The Dummy’s Guide to Changing Guitar Strings

a view of the guitar from an angle

If you are a guitarist or starting to be one, at some point, you would need to get comfortable with changing the strings on your guitar. While you can always continue to depend on the local guitar shop or your friend to do it for you, it would be better if you gain some skills at this.

Change Strings Once in a While

It’s not that strings need to be changed only when broken. As time goes by, the sweat and moisture accumulating on the strings causes corrosion to happen and makes them harder to pluck. This causes the tones produced to degrade and often times, one can notice the sounds become distinctly duller. Not only that, the strings start to lose strength and become weaker which increases the risk of breakage anyways.

guitar string up close
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia

How often do I need to change my strings?

It depends. If you are playing every day or every other day, you would need change your strings between every few gigs. If you play in hot and humid concert stages, you would need to change strings more often than otherwise because of the faster corrosion. On the other hand, if you don’t play frequently or play only in smokeless, air-conditioned environments, you may be able get by without changing your strings too often.

And, if you are someone who maintains your guitar very well, regularly cleaning the dust and grime from the instrument and the strings and carefully storing the guitar in its case between performances, your strings can definitely last longer.

Do remember that playing infrequently itself can itself be a source of trouble because when a guitar is left in the corner of a room for years (even if in a covered case), the strings anyways start rusting. Whether you play or not, you should regularly have your guitar cleaned.

electric guitar strings
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What strings are right for me?

The best way to get to know strings is go to a guitar shop and try plucking different types. Strings are available in various gauges (thicknesses being measured in thousandths of an inch) and thicker strings are heavier. Guitarists typically skip the decimal when referring to a gauge and refer only to the number part – a string gauge of 0.014 would be referred to as a 14, for instance. While a set of 8’s would be very light, a set of 16’s would be very heavy.

You can choose any gauge that you are comfortable with – it all depends on what genre you play, the way you play (finger plucked vs pick, hard-plucked vs light-plucked) and the kind of sounds and tones that you want to get out of your guitar. Strings with lighter gauges produce tones that are thinner but are easier to play with. They are also harder to keep in tune and tend to break more easily.

Strings with heavier gauges produce a big, booming sound with more volume and sustain. They are more difficult to play with but are easier to hold in tune.

How to change strings?

You would a need set of pliers, a tuner, a bridge-pin puller, a wire-cutter, and a soft cloth. You can either remove all strings at one time or change strings one at a time.

changing guitar strings
Image Courtesy of YouTube
  • First loosen all the strings until they are held without any tension.
  • Then, either clip them with a wire-cutter or fully loosen them until they can be pulled out of the tuning pegs.
  • Remove the bridge-pins that hold the strings on to the face of the guitar.
  • Pull the strings out from the peg-holes after the bridge pins have been removed.
  • Clean the frets, the face, and the hard to reach parts of the guitar.
  • Take the thinnest string first and insert the knob end into the correct peg-hole. Insert the correct peg again.
  • Repeat the above process for all the strings.
  • Once the thinnest string is in its peg-hole, stretch it up to the correct tuning peg and insert it into the peg.
  • Turn the tuning key to the right to tighten the string. Make several winds around the key.
  • Repeat the above process for all the strings.
  • Tune the guitar with a tuner.
  • Use the wire-cutter to cut off excess string, leaving only a small stub.

Removing all the strings straightaway gives you a salient opportunity to give your guitar one good round of cleaning. Clean your frets with a soft cloth and an old toothbrush to get all the accumulated grime and dirt out of it. This is also a marvelous time to change the battery (if you are using an electro-acoustic guitar) and to polish all those parts of the guitar that are normally difficult to reach because of the presence of the strings.

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My strings sound fine, why should I change them?

A quick physics lesson: When you tune strings, you tighten them and put more pressure on the body of the guitar. As the strings age, it needs more pressure to stay at the same tuning. After a certain point, it puts more pressure on the guitar body that it can stably handle. The body starts to bulge too much and the bridge can come loose. It costs way more to fix this than to buy new strings and take care of your guitar, even in the long run.
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Guitar strings
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