Whether you’re an absolute beginner or have been playing for quite some time now, chances are that you have encountered one of these two situations:
1. You tried to tune your guitar, and one of the strings popped, leaving you with nearly a heart attack experience.
2. The strings don’t shine, sound dull, and don’t feel smooth under your fingers.
In both cases, I’m asking you not to put the guitar aside for three months just because you don’t know how to change the strings. Please don’t.
I’ve collected enough knowledge in this post to help you build confidence for changing your acoustic guitar strings properly for the first time by yourself.
BTW after you’ll successfully do it once, you’ll acquire a skill that will benefit you for the rest of your guitar-playing life.
And, please say goodbye to the anxiety that comes with string replacement.
Some basics and facts on how to change acoustic guitar strings
Changing, replacing, and stringing are all different words for the same action of putting new strings on your guitar.
Don’t feel stupid if you didn’t know that it’s even possible to change a guitar string.
Believe it or not, it’s a common misunderstanding of many.
The top two higher strings ( E and B ) tend to explode more frequently because they are thinner.
I always keep two-three extra high strings of each as a spare just to make sure I’m not stuck, not being able to play my guitar. ( not to mention when it happens in a middle of a gig…).
Acoustic guitar strings are made of steel. Thus, they rust and sound dull after a month or two, even if you don’t play the guitar.
It is not always necessary to replace the entire set of strings.
But, just in case you’re wondering why you need to change the complete set of strings in the first place, the answer is that guitar strings do not last forever, and even if you’re only playing 15 minutes a day, the chances that the strings will sound good after four to six weeks are slim.
Professional guitar players may be replacing their strings every few days. But whether you change them every few days or every few weeks, learning to change the strings properly is a must, and the next steps are here to show you just how to do that.
This next video is one of the best ones I’ve found while scanning this topic on YouTube.
I recommend you both watch this video and read the entire article to get almost every question you have on this topic answered.
If this is your first time replacing, it’s much better to do it while watching this video.
If you liked mark’s sweet and sharp style of instructing and explaining, you have to check out his online guitar lessons here.
Disclosure: We are also a professional review site that receives compensation from the companies whose products we review and recommend.
First, make sure you have a new set of acoustic guitar strings.
If you need some directions regarding the best acoustic guitar strings for beginners,
It is recommended that you’ll check out this comprehensive article from our review website Musictherapytrust.net.
Then, order your preferred strings set and return to this article.
Before you remove the old strings from your acoustic guitar, you must ensure that you have the right tools for working.
The right tools make the process easier and even less painful because you could hurt your fingers if you do not have specific tools to remove old strings and help you install new ones.
A beneficial (and cheap) string replacement tool is the 3-in-1 tool for acoustic and electric guitars.
Instead of getting three different tools, you can get all three in one device so you can:
- Cut the strings and excess strings off quickly without hearting your fingers.
- Wind the newly replaced strings fast.
- Pull the bridge pins out easily without breaking them.
You’ll be changing your guitar strings often from now on, so you might as well have an excellent tool to make the task a little easier.
And since we’re starting at the very beginning, let’s talk about the sizes and types of guitar strings.
Nylon strings are designed for classical and flamenco guitars, while steel strings are designed for acoustic and electric guitars, usually for genres like rock, country, blues, etc..
Classical and flamenco guitars should never have steel strings placed on them because they can damage the guitar. In other words, the first rule of thumb is to ensure that your strings are the right ones for your acoustic guitar, which means steel strings.
What Is Gauge and What Does it Mean for Guitar Strings?
Steel strings come in different gauges, which essentially refer to the size of the strings (thickness) in inches. Lighter strings are easier to play and, therefore, easier for beginners, while heavier strings are harder to play yet tend to produce a better overall sound. The strings with a lower gauge number will be lighter than those with a higher gauge number. This is how the numbers break down: (in inches)
- Extra light: .010, .014, .023, .030, .039, and .047
- Custom light: .011, .015, .023, .032, .042, and .052
- Light: .012, .016, .025, .032, .042, and .054
- Medium: .013, .017, .026, .035, .045, and .056
- Heavy: .014, .018, .027, .039, .049, and .059
If you’re unsure which strings to choose, keep in mind that the less experience you have, the lighter gauge you should select. Since the heavier strings are harder to play, you may want to save those for when you’re a more experienced guitar player. Of course, many beginners choose the heavier gauges because they know they’ll be switching to these eventually, and they want to go ahead and learn how to play on them as soon as possible.
To Replace the Strings: A Step-by-Step Guide
Before replacing the strings, you have to remove the old strings. To do this, lie the guitar down on a flat but soft surface so the guitar doesn’t get scratched. Take your pliers and remove any loose or broken pieces of wire from each tuning peg. If you’re replacing the string because it broke, this is an important step. Use the wire cutters to cut the string in the hole of the guitar, then follow the string up towards the top of the guitar, unwrap it, and remove it. Then move towards the bottom of the guitar and remove the white peg that the string is attached to.
There are six white pegs embedded into this part of the guitar, and each of them has to be removed if you want to replace the strings. After you remove the peg and remove the rest of the string, you’ll notice that the end of the peg is either ball- or ring-shaped. That is normal. Once each string is removed, go ahead and grab the first string that you plan to replace. The first thing you should do is make sure that the string you’re about to replace is the correct one. Guitar strings are packaged in a set of six, and each of them is a different size. It is important to use the correct string before you start to replace it.
