Replacing Your Guitar Strings (part 1 of 3)

Glenn Sutton teaches guitar, electric bass, keyboard, theory and improvisation for over 30 years, he specializes in rock, blues, jazz, Latin, Brazilian, classical, country, and folk.

Part I: De-Stringing Your Guitar

The time has finally come. No matter how well you play, your guitar sounds “buzzy” or thin. Or maybe it’s simply been a long time. Either way, it’s time to replace your guitar strings. This is the first of a 3-part series on how to restring your guitar. These instructions apply to acoustic, electric, and bass guitars.

When Should You Restring Your Guitar?

Over time, oils and dirt from your hands will make their way into your strings. Of course, if you wash your hands before playing, it will slow down the breakdown of the strings. Even so, strings will eventually stretch and lose their playability and string changing will become necessary sooner or later.

The proper length of time between string changings can also vary depending on the environment. Overly humid or arid conditions, excessively hot or cold climates, or conditions where there is smoking may necessitate changing strings more often. In addition, your playing style may impact string life. If you play “hard”, use a whammy bar, or simply play guitar more frequently than average, you will need to restring more often.

Some signs that your guitar needs restringing include increased difficulty keeping your guitar properly tuned or a flat, “buzzy” sound when you play. Your strings may have started to discolor or rust. Or, it may simply have been several months since you last changed them.

De-stringing Your Guitar

Here are the tools you will need to get started: A new set of strings, a pair of pliers, and a cleaning cloth. A string winder is optional, but highly recommended, as it will make the process quicker and easier. (We will discuss replacement strings in the next article in the series.)

Lay your guitar on a flat surface, preferably a table. Using either your fingers or a string winder, begin by unwinding the 6th string. (For a 6-string bass, remove the 6th string; for a 5-string, remove the 5th, for a 4-string, the 4th.) The tone of the string will go down as you unwind. When completely unstrung, remove it from the guitar. If it is an acoustic guitar, carefully remove the bridge pin holding the string. If an electric or bass, disengage it from its holder, typically below the bridge; you can use the pliers to cut the string to quicken the process if you like. To prevent accidental injury, make sure the string is properly disposed of and not laying around to cause tripping or where the sharp ends can poke someone.

This is a perfect time to clean the area of your guitar you otherwise would not be able to reach. With a clean cloth, wipe down all the areas where the string was. If you use a cleaning solution, make sure it is designed for guitars, as other cleaners may damage the surface.

An Important Note

Many people remove all 6 strings at once and replace them the same way. This is NOT recommended. The sudden change in tension caused by removing and replacing all 6 strings at once can actually cause your guitar’s neck to warp. It’s far better to remove and replace one string at a time during this process.

The next article will pick up where this one left off, involving the replacement of strings.

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