Introduction: To String or Not to String: How to Replace Strings of a Steel-String Acoustic Guitar

Picture of To String or Not to String: How to Replace Strings of a Steel-String Acoustic Guitar

Popped string? Or maybe you have just decided that it's time to replace those year-old strings that have been worn out for the last six months. Either way, have no fear. This instructable will walk you through, step-by-step, how to replace the strings of an acoustic steel-string guitar. It is designed for beginning guitar players who may have never replaced a guitar string.

Guitar strings tend to wear out over time. They lose their tone, lose their feel, become harder to keep in tune, and break more easily, so it's important to change out your strings if you want to keep sounding your best. Knowing how to change guitar strings is a vital part of being a guitarist. It really isn't a difficult task, but can be intimidating for new guitar players. With a little bit of practice and experience, though, you'll be replacing strings like a pro.

Tips: I strongly suggest that you change your strings at least every six months. For those who practice for hours every day, you may even need to change your strings every two months or so.

Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials

Although it is possible to replace strings using only your bare hands, here are a few materials that you will find very helpful and that you will need in order to follow this walk-through completely:

New guitar strings (of course)
Pliers (needle-nose preferable)
Wire cutters
Very soft and clean cloth (polishing cloth preferable)

Optional:
String winder (I don't use one, but many people use them and they can speed up the replacement process)

Step 2: Parts of the Guitar

Picture of Parts of the Guitar

Before we begin the actual string replacement process, it is important to know the names of the different parts of the guitar. Hover over the pictures with your mouse's cursor to view the names of the different parts of the guitar.

Step 3: Loosen and Remove Old String

Picture of Loosen and Remove Old String

Place your guitar on a solid, flat surface that won't scratch or potentially damage your guitar. A carpeted floor or a table with a sheet/blanket laid over will work as a suitable surface on which to lay your guitar. It also helps to place something under the head of the guitar to keep it in place as you work.

You should begin with the low-e string, which is the thickest, and replace one string at a time. Some people like to remove all the strings at once and then put the new ones on afterward. I highly recommend NOT removing all the strings at once because it removes all the tension that the neck relies on and could possibly damage your guitar. Why risk it?

So start removing the low-e string by unwinding the tuning peg - you should be turning the peg toward the body of the guitar - until there is enough slack so that you can easily pull the string out of the hole of the peg.

Tip: This is where that string winder would come in handy to speed up the process.

WARNING: Do NOT attempt to remove the bridge pin before loosening the tension on the string. It could harm you or your guitar, and nobody wants that.

Once you have done that, use your pliers to pull the bridge pin for that string out of the bridge.

Tip: Don't be too rough with your pliers if you don't want your bridge pins to look terrible. It is easy to dent, scratch, or break a bridge pin if you aren't careful.

Once the bridge pin is out, simply remove the ball end of the string from the hole. You can discard the old string or keep it if you wish; there is no need for it for the rest of the replacement process.

Step 4: Clean Your Guitar

Picture of Clean Your Guitar

With the string removed, take the opportunity to wipe down your guitar using the polishing cloth in the places that you normally can't reach. At the very least, make sure that you wipe off any dust that may have accumulated on the fretboard and in front of the bridge.


Step 5: Securing the New String in the Bridge

Picture of Securing the New String in the Bridge

This step can be a bit tricky the first couple of times you do it. Uncoil the new low-e string and place the ball end of the string about an inch or two down into the hole.

Now, as you slide the bridge pin back into place, make sure to align the notch in the bridge pin with the string and pull the string up lightly so that the ball slips snugly into place. You should feel the ball "secure" itself in place. The ball should rest just beneath the head of the bridge pin, not beneath the tip of the bridge pin.

Once you think you've secured the ball end of the string, push the bridge pin back into place and give the string a little tug. If the bridge pin comes loose or pops out, the ball end of the string was not secured correctly. If it stays tightly in place, move on to the next step.

Step 6: Winding the New String

Picture of Winding the New String

Tip: Follow and pay close attention to the pictures for this step. They will make the process much easier to understand.

Turn your tuning peg until the hole points perpendicular to the neck of the guitar (as seen in image 1).

Now pull the string toward the headstock so that the majority of the slack is gone. At about one and a half inches past the peg you will be feeding the string through, crimp the string at a 90 degree angle so that the string points away from the guitar (see image 2).

Feed the string through the hole until it is stopped by its bend (see image 3) - this should create a good amount of slack. Once you've fed it through as far as you can without forcing the crimp through, crimp the string again so that it points toward the top of the headstock (see image 4).

