How To Change Acoustic Guitar Strings
How To String An Acoustic Guitar is part of a series of basic tips and tutorials here on GuitarSite.com for beginner guitarists.
This tutorial will teach you how to change acoustic guitar strings - many of the principals are similar to changing guitar strings on an electric guitar, but if we get enough feedback we may provide a separate tutorial later on how to restring an electric guitar.
Now that you have learned about Guitar String Notes & Their Names, your guitar learning fun might be cut short when one or more of your guitar strings break. The bad news is you will have to replace the guitar strings, the good news is replacing guitar strings is something you can do yourself.
Stringing an acoustic guitar properly is not only important, it is imperative for guitars to work as intended. Without strings, your guitar is just another piece of wood, which is better off as firewood to fuel chimneys during winter, but of course we don't want that, so you better put some strings on that slab of wood.
Know when you need to replace your guitar strings
The first step in changing acoustic guitar strings, and electric guitar strings, is knowing when you need to replace them. The lifespan of guitar strings vary depending on usage, quality and environmental factors, which means that you can't pinpoint exactly when you need to replace your strings. And you might be surprised to know that there are some guitar players that prefer to use "old" strings as it produces a different kind of tonality when compared to new strings. So it will all boil down to your preference, if the strings sound dull to your ears, vibrates less, and are noticeably harder to use, rusty, rough, or if it simply doesn't sound and behave the way you want them to, then it is time to change your strings. From time to time, a guitar string will also break, even new ones at that, these are also times when you have no choice but to restring the guitar.
Know what kind of strings to use
The second step is knowing what kind of strings you want to put on your guitar. Remember that you will have to get guitar strings made for your specific guitar type. You need to get electric guitar strings for electric guitars, acoustic guitar strings for acoustic guitars and nylon classical strings if you are using a Spanish/classical guitar. Other details you will want to consider are the string compositions (nickel for "ballsy" tone, stainless steel for brighter tone, nylon for classical guitars etc), the wound (flat or round) and the gauge (thickness of the string which affects string action and tension). For beginners it is best to stick with the guitar string gauge that was originally installed on your guitar. Getting a different string gauge will have an effect not only on the sound, but also on the playability of your guitar - for example if you change your gauge the neck of your guitar will probably have to be adjusted. So for this beginner's tutorial, it's best to buy strings that exactly match the original set used on your guitar.
Remove the old strings
Now that you have your new strings ready, you can now proceed to remove the old strings. Simply turn the tuning keys to the direction where you can see and feel the strings loosen. Once it loosens up, you can then unwind it from the tuning peg hole. Be careful when doing doing this because the thin metal end of the strings are sharp, and old strings can either cut you or your guitar if mishandled.
Now you can proceed to detach the bridge pins, there are specialized tools to remove bridge pins, but a strong grip or pliers will do the trick. After removing the bridge pin, you can now pull the old guitar strings out of your guitar. You can choose to remove and replace each string - one by one, this method will have less tension changes on the guitar. But the simple and recommended option is to remove all the old strings first before installing the new set. Once the strings are all removed, it will give you the space to carefully clean the frets and other parts of the guitar that are usually hard to reach when the strings are attached.
Clean your Guitar
Now that the old strings are out of the picture, this will be a good chance for you to clean your guitar. I recommend that you get a dry microfiber cloth to first remove the dirt on the guitar body and frets. Then you can apply your preferred guitar polish or fret oil. This will give the guitar a fresh and clean look to go with the fresh set of strings.
Sort the new strings
After a nice clean up, it's time to open up your guitar string set, and sort the strings based on Gauge. The smallest gauge, which is 011 on the set that I used, is for the High E string, or normally labeled as 1st string. If you are holding your guitar as if to play on it, the smallest gauge should be installed on the lowest part, and you will work your way up to the thickest gauge which will be the 6th string, or the Low E string. Once you have sorted out the strings, you can now install the strings one by one. Again there are different schools of thought here, some would recommend that you install the strings from the center moving to the edges (meaning G or D string first), while others would prefer starting from the edge moving to the center (start with Low or High E string). For the purpose of this tutorial, I started with the High E string and moved up to the Low E string.
Install the new strings
First thing to do is to insert the ball end of the string into the bridge hole. If it doesn't fit which will sometimes be the case, you will have to insert the thin metal end of the string into the bridge pin holes from within the guitar (insert your hand through the sound hole and carefully guide the string to the hole. After that, you can then insert the bridge pins to secure the string.
Now you will need to guide the thin metal end of the string through the bridge saddle, through the nut and into the Tuning Peg hole. I recommend that you attach the string in such a way that when you wind it, it turns from the center of the guitar headstock outwards toward the edge.
For thinner strings, you can make a single knot on the tuning peg hole for added security. Stretch the string enough to have some tension, then bend it towards the edge of the headstock. To finish off, you simply hold the string in place while you wind the tuning pegs. Make sure that the string is locked in place and does not loosen. Wind it up to a point where the strings are tight and does not loosen, you can then cut off the excess string using a wire cutter.
Tune your guitar
The final step in changing guitar strings is tuning your guitar. For beginners, I highly recommend getting a tuning pitch fork for guitar so you can have a reference for tuning, or better yet get one of the affordable digital guitar tuners like the one I used. You can even get Tuner apps for your iPad, which I also have, it will turn your iPad into a tuner for emergency situations. Even professionals use tuners, so there is much to gain by having one, you can be assured that your strings are properly tuned and you can immediately start playing. Now all you have to do is to wind the strings tighter or looser until you find the right pitch. After tuning the strings then you are all set.
Congratulations - now you know how to restring a guitar!
Also in this beginner guitar series:
A Buyer's Guide to Cheap Acoustic Guitars
Guide to the Best Tuners for Acoustic Guitar
Guitar For Beginners
Guitar String Notes & Their Names Acoustic Pickup System Guide
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