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Step-by-Step Guide to Changing Guitar Strings

"Hello, fellow strummers! Ever wondered why your beloved guitar suddenly sounds like it’s singing the blues? (and not in a good way) Well, it might be longing for a string change! But how do you know when it’s time to perform this minor surgery on your six-stringed friend? Here are some clues:

  • Tone Deaf: If your guitar starts sounding duller than usual, it’s probably time to change those strings. Old strings lose their brightness, so they might sound muffled and darkened in tone if you haven’t changed them in a few months… or years…

  • Scratching your fingers: Playing feels painful on your fingertips? If pressing the strings feels like grating cheese, it’s a sign your strings are past their prime. The strings should be smooth and easy to slide your fingers across.

  • Rust and Crust: If your strings look more like rusty old pipes than shiny musical wires, or if they have crud on them that won’t come off, it’s time for a change. Strings build up dirt and get rusty, this is pretty easy to identify just by looking at them.

  • Tuning Trouble: If your guitar refuses to stay in tune, much like a stubborn toddler, it’s likely the strings are to blame. Usually old strings will stay in tune for a while but eventually they won’t be able to vibrate correctly and lose their tuning stability.

  • Breakups: If your strings are breaking more often than a soap opera relationship, you definitely need a new set. If your string breaks it is probably a sign that they all need changing.

Remember, strings are like bread - they’re fantastic when they’re fresh, but nobody likes them when they’re stale. So, keep your guitar happy and your music melodious by changing those strings when they start showing these signs. Stay tuned for our step-by-step guide on how to change your guitar strings!

Step 1: Gather Your Tools

Before you start, make sure you have all the necessary tools:

  1. A New Set of Strings (do some research to see which ones are right for you!)

  2. Some Wire Cutters : you can guess what these are for…any will do.

  3. (Optional) A string winder : your best friend during this process.

  4.  A Tuner : New strings will go out of tune easily, so be ready to tune up many times.

Step 2: Loosen The Strings 

Start by loosening each string using the tuning pegs. Turn them counterclockwise. You’ll know you’re doing it right when the pitch starts falling and the strings get looser. Be really careful not to tune them the wrong way or they will SNAP! This could be dangerous but usually it’s just a bit frightening. Your instrument will not be happy if you snap a string because it adds a lot of extra tension to the neck of the guitar. Flatten the note, your tuner will help you if this is confusing. E becomes D becomes C … etc.

Step 3: Removing The Strings

Once all the strings are loose, cut them in the middle using the wire cutters. Then, remove the string fragments from the bridge and the headstock. Be careful not to poke yourself - we’re changing strings here, not doing acupuncture! On an electric guitar the strings will simply slide through the bridge holes.

On a steel-string acoustic guitar, you will need to pop out the bridge pins. This can be tricky and it may seem like they are stuck. You can use a guitar pick, a coin, or the notch on the end of the string winder to pop out the bridge pins. Don’t worry, you aren’t hurting the guitar by doing this. They will slot right back into place easily. Just don’t lose them while you are doing the next steps! 

On a classical guitar, you may need to untie the knots that are holding the strings to the bridge. It is a very simple knot to undo. Nylon strings are a bit easier to work with since they tend not to stab you like steel strings will.

Step 4: Clean Your Guitar

With the strings off, it’s a good time to clean your guitar. It’s amazing how much dust can accumulate under those strings. You might just find that pick you lost last month. You can use a wet wipe to get rid of dust by the tuning pegs or crud that built up on the fingerboard. After you finish, dry the guitar off with a towel. It might even look brand new, how exciting!

Step 5: Attach New Strings

Now, thread the new strings through the bridge and up to the headstock. On a steel-string acoustic guitar, you will need to place the ball end of the string into the hole and shove the bridge pin over top of it. Make sure the bridge pin allows the string to feed through towards the headstock of the guitar. On a classical guitar, you will need to make a simple knot to hold the strings in place. You can do this by wrapping the string under itself a few times. It is similar to the first step of tying your shoe. Just repeat that 3 or 4 times to secure the string to the bridge.

Step 6: Tuning Pegs & String Winding 

Pull the string through the hole in the tuning peg. Be sure to leave a little slack in the string. You will be winding it so that the slack ends up wrapping around the tuning peg, just enough slack for 3 or 4 wraps around the peg is enough. To prevent the strings from sliding out of the tuning peg hole, you can bend the string or thread it through the hole a 2nd time. This should help keep it from sliding around as you are trying to start the wrap.

Using your string winder (or your fingers) wind the strings around the tuning pegs. Make sure the windings go down the peg to keep the strings tight and stable. This step requires some patience, so put on some good tunes. Just not “Stairway to Heaven.” We’ve all heard it enough times. The string should wrap downward below the hole in the tuning peg. If the string doesn’t wrap cleanly, you may find that the tuning keeps slipping as you are tuning it up. This is an important step, so please make sure the string is wrapping around the tuning peg in a nice orderly way.

Step 7: Tune Up

Finally, use your tuner to get each string to the correct pitch. Your guitar might protest a bit and go out of tune quickly with new strings. Show it who’s boss with some persistent tuning. Leave your guitar for a minute and then tune it again. You can also “stretch” the strings by wiggling them back and forth. They should be secure without coming loose. If they come loose, then you made a mistake somewhere along the way. You might have to repeat the process again if the string slips out when you wiggle it back and forth. Make sure to tune again after the string stretching/wiggling.

And there you have it!

You’ve successfully changed your guitar strings and hopefully had a few laughs along the way. Remember, practice makes perfect. But if you find yourself changing strings more often than playing, you might want to ease up on those epic guitar solos a bit! If you’d like assistance changing strings. Ask your teacher for help at The American Guitar Academy. We know that string changes can be scary at first. Your teacher is there to help you learn the ropes. Give it a shot! It is worth it to have shiny new strings on your guitar. Your ears and hands will thank you!



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