Every acoustic guitar requires a fresh set of strings from time to time, and it is the duty of every guitarist to learn how to change their guitar strings on their own.
Changing acoustic guitar strings can be a challenge, but there are steps to follow to make the process easier and quite enjoyable.
- Prepare The Necessary Tools – gather the tools for changing strings.
- Remove The Old Strings – remove the old strings in preparation for the fresh set.
- Perform Minor Maintenance – cleaning the guitar and oiling the fretboard.
- Prepare The New Strings – get the new strings ready for installation.
- Install The New Strings – fit the new strings onto the instrument.
- Tune The Guitar – get the new strings to the proper tension for playing.
- Make setup adjustments – adjust the string height.
- Retune – make sure the strings are in tune for playing after the adjustments.
Understanding how to change guitar strings yourself is a great way to learn more about your instrument and makes you a better guitarist overall.
This article will cover the steps required for changing strings on your acoustic guitar, put together by a guitar technician after years of experience.
How To Change Acoustic Guitar Strings – Detailed Steps
The process of changing acoustic guitar strings is relatively simple, but it does require some know-how. Without some guidance, the process can be challenging and frustrating, but with some help, restringing an acoustic guitar is a pleasant experience.
Following these steps will enable you to change your guitar strings yourself in an effective and stable way that will bring no harm to the instrument, that will improve your restringing skills quickly, and further your knowledge of the instrument.
Step 1: Prepare The Necessary Tools
The first step in the process of changing acoustic guitar strings is to gather the necessary tools to complete the task and to make the process as straightforward as possible.
The recommended tools for changing acoustic guitar strings include:
- Wire Cutters – these will be used to remove the old strings and cut off the excess from the new strings.
- A String Winder – this tool is used to wind the strings onto the guitar quickly.
- Guitar Fretboard Oil – the best time to apply fretboard oil is after removing old strings.
- A Set Of Microfiber Cloths – these cloths are best for spreading oil and cleaning the instrument.
- A Guitar Neck Stand – a neck stan of some kind makes this process far easier.
- A Set of Allen Wrenches – various Allen wrenches are used for performing basic guitar maintenance.
- A Guitar Tuner – a tuner is vital for bringing new strings up to the correct tension for playing.
- A Set Of Pliers – pliers are useful for removing the strings from the bridge and crimping new strings as they are installed.
Once you have gathered these tools, you are ready to begin the process of removing the old guitar strings and installing a new set, as well as performing some general guitar maintenance along the way.
Step 2: Remove The Old Strings
To restring an acoustic guitar, step two is removing the old string from the guitar. This can be done in two ways.
The quickest way to remove old guitar strings is to loosen the strings with the string winder until they have almost no tension at all, then simply cut the strings off with the wire cutters.
If you do choose to use this removal method, be sure to cut the strings off in the center of the guitar. Be careful of the strings as they come loose, as they can come apart very quickly.
The slower but safer method for removing the old strings is to use the string winder and wind the strings completely off. Once the strings are loose enough, they can be easily pulled out of the tuning pegs at the headstock.
Once the strings are cut or removed from the headstock, the next part of the process is to remove the strings from the bridge. This is done either by pulling out the bridge pins or untying the strings from the bridge, depending on the type of guitar.
If the guitar has bridge pins, they must be pulled out of the bridge to remove the strings. Most string winding tools have a bridge pin removal tool which can be placed under each bridge pin to pull it up and out of the bridge.
If this method does not work, use the pliers to pull the bridge pins out or reach inside the guitar through the soundhole and push them out from the inside.
If the guitar does not have bridge pins, the strings can simply be untied from the bridge to remove them.
Step 3: Perform Minor Maintenance
This step in the process is not always necessary when restringing an acoustic guitar but performing basic routine maintenance is much easier to do when the guitar has no strings on it.
The most important part of this maintenance is cleaning the fretboard of any dirt and grime and oiling the fretboard to keep it in optimum playing condition.
Cleaning the fretboard of dirt and oiling the wood is simple to do. Once the strings are removed, place a small amount of fretboard oil onto a microfiber cloth and rub the oil into the fretboard, beginning at one end and working your way along the neck.
As the oil is rubbed into the fretboard, the grime and dirt should be lifted up from the wood. Use another microfiber cloth to wipe away the dirt, and continue oiling the fretboard, applying more oil to the cloth as needed.
After the entire fretboard has been cleaned and oiled, wait a few minutes for the wood to push out any excess oil and wipe it away with a cloth.
Use the waiting time to clean away dust in hard-to-reach places that are usually covered by the strings, including the headstock and the body of the instrument.
At this point, the guitar is ready to receive new strings.
Step 4: Prepare The New Strings
This step is simple and quick, but it can make a difference in how smooth the restringing process goes.
Taking the time to remove the new strings from the packaging and laying them out in order makes the process of installing the strings easier.
Lay the strings out in their coils in order from lowest to highest, and finding the next string to install as you go is so much easier. This saves time and can avoid much frustration.
Step 5: Install The New Strings
The new string installation is the most challenging step of the process, but with some time and practice, anyone can learn to install new guitar strings well. The key here is to take your time and try not to rush until you have built up some experience.
To install new acoustic guitar strings, begin by attaching the strings to the bridge. This is done by installing the strings with the bridge pins that were removed earlier or tying the strings into the bridge, depending on the type of guitar.
Be careful to place each string in its correct position in the bridge. If you are looking at the guitar face-on, right-handed guitarists should put the thickest string on the left side of the bridge with the thinnest string on the right.
Left-handed players should place the thick string on the right and the thinnest string on the left.
