How to restring an acoustic guitar
If you’re new to guitar or have never changed the strings on your guitar, the idea can be a little bit daunting. How do you remove the strings without damaging the guitar? How do you get the right amount of winds around the tuning pegs? And exactly how nervous should you be about snapping a new string when tuning up to pitch?
Below you’ll find a step by step guide on how to change the strings on your acoustic guitar.
First, slacken the strings by turning the tuning pegs. The layout of your tuning pegs will determine which way you’ll need to turn them to do this. If all 6 tuning pegs are in a line, like on a typical Stratocaster, you’ll need to turn them clockwise to slacken the strings. If there are 3 tuning pegs on each side, the tuning pegs for the fourth, fifth and sixth strings will need to be turned clockwise while the first, second and third will need to be turned anti-clockwise. Once you’ve slackened the strings, remove them from the tuning pegs.
Next, move your attention to the bridge of the guitar and push each string towards the bridge pin individually. Normally once the string moves, the bridge pin will loosen, allowing you to remove it along with the string. Occasionally however these can get stuck, but there are a few ways you can remove them should that be the case. Firstly, if you reach in through the sound hole, you should be able to feel the bottom of the pins under the bridge. From here you can push the pins upwards to remove them. Be mindful though as sometimes these can be a bit sharp, so it is a good idea to try this with a cloth to protect your fingers. If the bridge pins still won’t budge, you’ll find a number of bridge pin removal tools online, or you can try removing them with a pair of pliers with cloth wrapped around the ends. Using pliers should be a last resort however as the risk of damaging the bridge or bridge pins will significantly increase using pliers.
Once you’ve successfully removed the strings and bridge pins, you’ll find yourself in front of a completely naked fret board. This gives you the perfect opportunity to clean the frets and fretboard of any dust or built-up grime before adding a fresh set of strings. Avoid using home cleaning products as some will contain chemicals that will damage the wood and finish of your guitar. Fortunately, there are a number of products that you can buy from guitar dealers in store and online that are specifically formulated for a number of guitar woods and finishes.
Once you’ve cleaned up, turn your attention to your strings and in which order they need to be placed on the guitar. Depending on the brand of strings you’re using, they’ll either be individually wrapped with the gauge number printed on the packaging, or they may denote the strings size with coloured ball-ends. As you look down at your guitar in a playing position, the thicker strings will sit on the top, and become thinner as you move to each next string.
Create a 45 degree bend just above the ball end of the string before placing it above its corresponding bridge hole. Take the bridge pin and push it into the bridge, ensuring that the strings ball end sits in the groove of the bridge pin and that the groove of the bridge pin is pointing straight down the neck. Usually the pins will sit flush, but don’t worry if they seem a little loose at this point. Repeat this process for the remaining 5 strings.
Next, arrange your tuning pegs so that the holes of each are pointing toward the neck of the guitar. This will make it easier to insert your strings and start tightening them. To do this, take the string and place it through its corresponding tuning peg. Pull it tight, making sure it sits in the correct groove in the guitars nut and measure to the next tuning peg along. Mark this point by creating a kink in the string and then pull the excess back through the hole. This step will make sure that you have the correct amount of winds around the tuning peg to get to pitch.
Start winding the tuning peg, making sure that the string winds on the correct side (under the tuning peg as you play the guitar if the tuning pegs sit in a line like a Stratocaster, or on the inside of the headstock for each if there are 3 on either side). As you wind, make sure that each new wrap is on the bottom of the tuning peg, pushing the previous wrap upwards. For beginners, this section will be the most challenging as managing the tuning peg and a loose string will make you wish you had a third arm. But much like learning to play guitar, practice makes perfect.
Once there is enough tension in the string for it to hold itself in the correct position, take a pair of wire cutters and trim the excess string. Before bringing the string to pitch, repeat the process on the other 5 strings, working from thickest to thinnest. After this you can bring each string to pitch by moving up and down the neck checking each string while the tension adjusts and settles.
Now that you have the guitar in pitch, it is recommended to stretch your strings a little to help them settle quicker. You’ve just added a fair deal of tension to strings that have never experienced it so they can sometimes take a little bit of breaking in. An easy way to do this is to lie your guitar on its back and slide a finger up the fret board with the same pressure you’d use to play, while using the other hand to pull the string upwards slightly. After this stretch you’ll probably need to bring each string up to pitch again. You can repeat this process a few times to help break it in and avoid a jarring drop in tuning as you begin to play.
Once you’ve done this, you’re good to go with a brand-new set of strings! Over the course of a few days the strings will continue to settle and will begin to hold their tuning more reliably, so don’t worry if it feels like you’re constantly adjusting your tuning soon after replacing your strings.