How to Cut Guitar Strings: Official & DIY Remedies

Published Categorized as How To/Tips

Have you snapped a guitar string at home? Do you have the guitar strings but lack the tools or knowledge to cut guitar strings? Do you live too far away from your closest guitar store to do anything about it?

Well, you are in luck, for today we will be running through a few things you might have lying around the house that can otherwise do the job of cutting guitar strings, as well as how you can best assess for yourself where exactly to cut the guitar strings in relation to the scale length.

cutting guitar strings

Table of Contents

Why Do You Need to Cut Guitar Strings?

Cutting guitar strings is important for two main reasons.

This first reason has to do with safety. If the strings are not cut, they will flop around as you play your guitar. This can potentially cause injury to your eyes and even your hands and fingers (or others around you).

Manufacturers provide this extra length purposely, to make sure their strings fit every guitar possible. However, they expect the guitarists to trim the strings to size once they are installed.

The second reason why cutting guitar strings is important has to do with performance, as any extra length of the string could make it harder to play the instrument, though you may well have seen some guitar players – e.g. Kurt Cobain – leave the strings uncut.

This will only distract you from playing and could also interfere and become an obstruction on the fretboard. If you are a beginner, you will want to be as comfortable and focused as possible to master this instrument, something you won’t be able to do with a bunch of strings flapping about.

P.S. It also makes it that much harder to put your guitar into the case!

How to Cut Guitar Strings with the Proper Tools

There are proper tools that you can go out and buy for cutting guitar strings.

String Cutters

You can simply be patient and order a wire cutter online. Those that are specifically designed for cutting excess guitar strings are relatively inexpensive if bought from a place like Amazon wholesale, and you are rarely going to have to replace them unless, of course, you change your strings as much as you actually ought to!

Pliers

Now, this is almost cheating since pliers essentially are wire cutters, but we figure that you are likely to have a pair of these lying around the house that can be put to good use.

If you make the guitar strings stretch, you should not find it difficult to cut the string at the right length if you follow the proper guidance on how to string a guitar.

How to Cut Guitar Strings without the Proper Tools

Perhaps you are a little less patient and would like to get on with your guitar practice now, now, now! Then, instead of waiting for a pair of string cutters to arrive, you are going to have to resort to things around the home!

Nail Clippers

Every guitarist will at some point come to this problem of how to cut guitar strings without a string cutter around the house, and if you do not live near a guitar store this problem can be rendered twice as real.

Thankfully, those nail clippers used to do what it says on the tin, you can also use them to cut guitar strings, eschewing the need for wire cutters altogether.

When I put new strings on my Fender Jazzmaster I make sure to cut a two-tuning peg distance between the desired tuning peg and the end of the string.

Scissors

As a last resort, you can always use a pair of scissors, though these certainly are not going to fly if you are cutting bass strings, the string tension, and the thickness simply overpower the scissors unless, of course, they are industrial strength or something.

I remember making this mistake very early on as a teenager learning the guitar, not even knowing how to wind up the excess string nor what to do with the new guitar string. I would have been glad to have a resource like this that made it a little clearer.

Fingers

It’s not always easy to find your wire cutters, pliers, guitar string clippers, or any other sharp tool for that matter if you are away from home.

Once you’ve wrapped the string around the post three to four times and had them up to pitch, you can take each excess string one at a time and bend it back and forth at the post. The string breaks off in a few seconds without leaving a sharp edge that would have poked or cut me otherwise.

Once all the sharp edges are gone, you can retune the guitar and spend a few hours breaking the strings in and making sure it stays in tune.

Knife

When it comes to cutting guitar strings, another last resort option that might come into your mind is using a knife. Before we go any deeper, though, it is worth warning you that using a knife to cut through metal near a guitar or yourself is not a good idea.

First of all, accidents can happen – one wrong move and you can end up cutting yourself or damaging the headstock or fretboard, especially since you need a sharp enough knife to do the job in the first place.

If, however, you are out of options and you don’t want to use your fingers because you’re too afraid of poking yourself, then make sure to use a small knife, like a pocket knife, instead of a kitchen knife.

