When my guitar strings are dull, broken, or look dirty, I know that it’s time for a new set. After all, electric guitar strings typically need more frequent changes than classical or steel-string guitars.
In this guide, I’ll show you how to change strings or restring an electric guitar.
The Ultimate Electric Guitar Restring Guide
Basically, you have to get rid of the old set and put in the new one to change a guitar’s strings. However, it goes beyond this. You will also need to learn how to stretch and tune the strings and decide whether or not you should change them all at once.
Luckily for you, I have all the gist here of saving you time and money (for a new set of strings, of course). Sit tight.
Removing the Old Set
Removing the old set of an electric guitar’s strings is pretty straightforward. However, if you do make a wrong move, like yanking on them, you may damage something else. Here’s a step-by-step guide to keep you from doing that.
Find Each String’s Path
If you are a newbie tuner, take another look at how the guitar should look when completely set up. Find the path of each string. This is because once you get the strings out, it’s pretty easy to get confused about what goes where.
Some electric guitars have different designs with winding patterns and special holes near the strings. So you want this pretty much on lockdown. You can take a picture or find one of your guitar model online.
Down-tune to Loosen
Find the tuning peg and turn it loose to free each string enough for you to have better access to the string. If the string sounds deeper than usual when you pluck it, then you’re turning in the right direction. Keep turning until it’s loose, then unwind the string off the peg and free it from the neck of the guitar.
It’s also possible to cut your strings. You can do this with a wire-cutter. Personally, though, I prefer to unwind mine because this approach eases tension gradually. If I get in a jam and break one of my new strings, I could always reuse an old one.
Remove the Strings from the Bridge
Assuming your guitar has a regular bridge like the one on any string-through guitar, all you have to do is pull the strings out of the guitar’s back. To increase grip, you can carefully push the strings with your other hand to give it some slack.
Make sure you aren’t yanking on the strings. I try to get a good grip and pull slowly. However, if your guitar has a wrap-around bridge, pull the strings out of the underside of the bridge.
Clean the Fretboard
Cleaning the guitar is one of my favorite parts of restringing my guitars. I am somewhat picky so a dirty guitar messes with my head. The first thing I do once I unstring my guitar is to use a soft lint-free cloth to wipe off any debris.
Wipe down the neck and back of your guitar with a bottle of your favorite fret-cleaner to deep-clean. Cleaning your guitar makes it look brand-new and a bit fresher. It also helps to protect the new strings, and some even say it makes your guitar feel a little bit faster.
Restringing Your Electric Guitar
Now it’s time to restring the electric guitar. Depending on your level of expertise, this might be a tad challenging, but just follow me, and I’ll help get you there.
When restringing your guitar, the most important thing to remember is that too much tightening isn’t good, no matter the type of string material. New strings always need to stretch and adjust to tension. When overtightened, they are bound to snap.
Find the Correct Strings for your Electric Guitar
The most common type of strings you’d need for an electric guitar is the “lite” strings known as “regular weight.” Indeed, some guitarists use heavier ones but note that their guitars are designed to handle them. If your strings are too heavy, you might end up with a bent guitar neck.
As a rule of thumb, I shop for high E in a “.008-.0011” thickness. This applies to extra lite, lite, and medium strings. A drop D might require heavier and stronger ones. Do your research before you purchase any strings for your guitar.
Find a Comfortable Flat Surface
To restring your guitar, you want to use a soft surface flat enough for your instrument to lay at a comfortable height. Make sure there’s plenty of room for you to move around and move the guitar around as well.
I lay a blanket underneath my guitar, so I don’t scuff or scratch its body. I also rest the head off the edge of my work table to make tuning easier. These aren’t entirely necessary, just tips to make your work easier.
Let the Hole of the Tuning Post Face You
The hole of the tuning post should face you directly. That means it will be pointing away from the string, making it parallel to one of the frets. To ensure you’ve got it right, try imagining holding it up against yourself. In this position, the hole will ideally be pointing up.
Start by threading the first one through the end where you pulled the old ones out of. Let it go into the tuning peg as you work from the inside of the guitar out.
Most guitarists (including myself) start with the heaviest string, which is the top E or “6th string.” There’s no rule of thumb, but you should replace the strings in the order you took them out. This makes it a lot more straightforward.
Now, you slide it in the opposite way the old ones came out. Run it through the tuning peg and pull it easily from the guitar. Don’t forget to leave some room. I leave about two to three inches of slack string, so I have enough space to tighten.