If you’re unsure which string is the right one, check the packaging because it will usually have instructions that help you determine this. Once you know you have the right string, insert the peg into the hole roughly 1 to 1.5 inches deep, but no more. Line up the groove on the peg until it faces the string. Then uncoil the new string and place the ball end of that string into the proper hole on the bridge of the guitar. Line up the guitar string with the slot that you see in the bridge pin, then push the pin into the correct place. At this point, it’s good to remember not to use a mallet or hammer for this step. Use your fingers only for this step, and make sure that you never tighten the pins too much.
To do this, you’ll place the free end of the string through the proper tuning peg. Leave some slack on the pin — about one to two inches — then start winding the string onto the tuning peg. While you’re at it, make sure that the tuner is being turned in the right direction; that is, the string must be wound onto the tuning peg from inside of the headstock. Continue to wind the string until there is just a little bit of tension, then stop.
Next, take your wire cutters and trim the string ends carefully until they get to the correct length. You should trim the excess string as close to the tuning peg as possible. When you’ve gotten all six of the strings done, start to stretch the strings out by pulling them gently roughly one to two inches above the fretboard, then let them back down gently. This will prepare them for stringing them properly on the other end. The “gentle” part is important because you can easily break a string if you’re not careful. Perform this step slowly and keep gently stretching the strings until they are seated on the tuning pegs.
To thread the string through the top part of the handle in the corresponding pegs (at this point, you’ve already strung the bottom part of the guitar and those should be tightened and ready for the next step), place each string in the correct peg but leave enough slack to move onto the next step. You’ll have to wind the string several times around the peg until it’s tight, but make sure that you have about six inches of string to play with before you start winding it. When you’re winding the string, the very first complete coil should be made above the thread hole on the tuning peg. The remaining coils should be wound below the thread hole.
Here are some important tips to remember once you get to this step:
- While you’re winding the strings, make sure that they are strung on the outside of the tuning pegs and not towards the inside of the guitar. If you do this, the strings will stay nice and straight. If they’re not straight, the strings won’t play right.
- If you use the peg winder, make sure that you don’t overdo it. Peg winders tend to work faster than most people realize, and it can become too tight if you’re not careful. The best thing to do is check the string’s tightness periodically as you’re winding it around the peg. You can check each string by making sure the note isn’t higher than the string next to it (or lower, depending on what string you started with).
- You’ll start by wrapping the string around the peg once, then you’ll have to stick the string into the opening to continue the second part of winding the string. From here, you’ll wrap around the top of the peg first, then around the bottom of the peg for the rest of the process.
At this point, your guitar should be completely strung, so all you have to do is tune it. Before you do this, however, take the wire cutters and cut off the excess string as close to the peg as possible. You should be careful with the cutters as you do this because the last thing you want is to scratch the guitar while you’re working with the wire cutters. Then take your pliers and bend the short stub downwards toward where the guitar head is. After you do this, you can start to tune your guitar.
To recap, you’ll start restringing your guitar by placing one end of the string at the bottom near the pins, placing that end of the string into the hole after removing each pin and then pushing the pin into the hole, over where the string has already been inserted into the hole. You’ll then stretch the string until it gets to the top of the guitar and start winding them around each tuning peg. They’ll go around each peg first, then you’ll bend the string at a 90-degree angle and insert it into the peg’s hole, winding it the first time at the top part of the peg and the remaining times at the bottom of the peg.
Some Tips to Make Things a Little Easier
Beginners especially may read these instructions and get a little confused but the truth is that once you have your guitar in front of you and read each step of the instructions, it’ll become clear what you’re supposed to do. And of course, after you restring a guitar the first time, you’ll know just what to do from then on. Whether you’re a beginner or you’ve done this a few times, below are some tips that you should keep in mind before you get started:
- When you’re removing the strings, never tighten them in order to make them pop or break on their own. Most people know not to do this, but it’s important for beginners to remember this because this action can damage the guitar’s neck and bridge.
- The part of the guitar that you’ll start with is called the bridge, and the top part is called the headstock end. Always start by working with the bridge pins, then start stringing the headstock end. This order is important.
- Most people start with the high E string, but you’ll have to decide which order is easiest for you. The important thing is to do it the same way every time that you restring your guitar. This way, the entire process will be much easier for you and you won’t have to remember things differently each time.
- When you’re restringing the headstock end, you’ll want to keep a certain amount of tension on the strings as you work. Use the right hand to keep the tension right and use your left hand to pull the string tight against the machine head. Afterwards, wrap the string back over in the same direction you just came from and twist the string towards the top of the headstock.
- You don’t replace guitar strings just because they’re broken. If you’re playing and the notes sound dull or lifeless, or if they simply feel too stretched out (which also affects the sound), it’s time to change the strings. You’ll be replacing your strings every four to six weeks at a minimum, and that’s if you only play occasionally.
Final words on how to change acoustic guitar strings
All of this may sound confusing, but it’s much easier than it sounds. And you have to get used to it. With guitar strings needing to be replaced once a month or more, depending on how much you play the guitar, you’ll spend much more time restringing your guitar than you think.