Countless people enjoy playing guitar, but do not know the basics of how to restring or tune their guitar. Even more people are fairly experienced guitar players that do not know to restring or tune their guitars properly.
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
Pictured here is a guitar labeled with all the terminology you will need to know for this instructable:
- 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
Pictured here is what you'll need to restring your guitar:
-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)
The first step in the restringing process is (you guessed it!) removing the current strings from the guitar. Although it is common practice, it is certainly not necessary to cut the strings you are removing. Removing a string is as simple as the following two steps:
(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)
(2) Use pliers to remove the corresponding bridge pin and pull the string out.
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 new strings can be added in any order. It is recommended, however, to do them in order from the heaviest to the lightest to maintain some level of organization. Conveniently enough, some brands of guitar strings come with color-coded beads on the end.
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
Choosing a length is very important when restringing a guitar. It is essential that the string wraps around the tuning pin multiple times - if not, the string will fall out of tune quite easily. The string tension required to turn the pin is actually a function of the number of winds around the pin – the more windings, the higher the tension required to make the guitar fall out of tune. Three to four turns per string is sufficient. Coincidentally, that is just about the length from one tuning pin to the next.
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
Before threading the strings into the pin holes, ensure that all pin holes are rotated perpendicular to the neck of the guitar.
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
Turn the machine head to wind the string around the pin. When observing the face of the headstock, the pins should be turning counterclockwise for the lower three strings and clockwise for the upper three strings. It is important to keep the string near the tuning pin taught so the string coils tightly around the pin. Tighten until there is no slack in the string. The string should make three to four wraps around the pin.
Repeat all of the previously described processes for each string.
Step 9: Restringing: Cut Off Excess String
Use the wire cutters to trim the excess string from the tuning pins. Leave the excess long enough so that it doesn't slip, but cut it short enough so that it doesn't get in the way - the ends can be quite sharp. Leaving around a quarter inch is recommended.
Step 10: Tuning: What Youâll Need
You only need two things to tune your guitar: (1) the guitar and (2) a tuning device. Appropriate tuning devices include, but are not limited to the following:
- 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, mouth tuner, or piano is what we will call tuning on an absolute scale. If you want your guitar to be in tune with your friends' instruments or the songs you listen to, absolute tuning is a must, and it cannot be done without a tuning device.
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
Stretching your strings is incredibly important to the guitar's playability, yet it is the most overlooked step of the tuning process. It is very easy to do, and only needs to be done the first time new strings are tuned. All guitar strings stretch over time, and if you don't stretch them early on your guitar will fall out of tune much more often.
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
If you have no tuning device, you can tune your guitar relative to itself. It will not be in tune on an absolute scale, but it will still sound fine. To tune on a relative scale, start by fingering the fifth fret of the first string. Pluck the first and second strings at the same time, adjusting the second string's machine head until the two strings match pitch (Don't forget to tune up to the pitch!).
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.