Let’s face it, changing guitar strings is a pain. Most guitarists hate doing it. We often can’t be bothered and leave our beloved guitars with rusty, dull sounding strings far too long.
It’s a bit like going to the dentists – every now and again you have to do it, but you don’t enjoy it. But it doesn’t have to be such an ordeal.
In this article I’m going to take the pain out of it and show you how to do it the right way.
- How Do I Know If My Strings Need Changing?
- How Often Should I Restring My Guitar?
- How to Restring a Guitar Properly
- What’s The Best Time and Place to Restring My Guitar?
- How Do I Choose the Right Type of Strings?
- Types of Guitar String
- How to String an Acoustic Guitar
- How to String an Electric Guitar
Let’s dive in…
How Do I Know If My Strings Need Changing?
It might sound like a stupid question, but you want your guitar to have the best sound it can, right?
Your strings play a massive part in making the sound that comes out of your guitar. Yeah, it’s obvious, right, so why are you compromising on the sound you could be getting by leaving dull strings on your guitar?
While good strings won’t make a bad guitar sound amazing, bad strings can totally ruin the sound of a good guitar.
When we say “bad” strings we’re talking about their tonal quality.
Unfortunately, the tonal quality of your strings will start to decrease, and fairly quickly, from the moment you put them on the guitar.
The main enemies of good tone are corrosion, stretching and wear.
So how do you know when your strings need changing?
1. Build up of ‘gunk’
Take a cloth and run it along the underside of your strings. What do you notice? There’s probably a buildup of gunk, that can even be a yukky green colour if you use bronze strings.
It’s perfectly normal, and it’s a reaction of the metal to the oily, salty sweat on your hands. It is, however, a sure sign you need to change your strings.
Washing and drying your hands before you pick up the guitar can help to reduce corrosion, but changing your strings frequently is the only way you can win the battle.
2. Strings go out of tune easily
Tuning is more difficult on older strings, so that could be another tell-tale sign your guitar is due for a restring!
Strings naturally stretch every time you play and tune your guitar. But over time they lose that elasticity and tone suffers. The strings become dull and lifeless.
3. Flat spots start to appear
Your strings are constantly being pressed against the frets of your guitar.
This eventually causes fret wear and flat spots can appear on wound strings, which can cause them to buzz.
….another reminder their time is up!
How Often Should I Restring My Guitar?
The age old question.
Some guitarists say strings can be boiled and they come out good as new! It’s much easier to buy yourself a set of new strings though!
How often you change your strings will depend on how often you play, how hard you play and how well you care for them. If you play a lot (e.g. gigging daily) you’ll get through a set of strings in a matter of weeks. For the average player though, who plays a couple of hours a week a change after 3 months (or 100 hours) is will suffice.
How to Restring a Guitar Properly
For a beginner guitarist, it’s disheartening to hear people say that something is easy… when you’ve never done it before and you really don’t have a clue where to begin. So ok, we won’t say it’s easy.
But then again changing guitar strings isn’t rocket science. You’ll have to do it yourself, unless you want to run the risk of being laughed out of your nearest guitar shop!
All guitarists are right to be concerned, but only about doing the job properly. And we’re about to take care of that.
So how do you know you’re doing it properly?
Well, there are a few things you should bear in mind, even if you’ve never changed guitar strings before.
One difference between acoustic and electric guitars is that an acoustic uses removable bridge pins to hold the strings in place at the bridge.
Bridge pins require a little more fiddling to get them to secure correctly to the string in place at the bridge. Which brings us to the first thing you should think about, and don’t laugh, but…
What’s The Best Time and Place to Restring My Guitar?
You really need to find the right moment and place to do the job with space to concentrate on what you’re doing.
We don’t need to tell you strings can be dangerous to small children and pets. Even your friends and family could be at risk from flying bridge pins!
Once you begin, it’s better to do the job in one sitting. Give yourself at least half an hour off from anything else you might need to do. Your guitar is going to need your undivided care and attention.
