How to String a Guitar: Illustrated Step by Step Guide

Published Categorized as Guitar Care Tuning Restringing, Restringing

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How to string a guitar

Learning how to string a guitar is a vital skill for any guitarist.

You don’t want to have to have to take your guitar into a shop or have a friend change a string any time you break one – or when those old strings all need changing.

When and Why you Need to Change your Strings

When and why you change your strings will depend on a number of factors including

  • How often you play
  • How long you play when you play
  • The way you play
  • The environment you play in
  • Whether your hands are clean when you play
  • The type of strings you play

Check out the link below if you want to know more about about why and how often you should be changing your strings.

Now let’s get into the process of changing strings.

The Guitar String Change Process

The following steps describe the changing of all of the strings on your guitar. If you just need to change one the process is still the same – but you will just be doing it for one of the strings of course.

Set up on a table or bench. You can do this with the guitar on your lap (which is how I used to do it) but I find it much easier if you lay the guitar flat on a table or bench and place something under the neck to lift the headstock off the table for easier access (see image above).

Step 1: Gather the Tools You Need

All you need are guitar setup tools with special tools for guitar strings:

tools for restringing a guitar
  • String winder (optional)
  • Wire cutter (or something else that will cut through your strings)
  • A set of your favourite strings (check out this page if you’re not sure about what strings you like)

that’s it for step 1!

Step 2: Remove the existing strings

The first thing that needs to be done, once you have your tools ready, is to remove the old strings from the guitar. Whilst there are some people who warn against removing all the strings at once I have never had any problems doing this.

And I have researched how some of the major acoustic guitar manufacturers change their strings and they also say it’s fine to remove all of the strings at once. Maybe if you left them off for a few days or weeks it would start to effect the neck of the guitar (potentially leading to a truss road adjustment) – but just having them off whilst you restring isn’t a problem.

And if you restring all at once you can also clean your guitar and fretboard at the same time (though this won’t need doing every time you change your strings).

If you have an under-saddle pickup it is recommended that you loosen off each string a little bit at a time to release the tension on the saddle evenly. i.e. loosen the low E string, a little bit, then the A string a little bit and so on and repeat the process until all the strings are loose. I do this anyway regardless of if there is an under saddle pick up – just to play it safe.

To remove the strings:

  1. Unwind them to loosen them off. You can do this either with a string winder or by hand.
unwind strings
  1. Once the strings are nice and loose pop the bridge pins out of their holes. This should be fairly easy to do now that the tension is off the strings. Sometimes you can just use your hands. Use your wire cutters (gently) or needle nose pliers to gently remove the bridge pins if you can’t get them out by hand. Some string winders also have integrated tools to remove bridge pins (and sometimes built in wire cutters too).
Popping out bridge pins
  1. Pull the strings out of the holes at the bridge
removing strings
  1. Go back to the headstock and finish unwinding the strings off the machine heads and pull the end of the string through the hole.
unwind strings at machinehead

Some people loosen off the strings and then cut the strings before removing the bridge pins but this seems like an unnecessary step to me.

Another way to do it is to loosen off the string completely and remove from the machine head at the headstock end first before removing the bridge pin and this is fine as well.

NB: NEVER tighten your string until it snaps to remove it. This is not only dangerous but it will be really bad for your guitar’s neck and bridge. This might sound obvious to most but I have seen people do this!

Step 3: Put on the New Strings

Now that the guitar is string-less we want to put on the new strings. First I take the Low E strings from the pack of strings. Most string manufacturers will have some way of determining which string is which. Either the strings are in individual packets or the ball-end is color coded.

First we will insert the strings at the bridge end:

I like to place all the bridge pins loosely in their slots to start with – this way they are all there when I need them and I don’t have to go searching for them as I’m putting the strings in.

bridge pins in slots
  1. Place the ball-end of the Low E string into the hole in the bridge where the Low E should go (the first hole).
placing the strings in the bridge
  1. Replace the bridge pin. The bridge pin usually has a slotted groove where the string sits so it’s important that the pin is placed so that the string sits in that slotted groove.
groove in bridge pin
  1. Before pressing in the bridge pin in all the way try to make sure that the string is sitting so that the hole of the ball end is facing outwards rather than upwards (see image) – the string will sit better like this.
string ball end direction
  1. Press and hold the bridge pin and pull the string up to remove any slack
  2. Now repeat the process for the rest of the strings
strings in at bridge end

If you prefer you can attach one string at the bridge end and then at the head-stock. I prefer to do them all at one end then all at the other end but whichever you find easiest works best.

Now we will attach them at the headstock end:

There are a number of different techniques used to attach the string to the machine head. The technique shown here is the one that is used by Martin Guitars.

I tend to start with the high E string but whichever you find easiest is fine (though it’s probably easiest with either the Low or High E first so you can work outside in).

  1. Arrange the machine heads so that holes where the strings will go through are facing the down the guitar towards the neck.
machine heads all facing south
  1. Place the string through the hole
thread string through hole
  1. To allow for slack hold the string a thumb width outside the neck with your thumb on the treble side of the neck (at around the nut) for the bass strings and the bass side of the neck for the treble strings – see image below
slack on string
  1. Wrap the string around the inside of the machine head to the right and loop it under the piece of the string that is coming up from the nut
loop string around
  1. Keep tension on the string with your right hand and pull the string tight against the machine head with your left hand and then wrap the string back over in the direction you just came from and twist towards the top of the head stock
tighten string against machine head
loop string back over
  1. Pull both ends of the string around the headstock just to make sure it’s holding tight
pull strings tight to lock in place
  1. This should lock the string in place so that if you pull on it from below the machine head it should be tight and not unravel.

