How To Change Guitar Strings
Why change guitar strings?
Strings wear out. They lose their tone, become hard to keep in tune, lose their sustain, and break.
How quickly this occurs varies, based on how you care for your guitar, the environment your instrument is exposed to, the quality of your strings, and how you use them. I cover more aspects or ensuring the longevity of your guitar and your strings on the Guitar Maintenance page. However, even with the best quality strings, with the best preventative maintenance, in the best environment, your strings will eventually need to be replaced.
Thankfully, new strings don't cost much and changing guitar strings is not that hard to do, once you understand how.
Many guitars come with a manual that describes how to change strings. If yours did not, you may find instructions on the manufacturer's web site. You may also find instructions on the web-sites of string manufacturers and re-sellers. I've listed a few very good resources below.
If you're unsure of how to change guitar strings, or have questions after looking at the instructions and reading this page, consider having someone show you the first time. Most instructors will change guitar strings for you during a lesson, and many music stores will change them for you for a small fee, just ask if you can watch.
General Tips About How To Change Guitar Strings
Here are a few tips I've picked up that make it easier to change guitar strings.
- Take part of the packaging from the new strings and write down the date. Stuff that into your gig bag. Now you have a record of the type of strings on your guitar and when you last changed them.
- As you replace the strings take a minute to wipe any dust or dirt from the fretboard and front of the guitar that is normally covered by strings, such as the bridge, and fretboard.
- A string winder with a built in cutter, or a pair of wire cutters make changing guitar strings much easier. Read about them on the Guitar Accessories page.
- A string winder that fits on the end of a cordless drill, or a powered winder like the Ernie Ball PowerPeg Battery Powered String Winder can greatly speed up winding and unwinding your strings.
- A guitar headstand can be very useful for holding your guitar while you change the strings and wipe down your instrument, and they only cost about $10.
How To Change Acoustic Guitar Strings
The best written explanation I've found on how to change acoustic steel strings is a PDF file produced by Taylor Guitars. You can get the PDF file on the "New Improved" Taylor method of changing steel string by clicking here. Your browser should open a new window and offer to download a 714K PDF file with clear photo assisted instructions for changing the strings of your steel string acoustic guitar. You can adapt the instructions for most other acoustics. Taylor has a number of other helpful guitar maintenance articles on their web-site. Take a look!
Elixir has a nice write-up on how to change guitar strings on an acoustic, with text and photos. In addition, I recommend long-lasting coated strings. If you'd like to try a set, you can find coated strings from Elixir and D'Addario at Select Sounds LLC.
If you are like me, a picture is worth a thousand words. So a video must be priceless. Here is a very nice one from D'Addario:
How To Change Electric Guitar Strings
I have included two video demonstrations below. The first shows how to change the strings on an electric with strings that go through the body, such as the Fender Telecaster or Stratocaster. The second video covers guitars that have a stop-bar tailpeice, also known as a Tunomatic, which is found on many Gibson's.
How To Change Classical Guitar Strings
I have little experience with classical guitars. Even though I started on one myself I quickly moved to a steel string acoustic. Some of you may start out the same way, or you may be a true lover of the instrument.
I have not found many good written descriptions of changing classical strings on the web. Most lack pictures and do not include a clear description of how to tie strings off at the bridge. However, after a bit of searching, I found a very clear write up (with photos) at The Classical Guitarist.
Of course, for people like me, who prefer to see a how the written word translates into action, here is a nice video from our friends at D'Addario:
The neck of your guitar is designed to hold back the tension of your strings. If you remove all the strings, there is nothing to balance out the force that pulls back on the neck. This has the potential to damage your guitar. The few minutes it usually takes to change strings have never caused problems for me, but I encourage you to never leave your guitar without strings unless you know how to relieve the stress of the truss rod.
Opinions vary on this point, so use common sense and check your owner's manual. Some say to never remove all the strings at the same time, others say it's OK to remove all strings at the same time... as long as you don't leave them off for more than a few minutes.
When I change guitar strings, I loosen each string, then cut and remove all of them. They come off easily and I then take a minute to clean the front of the guitar. Next, I begin restringing. I haven't experienced any problems with this approach. But... again... check the documentation that comes with your instrument and follow the warnings and advice given there.
Need Strings? Of Course You Do!
I always keep a few strings in my gig bag. This way I am ready for the random string break, and I never have the excuse of not having spare strings when the tone dies or tuning becomes difficult.
I encourage you to visit Select Sounds LLC for your string needs. This growing, family owned business offers a growing selection, very nice prices, and people who care. Check out the Specials page while you are there. You might find just the bargain you have been searching for.
Need A Guitar Strings Primer?
If you need to know more about guitar strings before you purchase a set, read our Guitar Strings Primer. That article examines cores and windings, lists common string materials and the tones each produces, explains bass guitar scale length, and demystifies string gauges. We think it will equip you to purchase the right set for you and your guitar. Read it here.