Hey there! Guitar strings crusty? Need to know how to change guitar strings? Congratulations, you’ve come to the right place. You have found a comprehensive guide, no need to look any further.
I’ve been playing the guitar and changing my strings for about 25 years now. I’ve done things the right way and the wrong way, and I’ve learned a few lessons along the way. When you need to know how to change guitar strings, I’m your guy!
That’s why I’m so excited to pass along the tips and tricks I’ve learned to you!
Before we get started with the steps, go ahead and gather the needed items in the list below. You’ll want to have all these items together before you start to change your strings. If you need help knowing what guitar strings you need to buy or want to know more about strings check out Guitar Strings 101: The Definitive Guide.
Helpful Items For Changing Strings
- string winder
- needle-nose pliers
- new pack of strings
- polish cloth/washrag
- wire cutters
- fretboard conditioner
Gathering together the listed items before you start will save you time and make the job a little easier. Following the steps on this list will teach you how to change guitar strings in no time. And doing it yourself could save you a little cash too.
Let’s get it started!
Step 1. First, Release Tension on Old Strings
You can’t take your old strings off until you release the tension on them. This is where the string winder comes in handy and shaves a lot of time off of the entire process.
Now, you can turn each tuning key by hand if you want to. And you don’t have to purchase a string winder. But life is so much easier with a string winder! And they are dirt cheap, so why not? I like to use something simple like the Dunlop string winder.
It is inexpensive and very effective. You will run across these at most pawn shops and all guitar shops. Or you can easily find one online. Frankly, it doesn’t matter what kind you get. Just get one.
Have a seat and hold the guitar upright or across your lap face up. Whichever way is most comfortable for you is best. You can sit on the floor if you want to. I like to sit on a stool or a chair with no armrests.
Start with the sixth string (the thickest one). Slide the string winder over the tuning key and turn in a clockwise motion to release tension. Release all the tension on the string until it is completely loose and floppy. You just want to unwind until you have enough slack to unwind the rest with your fingers.
After the string is loose enough at the post continue to unwrap the excess string from around the string post. Now carefully (strings are sharp) pull the string out of the string post. Repeat this process for all six strings.
(Note: Guitar strings are sharp at the ends. Use caution when removing them from the string post!)
Now that you have all six strings removed from their tuning keys, it’s time to remove them at the bridge. This is where your needle nose pliers come into play.
Step 2. Remove Strings from the Bridge
Next, you will need to take your wash rag and lay it over the string pegs at the bridge. This prevents cosmetic damage to the peg. Not everyone protects their pegs with a cloth and it’s certainly no law that you must do it this way but I don’t like to mess up my pegs man!
Now carefully grab hold of the peghead with your needle-nose pliers and pull the peg out of the bridge hole. You’ll need to use one hand to hold the guitar in your lap and the other to pull the peg out. Make sure you pull straight up and not to the side.
Step 3. Prep the Neck and Body
Now that you have your old strings off you need to take this opportunity to clean your guitar. Now cleaning a guitar is a little different. You don’t want to take soap and water and start scrubbing your instrument.
In most cases, you don’t want to put anything on the guitar except maybe a light conditioner for the fretboard. When I say clean the guitar, I mean wipe or polish it gently with a non-abrasive cloth. Give attention to the neck, headstock, and body.
You will notice a layer of dust on the headstock and between the neck and the sound hole. Look between the sound hole and the bridge. These were hard-to-reach places with the strings on. Go ahead and wipe those areas down with your dry washcloth.
Wipe away any dust you see. Go ahead and get any fingerprints or smudges too.
Now you want to move onto your fretboard. You will likely see a gooky substance on the fretboard and frets that look greenish as you wipe it off. This is a combination of oils from your fingers, skin cells, and tarnishes from the frets.
Go ahead and wipe down the fretboard along with each fret with your dry washcloth. I use the washcloth for this because it is a little more abrasive than the polish cloth and it gets the job done a little better.
Don’t be afraid to apply some elbow grease! You will likely need it to get this gook to come off.
