A Comprehensive Guide on How to Change Acoustic Guitar Strings
Changing strings on an acoustic guitar is a crucial skill for guitarists, contributing significantly to the instrument’s overall sound quality. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll take you through the step-by-step process of changing strings on your acoustic guitar. You will also learn about the materials that are used in strings and how that affects the playability and sound that you get.
Choose the Right Strings for Your Acoustic Guitar
Choosing the right acoustic guitar strings is a crucial decision that can significantly impact the instrument’s sound and playability. Here’s a guide on how to choose acoustic guitar strings, covering important factors to consider are tone and playability.
Guitar String Gauge
Light Gauge ranges from 10 to 47 and is an excellent option for beginners because it is easier to play and press down on. This may be an important consideration if your fingers are still developing calluses.
Light Gauge ranges from 12 to 52 produces a brighter tone and is generally easier to bend. This gauge is a great balance between volume and comfort.
Medium Gauge: ranges from 13 to 56 and offers a good balance between playability and tone. Ideal for a variety of playing styles.
Heavy Gauge: ranges from 14 to 59 Produces a richer, fuller tone and is preferred by some players for specific genres. However, they can be harder on the fingers. Many players choose these for alternate tunings on their guitars.
Acoustic Guitar String Material
Several different materials for acoustic guitar strings offer different tones from warm to more bright. Some offer longer lifespans, a softer feel, and different tensions.
Phosphor Bronze: Offers a warm, well-balanced tone with enhanced bass response. They are commonly preferred for acoustic guitars.
80/20 Bronze (Bronze): Provides a bright and crisp tone. Popular for its clarity and projection.
Silk and Steel: Features a softer feel and mellow tone. Great for fingerstyle playing and folk music.
Nickel Bronze: Great for jazz players. These strings have a good string life, project well for soloing, and have good volume.
Aluminum Bronze: Clear strong volume and good at resisting corrosion.
Stainless Steel: Long string life but usually used for electric guitars. Some players prefer these for their brightness and projection.
Strumming: If you primarily strum your guitar, you may prefer strings that provide a good balance of warmth and clarity.
Fingerstyle: Lighter gauge strings are often favored for fingerpicking, offering easier playability and a brighter tone.
Versatility: If you play a variety of styles, consider medium gauge strings for a balanced compromise.
Coated Strings: Have a protective coating to resist dirt, sweat, and oils. They tend to last longer and maintain their tone.
Uncoated Strings: Offer a more natural feel and tone but may require more frequent changing.
Guitar String Brand and Model
Experiment with different brands and models to find the one that suits your preferences. Popular brands include D’Addario, Elixir, Ernie Ball, Martin, and more. My favorite brands are Ernie Ball Earthwood medium to medium light strings for their warm, rich tone with excellent projection and clarity. Ernie Ball strings are also very affordable. I also like Elixir and D’Addario strings.
Consider trying out signature sets endorsed by professional guitarists if their playing style aligns with yours. The more strings you try the more you will figure out which aligns with your playing style and experience. Once you find what you like you can mix and match strings. Some people like a lighter gauge for the lower-tone strings and a heavier gauge for the higher tones.
High-quality strings can come at a higher price, but they often offer better durability and tone. I used to buy exclusively higher-priced strings for my Taylor 212e back when my income was much higher. However, now that I make less and have several guitars to buy strings for I started buying less expensive strings. That was when I discovered how much I like the Earnie Ball strings for both my acoustic and electric guitars.
Acoustic Guitar String Removal
It is important to remove your guitar strings properly so that you do not risk injury or damaging your guitar. Some people just take some wire cutters and start cutting. Don’t do this! No matter if you remove it with wire cutters or take the whole string off, you should always begin acoustic guitar string removal by loosening the guitar strings. Snapping or breaking them with high tension can whip them back and cut you, or worse, strike an eye. The easiest way to loosen guitar strings is to use a string winding tool. This inexpensive tool not only winds and unwinds your strings, but comes with wire cutters and an integrated pin remover. I’ve used pliers before and not only damaged the pin but when my hand slipped, I scratched the guitar as well. The pin puller lets you leverage pulling the pin with less risk of any damage to the pin or guitar.
Guitar Maintenance Tips
Take advantage of the string removal to give your guitar a little maintenance. Part of maintaining a guitar is cleaning it. Take the time while the strings are off to give it a thorough dusting. After the dirt and dust are removed, get some guitar polish and wipe the guitar body, headstock, and neck down to protect the finish. This is also a great time to clean the fretboard, remove finger sludge, and polish the frets. This article from Acoustic Guitar goes into great detail about cleaning and polishing your fretboard. Now is a good time to examine your pins and replace them if necessary. Also, take a look at your tuning pegs and make sure all the screws are tight and if your guitar is having issues staying in tune, apply some graphite from a pencil to your nut grooves.
How To Install Acoustic Guitar Strings – Step-by-Step
Restringing Acoustic Guitars
Tip: Keep the new strings in the package so that you know which string to replace.
Step 1: Getting The Strings In The Bridge Correctly
- Start with taking the ball end of the string and putting a little bend in the string about 2 or 3 cm above the ball.
- Insert the string into the bridge the bridge.
- Replace the pin by inserting it into the hole.
- Lastly, slowly pull the string up while holding down the pin until the street is tight.
Step 2: Connecting The Strings To The Tuners
- Start with either the 1st or the 6th string.
- Line up the hole of the tuning peg so that it is pointing down the neck.
- Now pull the string through the hole and pull till you feel a soft tension.
- Hold the string up to the next peg and pinch the string at that location.
- Now bring the pinch string down to the peg and crimp the string. Brace the crimp against the peg so it does not move.
- If you are replacing the 6th string, tighten the string by turning the peg with your string tool. Turn the peg in a counterclockwise direction.
- If replacing the 1st string turn the same but turn the string in a clockwise direction.
- Make sure when winding the string that you wrap it under the string and keep it under as you wind. This will tighten the lock on the crimp.
- Replace the rest of the strings in order so that you don’t get confused as to which string goes where.
- When you get to the 3rd and 4th strings and do not have the next peg to measure give it a good eyeball on how much slack the other strings had and go from there.
Step 3: Tuning the Guitar
Once you have all the strings replaced and some tension on them it’s time to tune the strings. This will be the first of several tunings as new guitar strings always need some time to stretch. The strings will quickly go out of tune soon after this first tuning, but that’s ok. We’ll come back to tuning after we stretch the strings out a bit. The easiest way to tune is to use a tuner. They are inexpensive and accurate so if you don’t have a good tuner, get one as soon as possible. One of my favorite clip-on tuners is the Snark line of guitar tuners.
Step 4: Stretching Guitar Strings
As I have mentioned, new strings take either time or effort to stretch properly. You could do the first tuning and then let the guitar sit for a while and re-tune it, but if you are in a hurry you can help the process get done a little quicker. Waiting for your strings to stretch takes a couple of days and most people don’t want to wait that long. Stretching the strings will get you playing quicker and keep the guitar in tune longer.
Stretching guitar strings is pretty easy. You can grab each of the strings with your fingers and gently pull the strings away from the guitar. Grab it in a couple of areas on the string to get a good even stretch. After stretching, retune and stretch again two or three times, retuning after each stretch. Now you should be able to keep the guitar in tune for long enough periods that you can practice or play.
Knowing how to change your guitar strings is an essential skill to learn as a guitar player. Not only will you save money and time, but you will be able to quickly change a string when it breaks so that you can continue playing. Playing on dead or dull strings is unpleasant so change your strings when they need it. You will enjoy playing your instrument much more.