Using this technique should ensure that your strings don’t slip while you are playing causing them to go out of tune.

Alternative method: Another method you can use is to take the string past the machine head (that the particular string is going into) and clip it so that it is around 2 and a half to 3 inches past that machine head. And then just poke the string just through the hole and hold it and wind it.

My only issue with this alternative method is that I’m always worried I will cut the string too short or too long and also that there isn’t really any extra guard against string slippage like with the other method.

Ok onto the final part.

Winding up the string:

  1. Hold the string with your right hand and place the string so that it sits in the correct slot in the nut.
  2. Make sure to keep tension on the string with your right hand and holding it in place in the nut groove, then start to wind the tuning peg (counter-clockwise on the bass strings and clockwise on the treble strings) to tighten it letting the string run through your right hand but keeping a bit of tension on it.
  3. Make sure when you are winding the string that the string winds around the machine head from top to bottom and that it doesn’t overlap on itself – to help to do this you can hold the string on your right hand just on the machine head side of the nut so that you can guide the string down the machine head as you turn the tuning peg.
  4. At this stage you will just be winding them so that they are tort enough to be able to hold themselves in place – we will tune them up properly later.
hold tension on string at nut

For the treble strings I like to actually sit with the guitar how I would play it – just so I get the strings winding in the right direction. It should be anti-clockwise on the bass strings to tighten and clockwise on the treble strings to tighten. If this is done the wrong way around it can become confusing and annoying when you are tuning.

But if you do this on your lap then make sure to still keep tension with the hand that isn’t turning the tuning peg.

tightening strings on lap

Step 4: Clipping the Strings

  • When you clip the strings make sure that you hold the end of the string with the hand that isn’t cutting so that the string doesn’t go flying off.
  • Clip the string as close as possible to the machine head so that there isn’t too much hanging out that you could potentially cut yourself on

Step 5: Tuning

Now your strings are in place but the guitar isn’t quite ready to play – they still need to be tuned up.

Check out this post for how to tune your guitar if you aren’t quite sure or need a recap.

Step 6: Stretching your strings

New strings go out of tune very easily so it’s a good idea to stretch them.

You can stretch your strings in two ways – the short way or the long way.

The Short Way

The short way is to actually grab the string from just above the sound hole and pull it up. Then retune the string then repeat.

Do this 2 or 3 times on each string – this will help them to stay in tune sooner.

stretching strings

The Long Way

The long way is to start playing the guitar and keep re-tuning as you go. This takes a while (days or even weeks depending on how often and how long you play for).

I find the long way frustrating so I would recommend the short way and as far as I know this won’t damage your guitar.

Over to You!

Whilst this can seem complicated at first, once you do it a couple of times it becomes easy. And at least you get to practice 6 times every time you re-string the guitar!

I hope this has helped you to learn how to re-string your guitar for yourself or clarified a few things for you – or given you a new method to try.

If you use a different method let me know how you do it in the comments below. Would you consider trying this method or will you stick to your way?

If it is your first time re-stringing, or if you need clarification on any of the steps, and you have any questions, I am happy to answer them – just leave a comment below.

Related: How to Choose the Best Acoustic Guitar Strings for You

Related: How to Choose Acoustic Guitar Strings for Beginners

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 :-)

6 comments

  1. Hey, Nathan.

    That’s cheating having that neck support and being able to work comfortably off the table.

    Thanks for sharing and enjoyed the reading as always.

    Larry

    1. Hey Larry. Yeah I used to just do it on the lap but it’s so much easier on a bench/table – took me a long time and a lot of years playing guitar to click with that one!

  2. Hi Nate,

    What a really well put together article. It explains the process very clearly! Good Job. Keep the good work up! I am going to forward your web address to my grandson. He has been fiddling around with a guitar for the first time this last half a year or so.

    Julie

    1. Hey Julie – thanks for visiting and I hope the site will be helpful for your grandson as her learns about the guitar.

  3. Excellent and very useful tutorial for beginner guitar players. It’s something that’s not covered in most beginner guitar courses. I’ve been playing all my life so I’m fairly nifty at the job, but my 14-year-old son is now interested and he had a friend over recently who has started also.
    He was talking about getting an electric guitar, but we had one that was hardly used so we gave it to him, but first it needed new strings. I gave both of them a hands-on tutorial and they also got to put on two strings each.
    They have to start somewhere. Mind you they’ve probably forgotten their lesson by now so I’ll be passing on your link to them.
    Cheers

    1. Hey Eoin

      Glad to hear your son is learning the guitar. Really important to get practice changing strings and to get into good habits early. Ah I remember (just remember!) starting out playing guitar at around that age – my restringing technique was self taught and very crude. Wish I’d learned properly earlier, could’ve saved some frustrations – but I figured it out over time. Didn’t really have google as we know it back then (wow now I’m starting to sound really old!)

      Easier to start out getting it right from the start.

      Thanks for stopping by.

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