Electric guitars are fun, but if you want more versatility, check our guide and find the best travel guitar for you. Also, if you want to get an acoustic guitar too but don’t want to splash the cash on that, check out this post. Here are some easy steps to follow when you change your electric guitar’s strings.
Remove the old strings
You need to change your strings if they are rusty, falling out of tune quickly or gummy. Professional guitar players change their strings frequently, some of them on a weekly basis. You will need some new strings if your current ones feel sticky or they’re slow to tune. Also, if you’re playing somewhere important, change the strings the morning before you actually play.
Before removing the strings, note the path that they have. If this is the first time you change the strings, take a picture so you know how everything should look. Some guitars have special winding patterns or holes through which the strings have to go through, so it’s important to pay attention to those details.
Don’t just cut the strings off unless you have no other alternative. Instead, turn the tuning machine so that the string gets loosened and do that until you can pull the string out by hand. If the string sounds lower, it means you’re doing a good job and you’re loosening it. This is a good method to ease tension gradually.
If your guitar has a usual bridge, like a Stratocaster, after you unwind the strings you can remove them by pulling them out of the back of the guitar. But don’t pull with force and to make the situation easier push them through, from the other side and grab the small donut-shaped end. Be patient and don’t yank the string out, take your time.
Clean the guitar
It’s important to clean the guitar whenever you change the strings. You should pay more attention to the fretboard. You don’t usually have access to that part of the guitar because it’s covered by the strings, so when you get them off make sure to clean it. You should know that most electric guitar fretboards aren’t finished and they need lacquer sprayed on them.
If your guitar’s fretboard is made of rosewood or ebony, chances are it isn’t finished and you will have to do that yourself. There are many products that you can use to clean the guitar and most people prefer oil soap. That is because it helps clean the wood and also conditions it. That is particularly important for the fretboard because due to the stress of you playing on it, it can dry out and crack.
When cleaning your fretboard put just a bit of oil soap on it, you don’t need much. Then take very fine steel wool and rub the fretboard well to eliminate any dirt buildup. Don’t go too close to the pickups, or cover them with something, because the magnet in them will draw the steel wool. You can also polish the frets with the steel wool until they are clean.
By keeping your guitar clean you ensure that the new strings are protected, everything looks good and it will also feel better.
Attach the new strings
Make sure to have the correct strings and note that most of the times you will need regular weight or lite strings, nothing else. Some experienced guitarists like to use heavier gauges, but you can’t simply choose a heavy gauge if you don’t know whether your guitar is made for it or not. Strings that pull too hard can bend your guitar’s neck.
Take the guitar and lay it flat on a soft surface and in a position that lets you handle it with ease. Make sure you have enough room to move around it and place a towel or blanket under it to avoid scratching. You can rest the head on the edge of the surface to make the process easier.
Take each tuning post and turn their hole so that they face you, pointing away from the string. Then take the first string and pass it through the bridge and into the tuning peg. You have to thread it from the inside of the guitar outwards.
Most people like to start with the thickest string, the E. After threading it through the bridge and the tuning peg pull it away from your guitar so you have about 3 inches of slack, as you want to have enough string to tighten around the tuning peg.
After that bend the string in an S shape, with your right hand coming towards you away from the guitar and the left hand pushing towards the other tuning pegs. Take the end that comes out of the peg and pull it under the part of the string that is fed into the tuning peg. Then bring it back up and you essentially tie a little loose knot.
Tension the strings
After you fed the string through the hole of the tuning post and you created a small loop, it’s time to tighten it. To do that place your finger on the string approximately 2 inches before it meets the tuning peg. You will need to press it against the fretboard, but gently, as you only need to hold it in place.
Start to turn the tuner in a counter-clockwise motion and when doing that be sure that the string is winding well, uniformly around the tuner. Don’t tighten it too much, you don’t want to break it. Fine tuning comes later.
Do the same with all the other strings and remember to leave some slack and not tune them to perfection right from the start. Instead, use a tuner to help you see how off-tune the strings are and slowly work towards tuning them perfectly. Take your time with this, you don’t want to break the strings.
After that, the only thing left to do is cut off the ends that stick out of the tuning poles. Use wire cutters for that and leave just a bit of string out.
Signs that new strings are needed
If playing the guitar is nothing new to you and you’ve already gained significant experience in this field, it might not be difficult to tell when it’s time to change your strings. However, if this is your first guitar, some signs will let you know when new strings are needed.
