It looks simple enough, but it can quickly become complicated – figuring out how to string a guitar can feel a bit like a mess if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Fortunately, you can change guitar strings quickly and easily if you follow a few simple steps.
When Should I Restring My Guitar?
Knowing when to string a guitar is similar to learning when to change the oil on your car. Most musicians change their strings every three months, give or take, or every 100 hours of playing. It keeps the sound smooth and protects your guitar’s neck (and your fingers).
However, there are a few physical tell-tale signs that it’s time to swap out the strings on your guitar. You want your equipment to be in stellar shape, so check for the noticeable warnings of a worn-out guitar string.
Most notably, if one of the cords breaks, it’s time to change guitar strings.
The several additional signs to watch out for include:
- Rust or corrosion
- Obvious dirt on the string
- Dents along the wire
- Consistently loose-feeling strings
How frequently you play can impact when you should change the strings. It’s up to you to decide when it’s best to restring; we recommend checking on the look and feel of the cords regularly to help prolong the life of your guitar.
Tools Needed to String a Guitar
After finding the strings you need for either your acoustic or electric guitar, you just need wire cutters and a string winder to finish the job.
Steps to Restring a Guitar
You’ve determined your guitar strings need changing, and you’ve located all your tools. Set your equipment on a flat surface and get started!
1. Loosen the Previous Strings
Starting with the thinnest string, your high E, use your hand or a string winder to unwind the wire. You want to loosen the line enough so that you don’t hear anything when you try to strum it. Carefully unwind every cord, from the thinnest to the thickest gauges.
2. Cut the Cords
After everything is loose, grab the wire cutters and carefully cut each string just above the soundhole on your guitar. We cut it above the hole to prevent nicks on the instrument.
3. Remove the Strings
If you’re using an electric guitar— to remove the strings, just pull them from the bridge saddle. The saddle is part of the overall bridge base that holds the strings in place.
On an acoustic guitar, focus on your instrument’s bridge pins. These pegs are typically little plastic or bone pieces. You must remove these pins first before you can remove the wires. Most string winders can help; the tools have a small notch inside to effectively pull the pegs up. Be sure to pull the pins straight upward, not at an angle, to stop them from breaking off.
After you’ve lifted the bridge pins, remove the string, and replace the pegs in the bridge.
To finish removing what’s left of the strings, focus on the headstock— where you tune your strings. Carefully unwind what’s left. We emphasize “carefully,” because snipped guitar strings are sharp. They will poke you, and it hurts!
4. Line Up Your New Strings
As we previously mentioned, guitar strings are recognized by their thickness. Match the largest gauge with your low E note and the thinnest gauge with the high E note.
5. String the Guitar One by One
To thread the new strings, start with the low E and the thickest string.
Take the ball-end of your new string and carefully place it inside the corresponding bridge hole (where your bridge pins are). To secure the ball-end of the cord, place the bridge pin back inside the hole, over the string.
Repeat this step with each string, from thickest to thinnest, moving from one end to the other on your guitar’s bridge.
6. Thread the String at the Headstock
With the sharper end of the low E string, thread it carefully through the hole in the tuning peg. Pull the line through, and be sure it sets in the proper nut slot at the top of your fretboard. (For the low E, that nut slot would be the far left slot if you’re looking straight down at your instrument).
Wind the string; you can use your string winder to save time. Make sure that the first turn of the tuner wraps itself over the free end of your wire. When the string wraps over its open end, it helps secure it on the tuning peg.
Continue turning the string, winding the cord under each previous turn, until the wire feels tight. Clip the tail of the extra line close to the tuning peg. Repeat this step with every string, from the thickest to the thinnest.
7. Tune the Guitar
With all that work behind you, all that’s left is to tune your guitar and start playing.
Your strings will likely be pretty loose to start. It could take a bit of adjusting before it’s properly tuned. We recommend using a guitar tuner device specifically, or even an app on your smartphone to ensure each string is in the right tune.
Be careful to follow these steps and tune your guitar correctly. If you haphazardly string a guitar, cords could break, or your guitar may often be out of tune. Caring for your guitar will help keep it in its best form, and your music will sound fantastic. Happy playing!
Have an electric? Learn to restring your electric guitar here.
Double-Check Your String Type
If you’ve decided it’s time to change guitar strings, the very first step you should focus on is determining the exact cord size your guitar needs. The string gauge can vary based on the type, size, and make of your instrument.
String Gauge (Thickness)
Cords that are too heavy (thick) can create a lot of tension along the guitar neck and make unusual sounds. Cables that are too light or thin may be softer on your fingertips, but it won’t create as full of a sound.
The standard string gauge is considered a “set of 9s or 10s.” A “set of 9s” means the smallest cord on the guitar is 0.009 inches thick. A 10 then means it’s about 0.010 inches thick. These sizes are used frequently and fit most guitar types, electric or acoustic.
Within a new guitar string set, you’ll see that each wire has a gauge label. The thickness of each cord determines where you string it on the guitar. The low E string has the heaviest gauge, and the high E has the thinnest.
You can divide most guitar string sets into two categories based on the material used to make them; steel or nylon.
Most guitarists tend to reach for steel strings. They have a fuller sound and a deeper tone. Manufacturers design these cords with straight steel, but the thicker cables typically have a nickel, bronze, or brass plating coating the wires.
Nylon strings are seen most in classical and nylon guitars— which are usually acoustic or acoustic-electric instruments. Nylon is easier on your fingertips, which is useful for beginners learning how to play guitar. Nylon cords often produce a softer sound and warmer tone. If you’re looking to rock loudly, nylon may not deliver the exact sound you want.
As the Head Editor at Music Grotto, Liam edits content produced from over 30 professional music/media journalists and contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.