Replacing Guitar Strings Print

This article is specifically aimed at changing strings on a flat top steel string acoustic guitar.  It is important that it be done with care that repairs could be avoided and that your instrument would stay in tune.

If your guitar is sounding somewhat dead or you are noticing it is harder to keep your instrument in tune, it is time to change strings.  For most applications I recommend a light gauge or custom light gauge set. The light gauge strings are easier to play and are easier on your guitar as they have less tension than a medium or heavy set.  The only tradeoff by using the lights is slightly less volume, however tone could be better since the guitar top is a little more free to ring out.  I also recommend using a coated string as this greatly extends their life.  Elixir and D'Addario both manufacture excellent coated strings and there is now a number of other makers also.

The first step in changing strings is to back off all your tuners until the strings are all loose and floppy.  Take a small wire cutter and gently grasp each bridge pin underneath the ball.  A little wiggle while pulling the pin up should do the job.  Put the pins in order as you take them out so they go back in the same hole.  Remove all the strings.  If they won't pull up through the bridge pin holes clip them off with the wire cutters and reach inside the guitar and pull them out.

A typical flat top guitar has no finish on the fretboard surface or the bridge, so the next step (and I do this every time I change strings) is to take a soft cloth and lightlly coat these surfaces with lemon oil (such as Formby's) or boiled linseed oil.  These will protect the wood from cracking and the lemon oil smells wonderful.  Linseed oil darkens the wood better and is longer lasting.

Now we're ready to replace the strings.  Place the ball end of each string through the bridge pin hole from the top (if the hole is too small feed the string through from inside the guitar).  Grasp the string with your left hand just above the bridge (carefull not to bend it) and make sure the ball end is just inside the guitar as you gently replace the bridge pin.  Make sure the slot in the pin is facing towards the peghead and that the string is resting in that slot.  Here is the single most important thing in changing your strings.  As you are pulling up on the string and at the same time pressing the pin into place REACH INSIDE THE GUITAR AND MAKE SURE THE BALL END IS PULLED UP AGAINST THE BRIDGE PLATE INSIDE THE GUITAR. Work with it until the ball is ALONGSIDE the pin and up against the hardwood veneer inside the instrument.  Do all six strings.  Doing this step properly can prevent a bridge from coming loose.

Now we're ready to attach the strings to the string posts.  Lay all the strings on the right side of the guitar and start with the low E #6 string.  Feed the string through the string post hole and leave a little bit of slack between the post and the bridge so it will have enough for about one turn of the post.  Before turning the tuner grab the string that has been pulled through and wrap it clockwise around the string post, under the string and then bend it straight up and hold it.  Now turn the tuner button so the post is turning counter clockwise and as you are tightening keep the winding string at the bottom of the post. As you go through each string leave more slack between the post and bridge so when tightening each progressively smaller string you will get more winds.  The direction for wrapping the string and tightening the strings will be just the opposite for the three treble strings as it was for the bass strings.

Tighten all strings roughly in tune and with the wire cutters clip the excess string on the string posts even with the top of the post.

Tune your instrument and enjoy that beautiful tone. The strings will stretch for a day or two and so will need more frequent tuning.

Rick