String changes are a fact of life for guitar players. As a beginner, it is common to feel uncomfortable with the process. In this lesson you will learn how to replace guitar strings easily.
Why You Should Change Your Guitar Strings
Guitar strings wear down over time so it is important to keep them fresh to keep your guitar tone sounding good and in tune. Old, rusty strings sound terrible and quickly fall out of tune.
Even new guitars should have their strings changed.
But Dev, the guitar is new. How could I possibly need new strings?
By the time the guitar gets shipped to you, or by the time you take the guitar home from the store, that guitar (and its strings) are likely months old. Additionally, if you bought your guitar from a guitar store, there’s a good chance other folks have tried that guitar out too.
When Should You Replace Guitar Strings?
Some suggestions may recommend changing your strings out monthly or even every couple of weeks.
That is overkill.
I replace my strings every 2-3 months. However, I also take care to prolong the life of my strings by applying a string cleaner & lubricant before and after each playing session.
If you do not care for your strings like this, expect to need to change your strings every 1-2 months.
Additionally, if a string is broken it needs to be replaced.
For more advanced players, you may find it useful to swap out your strings if a song you are playing/learning requires an exotic tuning that lends itself to heavier gauge strings, for example. This is a large reason why you see touring guitarists keep several guitars just offstage. Each guitar has an intended purpose with its specific setup.
Removing the Old Strings
Place the guitar flat on the ground with the strings facing the ceiling. It can be helpful to rest the neck on a platform. There are blocks specifically designed for this, but a few books also work. However, this is only to make the process a little easier for you, and is not necessary if you don’t have anything nearby to prop up the neck.
Grab the guitar string you wish to replace near the neck of the guitar
Gently pull up toward the ceiling on the guitar string while slowly turning each tuner head until the string begins to give you some slack. If you have a string winder, use it on the tuning peg to speed up this process.
Make sure you test which direction tightens and which direction loosens the strings before starting. Otherwise, you could snap that string on yourself real quick.
Continue to loosen your guitar string by turning the tuner head for a few rotations. Once the string can be pulled a few inches up without getting too tight it is time to cut the string.
Hold the string up only about an inch or so to avoid scratching the finish on the guitar and cut the string right before the nut, while firmly holding the long end of the string.
Alternatively, you can cut the string over the pickups (while also stretching the string up to avoid damaging the guitar). Whichever method is easiest, most comfortable and safest to you.
IMPORTANT: ALWAYS loosen the guitar string before cutting it to avoid possible injury.
Now continue to turn the tuning knob until you can pull the string through the hole in the tuner easily.
Pull the guitar string out of the tuning peg and discard in the trash. Be careful as cut guitar strings can be sharp.
Next Step For Electrics:
Gently push the longer, bottom half of the string into the bridge of the guitar (if you have a string-thru design bridge)
Flip over the guitar and pull out the short half of the guitar string. Discard of the other section of the guitar string
Next Step For Acoustics:
For an acoustic guitar, you will need to lift the string peg out of the saddle to remove the string. Your string winder should have a peg remover build into it.
Simply slide the peg into the groove of the string winder and pull up.
Be careful not to pull too hard as it could break a peg or damage the guitar. Pull up firmly but mindfully. Don’t be afraid to pull the peg up in a few attempts if that is what it takes.
Once the string is removed, take a microfiber cloth and wipe down the guitar under where the string just was. Taking care to wipe away and dirt or debris that has built up.
Tip: For extra grimy areas on your neck (not on any finished area of the guitar, such as the body, as this will ruin that finish), a tooth brush and a dab of guitar cleaning oil can work wonders. Just be gentle while scrubbing to avoid any damage. Use guitar oil and a microfiber cloth to clean the finished areas of the guitar.
It is important to first replace the discarded string with a fresh string before removing other strings to keep tension in the neck of the guitar.
Therefore, move on to the Placing the New Guitar Strings section for the string you just removed, then return to this section and repeat steps 1-11 for any other strings needing to be replaced.
Now and then, you may want to remove all the strings at once if you are doing specific work on the guitar or if you want to give it a deep clean.
