Changing the strings on your guitar is really a fairly straightforward process, but if you don’t know what you’re doing it can mean hours of frustration! So, to help you out, here is our guide on how to string an acoustic guitar.
What You will need:
- A string winder
- A set of new strings (not optional)
- A tuner (optional)
- Some wire cutters (not optional)
- And your guitar (of course!)
How often should You change Strings
The simple answer would be “before the strings break”, however- unless you can predict the future- there are some other factors to watch out for as the strings age.
For example, as the strings get older, they will stretch out and loose their elasticity. This is very bad for the tone, because as the strings vibrate less, the guitar’s tone will become slowly more dull and less bright.
On the other hand, some would argue that the tone of brand new strings is too bright and trebly. These people like to wear the strings in for a bit and generally prefer more worn strings.
So how can you tell when the right time is? Well, new strings are shiny and smooth; old ones are brown and rough to touch. If your strings are looking and sounding dull, and feel rough when you fret them, it’s probably time to change your strings.
So it is personal preference, but if you leave it until the strings snap…that’s too long! If you play every day, you may be changing your strings each month or so, but if you only play occasionally, those strings may last most of the year!
Step 1: buy the correct Strings
String Gauge (thickness)
The new strings that you put on your acoustic guitar should really be the same gauge to the ones you’re taking off. Some people change gauges because they prefer lighter or heavier strings, but this can require adjusting the rest of the guitar to fit the strings.
Standard string gauges range from ‘0.009’ to ‘0.013’ with around ‘0.010’ or ‘0.011’ being about regular sized for most guitars. If you’re unsure, get ‘0.011’ or ‘0.010’ as strings that are too heavy can damage your guitar.
Also, make you you get ‘acoustic‘ and not ‘electric’ guitar strings.
You may also have the option of buying coated or uncoated strings. What does this mean? Well, some guitar manufacturers put a rust-proof coating on the outside of the strings. This protects the strings from dirt and sweat that will otherwise corrode the surface of the string (and your tone!).
Coatings generally extend the life of the strings, however be careful with this as the coating also affects the tone. A thicker coating can ‘deaden’ the tone- losing all the rich overtones and harmonics in the sound. On the other hand, a thin coating will wear away faster.
Step 2: Remove the old Strings
If you are unfamiliar with any of the terms used from here onwards, you may find it helpful to read about the parts of the guitar first. I will be referring to different parts of the guitar when explaining how to restring.
Start by loosening each string using the tuning peg, ideally this should be done one string at a time, because of the tension on the neck. A good string winder is really useful at this point (unless you like spending your time just winding strings around tuning pegs?)- but it is not essential.
To make sure you are loosening the strings instead of tightening them, play the strings when you first start winding. This way you should be able to hear if the string is getting lower in pitch (and if it’s getting higher, you’re going to wrong way!).
As I said, it’s better to change one string at a time because of neck tension, but you can take off all the strings at once (especially if you need to clean the fretboard).
Once the string is slack, it’s faster to cut the middle with your wire cutters and then unwind it from the tuning peg. You’ll then need to remove the bridge pin with the groove in the string winder (failing that, a coin will also work for this) and take the string out of the bridge.
Step 3: String the Acoustic Guitar
This step is also fairly easy. Begin by attaching the string to the bridge with bridge pin and make sure it’s pulled tight! Some people like to bend the string intro the bridge to avoid it slipping out, but- whatever you do- make sure the string sits along the groove in the pin (many bridge pins have sadly died by people not doing this properly).
Classical- or nylon strung- guitars don’t have bridge pins. These types of guitar need you to tie the string to the bridge (which can be very difficult to get right, unfortunately).
Next, wind the string around the tuning peg, keeping it pulled tight. For steel strung acoustics I like to thread the string through the hole in the peg, and then turn the peg so that the loose end of the string goes first around and over the other end, and then under it on the next turn. This ensures the string is locked at the tuning peg.
For classical and nylon strung instruments, where the tuning pegs go the other way around, I like to make sure the loose end of the string wraps under the other end on the first wind.
At this point you should watch out for the string detuning (going down in pitch) suddenly. This is caused by the string slipping somewhere, and it’s best to stop when this happens and make sure you have the string properly secured.
Step 4: Tune the Guitar
This is where your tuner comes in useful. Make sure you know the correct notes to tune to, and then use your tuner to tighten the string back up to the right pitch. Be careful of over-tightening the string, as this may cause it to snap.
It’s then a good idea to stretch string (ping it against the fretboard at the 12th fret) and retune it until stays in tune. This is because new strings will stretch, which loosens them and puts them out of tune. If you stretch your strings in, this wont happen as much.
Then simply repeat steps 2 to 4 for each of the 6 strings.
Step 5: play the Guitar
Essentially, you’re done now. Your strings may still need stretching or warming in (especially for the nylon plastic strings), but I hope you’re ready to change your strings because you should now know how to string an acoustic guitar!