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What is the Best Way for Changing Guitar Strings?

Remember how excited you were when you held your brand-new guitar in your hands? You probably didn’t want to let go of your guitar until… the first string broke. As with everything, guitars break down from the passing of time and regular use. If the strings do not break, the rule of thumb is to change your guitar strings once every three months. Without much further ado, let’s break down the nuts and bolts of the best way to change guitar strings.

What You Need

  1. A new set of strings (you need to pick strings based on gauge)

  2. Wire cutters

  3. A peg winder (helps you rotate a tuning head more times compared to using your hands)

  4. A polish cloth

Steps to Take

1. Loosen the Old Strings

The best way to change your guitar strings is not to remove all the strings at once. It will mess up your guitar neck as there is nothing left to counter the tension from the truss rod.

To remove a string, pluck the string and then follow the string to the tuning machine on the headstock of the guitar. Wind the tuning machine in the clockwise direction to loosen the string. It is important that you listen to the string as you unwind it. You should hear the string dropping in pitch, otherwise, you are winding up instead of down and the string will snap.

Cut the string once the tension is removed. To remove it from the tuning machine, pill in a circular motion once the string is loose enough. A pair of pliers will come in handy if the string gets stuck.

2. Remove the String Ends

The string wire is usually attached to a ball-end secured in the bridge by one of six small pins (on steel string acoustic guitars). The pin must be removed to take out the string. Use a pin puller to help you pull out the string. Some acoustics use pinless systems, so all you need to do is push in the opposite direction of the ball end.

3. Insert and Wind the New String

Insert and secure a new string to the bridge. Pull the loose end towards the guitar neck and feed it through the nut in the slot held by the old strong. Wind the tuning machine until one hole is facing the nut. Slip the string in through the hole.

Give yourself plenty of room in the portion of the string between the bridge and the nut as you want to wind the string around the tuning machine for 2-3 full turns. To make it easier, you can put your whole right arm or wrist underneath the string, and use your picking hand index finger, gently hold the string so it does not slip out of the nut.

4. Tightening the String

Hold the string in place and wind it counterclockwise. Take care that the end of the string doesn’t jump around when you are winding the tuning machine. For the first revolution, you want to ensure the end you are holding passes over the loose end that is jutting out the other side of the machine head. Do this only for the first revolution.

As the string tightens, you will have to remove your hand from underneath it. For the remaining revolutions, make sure that the end you are holding passes underneath the loose end of the string. The portion of the string that is wound around the tuning peg will end up on top of the part of the string you are holding. As the string tightens, it will rest on the nut and break off at a downward angle for a more secure and reliable string installation.

5. Cut off the Loose Ends

Use a pair of wire cutters to clip off the loose ends. If you don’t have pliers, you can replace them with nail clippers. If you have installed the new strings correctly, there’s no need for the extra loose string to stick out, so you can cut it very close.

Repeat the steps for the other strings.

6. Tune Your Guitar

It’s now the time to tune your new guitar strings! Use a guitar tuner and repeat the process several times as each string will pull the neck into tension, affecting the tuning of the other strings.

The strings will easily slip out of tune in the first or so hour of playing. Retune as needed.

If you are looking to refresh your guitar-playing skills, check out our guitar program at Ritmo Music Studio, located near Chinatown MRT in Singapore.

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