The first step of changing your guitar strings is to remove the current set. Not all strings are created equally, and there are many different gauges/thicknesses of strings used on a single guitar.
Thankfully, with the right tools and a bit of know-how, you can cut and remove any string you want, both safely and quickly.
There are many different types of guitars, tuning heads, bridges and strings. The process for cutting and removing strings is pretty much the same for the vast majority of stringed instruments.
We’ll take a closer look at each common type of guitar and break down the most effective ways to cut off the strings.
What Tools Do I Need to Cut Guitar Strings?
Depending on your type of guitar, you may not need to cut your strings at all! If you do have a type of guitar that requires you to thread the string through your guitar’s bridge you will need something to cut the strings to make them easier to remove.
- Wire cutters (recommended)
- String winder (recommended)
Wire Cutter Alternatives
If you do not have wire cutters, there are a few other options that will work in a pinch.
- Pliers: Most pliers are able to cut through guitar strings fairly easily using the cutter near the pivot point (where the plier arms connect). When using pliers, it is best to have lots of slack in the string to avoid bumping the pliers on the guitar’s finish.
- Multi-tools: Similar to alternative #1, multi-tools (such as Leathermans) with pliers built in are very effective. They can cut strings in the same way as regular pliers.
- Nail Clippers: If you don’t mind a bit of repurposing, large nail clippers or toenail clippers can get the job done. I would avoid using these for larger gauge strings, like bass strings. Depending on your strings and where you cut, this may damage your clippers, so be aware.
I generally will not use scissors on strings, as this can damage the scissor blades quite easily, especially on thicker strings.
Keep in mind that most strings are just thin metal (except for clear, nylon strings, of course). If you have pliers that won’t cut the string, you can kink the string by pinching a loop of string with a pair of pliers.
You can then move each side of the string back and forth to weaken the metal where it is kinked (think about breaking a metal paperclip), and keep working it back and forth until it breaks. It’s not the prettiest or cleanest method, but in a pinch it will work.
Read More: How Often To Change Guitar Strings
How to Cut Guitar Strings – Detailed Steps
There are a few important things to keep in mind when cutting guitar strings. The points below are important, regardless of the type of string you are cutting.
Step 1: ALWAYS fully unload the tension from the guitar string before cutting the string.
This means that before you cut, wind the tuning head in the direction to flatten the string’s note (decreasing string tension) until the string no longer holds a note, and flops around freely.
Whenever I begin to detune my guitars to remove strings, I always pluck the string to hear that I am flattening (instead of sharpening/ increasing tension) and releasing tension on the correct string.
Cutting a string while under full tension can be both dangerous to you and hazardous to the neck of the guitar.
If a string is cut while under full tension, the sharp ends can whip up and hit you in the hands or face. The repeated, sudden release of tension may also affect your guitar’s action and put unnecessary stress on its components.
Step 2: Whenever possible, cut the string where it is thinnest (this is almost always at the headstock).
For thicker gauge/ wound strings, there is often a thinner part of the string where it is threaded into the tuning peg. Cutting the string at the thinnest point will be much easier than trying to cut through the main, thicker part of the string.
Now that you know the basics, you’re probably ready to figure out exactly how to cut these strings off!
How to Cut Electric Guitar Strings
Electric guitars tend to have the most variation when it comes to how the strings are affixed to the bridge. The steps below will help clarify how to cut and remove strings for the most common types of bridges.
Identify how the strings are affixed to the bridge (or what type of bridge you have on your guitar).
Most Fender Stratocaster/ Telecaster style guitars use a tremolo style bridge, where the strings thread through the bridge from the back of the guitar.
Most Gibson style guitars use tune-o-matic bridges that simply thread the string through the end of the bridge.
These types of bridges account for the majority of electric guitar bridges, but when in doubt, look at how the existing strings are connected to the bridge and figure out where the string eye (the part that holds the string in place at the bridge) sits.
This will help you to know how to remove the string once the tuning peg end is cut.
Unwind the string you want to remove/ cut until it no longer holds any tension.
At the headstock, grab the string you want to cut, and unwind the loose string from the tuning peg so that the string can be fully removed.
If your string is not slack enough to do this, continue to unwind the string until you can.
At this stage, you should have the string disconnected with it affixed only at the bridge.
Cut the string so that you have at least 1 foot of excess string at the bridge end and discard the free end.
I usually cut close to the curly end where the string was attached to the tuning peg, since the string is the thinnest here on the low strings (it also makes cleanup much easier).
If you were unable to get the string free from the tuning peg in the previous step, make sure the string is fully slack, then cut the string somewhere in the middle.
Give yourself enough of a tail end at the headstock and bridge so that you have some leverage to push and manipulate the string off of the tuning peg at the neck, and out of the bridge at the other end.
To remove the string from the bridge, push the cut end of the string towards the bridge so that you can grab the eye on the other side of the bridge.
On tremolo bridges, this can be a bit tricky, as the string eye can sometimes get a bit stuck. Be patient and do your best to maneuver it free, it should eventually dislodge.
How to Cut Acoustic Guitar Strings
Most acoustic guitars do not require their strings to be cut in order to remove them. Strings on an acoustic guitar are held in place at the bridge end by bridge pins that push the eye of the string down through the bridge into the body of the guitar.
In order to remove the string from the bridge, you must relieve all tension on the string, then remove the bridge pin (most string winders have a bridge pin remover on them).
