Restringing day – the day all beginner guitarists look forward to and dread at the same time. Changing guitar strings is an important skill every player should know because not everyone has a guitar tech on board as professionals do.
All of us start from somewhere – I personally wore safety goggles the first time I was changing my acoustic guitar strings because I was afraid a string was going to break and hit me in the eye. Luckily for you, acoustic guitar strings are easy to change and don’t require any special knots or equipment as classical guitars do.
In this article, I will walk you through how to change acoustic guitar strings. Let’s dive in!
Some things you might need:
- A fresh set of acoustic guitar strings
- Wire cutters
- String winder (practical, but not necessary – it doubles as a bridge pin remover, but you don’t need it. I use pliers to remove my bridge pins)
- Guitar tuner
- Cleaning equipment such as a microfiber cloth and fretboard oil (this is a great time to clean all those hard-to-reach spots on the fretboard)
And most importantly, arm yourself with patience. If you’re changing strings for the first time, chances are you are going to make a few mistakes. However, unless you cut the string too short, most mistakes can still be fixed.
How to change acoustic guitar strings
Here are the steps to follow to successfully change the strings of your acoustic guitar.
Step one: loosen the strings
Place your guitar on a flat surface and start unwinding the strings. You can unwind them with the string winder or your fingers, but the string winder will get the job done faster.
I highly recommend loosening your strings one or two at a time to prevent the neck from bowing or damaging the truss rod from the change in tension.
Step two: remove the strings
Next, unwind the strings from the headstock (the top part of the acoustic guitar), being careful not to cut yourself on the sharp edges. Use the notch on the other end of the string winder to remove the bridge pins – just put it under the pin and pull. Don’t have a string winder? No problem, you can use pliers to pull them out. Just lightly grip the bridge pins and pull!
Step three: clean the fretboard
This is a great time to wipe down the fretboard and clean the frets. There is usually a buildup of oil and dust between string changes, so your restringing day is a great time to clean up your guitar. This is also an excellent time to adjust the action of your guitar if you need to.
Step four: assemble your new strings
Now it’s time to assemble the new pack of strings! Most strings are color-coded to help you figure out which string goes where. For example, the high E string may have a brass ball end, and the B may have a purple end. Everything is written on the packaging, so don’t throw it away until you’ve finished changing your strings.
Step five: place the new string in the pinhole
Take the first string you want to assemble and place the ball end in the bridge pinhole of your acoustic guitar. Once you’ve done that, put the bridge pin back in place with the groove of the pin pointing toward the neck – you want the groove to guide the string in the right direction. Then pull the string upwards to push everything in place.
Step six: secure the new string in the tuning peg
Once the pin is secured, guide the pointy end of the string through the hole in the tuning peg on the headstock. Turn the peg so that the hole is pointed toward the fretboard of your acoustic guitar. Make sure the string goes through the tuning peg hole from the inside and points away from the guitar.
I usually leave 4 fingers of slack between the fretboard and the string to allow enough excess string to properly secure it in the tuning peg.
Step seven: lock the string in place
It’s imperative to lock the string in place as you turn the tuning peg. I usually lock the string by bending it where I plan to cut the string later and guide it downward as I wind it around. After one full wind, I push the string above the bend so that the excess string is sandwiched between the wrapped parts of the string.
Step eight: stretch the strings
When all of the strings are secured and tightened, pull each string upwards from above the soundhole several times while pressing down on the bridge pin. This keeps the system tight on both ends and makes it less likely for the bridge pin to pop out. Stretching the strings also will keep your acoustic guitar in tune better.
Step nine: tune the guitar
The final step is to tune the guitar. Attach a tuner to your headstock or use a tuning app on your phone and tune the strings one by one. You may have to repeat the tuning step a few times and play the guitar a bit between each tuning until the strings stay in tune. Check out my ultimate guide to tuning for more on this.
Once the guitar is properly tuned, cut off the excess strings on the tuning pegs.
Which order should you change your strings in?
Every guitarist has their own philosophy about which order to change the strings. Should you cut and change one string at a time or do them all at once?
The answer is: do as it’s easiest for you. Changing one string at a time keeps the tension in the neck, and your guitar isn’t going to go out of tune that much, but taking all the strings off is the perfect time to do a deep clean. Polish your guitar if it has a lacquer finish, clean the fretboard with some lemon oil, and use a Q-tip to clean around the frets.
How often should you change your strings?
Some guitar players like to change their strings more often because they like the feel of new strings, while others like to keep them on until they break. Touring musicians usually replace their strings every few gigs, and casual players might keep them on for a few months. It’s up to you, but there are some general warning signs that your guitar might need new strings.
The rule most players follow is to change their strings every 100 hours of use. However, the lifespan of your strings is also heavily determined by your playing style. Guitarists who strum their strings aggressively and players who bend their strings a lot while playing will likely wear down and break their strings more often.
Your strings may also change color and become rusty because of the sweat and dead skin cells from your fingers. And finally, believe it or not, your location also has to do a lot with your guitar. Humid environments are not so friendly to wooden instruments, so if you live in an area with high humidity, you may need to change your strings more often.
If you think the feel of your strings has changed and they are getting more difficult to keep in tune, it could be time for a string change.
Read my full guide on how often to change your strings for more information.
What string gauge should you use for an acoustic guitar?
The string gauge refers to the thickness of your strings. It’s also written on the packaging, ranging most commonly from “extra light” to “heavy”. Thicker (heavier) strings have a rich, warm tone but are harder to press and will hurt your fingers more, especially if you’re a beginner. Lighter gauge strings are much easier to play and have a brighter tone.
Again, the strings you choose for your acoustic guitar are entirely up to you! If you usually play fingerstyle, you might want to buy a lighter gauge pack, but if you are more into alternate picking and riffing, heavier strings could be the best pick.
If you want to learn more, read up on How To Choose The Right String Gauge For Acoustic Guitars.
Every guitarist needs to learn how to change their acoustic guitar strings, and luckily, acoustic guitars are much easier to restring than classical or electric guitars.
Feel free to reach out to me if you have any other questions about changing your guitar strings or any other music-related queries!
How to adjust the action on an acoustic guitar?
The first and most important thing to check is if the neck is straight. If there is a bow, you can move on to adjusting the truss rod. The truss rod can usually be accessed through the soundhole and is used to adjust the bow of the neck. After that, lower or raise the action by adjusting the saddle and bridge. Lower the action by filing them down or raise it by adding material (such as a business card) underneath or get a new one. If your neck is warped or you have an older guitar you don’t want to experiment on, I recommend taking your guitar to your local luthier.
Can you change your strings without tools?
You can change your strings without tools such as a string winder because it’s only there to speed up the process; it’s not essential to you. However, a string winder, pliers, and a wire cutter will make the job much easier. The most important thing is being patient and ready to make a few mistakes, especially if you’re changing your strings for the first time!