Make an “S” with the String
With the string in place, grab it at both ends of the peg and compress it into an “S.” Here’s a pro tip, if you overthink this, you’d probably do it wrong.
Instead, I just grab both sides tightly and turn my hands clockwise, crimping them at the tuning post. This should give you a nice “S” shape, but not one that’s too perfect either. You don’t want to overbend the string.
Wrap One End of the String around the Other
Wrap the end of your string around the other end and lock it in place. Pull the end away from the tuning post under the other side, which is the one that’s fed into the tuning post.
Once you send the end under the string, pull it back over the top tautly. This will be in the direction of the tip of your guitar.
Your aim here is to create a small coil of some sort with one end of the string over the rest. If you do this correctly, you should be looking at a small looped bit of string at its meeting point with the peg.
Hold Down the String and Tighten
Now, it’s time to tighten. You want to hold down the string lightly as too much pressure won’t do it any good. Tighten slowly.
Take your index finger and place it along the string one or two inches before it meets the peg. Make sure you’re not pinning the string down but lightly holding it steady. Now, turn the tuner counter-clockwise as slowly as you can manage.
As you turn the tuner, your string should be coiling itself around it in a uniform manner. Let the tuner guide you to the right amount of tension. It’s better to have it not tight enough than to over-tighten because this will cause the string to break.
Repeat Process for All Strings
Now that you have completed the heaviest string, repeat the process for the rest, gradually working through the packet. Remember to crimp the string before you begin to tune and leave some slack in the string when you want to tighten.
My electric guitar’s head has a 3×3 setup, so I turn the lower set of tuning pegs in reverse. It’s pretty much the same procedure. All I do differently is that I replace up with down and left with right.
Guitars with a 3×3 setup are pretty standard, so if this is yours as well, just read over the instructions and apply them inversely.
Cut off the Strings’ Ends
Now that you have fit in your strings and tightened them, use wire cutters to trim off the excess string at the end of each one. Of course, if you aren’t sure about how much string you need, you might want to leave an excess of one or two inches. This way, you can always tune your electric guitar deeper if you so desire.
Tune the New Strings Frequently
Now that you’ve restrung your guitar, you want to tune it frequently. You will notice that your strings keep going out of tune until they are settled, or as musicians like to call it, “been broken in.”
The reason is simple. The new strings have to adapt to the amount of tension they are experiencing. As they get used to the tension, they stretch slowly. Some people take to testing them manually by performing a stretching motion.
Carry out a stretch along each string’s entire length to make it acclimate faster and achieve a more stable pitch. Make sure you are not pulling, but stretching.
Tune, stretch, and repeat until you achieve the desired results.
How Often Should You Change Electric Guitar Strings?
Changing electric guitar strings is not by a playbook and is quite open to interpretation. I generally listen for the type of sounds I want to create and how often I want to play.
Pay attention to these as well. A studio guitar that’s played softly will last a few sessions, while one that’s played more intensely might give out more quickly. There are several other factors as well, including dirt and your level of tolerance.
What String-changing Tools Do I Need?
Several tools make stringing a guitar much more manageable. Having winding and cutting tools will go a long way in making the process faster.
The only tool that you will most definitely need to restring your electric guitar is a wire cutter to cut excessive string after the tuning post. Also, you can use it if you decide to cut the old set of strings when you are taking them out.
Depending on the guitar you have, you might need different tools to adjust your instrument’s varying setups. For instance, you might need to use the Allen wrench that’s often sold along with our guitars.
When Should I Change Strings?
As soon as your strings are gummy, falling out of tune, or rusty, it is time to change them. If you play your guitar frequently, this might be as often as once a week.
Also, you should restring when you feel that they are slow or weighed down by dirt. Some people try to clean them instead, but once strings become sticky with dirt, in my opinion, it’s pretty tricky to get them clean enough for use again.
I aim to change my electric guitar strings whenever the sounds are off. I don’t want any surprises, so I just swap the old ones out for fresh ones.
Should I Change Strings One at a Time or all at Once?
This depends on you and your priorities. If you choose to change your strings one at a time, it can help to keep the tension even across the whole guitar. It helps to minimize how much time it takes for the tension to adjust.
On the other hand, removing all the strings at once allows you to clean the guitar’s fretboard and ensures you can properly clean all strings at once. Whichever way you choose to go about it, though, it isn’t that big of a deal. Just pick whichever one works best for you.
And there you have it! The play-by-play of how to change strings on an electric guitar. Good luck!