If you still want to cut the string off, you certainly can, but I would advise you to leave enough extra string on the bridge end to easily grab once the bridge pin is removed (pulling up on the string can help dislodge a sticky bridge pin).
- Unwind the string to be cut/ removed so that it is fully slack.
- Remove the slack string from the tuning peg on the headstock. Cut the string, giving yourself at least 1 foot of string on the bridge side (I recommend leaving much more, cutting off just the curly end by the tuning peg).
- Remove the bridge pin by inserting the bridge pin into the bridge pin socket on your string winder. Lever the bridge pin upwards to to unwedge it from the hole, freeing the string.
- Remove the string from the bridge and the headstock (if it was not removed after cutting in Step 2)
How to Cut Nylon Guitar Strings
Nylon guitars usually have the string tied to the bridge of the guitar to keep it in place. There are a few different places that the string can be cut that will make removing the string much easier.
- Unwind the string to be cut until it is fully slack and holds no tension.
- Take your wire cutters and snip the string somewhere in the middle between the headstock and the bridge.
- At the headstock, continue to unwind the tuning pegs until there are no more wounds on the peg. Depending on how the strings were installed, the string may be tied into the post of the tuner. If this is the case, cut the knot or manually untie the knot and remove the remaining string.
- At the bridge end, the string will have been tied to make a loop to secure the string. Push the cut end through the loop so that it is no longer wrapped around the bridge and remove the string. Alternatively, you can cut the loop and pull the string out.
Read More: Putting Steel Strings on Classical Guitar – Good or Bad?
How to Cut Bass Guitar Strings
Bass guitars have thicker strings than regular guitars. Because of this, you may be limited in the types of tools that you use to cut the strings.
In my experience, cutting strings isn’t always necessary to remove bass strings, but every bass is different, and some may require cutting.
Some styles of bass bridges (such as Hofner styles) secure the bass strings in a tailpiece where the strings are not threaded through, but are held in place by tension, once the string is installed.
If you have determined that your strings thread through the bridge of your bass, follow these steps:
- Unwind the string to be cut until it is fully slack.
- Once the string is slack, remove the bit of wound string from the tuning peg. This part of the string will likely be thinner than the rest of the string.
- Cut the curly part of the string off where it is the thinnest.
- Remove the string through the bridge.
Still have some questions about how to cut guitar strings? Check out these FAQs:
How to cut guitar strings without wire cutters?
Pliers often have the ability to cut wires using the wire cutting area near the pivot point. If you do have pliers, but there is no wire cutter (or it is not working), you can bend the wire with the pliers, creating a kink in the string.
If you continue to bend the wire at the kink, it will eventually break (think of breaking a metal paper clip).
Be careful if you are using this method, as the ends can be sharp. If you are removing the tail ends of the string after installing a new string, I would not suggest this method as a permanent solution.
Large nail clippers, such as toenail clippers can cut most strings, but may not be suitable for thicker gauge strings, such as bass strings.
How short to cut guitar strings?
If you are removing guitar strings, you can cut the string to any length if you do not have any intention of reusing the string (I sometimes keep old E and B strings from my longer scale length guitars in case of a live string emergency).
I would recommend cutting the string to a length that is comfortable to work with if you have to thread the string back out through the bridge, or to unwind off of the tuning peg.
If you are cutting the excess tail end off of a newly installed guitar string, cut the string to have about a ¼” to ½” tail to prevent any possible slippage.
Can I cut guitar strings with scissors?
While scissors such as kitchen shears will likely cut through most strings with a bit of work, it is probable that the strings will damage the blades.
Regular scissors (like for arts and crafts) are weaker than kitchen shears and should never be used to cut guitar strings. The blades can be dulled and permanently damaged.
What’s a good guitar string cutter and winder?
There are tons of products on the market to help easily remove strings. Here are a few tools that I think are useful for cutting and changing strings:
Dunlop makes a great line of guitar care items. These Dunlop string cutters are designed to cut through hardened, steel guitar strings with ease.
This simple winder is a must have in your guitar case. You can find this style of string winder in just about every music store, usually for under $5.
If you’re looking for an all-in-one string changing solution, this string winder and cutter tool from D’Addario combines a string winder tool and wire cutter into one:
If you have an arsenal of guitars like I do, you can opt for a faster option to wind and unwind your strings.
Made by Ernie Ball, this Powerpeg Winder is basically a drill that’s made to fit any tuning peg (however, it’s more suitable for electric guitars, as it does not have a built-in acoustic bridge pin remover).
It makes the tedium of string winding super fast and honestly, pretty fun:
How do I remove a string without any way to cut a wire?
In types of guitars where the string is threaded through the bridge, it is easiest to remove if the curly, tuning peg end is cut off.
However, in situations where you need to change a string, but do not have access to any method of wire cutting, you can straighten out the curled end with your hands, then thread it through the bridge.
If you bend the string backwards (against the direction that it was wound on the tuning peg) you should be able to straighten out this section enough to thread it through most types of bridges.
In some cases, this may cause some minor scuffing around the bridge hole if the tail did not straighten enough (particularly on tune-o-matic style bridges), but in a pinch, it should work.
With the right tools, cutting guitar strings is a breeze. If you plan on regularly maintaining your guitar(s) yourself, I highly recommend purchasing some quality tools to cut and wind strings.
While not every guitar requires their strings to be cut off, cutting them can make changing strings much easier to do. With these tips and tricks for cutting guitar strings, you’ll be changing your strings like a pro in no time!