December 11, 2023

How to change guitar strings

Learn how to change guitar strings with our free Acoustic Guitar Maintenance course.

When we play our fingers often sweat leaving harmful corrosive residues on our guitar strings. If you’ve ever left a set of strings on your guitar for a long time you’ll know what I mean. If left alone, dirt and grime on our guitar strings leads to dull tone, rust on the strings and eventually string breakage. If you’re experiencing any of these problems with your guitar, then chances are it’s time you learned how to change guitar strings.

In our free series ‘Acoustic Guitar Maintenance’ Mark shows you how to change guitar strings on an acoustic guitar, and shares some tips to help you keep your guitar clean and sounding great!

What you’ll need:
  1. A fresh set of guitar strings
  2. A string winder (to speed things up)
  3. A cleaning cloth
  4. A polishing cloth
  5. Small pliers (to clip the guitar strings)
  6. Lemon oil
  7. Guitar polish
Step One

Wind off the tension on each string at the tuning peg. Use a string winder in you have one handy, otherwise manually with fingers is fine. It’s important to ensure the string you are winding is in fact getting looser, not tighter, otherwise you’ll be heading for a string explosion – not cool, and could hurt you or others nearby.

Step Two

Once the strings are loosened, remove the bridge pins that hold the strings in at the bridge end of the guitar. Again, use a string winding tool with bridge pin remover if you have one, if not you can use a small pair of pliers to gently remove them. Be careful not to damage the wood of the bridge as you leverage the pins out – using a small piece of cloth or cardboard can help here to place between the bridge and your pliers to protect the bridge.

Step Three

Unravel each string at the head to remove them completely from the guitar. At this point it pays to take care as each string may still be under a bit of tension and can fly anywhere.  Protect your eyes.

Step Four

While you have the strings off it’s a good time to clean your guitar. Start by giving it a general dust down, before moving on to give the fret board a complete clean. You can use your small pliers or something similar to remove any built up dirt from around the frets before you give the whole fret board a clean with the cleaning cloth and lemon oil. Work the oil into the fret board with a circular motion, removing all dirt.

Clean the body, back of the neck and head-stock of the guitar with guitar polish and the cleaning cloth. Use the polishing cloth to ‘buff up’ for a nice finish.

Step Five

Remove new strings from the packet. Take care when unraveling each string from the packet as they can fly out without warning – protect your eyes. Start with the heaviest gauge string first (the thickest). Place the string end into the bridge hole and push the bridge pin in to hold the string in place. Repeat for the remaining strings working from the heaviest to the lightest string.

Once each string is attached to the bridge put the guitar upright between your legs for easy access. Start with the sixth string (the heaviest one). Bring it up to the head of the guitar, through its groove in the nut, and around the INSIDE of the tuning head. Wrap it completely around the tuning head once then poke it through the hole going OVER itself (not under) to lock the string in place.

Continue this process for each string, however, the number of times you will need to wrap the string around the tuning head will change as the strings get lighter in gauge. The four lightest strings may need to be wrapped around 2, 3 or 4 times. Use your own judgment here.

Step Six

Once the strings are on the guitar, wind them up slowly (use a winding tool if you have one). Watch out for the excess ends of the strings as you do this as they have a tendency to flick you in the eye if you’re not careful. Stop tightening the string when you get a note from it and move on to the next one. Once all the strings are under tension, snip the excess ends off with the small pliers. Again, protect your eyes.

Step Seven

Tune your guitar, stretching each string by pulling it away from the guitar frequently as you tension it. New strings will ‘go out’ a few times before they hold their tune, this is normal and once they’ve stopped stretching your guitar should sound great!

Learn more about Mark McKenzie on his Google profile.

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