As you begin to turn the tuning peg away from the body of the guitar, tightening the string, you will need to create tension by pressing the string down with your pointer finger and pulling up and back on the string with your thumb and middle finger (see image 5). Make sure the string lies in its notch in the nut. This makes winding the string significantly easier and smoother. If you do not do this, the string will simply unravel while you try to tighten it.

Ok, as you turn the tuning peg, make sure that the wrapped string passes over the end of the string protruding from the hole in the tuning peg (see image 6). This is only done on the first wrap around.

On the next wrap around, and each following wrap around, make sure that the wrapped string passes under the end of the string. You may need to physically move the string to ensure that it passes under the string end (see image 7). Every wrap after that should pass below the wrap before it (see image 8). You should avoid crossing the strings or letting them overlap. Continue tightening the string until the string is close to being in tune.

Step 7: Stretching and Tuning the String

Picture of Stretching and Tuning the String

With your string tuned (or close to it), you will want to stretch out your string. This will help your string maintain its pitch; otherwise you will have to constantly tune and re-tune your guitar.

Simply grab the the string at about the twelfth fret and pull upwards for about six seconds and then again over the sound hole, toward the bridge. It's okay to give it a good stretch, but don't overdo it. You don't want to pop a brand new string! The pitch should be noticeably lower, so re-tune the string. Repeat this process until the pitch doesn't drop significantly. It shouldn't take more than four or five stretches.

For help with and information about tuning a guitar visit http://www.howtotuneaguitar.org/.

WARNING: Be especially wary when stretching out the lighter strings. The high-e string can be surprisingly easy to pop.


Step 8: Trim the Excess String

Picture of Trim the Excess String

Using the wire cutters, you will cut off the excess string, leaving about a quarter of an inch (see images).

Congratulations, you've just successfully changed your guitar string!

Step 9: Repeat

Picture of Repeat

Now that you've replaced your low-e string, you've got five more to go. Repeat steps 3 - 8 with the rest of the strings.

Tip: Be aware that once you start replacing the highest three strings, the direction you turn the tuning pegs will be reversed, as will the direction in which you feed the string through the hole in the peg. Just remember, you should always turn the peg toward the body of the guitar to loosen and away from the body of the guitar to tighten, and the string should always point away from the headstock when you feed it through the peg.

And then you're done! Hopefully the process got easier as you went along, and I hope that this instructable was helpful for you. Happy playing!

Comments

angrivator (author)2017-05-26

hey this actually helped... I accidental popped the first string before guitar class on Wednesday... this actually helped me replace it easily and effectively... people who are skeptical this actually works

JulianDBarker (author)2016-03-21

It was the bridge pins that threw me - my other acoustic guitar just has holes through the bridge. Knowing they should simply be pulled out made me brave enough to use enough force! I found a pair of circlip pliers handy for this - no sharp edges and a smooth 90-degree bend to lever with.

jamm19 (author)2011-05-09

I f you can do not pry bridge pins out with pliers , cover the area with a cloth and use the cutters to lift the pin out by rocking it under the pin lip with the protective cloth protecting the guitar finish, take your time hum your favorite tune .........thanks for the instructable

slant6 (author)jamm192015-06-11

I had two pins that were stuck. Since I had already removed the strings I just reachedin the hole and tapped them out from below with the side of my Swiss army knife. This definitely won't damage the pin heads, but is anyone cringing?

slant6 (author)slant62015-06-11

I forgot to mention that I did this 4 years ago.

nsokoloff (author)2011-03-27

Thanks for this, I will try on my next set of strings not to make my guitar look like a trainwreck :).

Puzzledd (author)2011-03-04

Thanks for this 'ible- very clearly written, with good photos :)

Mr. Potato Head (author)2011-03-02

Don't ever use pliers to pull out your bridge pins - you'll scratch 'em all to hell no matter how careful you think you're being. The one in your picture is certainly all tore up.

Generally you can just pull the pin out with your fingers. The tension on the string holds them in place - it's not like you have to tap them in with a mallet to get them seated.

If that doesn't work push a bit of sting back inside the guitar through the slot in the pin. This will usually unwedge the ball on the end of the string from the bridge pin, allowing removal with your fingers.