One of the first and easiest things to notice is that getting in tune becomes more challenging. Not to mention that staying in tune might be just a matter of minutes before you need to get the instrument in tune again. Even after tuning your guitar, the tone produced might sound flat.
The way the strings look will also tell you a lot about the need for new ones. If they are discolored and rusty or the wraps have unwinded and thus exposed the core, it’s crystal clear that they won’t be of much use anymore.
If you’ve noticed any or all of these signs, heading to a music store for new strings is the thing to do. Choosing the right ones for your guitar is crucial, though, and we’ll cover this topic below.
How often should you change your electric guitar strings?
The answer to this question varies from one player to another, yet there are some key things to consider to get closer to the one that best suits your case. One of the first things to take into account regards the frequency of your practice sessions or gigs.
If you don’t play just now and then, you take this instrument seriously, and thus you engage in this sonic journey quite often, chances are that you will need to change the strings more often than amateur players. Also, if you change tunings quite often, the strings might become useless sooner.
Plus, think of the environments you play in. Is there a lot of smoke or do you smoke while playing? Weather elements and smoke might shorten the life of your electric guitar strings. Additionally, if you sweat a lot and your perspiration gets on the strings, they can fail to do their job properly sooner.
Not to mention that your playing style counts a lot when it comes to how long your strings last. If you often adopt a more aggressive style and there’s a lot of hard picking and bending involved, be ready to change the strings more often.
Sure, the quality of the strings you use has a lot to say as far as durability is concerned even when many of the factors mentioned above are involved. That’s why it is best to invest in premium-grade strings that will cover your needs for a longer time if you play frequently.
However, when the time to change your strings comes, you will need various tools to make the whole process easier and less challenging including a string cutter, a string winder, a tuner, and a headstock stand.
Things to consider when buying new strings
You might have one of the best electric guitars available, some highly-appreciated effects pedal, or amp, yet if you don’t have the right strings for your instrument and playing needs, all those items won’t help you much.
The strings are the only ones between you, your guitar, and the sounds produced; therefore, utmost attention should be paid when purchasing such items. To make sure you get the right strings for your needs, you need to consider the music genre you want to play and your playing style, how often you play, and the tone and sound you want to achieve.
You should thus consider the string gauge or thickness, the materials, the winding method used for the strings, and the use or lack of coatings. All these factors will impact the sonic output.
The market offers light, medium, thick, and hybrid strings as far as the gauge is concerned. Thicker guitar strings are used for lower notes and will thus help you produce bass frequencies whereas the thinner ones will help you with higher frequencies.
There are various materials employed for the construction of electric string guitars and they will not only provide you with variations in the sounds they produce but with different durability levels. The winding method used for the strings also has a lot to say when it comes to playability and tone.
Guitar string maintenance tips
The way you take care of your strings holds great importance as far as their life is regarded. With a few simple tips, you can prolong the life of your electric guitar strings and thus change them less frequently.
Make sure you wipe down the strings with a clean cloth after every practice session or gig. By doing so, you will extend their life as dust, perspiration, or other elements will be removed from their surface. If playing the guitar is not just a spare time activity, you might want to consider getting cleaning tools that were specifically designed for strings.
It is best to wash your hands before your practice session or gig in order to prevent string oxidation. Consider the material used for the strings and the weather conditions that might affect them. Avoid the elements and factors that are known to damage such materials.
Even if you follow these tips, other factors might damage a string. To avoid unpleasant events, make sure your musical gear includes some extra single strings or an extra set. If a string breaks, you can thus be ready to change it immediately.
Also, if you employ light gauge strings and they tend to break more easily, it is a good idea to purchase single strings in bulk to be able to change them when the need arises. Many factors affect the durability of the strings you use and thus how often you need to change them. The quality of the materials employed, the way you play, and how much and often you clean them, all have a word to say as far as string life is regarded.
Remove the old strings
Before using wire cutters to get rid of the old set of strings, you should try to loosen them by down-tuning. The method is less invasive than simply cutting off the strings but might require some previous training and knowledge.
If you are a beginner, you should start by loosening one string at a time, using a string winder. As a general rule, each string should sound deeper when plucked, if you are loosening it. The method eases tension gradually and, in case any of the strings breaks during the process, you can always use the remaining old strings.
Once all the strings are loose, you can unwind them off the tuning peg and remove them from the neck of the guitar with the help of a string winder.
Attach the new strings
Changing strings doesn’t have to be a difficult task, as long as you have a clue of what you’re doing. You can use a tuner to slowly find the proper tension for each string. As a general rule, you want to avoid tightening the strings too much as this can cause them to break easier.