If you do this, make sure the new strings you put on are the same size as your last strings. If not, it could mess with your neck tension and you’ll need a truss rod adjustment. This isn’t a bad thing. It’s just important to keep your guitar playing well.
Over time, neglecting getting your truss rod adjusted can lead to bigger problems if you experiment a lot with string sizes.
Placing The New Strings
Grab the appropriate string from your new pack of guitar strings. If you just removed the D string from your guitar, you’ll want to grab the string labeled “D” from your pack of strings.
Tip: If your strings don’t have their corresponding letter and only have the sizes printed on them, strings all come presorted from the thickest string to thinnest. You can quickly sort them this way if they get jumbled and just work backwards to find out which string you need to grab.
For example: Just removed the D string? Find the 3rd thickest (or 4th thinnest) string in your pack and that’s your D string.
Over time you will know the gauges and strings like second nature when restringing.
You’ll notice one end of the string has a small ring on it. This is the “back” of the string. The small ring will serve as an anchor to keep the string from pulling through the bridge.
Replace Guitar Strings Easily For Electrics:
Balance the guitar on its bottom, so the guitar is standing upright with your hand supporting the guitar by the neck.
Feed the end of the new guitar string that DOESN’T have the ring on it through the hole you just removed the cut string from.
Pull the string through the bridge until the back of the string catches and you can’t pull the string through any further.
Place the guitar on its back with the strings facing the ceiling
Replace Guitar Strings Easily For Acoustics:
Stick the string, ring-end first, into the hole in the acoustic saddle. Feel free to stick it a little too far in.
Then find the groove in your bridge pin and line that up with the string you just slid into the hole.
Gently pull up on the string with the peg there as an anchor until you feel the ring “hit” its seated position in the hole, then press the bridge pin all the way in.
The Rest of the Process for Both Electrics and Acoustics:
Pull the string toward the tuning pegs.
Make sure you place the string in the small groove in the “nut” of the guitar. If the string is not seated, it will produce dead notes and likely slip free. Also, make sure you are seating the string in the correct groove in the nut.
Feed the string through the empty tuning peg while keeping tension on the string and holding it in the groove of the nut.
Turn the tuning peg to begin tightening the string. This may take several rotations.
A string winder here will make your forearms very happy.
Be careful not to over tighten the strings, as they could snap. Once the tension in the string closely matches the other strings, begin tuning that string to get it to the appropriate tension.
Before tuning completely, stretch the string out a little like you did when loosening the strings for removal. Think half the strength of that process. Don’t stretch too far, just gentle little stretches.
Then tune the string up and trim the ends sticking out of the tuning peg.
Tip: Don’t trim the string too close to the tuning peg as this could make replacing the string a nightmare and in some cases make it slip back through the peg if it’s not wound around it enough.
Now gently pull up on the new string to stretch it out just a little more and tune it once more.
Once you have replaced all the strings you need to replace you should do one final tuning on all the strings as it’s possible for strings to fall out of tune while other strings are being replaced.
Yes, I know you just tuned 4 times. Trust me, it will be well worth it in the long run. Your strings will sound better from the gate, last longer and be less likely to snap on you.
Cleaning Dirty Guitar Strings/Maintenance
As I mentioned earlier in this lesson, I maintain my strings with a string cleaner & lubricant to keep my strings fresher longer.
Personally, I like using GHS Fast-Fret, which you can check out here.
What string cleaner do you prefer? Leave it in the comments below.
To clean your strings, wipe them down with a microfiber cloth before and after each use. If your hands get sweaty when you play, maybe give it a wipe mid-session to make everyone a little happier.
String Lube should also be applied before and after each session.
Simply add some before wiping the strings down, then wipe off the excess with a microfiber cloth and start playing.
Then, at the end of your playing session, wipe down the fretboard/strings, apply the string lube, and wipe off the excess.
This process will keep your strings sounding great for far longer than they otherwise would right out of the package.
Wrapping It Up
You should now know how to replace guitar strings easily. If I have left out any information or if you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below and I’ll get back to you ASAP.