I agree that string winders are useless for winding/unwinding strings, but a lot of them have a little notch that's designed to pop out bridge pins without damaging the pin or the bridge. I carry one just for that purpose - it's my last resort for stubborn pins and it's never let me down.

wobbler (author)2011-03-01

To protect the bridge pins, put a piece of cloth or a folder paper kitchen towel over the bridge pin first before using the pliers. Same for above suggestion, but put the cloth between the side cutters and bridge.

dummy1977 (author)2011-02-28

After all these years I still loath changing strings.. I always appreciate a good tip.

sisyphus321 (author)2011-02-28

Shortcut: just pull the string tight and wind it around the tuning peg 3 times before threading it through the hole on the tuning peg. **Then** start turning the tuning key to bring the string up to tension.

hwmccullough (author)2011-02-27

Just a short note from a guitar instructor: Strings should be changed about every 20 hours of playing/practicing.

sam_farias (author)hwmccullough2011-02-27

Keep in mind that this instructable was written for beginning guitar players who probably won't be playing gigs and will be more than likely practicing on their own for the most part. That said, I appreciate your suggestion and I will update the instructable with a better suggestion. Thanks!

hwmccullough (author)sam_farias2011-02-28

Sam,

Thanks for your clarification. I have heard and understood. As a player for over 40 years and a teacher of the instrument for over 10 years, I was just trying to help set the expectations of the beginners you mention. I have always found it was better to level set early on rather than try to unlearn bad habits. In fact, regarding re-stringing a guitar I was surprised at how many experienced players still struggle with this simple act. That's why I was glad to see it here. Also, if there are teachers out there who don't teach this simple basic skill, I hope they add what has been demonstrated in this instructable.to their teaching plan.

Kyoshi (author)hwmccullough2011-02-27

Replacing my strings every 10 days sounds extremely impractical. I would agree, though, for people who had the money to follow this advice as it keeps the sound nice and crisp. I love the sound of new strings in the morning =]

hwmccullough (author)Kyoshi2011-02-27

I agree that for some it may seem expensive, but if you're serious about your playing, then you should also be serious about your tone. Good quality strings are only about $3.50 a set at most music stores. If a person plays gigs on a regular basis, then this shouldn't be a problem. During the times I don't gig regularly I admit I don't change them every 20 hours, but when I play regular gigs, I change them faithfully. Tone is as important as talent.

I admit I don't use the most expensive string. I use Ernie Ball strings for my electric and John Pearson for my acoustic. They both give good performance at $3 too $4 a set.

guylcfc290 (author)2011-02-27

Nice and comprehensive instructable. Just another couple of tips- using a soft pencil (e.g. 4-6b), rub the pencil gently in the string notch in the nut to help the string slide over the nut a little easier. This just helps to keep everything moving smoothly when you tune it. Also, why do you need wire cutters? Needle nosed and combo pliers both have the facilities to cut strings accurately.

sam_farias (author)guylcfc2902011-02-27

I largely prefer wire cutters to the combo pliers because wire cutters leave a cleaner and easier cut. I have used combo pliers on several occasions and have found them to be more of a hassle than anything, but if it works for you then that's awesome! Thanks for the comment.

bwelkin (author)2011-02-27

Nicely done!

bwelkin (author)2011-02-27

Use your side cutters, opened wide, to slide up under the head of the bridge pin and pry up. Easier and less damaging than long nose pliers, IMHO.

interactive3 (author)2011-02-27

Nice Instructable Sam.
There's a great pair of Youtube videos I reference when changing strings. It's by Elixer strings and Taylor Guitars. I highly recommend watching the two parts:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=plU27QJBKn8
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FPhF2X_bdXg

The portion on tightening the tuner nuts and buttons really helped my guitar stay in tune. Showing how much string to cut off when installing was also a big help. The second video even goes into adjusting the truss rod.

matthewabel (author)2011-02-27

This is great - even long-time guitarists will probably find something useful. I've been putting my pegs in wrong this whole time!

A plug from me for a string winder, though. All of the ones I've found also have a little peg puller on them, so it's a multi-tasker! Needle-nose pliers do the job as well, though :)

There's something very calming to me about changing strings. Unless something gets caught, it's a nice smooth activity to do with your hands. I find it so satisfying. Who knows why?

msheppard (author)2011-02-27

This is far-and-away the best string replacement tutorial I've found. I've been making most of the mistakes you warn about over the past few years and have been wondering how more experienced people get such nice looking string wraps. Thanks for putting this together.

mrmerino (author)2011-02-25

my guitar doesnt have bridge pins though

sam_farias (author)mrmerino2011-02-25

Thanks for commenting. This instructable was written specifically for guitars with bridge pins; however, there is another instructable by kylebp that explains how to replace strings on a guitar without bridge pins. Check it out:

https://www.instructables.com/id/Re-string-an-Acoustic-Guitar-6-easy-steps-with-vi/

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