A ‘How-to’ guide to changing the strings on an acoustic guitar
There are some things that every guitarist should know, one of the most important being how to change the strings on a guitar. The others include ‘how to turn the vocalist down without him realising’ and ‘how to hide your beer from the bassist’, but for the purpose of this article, we will be concentrating on restringing an acoustic guitar.
Restringing your guitar is a necessity, as strings naturally oxidise and tarnish, due to moisture, dirt and sweat from your hands, resulting in lifeless sounding strings with little sustain. Alternatively, a string may break, mid performance in the middle of a gig at the venue in town (or on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury, for that matter- it’s fairly indiscriminate), and have to change it there and then. It can be seen, then, that it is very important to be able to confidently change your guitar strings (though if you are on the Pyramid at Glastonbury, I suspect someone will do it for you…). If your string hasn’t broken mid performance, changing guitar strings can be good opportunity to give your beloved guitar some TLC and can be, dare I say it, very relaxing. So get yourself the beverage of your choice (perhaps one of the beers that you’ve hidden from the bassist?), and let us begin.
This guide focuses on how to change the strings on an acoustic guitar (a steel strung acoustic guitar, in fact). Much of what is written here is applicable to changing electric guitar strings, however, but with slight differences where the string attaches at the bridge, depending on the guitar. The method described here is the method used by Martin, for changing strings on its acoustic guitars.
- Firstly, get yourself a replacement string, or set of guitar strings. Find yourself a nice, flat surface with enough space to work on. You won’t want to scratch or scuff your guitar, so it’s a good idea to put down something soft or padded to protect it. It’s also a very good idea to keep the neck supported. This will, in addition, keep the guitar steady and in one place whilst you change strings. The essentials pad and rest is designed just for this purpose.
- Remove the strings. Unwind the string at the machine head (tuner), until it is fully unwound and pull the string from the hole in the tuning post. A string winder will dramatically speed up this process. Looking at where the string attaches to the bridge at the other end of the guitar, the string will be attached by a plastic peg known as a bridge pin. Ease this out of its hole. If it is stuck, a small pair of pliers or similar can be used carefully (!), but if you’re not confident enough to do this, I’d strongly recommend using one of the dedicated tools (in fact, some string winders, such as the Planet Waves Guitar Pro Winder, often have a ‘notch’ specifically for this purpose). Repeat this with all of the guitar strings that you wish to change.
- This is a good opportunity to clean the fretboard and body, and give your guitar a bit of maintenance. Lemon oil is great for giving rosewood fretboards some conditioning, but there are various guitar maintenance kits available.
- Take your string out of its package, and unfurl it. Place the bridge pin loosely in its hole. Take the ball-end of the string and, pulling the bridge pin out of its hole slightly, put it into the hole, seating it such that the rounded edge sits vertically in the bridge pins slot (i.e. if it was a wheel, the way it should face would mean that if it went in a straight line, it could roll straight up the guitar’s fretboard.
- Push the bridge pin down, whilst pulling up on the string, ensuring that the ball end is properly seated against the bridge, with no movement.
- At the guitar’s headstock, ensure the hole in the tuning post is facing the bridge, and thread the string upwards through the hole. It is a good idea to leave a reasonable amount of ‘slack’ to be wound onto the tuning post. A good way of doing this is to pull the string taught, off the fretboard, and then using your finger, placed between the string and edge of the fretboard (just below the headstock), to add some additional string length.
- Whilst holding the string in this way, take the excess string that is currently ‘poking’ through the hole in the tuning post, and wind it, from the outside inwards, around the post, threading it underneath the string on the other side, Pull this tight (still holding on to the slack), then wind the excess back in the other direction, this time over the top of the string, and again, pull tight. The guitar string should now be secure at the tuning post.
- Hold the string close to the nut (where the headstock meets the fretboard), locating the string in its correct slot, ensuring that there is tension in the string at the tuning post, and turn the tuner, and making sure that the string winds around the tuning post from the inside, outwards.
- Tune to the desired pitch, and clip off the excess guitar string at the tuning post- ideally with a string cutter (also included on the Planet Waves Guitar Pro Winder).
- Repeat with the other strings.
And that is pretty much it. The guys at Martin know a thing or two about acoustic guitars, so here’s a video of the restringing a guitar to help you along. How often you should restring a guitar, really, depends on a number of factors. How often a guitar is played will affect how when to change the strings, as will the heat and humidity. When strings start to look, and more crucially, sound dull, that is the time to change. If you gig and record regularly, however, it is advisable to get into the habit of changing guitar strings before every gig or recording session, to ensure your performances sound at their best.
What more is there to say? Grab yourself a beverage, and restring your acoustic guitar- it will thank you for it!