Introduction: How to Restring Your Guitar
This Instructable will take you through the process of replacing the strings on just about any kind of guitar. As this is designed to help beginners, the electric guitar used in this example is a common model in "Beginning Guitar Bundles" that can be found through online shopping and local music shops, that often include a small amplifier, cables, shoulder strap, soft case (cloth), picks, and sometimes other incentives.
-Wire Cutters (to trim excess wire after guitar has been re-strung)
-Plyers (for some acoustic guitars)
-Tuning Peg Key (aka: Tuning Crank)
Step 1: Before You Begin...
Be sure to look through all the instructions with your guitar in-hand before starting the process, knowing the end result will help avoid accidental damage to the guitar or strings mid-process.
Additionally, verify how your guitar anchors the stings to the bridge. Classical and Flamenco Guitars, as well as Ukuleles, use nylon strings that are tied off at the bridge. This Instructable will NOT be covering these particular knots, but will focus ONLY on metal strings, which have a braided knot or eyelet to keep the base of the string in place.
Step 2: Identify Your Bridge (Acoustics)
Acoustic guitars generally have two types of bridges:
One that the strings can slide straight through until the eyelet is caught when pulled tight, such as the red guitar. Or they will have pegs that hold the eyelet and are then inserted into the bridge, such as the brown guitar. Plyers will be needed to remove these pegs, even after the strings are loose.
Step 3: Identify Your Bridge (Electrics)
Electric guitars have a greater variety of bridges; however, despite their difference in appearance, most simply have an entrance that is too small to let the eyelet pass through, holding it in place when the string is tightened. Some will pull straight through, like the red acoustic; dovetail bridges, seen on the orange guitar, catch the eyelet and loop back over the bridge; where others are inserted all the way through the body of the guitar from the back and catch the eyelet inside the guitar itself, shown with the blue guitar.
Step 4: Verify Your Strings
While holding the guitar, "String 1" is the thinnest string and is closest to the ground; shown being touched by the index finger. "String 6" is the thickest string and is furthest from the ground; shown being touched by both the index and middle fingers.
Different manufacturers will label their strings in different ways. While is it most common to use colored eyelets to easily recognize the thickness of each string, some manufacturers will not color code the eyelets but label each strings package respectively. If you're eyelets are not color coded then be extra careful not to mix the strings; in this case, it would be recommended not to open the individual string until you are ready to attach it to the guitar.
"What do you play?"
There are several factors that influence the sound a guitar makes, and the strings play part in that equation as well. If you are looking for a heavy metal & rock sound, look for strings made of steel or nickel; nylon for high and "bright" sounding tones; and brass or copper strings if you're looking for a versatile "middle of the road." However, most strings will only make an impact on high end performance gear and recording studios - the cherry on top, if you will - so don't be afraid to stick to your budget when it comes to strings, especially when starting out. As you progress, try out different materials and gauges to hone in on the styles you enjoy.
Step 5: Removing Your Old Strings at the Head
Begin loosening the strings by turning the tuning pegs.
Caution: do not cut strings that under tension as the recoil is unpredictable and may cause damage to people and/or equipment. Always loosen strings completely to remove them.
While a tuning crank is not required, most locations where you purchase stings will have these cranks and they usually only cost $1 or $2. It will make the process much quicker and keep you from turning the peg one half turn at a time. Simply place the cap over the tuning peg and grasp the handle, as you "crank" the tool around (hence the nickname), the handle will rotate allowing a quick and smooth rotation of the tuning peg.
Without the crank, continue to rotate the tuning pegs by hand until the stings can be removed by hand.
Looking Ahead: Righty-loosy...???
While some guitarists will stick to a "righty-tighty, lefty-loosy" attitude when setting up their guitar, others will turn the peg away from the body of the guitar (to the left) in order to pull the string tight and turn the peg towards the body of the guitar (to the right) to loosen the strings. The latter does tend to be the norm, but the truth is that there is no correct answer; just make sure it feels comfortable and intuitive to you. Take some time to play with what "feels normal" and turn the pegs in the direction that feels natural when you replace your strings in later steps.
Step 6: Removing Your Old Strings at the Bridge
When all strings have been removed from the head, push the strings back through the bridge. This will aid you in identifying where and how to re-attach your new strings if this is the first time to replace them on this guitar.
Note: Over time, the tension on the strings can cause the eyelet to become wedged in place; if this happens, a small screwdriver or allen wrench can be used to push the eyelet out.
Acoustic Pegs: If you have an acoustic guitar with pegs, use your plyers to remove the pegs and strings from the bridge. To preserve your pegs, place cloth between your plyers and the pegs to avoid divots in the plastic pegs.
Step 7: "A Clean Guitar Is a Happy Guitar..."
Ok, technically you don't HAVE to do this part, but keeping your guitar clean will help preserve it for much longer and cleaning your guitar is much simpler without all the strings covering the fretboard and pickups. A rag and a few q-tips will make quick work of dust, dirt, and oil on the surfaces and crevices of your guitar. Additionally, as you become more familiar with your guitar, this will also become a great time to make sure that none of your other components are loose or damaged.
Step 8: Feeding the Bridge
Feed the new strings back through the openings in the bridge until the eyelet catches. Be certain that to use the strings in the appropriate places, refer back to Step 4 if clarification is needed.
Acoustic pegs: Insert the eyelet into the peg, then insert the peg into the bridge.
Step 9: Measuring Your Slack
Pull each string to its corresponding tuning key, but do not pull the string tight. Allow approximately two fingers above the neck as slack, this excess will wrap around the tuning peg and provide the tension needed to keep the string from unraveling.
Step 10: Pro-Tip...
With the slack measured, feed the string into the tuning peg. To mark its location you can bend the string to act as a hook in the hole of the tuning peg; you can now remove the fingers used to measure the slack without fear of losing your place. Bring the bend of the string to the hole of the tuning peg and begin to tighten your string.
Step 11: Tightening Your Strings
Keep the winding string as close to the base of the peg as possible, the curve of the peg will push the sting up as it begins to tighten. Ensure that the string sets within the groves of the bridge and the head of the guitar. At this point, only tighten the string enough that it will not easily be pulled from these grooves.
Repeat Steps 8 - 11 until all strings are attached to the guitar. Once all string are attached, use wire cutters to clip off the excess string sticking out of the tuning pegs; just be careful not to accidently snip the tightened portion of the string.
Step 12: Re-tuning Your Guitar
Now that all of the stings have been replaced on your guitar, it's time to get it tuned up and ready to play. New strings will need to be re-tuned everyday for the first few days as they stretch and settle into the tension being placed on them.
Auto tuners can be purchased that will clip onto the head of the guitar, or apps can be downloaded to your smartphone (there are quite a few free apps that work really well), they will use the microphone to listen to the tone the strings make and indicate whether you should tighten/loosen the string.
Guitars that are played regularly (3-4 hours/week) should only need their strings changed every 3-4 months. Playing more or less will reduce or extend their duration respectively, so be warry of anyone telling you to replace them every month (especially if they're the ones selling you the strings).