You should sit the guitar on a firm, flat surface like a table or desk. That means the guitar should be horizontal. To prevent any scratches on your precious guitar or the table, use a blanket or a towel or tablecloth.
Take it slowly. If you think you’ve made a mistake, it’s ok, just undo what you’ve done and start again. Even if you crease or coil a string, it’s not a permanent problem.
How Do I Choose the Right Type of Strings?
Strings are made in various thicknesses or gauges.
This is expressed in thousandths of an inch, so the lightest string could be a .010 (the high E string) and the heaviest a .059 (your low E string).
When describing gauges, guitarists will normally say a “ten” when referring to a 0.10 gauge.. There are pros and cons to using lighter/heavier gauge strings (see table below).
You can buy individual strings, but thankfully they come in a ready made pack of 6. We just need to decide how light or heavy we want them.
Types of Guitar String
Acoustic Guitar Strings
Acoustics guitars usually come equipped with “light” gauge strings.
This is a good place to begin, but if you’re a heavy strummer and you break strings often, you’ll need to think about heavier gauge strings.
Here’s a list of the standard string gauges found in each set of acoustic guitar strings. The ‘string weightings’ refer to each of the 6 strings, as shown below:
Here are all the types of acoustic guitar strings:
|“extra light”||.010 .014 .023 .030 .039 .047||“tens”|
|“custom light”||.011 .015 .023 .032 .042 .052||“elevens”|
|“light”||.012 .016 .025 .032 .042 .054||“twelves”|
|“medium”||.013 .017 .026 .035 .045 .056||“thirteens”|
|“heavy”||.014 .018 .027 .039 .049 .059||“fourteens”|
Electric Guitar Strings
Most new electric guitars come with “super light” guitar strings. Of course that string gauge might not be to your taste.
Different brands might give you slightly different string gauges in their sets. Electric strings are usually composed of a lighter-gauge wire, and the 3rd string (G) is unwound, or plain, whereas an acoustic guitar’s 3rd string is wound. A nylon-string guitar 3rd string also is unwound but is a thicker nylon string.
|“extra super light”||.008 .010 .015 .021 .030 .038||“eights”|
|“super light”||.009 .011 .016 .024 .032 .042||“nines”|
|“light”||.010 .013 .017 .026 .036 .046||“tens”|
|“medium”||.011 .015 .018 .026 .036 .050||“elevens”|
|“heavy”||.012 .016 .020 .032 .042 .054||“twelves”|
How to String an Acoustic Guitar
Ok, so let’s get down to it. You’ve got an acoustic guitar that needs new strings.
We’ve got a great video from the guys at Fender University that covers all the bases.
If only one string has broken, you’ll have to consider how long the rest of the strings have been on the guitar.
If it’s been a while, it could be the first of many in quick succession to break, making a complete change a sensible move.
Your new strings will continue to stretch (and go flat) even after you tune them. Don’t panic!
To help get that initial stretchiness out of the string, pull on the string gently but firmly (outwards, away from the fretboard) and then tune the string up to the right pitch. Repeat the process until the string no longer goes flat after you pull it.
You may have to do this a few times, and we know you’re anxious to get playing, but we’re only talking about a 5 minute operation.
Believe us, it’s time well spent.
How to String an Electric Guitar
There’s good news for electric guitar players: your guitar strings are much easier to change than any other type of guitar (acoustic and classical for example.)
Electric guitars are built with hardware that makes the process of changing strings very quick and easy.
We guitarists forget how good new strings feel. We convince ourselves it’s not that important because we’re lazy, and changing strings isn’t much fun. But we know we’re only fooling ourselves.
Go on, change your strings. You’ll thank me for it later.
Ged is Founder and Editor-in-chief at Zing Instruments. He’s a guitarist for London based gypsy jazz band ‘Django Mango’ and a lover of all things music. When he’s not ripping up and down the fretboard, he’s tinkering with his ’79 Campervan.