Good thing most guitars only have 6 strings because, otherwise, you would be stuck in the process for a very long time. After you’ve got the first string done, repeat the process on the remaining ones, replacing all the old strings.
Don’t forget to also clean the fretboard after removing one string, to get rid of all the debris and make sure your new set is not too tightly strung.
After you’ve finished changing strings, use wire cutters to remove the excess string at the end. You may want to leave about half an inch of string to allow deeper tuning, should you want that in the future.
If you don’t want your new strings to stretch in the first couple of days after they have been replaced, we suggest you constantly tune your guitar and play it for a few hours just to see how it sounds. Remember that adjustments can be made according to your preferences, so don’t be too eager to get rid of those wire cutters just yet.
Since the process may sound complicated and time-consuming for newbies, it is always best to ask for professional help if you don’t seem to work it out on your own. Take your instrument to a professional music shop and ask for help in changing the strings.
If you insist on doing the job alone, make sure you first purchase the right types of tools and accessories required in the process – cutters, a string winder, and the right strings, as we suggested earlier in the guide.
A string winder should be the first on your shopping list as it represents the most useful tool in the process and will make it easier for you to replace the strings. The string winder should come with a comfortable handle that offers a good grip so you can easily grab each string.
How often should you change your electric guitar strings?
Other external factors like humidity or exposure can also influence the frequency with which you are changing the strings of your guitar. However, if you don’t play too often and you make sure to regularly clean the grease and dirt from every string after playing, you might prolong the life of the accessories.
Another important thing to remember is that regardless of all these factors, strings will require changing at a certain point. Even if you keep your guitar in its case and don’t touch it for years, you’ll still have to replace strings as they oxidize in time and will break or lose tension easier.
Lastly, the player’s performance also plays a role in the restringing process. While some musicians will enjoy the sound of their old broken-in strings, others will prefer the crisp, sharp sounds made by fresh springs. At the end of the day, it is your call and you should change the strings as often as you find it appropriate to match the sound you are looking for in your electric guitar.
If you notice the accessories are rusty, discolored or don’t sound right, it is not up to you anymore and your guitar is in desperate need of some TLC. And, don’t forget to experiment with various types of strings. Given the multitude of brands, gauges, materials, and styles available, it would be a shame to stick to just one brand.
What types of strings are best for your electric guitar?
If you’re a newbie in the field, you have probably asked yourself why changing strings is an important task, and which types of strings are the best ones for your instrument.
As with other string instruments, especially violins, there are a few differences between acoustic instruments and their electric version. The main difference is that the first ones feature an empty body that allows the strings to shape the intensity and tone of the sound, while the electric ones will need an amp or a microphone to deliver a sound.
That being said, changing strings in your electric guitar will not affect the sound too much, which means you can pick any set of strings and, with the right configuration, you can even turn your acoustic old strings into a suitable choice for an electric instrument.
How can you pick the right strings for your guitar?
Given the multitude of options on the market, changing strings on your electric guitar should be an easy choice. However, if you’re not familiar with the different types, the task could get confusing and even challenging.
According to specialists, almost always it is best to opt for a set of strings marketed as “lite” or “regular weight”.
Keep in mind that strings that are too heavy for your guitar model might end up warping or bending the neck of the instrument without making the previous necessary adjustments, so this is why you should stick to the regulars before you find out everything about your guitar model and explore your playing abilities.
Generally speaking, a high E string should be anywhere between .008 and .0011 inches thick, no matter if you’re opting for extra lite, lite or thick strings. When handling drop tunings like drop D, you should shop for a thicker set of strings to replace your old strings.
Again, if you’re not familiar with the terminology or the science behind the process, your best guess would be to find a professional music store and ask for advice or at least shop for the right gear, including a string winder.
Replacing your old guitar strings doesn’t have to be a complicated job, as long as you follow the instructions provided in this guide and you stick to quality accessories. Apart from your favorite set of strings from D’Addario or any other brand, don’t forget you’ll also need a string winder and wire cutters to perform this operation.
As for how often you should make the changes, it depends on a series of internal and external factors, including how often you play the instrument, if you own a left hand or a right-hand guitar if you store it properly, and how well you know how to play it.
Keep in mind that playing a right-handed guitar when you mainly operate with your left hand might put extra pressure on both some of the strings and your fingers so you should first opt for the perfect instrument, according to your “better hand”.