Instead of actually cutting the string you can use the blade to bend the string one way and then the other until the metal simply breaks off, though this will in itself be a difficult task.

This is most likely to work on lighter strings that are much thinner and easier to bend this way. If the strings are too heavy then you might be left with strings where the outer wire starts to come off and unwind around the core – this is something many have to learn the hard way, too.

How to Know Where to Cut

Some articles talk about cutting the strings to remove them, though the focus here should be on trimming the excess material that is left at the tuners.

Leaving too much sticking out of the machine heads can cause injury! So it’s important to clip them at the right spot.

Most guitarists trim the strings, with a small amount left sticking out of the tuners. But this can catch your hands or fingers. The correct amount of extra string material to leave sticking out of the tuner is around 1/4″.

Then, once cut to the right length, bend the remaining string around the tuning peg. Just so that it forms the round contour of the shaft. This way, the string end cannot catch on to anything or anyone.

Though this will vary from guitar to guitar, I can impart a little wisdom passed down to me by my old guitar tutor back in high school.

If restringing a Fender guitar, the machine heads are likely to be the same, and at a similar distance apart. If you make sure that the end of the guitar string is cut so as to be parallel to a machine head two along, real or imaginary, then it should always fit the bill.

I have used this little trick every time I tune a guitar, and have been able to do so without fail. If you do not own a Fender guitar, then chances are you can also translate this simple logic to other types of the headstock and machine heads.

When Should You Cut Your Guitar Strings

A lot of individuals like to cut their old strings before replacing them with new ones because it’s pretty quick and easy. However, you should really loosen your guitar strings to reduce tension before doing so.

While it’s unlikely something irreparable will happen if you cut them while they’re tuned, the sudden loss of tension isn’t really healthy for the guitar, and it might cause some shifting to happen.

Also, most people who have fixed bridges can find a place in the middle of the strings and snip them all at once. However, those who have Floyd Roses and similar bridge types should replace each string one at a time to prevent them from moving too much or completely sinking. Doing one string at a time will help you maintain some tension on the bridge as you change each one.

With that in mind, the loosened strings will be easily unwound from the tuning pegs, and you can slip the other side through your electric guitar bridge. For acoustic guitars, all you need to do is lift up the bridge pins to take them out.

Once you have removed your old strings, you can now begin to add new ones, so start coiling and continue reading!

Final Tones

So, there you have it! Hopefully, you are now feeling much more comfortable and better equipped to restring your guitar, having found a utensil from around the house that you can use for cutting guitar strings.

Now you know why forethought and planning are so important, though, so as to avoid these moments of angst in the future, when you need guitar string cutters the most.

FAQs Cutting Guitar Strings

What can be used to cut guitar strings?

The best bet for cutting guitar strings is to use a pair of string cutters, though you can just as easily use something else you might have lying around that you surmise can do the job. The first port of call would be something like nail clippers or pliers, cutters that are specifically designed for heavier-duty cutting. Scissors, as a last resort, can do the trick, though they ought to be avoided if they can be helped.

Why do guitar players not cut their strings?

Some guitarists, you will have noticed, leave the ends of their strings uncut, so that their headstock looks like a hard industrial scene with billowing steel string smokestacks. I assume this is to look cooler, as though the guitarist in question could not care less and/or is lazy enough to leave it like that. It is, however, my own understanding that it is actually easier to cut the guitar strings before stringing them round and round, for there is no longer a massive whorl of string getting in the way of the tuning fingers.

How do musicians shorten guitar strings?

The best bet for shortening guitar strings to fit the guitar’s scale length is to cut them into length using a pair of string cutters, though you can just as easily use something else you might have lying around that you surmise can do the job. The first port of call would be something like nail clippers or pliers, cutters that are specifically designed for heavier-duty cutting. Scissors, as a last resort, can do the trick, though they ought to be avoided if they can be helped, lest you do some damage to your utensils.

By Nate Pallesen

Nate is just your average (above average) guitar player. He's no Joe Satriani, Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page - wait this site is about acoustic guitars (sorry) He's no Django Reinhardt, Chet Atkins, or Michael Hedges, wait? who!? He's no Robert Johnson, Eric Clapton or Ben Harper - more familiar? Anyway you get the point :-)

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