AF’s Weblog

November 13, 2009

Changing Strings on Electric Guitars

Filed under: Guitar reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 6:52 am

Short Guide to Changing Strings on an Electric Guitar

Everybody knows how to change strings on an electric guitar.   Elementary, no?  Still, it’s an entirely different task when it comes to changing strings properly and on different types of bridges.

Most guitar players tend to overlook it, but one of the most important contributors to having a good guitar sound has to do with how the guitar is set up and adjusted. A good set up will result in maximum playing comfort and tuning precision, i.e. it will allow you to bring the best out of the instrument. When it comes to the set up of a guitar, we usually think about the neck bow, the action (strings height) and the harmonics (tuning), while neglecting the actual stringing. I’ve met too many guitarists who complained about their instrument’s tuning and failed to see the mess of strings their tuners were–making it a feat for the guitar to stay in tune.

The goal of this article is to explain to you (again!) the most important thing a guitarist ought to know: how to change the strings of his/her instrument.

Basic Principles

Basically, changing a guitar string means fastening one end to the tremolo system and the other end to the tuner (a.k.a. machine head or tuning key) so you can wind it until you get the desired note. In order to have maximum tuning stability, the basic principle is to limit chafing at both points as much as possible, i.e. at the machine heads on the headstock and at the bridge (be it with a tailpiece or a tremolo system). Once the guitar has been tuned, the main goal is for it to stay in tune while you play, in other words, that the strings return to their original position after using the tremolo arm.

Required Materials

  • New strings.
  • Cutting pliers.
  • String winder.
  • Optional: Depending on the tremolo system you might need an Allen wrench.

You’ll need the cutting pliers to snip off the the excess string protruding from the tuning peg once the strings have been installed. Apart from the fact that it looks awful, leaving long string ends bulging from the headstock can be dangerous to yourself and the other musicians you play with. A steel string could easily pierce through the flesh or under a fingernail or even poke someone’s eye out…

The string winder is an optional but strongly recommended tool. It allows you to wind the strings steadily around the tuning pegs and makes string setup much easier. You can get one for a couple of bucks in any music store.

Before Reaching for your Beloved Guitar

We recommend that you change strings one by one, unless you need to remove all strings at once to adjust the neck, service the fingerboard, etc. This allows you to avoid nasty situations, like the one depicted here.

In this specific example, a false move could result in the need to adjust the tune-o-matic bridge all over again.

Moreover, for guitars with floating tremolo systems (Floyd Rose and similar), this is the only one way you’ll be able to spare yourself several hours dedicated to tuning the guitar after having changed the strings.

Try to use strings with the same gauge (= thickness) as the string set you are replacing and, where possible, use the same brand. That’s the best way to go if your guitar is properly set up. Obviously, if you plan to change the string gauge, it’s a good idea to set up the guitar accordingly.

Ready? Let’s go!

Step by Step (in general)

1. Bridge: on most tremolo and tailpiece systems, you simply have to feed the string through the tailpiece or through the body of the instrument.

Feed the string through the holes…

… the string comes out through the saddles.

2. Pull the new string…

3. … and feed it through the tuning peg hole.

4. Now we have to wind the string around the tuners. First, pull the string to its full length until it is fairly tight. Leave some extra string length (about 1.5 or 2 times the distance between two tuning pegs of a six-in-line tuner configuration, like on Strats or Telecasters; or the same distance between two tuning pegs of a three-on-a-side tuner configuration, like on Les Paul or SG models) and crimp the string with your fingers so the end of the string points out at a right-angle.

5. Use this kink to fasten the string around the tuning peg and turn the string winder with one hand while you tighten the string with the other, so that the string starts to wind around the tuning peg. Be sure to turn the tuner in the right direction: guitar headstocks are built so that the string goes straight from the nut to the tuner axis; on three-on-a-side tuner configurations, the headstock is built so that the strings are wound on the inner side.


6. Continue winding the string around the tuning peg so that the first turn is made above the string end coming out of the peg hole.


7. Continue tightening the string and turning the string tighter so that the string winds underneath the string end coming out of the peg hole.

8. Continue turning the string winder until the string is tight enough. Turn the tuner with your hand to tune the guitar.

9. Check the result: you should see the string end coming out of the tuning peg with the first coil above it and all following coils properly and neatly wrapped below it around the peg.

There must be at least three full coils around the tuning peg. It is very important for the winding to be as neat as possible, that way you avoid the string from moving around the tuner axis, the string finds its position naturally and the guitar stays better in tune.

10. Last step: in order for the coils to find their right position, gently pull on the string. The tuning ought to change a bit (the string will sound lower). Repeat (tune the string and pull on it) until it has no effect on the tuning.

11. Finally, cut the excess string protruding from the tuner.

12. Now, repeat all steps for each string!

Now let’s take a look at how this is done on other more complicated tremolo systems…

Conclusion… and some tips!

As you can see, restringing a guitar is not very difficult if you know how to do it. So take your time to do it calmly at home instead of doing it in a rush right before your gig or recording session is about to start.

Last but not least, some extra tips:

I personally fell in love with locking tuners because they are very easy to use, allow me to change strings in no time and play right away without the fear that my guitar won’t stay in tune.

The tuning stability can be improved by lubricating the nut with graphite (rub a very fat pencil where the strings make contact with it) or specialized products (Nut Sauce, etc.) that allow the strings to slide freely through the nut. If you feel the tuners don’t “respond properly” try this solution first instead of running to your nearest guitar tech.

That’s it for today! You have no excuses now, so I don’t want to see spaghetti-like-strings anymore! Don’t hesitate to send me your comments and questions.

To read the full detailed article see:  Changing Strings on Electric Guitars






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