Apply a Fretboard Conditioner
For an Ebony or Rosewood fingerboard, you will want to apply a fretboard conditioner. You may want to consider a product like Ernie Ball Wonder Wipes. They are fast and effective.
Recommended reading: How to Properly Clean a Rosewood Fingerboard.
It’s not always necessary to condition the fretboard at every string change. This depends on how often you change strings and how dirty or dry the fretboard is. But you should at least wipe down the fretboard every time. I would recommend conditioning about every six months.
Conditioner is not recommended on lighter color necks such as Maple.
4. Putting on the New Strings
Now you will want to open your new pack of strings. Most players already know what kind of strings they want to use. I like to use Martin strings for my acoustic. I usually pick Ernie Ball or D’Addario for my electric strings.
My only note of advice here about string choice would be concerning the gauge. When you have your guitar set up properly it will be set to whatever string gauge is on the guitar at the time. That being said, if you were to put on a different gauge string you would need to get a setup.
So my advice is to keep it consistent.
Once you decide what gauge strings you like to play then stick to that. Don’t use a different gauge string every time you change strings. Inside your box of strings, you should find that the strings are labeled and ready to go. Many times they are packaged two together like this.
Start with the biggest (sixth) string. Insert the steel ball end into the correct peg hole. Next, put the peg back into the hole with the string lining up with the groove in the peg. Push the peg back into the hole.
Keep Going, Avoid Shortcuts
Some folks like to tap the pegs back in with a hammer. I don’t recommend doing this but if you do go that route then use a small rubber mallet. And cover the peg and bridge with a cloth first.
Be very gentle. You can crack the bridge!
Now, take the other end of the string and place it in its correct slot at the nut. Place your thumb over the string at the nut and hold it in place. Next, feed the string through the correct tuning key. Now it’s time to put that string winder to use.
While holding the string at the nut with your thumb, wind the tuning key in a counter-clockwise motion. Only tighten enough to hold the string in place at the nut. Don’t worry about tuning at this point. Repeat this process for the remaining strings.
Now that you have successfully learned how to change guitar strings, your new strings need to be broken in!
5. Breaking Them In
Now use your favorite tuner and tune all the strings up to standard(A440) tuning. I like to use the Korg Chromatic Tuner but you can use any tuner that gets the job done.
I recommend tuning to standard because it puts more tension on the strings. This will cause the strings to get stretched a little faster than say E flat tuning. For instance, if you tune to E flat first and then later to standard tuning, then you may find yourself going through the stretching process twice.
If you stay in E flat all the time it’s probably not an issue. But if you go from standard to lower tunings often then go ahead and tune to standard first.
Make sure that as the strings get tighter the pegs at the bridge don’t begin to pull out. If they do you will need to push them back in. After you are up to pitch, strum all the strings vigorously for about a minute.
You can grab each string at the sound hole and gently pull the string away from the body of the guitar. This will speed up the stretching process of the strings. Tune up again and strum, strum, strum. Trim the excess string at the tuning keys with your wire cutters and you’re done.
After all the strings are on and you’re tuned up, go ahead and put your polish cloth to use. Shine up the body of the guitar and the back of the neck. Remember to wipe the headstock and tuning keys as well. Always take care of your instrument the best you can and it will give you enjoyment for a long time to come.
Remember that the breaking-in process can take some time. Sometimes the strings may continue to stretch for up to two days. It’s best to give yourself plenty of time to allow the strings to stretch before a performance.
Now that you know how to change guitar strings, make them last as long as possible. Wash your hands before playing. Always try to remember to wipe down your strings after playing as this will increase the longevity of the strings.
If you don’t already know the string names then check out this beginner’s guide.
And that is all there is to it! This can be a slow process if it is your first time changing your strings. But rest assured, it does get faster and easier the more you do it.
Hopefully, you found this guide helpful. If you enjoyed the article then please go ahead and share the post! If you’re new to guitar and you need to learn some basic chords read up on
Easy Guitar Chords.