How to Restring A Guitar

How to Restring A Guitar

by Bob Lanzetti, Guitarist of Snarky Puppy


There are two things that every beginner guitar player should learn almost immediately. One is how to tune a guitar. The other, which I’ll talk about here, is how to restring a guitar. Strings can get old and worn out. They can get rusty, lose their tone, and eventually break. Once you know how to do it, changing your own strings will save you time and money. And if you break one at an inopportune time, you won’t have to wait for someone to change it for you. 

All you really need to restring a guitar is a new set of strings. If you break a string and you don’t have a new set it is possible to temporarily put an old string in its place, if you happen to have a used one laying around, but it’s not preferred. Putting an old string on will only lead to that one breaking after a short while as well. It’s also not advisable to change only a few strings at a time. If you do that you’ll end up having some strings sounding nice and crisp and others sounding sort of dead. So it’s preferable to change all six at once. 

Beyond having a new set of strings there are a few tools on the market that can make the process a bit easier. One is a string winder. You can get a basic string winder for under $5. When you first put a string on you will have to turn the tuning peg many rotations before the string is in tune. A string winder is a tool, sort of like a wrench, with a slot that goes over the tuning peg and an arm that allows you to rotate the tuning peg much more quickly. Not essential, but definitely makes the process easier. After the string is on you will likely have a fair amount of slack sticking out of the tuning peg. To deal with this you can cut the slack with a string cutter. You can also get a string winder/cutter in one tool for about $10.

So besides the obvious need to change a string if one breaks, when should you change strings? How do you know when your strings are “dead” sounding? When strings are new there’s a fullness to them. You can hear a wide range of frequency. Fat lows and crisp highs as well as more sustain. As they get worn out you’ll first start to lose that crispness. Then highs and sustain. A general rule of thumb is that if you’re playing several hours a day, you should change strings every few weeks. If you’re playing an hour a day you can probably wait a month or so.

Bob Lanzetti playing guitar with Snarky Puppy

Step 1: Take all the old strings off. Certain guitars have bridges that are actually held on by the strings. With a guitar like this it might be preferable to take the four strings in the middle off and leave the high E and low on E for now. For most other guitars you can take all six off at once. I like to use this opportunity to clean the fretboard a bit. I like to use Miracle Cloth, a coconut oil soaked polishing cloth that smells great and can remove dirt from the frets and fretboard.

Step 2: Put on one string at a time in order from low to high. (If you have a guitar that you chose to leave the 6th string on you can out the 5th string on first.) Some string companies have their strings color coded so that you can be sure you’re putting the correct string in the correct place. Others will often have each string individually packaged. Start by putting the string, opposite the ball end, through the hole in the bridge. On many guitars it’s on the front of the guitar at the end of the bridge. On Stratocaster-type guitars it’s on the backside of the guitar. Pull the string through the hole all the way up to the corresponding tuning peg and put it through that hole. You can keep pulling it until the ball end is flush against the bridge. 

Step 3: Leave a little less than a fist sized amount of slack between the fretboard and the string. You can put your fist flush against the fretboard, somewhere in the middle of the neck, and place the string on top of your fist. Then you can just pull the string a bit tighter than that. This will allow you to turn the tuning peg many rotations before the string is tight, which will allow the string to wrap around the tuning peg many times to assure that it won’t slip off. Using your hand, or your string winder, turn the tuning peg counter-clockwise so that the string starts to wrap around. After several rotations the string should start to feel like it’s getting tighter and after several more it should start to produce a pitch when struck. Once it’s at that point it’s safe to say it’s on and will not slip off.

Step 4: After all six strings are in place and relatively in tune you can cut the access strings with your string cutter. It’s also a good idea to play a bit and bend the strings to break them in a little. Until they’re broken in they will stretch and come out of tune easily. A few minutes of playing and bending will insure they will stay in tune.

Photo by Stella K


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