboard use a guitar-friendly spray to remove it.
  • This isn’t just to keep the guitar looking pretty – it keeps the wood in good condition too.

Step #3 – Restring the guitar

Now it's time to install the new strings.

  1. Begin by threading the end of the string through the appropriate hole in the bridge.
  1. Pull the string all the way through until the ball-end* stops it.
  2. Next, insert the string into the corresponding tuning peg and start winding.
  1. The direction you turn the peg depends on your headstock layout.
  2. It’s also a good idea to make sure the string bites on itself at the tuning peg, either by knotting the string, or overlapping it on itself.
  3. If you’re unsure which direction the strings should wrap – refer to the photo you took at beginning.

*If you’re using nylon strings (for a classical guitar) they won’t have ball-ends. Refer to an online video tutorial to see how to tie the string to the bridge.

One of the trickiest steps of changing strings is making sure you keep tension on the string as you wind so that it doesn’t work loose from the tuning peg – use your finger to hold the string in the nut and keep it pulled back to maintain tension.

  • Use the string winder to speed up the process but be cautious not to over-tighten the string.
  • Repeat this step for all the strings, ensuring that each string is properly seated in the bridge and the nut.
  • When you’re done, cut off any excess string from the tuning peg.

Step #4 – Tuning and stretching the strings

After installing the new strings, we need to get them tuned up. If you’re using a string winder, go slowly! It’s easy to snap a string at this stage if you’re not paying attention.

Use a guitar tuner to ensure each string is tuned to the correct pitch. New strings tend to need stretching a few times before they’ll stay in tune – here’s the best way to stretch new guitar strings:

  1. With one hand, hold the string down around the 5th fret, then with the other hand pull the string away from the body of the guitar.
  2. Move up to around the 12th fret and pull it again.
  3. Now retune the string (it should have lowered in pitch slightly)
  4. Repeat this stretching process a few times until the string no longer falls out of tune.
  5. Do this for each string, being more gentle with the thinner strings.

Step #5 – Final adjustments

Nice work! Take a moment to appreciate those shiny new strings and squeaky clean fretboard. 🤩

  • Once the strings are tuned and stretched, make any necessary adjustments to the intonation and action of your guitar.
  • If these adjustments have already been made before, you shouldn’t need to do it again unless you change the gauge of string you’re using.
  • Seek guidance from a professional guitar technician or consult online resources for step-by-step instructions if you’re unsure about doing it yourself.

What guitar strings should I use?

When selecting new strings, consider the type and gauge that best suits your guitar, playing style, and genre.

  • Electric guitars commonly use nickel-wound or stainless-steel strings, while acoustic guitars may utilize phosphor bronze or bronze strings.
  • Gauge refers to the thickness of the strings, with lighter gauges providing a brighter tone and easier playability, and heavier gauges offering more volume and sustain.
  • Experimenting with different string types and gauges can help you discover your preferred sound.

We’ve got a great string guide if you want more detailed info on what to choose.

How often do I need to change my guitar strings?

Maintaining a regular string-changing routine is key to preserving the longevity of your guitar.

  • Depending on your playing frequency and personal preference, it's generally recommended to change your strings every 1-3 months.
  • Keep in mind that certain factors like humidity, temperature, and your playing style can affect string lifespan.
  • Regularly checking the condition of your strings will help you determine when it's time for a change.

Some important things to remember

Handle with care

Although it’s a fairly straightforward task, replacing the strings should still be done with caution. It’s possible to damage your instrument if the proper care isn’t taken.

  • There’s a lot of tension held in guitar strings – take your time when tightening or loosening them to avoid injury.
  • Don’t be heavy-handed! The guitar is a precision instrument and applying excessive force can cause damage.
  • Make sure any substances you use to clean the guitar are suitable – avoid household cleaning products as they are usually too corrosive.

Give the strings time to break in

Once you've successfully changed your guitar strings, take some time to break them in. Changing strings five minutes before a gig isn’t the best idea!

  • New strings may take a little while to settle and hold their tuning stability.
  • Stretching the strings gently after installation helps them to adjust and reduces the likelihood of constant retuning.
  • Once the strings have stabilized, they should stay in tune for a prolonged period of time.

Quality time with your guitar

Remember that changing guitar strings is not just a maintenance task but also an opportunity to learn more about your instrument. As you go through the process, take the time to appreciate the craftsmanship of your guitar and the intricacies of its design.

Developing a routine for changing your strings not only ensures consistent performance but also gives you a deeper understanding of your instrument.

Changing those old strings shouldn’t be a chore! Take the time to enjoy the process and give your guitar some TLC ❤️

Author: John Savannah