Once the strings are fitted into the bridge, they will stay in place easier to install correctly at the headstock.
Beginning with the thickest string and working your way to the thinnest string, install the strings into the tuning pegs on the headstock by feeding the strings through the holes in the tuning pegs.
Be sure that the hole of the tuning peg is pointed directly toward the bridge before inserting the string.
Once the string is in the tuning peg, pull the string tight in the peg and then pull it back to allow for some extra string space for winding onto the peg.
The thickest string requires the least extra string space, and the thinnest requires the most string space for winding.
The thickest string requires about two inches of length for winding, and the thinnest string requires around four inches of string winding space.
The strings in between should work their way up from two and a half inches to the four inches of string space required by the thinnest string.
Before winding the string onto the peg, use the pliers to crimp the string where you have measured the extra space. This will keep the length you want, and it will make winding the string onto the tuning peg easier.
Pull the string back in the peg until the crimp reaches the hole in the peg, and begin slowly winding the string onto the peg with the string winder. Each string should always wind in toward the headstock.
This means that if a string ends up on the outside of the tuning peg at the edge of the headstock, you wound the string the wrong way.
Wind on each string until it is tight but not tight enough to be played. This keeps the tension even across the neck while the strings are being installed, which helps to prevent tuning stability issues later on in the process.
Once all of the strings are wound on semi-tight, use the wire cutters to snip off the excess string length at the headstock. The strings are now ready to be tuned as we move into the final stages of the restringing process.
Step 6: Tune The Guitar
When the strings are fully installed and stable, the next step in the process is tuning the strings.
All new guitar strings are somewhat elastic when they are first installed, so tuning may require several cycles of retuning before the strings stay in tune.
After each round of tuning, gently stretch the strings by placing a finger or a thumb under the strings one at a time and pulling them up away from the body of the instrument.
Be careful not to stretch the strings too far, but this simple step will help the strings stay in tune more quickly than retuning several times.
Read More: The Best Guitar Tuners (All Types Explained)
Step 7: Make Setup Adjustments
At this point in the process, it is always a good idea to check the guitar’s setup. The setup of the instrument includes the action, which is how high the strings are from the fretboard, and the intonation, which is how well the guitar stays in tune everywhere on the neck.
Most acoustic guitars are self-intonating, so this part of the setup is not usually adjustable on acoustic guitars. However, the string height is adjustable on most guitars, and keeping the strings at a comfortable action is vital for the playability of the instrument.
The most common reason for an improper guitar string action is a bowed guitar neck. This issue is rectified easily by adjusting the truss rod within the neck of the instrument.
First, check if the strings are too high or low on the fretboard by playing the guitar. If the strings feel comfortable and there is no fret-buzz when playing anywhere, then there is no need to continue with this step.
However, if the strings are too high or too low, or if there is fret-buzz present, adjusting the truss rod may be necessary.
To adjust the truss rod, locate the truss rod adjustment cavity. This is usually found at the headstock underneath a small plastic plate just behind the nut, under the strings at the base of the neck, inside, or just above the soundhole.
Using an Allen wrench that fits into the truss rod, turn the rod clockwise if the strings are too low or counterclockwise if the strings are too high.
Only ever make very minute adjustments to the truss rod, as a small change makes a big difference.
Once the strings are at your preferred height, place any cavity covers back on and move on to the final step of the process.
Step 8: Retune
The very last thing to do in the process of restringing an acoustic guitar is to tune the instrument one last time.
The process of adjusting the setup of the instrument will bring the guitar out of tune, so tune the guitar again to make sure it is ready to play.
After this last step, the guitar is good to go and should provide another few months of happy playing before requiring another fresh set of strings.
There are some frequently asked questions surrounding changing acoustic guitar strings, and now that you understand the process, it is a good time to answer some of these questions to clear up any confusion.
How Do I Know When My Guitar Strings Need Changing?
Guitar strings need to be changed when they no longer stay in tune, when the strings begin to rust or change to a dull, dark color, or if the strings break.
Early signs that the strings will need to be replaced soon is when the strings begin to sound hollow and tired rather than bright and full.
Read More: How Often to Change Guitar Strings – A Detailed Guide
How To Change Guitar Strings Without Tools
Changing guitar strings without tools can be done; it only takes more time.
Rather than using tools to cut the strings off the guitar, simply unwind the strings. If you do not have a string/peg winder, simply wind the strings on and off the instrument by hand. Every other process can be done without tools as well.
Tools that are used for changing strings merely make the process faster, but the entire task can be done without any tools at all.
Seriously though – an all-in-one peg winder and string cutter is worth it.
Can I Put Electric Guitar Strings On Acoustic?
Electric guitar strings should not be placed on an acoustic guitar as they are designed to be slower tension than acoustic guitar strings and therefore will not resonate well on an acoustic guitar.
Electric guitar strings will sound soft, empty, and lifeless if installed onto an acoustic guitar. Electric guitar strings should never be installed on a classical guitar, or they will ruin the instrument.
Can I Use Homemade Acoustic Guitar Strings?
Homemade acoustic guitar strings are not recommended. Guitar strings are held at very high tensions to keep them tuned, and if the strings break or come apart, they can easily cause injury.
It is always best to use high-rated acoustic guitar strings that are less likely to break or come apart while under tension.
Changing acoustic guitar strings is an enjoyable process if you understand how to do it.
This process takes practice to do well, but after a few sets of strings, you will feel confident completing this task on your own without guidance, and you will discover your own methods and ways of changing strings efficiently.
Take your time, beware of small mistakes, and enjoy the process of changing your acoustic guitar strings!
As always, Happy Strumming,