Intro: Simple Maintenance Tips to Make Your Electric Guitar Look and Sound Better
In this tutorial I will be showing how to change strings on electric guitars and how to clean your guitar to make it look shiny and new. This is a very important task for any guitar player as the strings are the life line of your guitar.
Step 1: Identify the Parts of a Guitar and Definitions
Below are the definitions of the parts you will need to know:
- Bridge – where the strings come in contact with the body of the guitar
- Fret – the metal bars on the fret-board that come in contact with the string
- Machine Head – where the string comes in contact with the head of the guitar
- Tuning Key– turns the machine heads will lower or increase the pitch of the string
Step 2: Gathering Tools and Creating Workspace
In order to change the strings and clean the body, only a few tools will be need. You will want to find a flat surface that is long enough for your guitar. Also you need to put down a towel or some protective item to lay the guitar on to protect the finish of the guitar.
- Wire Cutters
- Some kind of stable item to prop up neck of guitar
- A roll of paper towels can work
- Peg Winder (Optional)
- Microfiber Cleaning Cloth
- Guitar Polish
- Guitar Strings (see Step 6 for specifics)
- A towel
- Tuner (you can get a free tuning app on your phone)
Step 3: Remove the Strings From the Guitar
We are going to first remove all of the strings off of the guitar. You may read that some people say that it is ill advised to remove all of the strings from the guitar at once, but in my experience removing them for a brief period (less than a few hours) isn’t devastating to the guitar.
- Materials you will need:
- Wire Cutters
- Peg Winder
- Stable Item to Support the Neck
- Microfiber Cleaning Towel
- If you pluck the string while doing this you should hear the string loose pitch
- WARNING! : The ends of the string are extremely sharp and can easily puncture your skin. Handle these ends with care!
- First take your wire cutters and cut off the curled up ends of the strings that you took off in step 3 (Figure 3.2). You only have to cut until the string is straight and can move through the bridge. (Figure 3.3)
- Next, grab the string near the bridge and push it through until the ball end of the string pops out. (Figure 3.4)
- Grab the ball end of the string and pull the string through the bridge till it is completely removed from the guitar.
- Dispose of the string.
Step 4: Cleaning the Fret Board
This is a necessary part of maintenance of a guitar because a ton of dirt and grim builds up here where your fingers are touching. Since this is the most actively used part of the guitar, wear and tear happens a lot faster which means that your fret board will loose its its shine faster. Minimal attention to this area will increase your guitars tone and shine. All it takes is some elbow grease!
- With the strings completely removed grab your microfiber cleaning cloth and begin at the first fret.
- Hold the neck of the guitar with your right hand to ensure that it doesn't move and hold the cloth in your left hand.
- Begin to apply pressure and start rubbing vertically. (with the direction of the frets)
- Apply a little more pressure when you get to the fret as this is the place where most of the dirt gets trapped. You may have to use your fingernails to get some of the dirt out.
- Move down to the next fret.
- Repeat Steps 2 – 5 moving down the fret board until all frets are cleaned.
Step 5: Cleaning the Body of the Guitar
The strategy of “wax on wax off” applies here. Just like waxing your car, this may not be the most enjoyable thing to do, but if done correctly the end result will make your guitar look almost brand new and catch people’s eyes.
- Before you start this step it is a good idea to either clean off your microfiber cloth or get a new cloth.
Warning: Do not get your cloth wet!
- You should quickly dust off anything that has collected on the surface especially where the strings were.
- Next you want to grab your guitar polish. Any kind of guitar polish you pick up from a music store or amazon will do. (I am using a polish by Dunlop)
- First you will want to spray a light coat of polish onto the cloth. Do not directly apply to the guitar body as this can lead to too much polish being applied meaning more work for you!
- Start with the top of the guitar (strings facing up) and start to rub the polish in a circle pattern all around the body. (wax on)
- Next wait for about a minute, then being to repeat the circle pattern to remove the polish (wax off)
- Note: Make sure you are in a well-lit area! Pick up the guitar and move it around in the light to make sure that you have removed all of the polish. You will be able to see the shiny polished areas vs the unpolished areas.
- Flip your guitar over so that the back is facing up and repeat steps 4-6.
- Warning: Some guitars do not have a clear coat finish on the back. If your guitar does not have this clear coat finish DO NOT APPLY THE POLISH!
Step 6: Restringing the Guitar
This can be one of the trickier parts for beginners, but taking it slow and making sure everything is done correctly can make it successful for anyone!
A note about strings. There are a ton of different varieties of strings, but just sticking to the basics for electric guitars the standard is 9 gauge strings (high E is .09 mm thick). I am using 9 gauge Ernie Ball Super Slinky strings. If you use lighter or thicker strings I highly recommend you take your guitar to a music shop after you change the strings because there are some things that will need to be adjusted for your guitar to play and feel proper.
Note: The pack of strings sometimes don’t list the string names out (EADGBE) they list by gauge.
Gauges of each string:
- 42 gauge (Low E)
- 32 gauge (A)
- 24 gauge (D)
- 16 gauge (G)
- 11 gauge (B)
- 9 gauge (High E)
The mechanics of changing strings between different gauges, however, is exactly the same.
- Grab your pack of strings and open them up and make sure that all 6 strings are there.
- Note: Do not fully take them out of their individual sleeve so that you don’t mix up the strings!
- Take your low E string (42 gauge) and take the freed end (end without the little ball) and slide it through the appropriate bridge hole (the one all the way to the left).
- Move the tuning machine so that the hole is lined vertically with the guitar and slide the freed end of the string through.(See Figure 6.1)
- Pull the string taught until the ball end catches the bridge.
- While holding the string taught, grab the string where the next tuning machine up is(See Figure 6.2) and slide the string back until you hit the tuning peg of the string you’re changing creating slack in the string.
- Note: For 3rd and 4th strings you will have to eye ball how much to grab since there are no tuning machines above them. (See Figure 6.6)
- At this point if the tuning machine is on the left side of the head, then make a 90 degree bend to the left. If the tuning machine is on the right side of the head, make a 90 degree bend to the right. (See Figure 6.3)
- Before you start winding, grab the string near the first or second fret and pull on it towards the body of the guitar so it is semi-tight around the tuning machine.
- Note: Hold the string so that it doesn't move on the tuning machine, but light enough so that the excess string will be able to slide through your fingers while winding.
- Next grab your peg winder with your left hand and put it on the tuning peg of the 6th string and start winding counterclockwise. (See Figure 6.4)
- As the string is being wound make sure that each additional wound is going below the current one.
- The string will begin to build tension. Once it builds enough tension (aka the string starts to get tighter), take out your tuner and tune the string to the appropriate tuning.
- Once at the appropriate tuning cut the excess string leaving about 1/8 inch o r so of string off of the tuning peg. (See Figure 6.5)
- Repeat steps 2-11 for the other 5 strings (in the order of ADGBE).