Restringing and tuning a guitar go hand-in-hand. Properly tuning a set of new strings for the first time is of utmost importance. This instructable will provide you with everything you need to know about restringing and tuning an acoustic guitar (to standard tuning) – it will correct common mistakes as well as explain the physical reasoning behind each process.
Step 1: Guitar Anatomy
- Machine heads - These are used to turn the tuning pins to tune the guitar.
- Tuning pins - The strings are wound around these pins
- Headstock - The part of the guitar containing the machine heads and tuning pins
- Neck/Fretboard - The part of the guitar connecting the body and the headstock
- Bridge pins - These are pins that hold down the strings on the main body of the guitar
Step 2: Restringing: What Youâll Need
-Wire Cutters (NOTE: Scissors or nail clippers will also suffice, but wire cutters are highly recommended)
-Pliers (Preferably combination pliers, but needle nose work as well)
*A machine head turning tool can be used, but is not necessary
Step 3: Restringing: Removing Strings (1)
(1) Unwind the string by turning the machine head until you can pull the string out of the pin. If you have a machine head turner, use it. Machine heads use a worm drive gear arrangement, typically with a gear ratio of 14:1 (This means that the machine heads must be turned 14 times to turn the pin an entire revolution), which is the reason a machine head turner is so helpful as it allows you to turn the machine head much faster.
Step 4: Restringing: Removing Strings (2)
Remove all the strings this way. As shown below, the bridge pins are all identical, so you needn’t worry about getting them mixed up. Also, take note that after you have removed all the old strings, it is a great opportunity to dust and clean your guitar!
Step 5: Restringing: Insert New String Into Bridge
The first step in fastening the new strings is to insert the beaded end of the new string into the bridge pin hole. Insert an inch or so of the string, then insert the bridge pin with the groove facing towards the guitar’s neck. Hold the bridge pin down and pull on the string until it stops, indicating that the bead is now wedged against the pin.
Step 6: Restringing: Choosing a Length
Make a 90 degree bend in the string at around one pin distance beyond the pin you will be wrapping the string around.
Step 7: Restringing: Threading the Pin
Thread the string into the pin hole up to the bent point and make another 90 degree bend at the other end of the hole, as pictured.
Step 8: Restringing: Winding
Repeat all of the previously described processes for each string.
Step 9: Restringing: Cut Off Excess String
Step 10: Tuning: What Youâll Need
- Electric tuner (recommended)
- Mouth tuner or pitch pipe
Pictured below are two different electric tuners and a mouth tuner. The electric tuner is the best for tuning. It will not go out of tune like a mouth tuner or piano can. If you happen to have an iPod touch or iPhone, you can acquire a free pitch pipe app.
If you have none of these things, do not fear - the next section will describe how to tune your guitar relative to itself!
Step 11: Tuning on an Absolute Scale
Tuning with an electric tuner is inarguably the easiest way to tune a guitar because you needn't use your ears. To tune with an electric tuner, simply strum each string, adjusting the machine heads to achieve the correct pitch as indicated on the tuner display. Tightening the string increases the tension, sharpening pitch. Loosening the string decreases tension, lowering pitch. Standard tuning is, in order from the heaviest to lightest strings, E-A-G-B-D-E.
The picture below shows an electric tuner first displaying a low E slightly under pitch (left), and the same note properly tuned (right).
Tuning with a mouth tuner or piano is almost just as simple, except you must use your ear to determine when the pitch is correct. This can be difficult for some people - there are some talented guitar players who cannot readily distinguish a note slightly under pitch from one slightly over. This is why the foolproof ingenuity of the electric tuner is recommended.
It is important in all circumstances to tune your guitar UP to the correct pitch, not down to it. If you accidentally go sharp of the correct pitch, go back down below it and tune back up to it. If you tune down to the note, the friction at the pin will maintain some of the tension in the string, releasing this tension shortly thereafter as you begin to strum. Tuning up to the note reduces the effects of this pesky phenomena, allowing your guitar to stay in tune longer.
Step 12: Tuning: Stretching Your Strings
To stretch a string, first hold a finger on the 5th fret and lift the string away from the fretboard with your other hand. Do this multiple times, and repeat on the 12th and 17th fret on each string.
Chances are if you strum right after stretching your strings, the guitar will be quite out of tune. This is a sign that the stretching is working! Simply retune the guitar once more and your freshly-strung guitar is ready to play! Enjoy the wholesome and rich sound of the new strings!
Step 13: Tuning on a Relative Scale
Next, finger the fifth fret of the second string and pluck the second and third strings at the same time, adjusting the third string's machine head until the two strings match pitch. Repeat this same process with the rest of the strings. The only exception to this process is the pair of strings four and five. For this pair, finger the fourth fret (not the fifth) of the fourth string and pluck the two strings, adjusting the fifth string's machine head until the two strings match pitch. Below are pictures of the second string being tuned (left) and the fifth string being tuned (right).
If you can't tell whether the pitches of two strings are matching, here's a neat trick you can use to get it right every time! As the two strings' pitches get very close each other, listen closely for a soft 'pulse' or 'beat'. Sound waves act in an interesting fashion - they superimpose upon each other. As the frequencies (i.e. the pitches) of two sound waves get closer to each other, this 'pulse' gets longer and more difficult to hear. When you can no longer hear the pulse, the string you are tuning is in tune. Pictured below are some simple example graphs of what two strings' sound waves come closer and closer to having the same frequency could look like. Notice how the superimposed 'beat' gets longer.