How to String your Guitar


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First of all, don’t panic. To most beginners, the mechanics of the guitar are confusing and you think you’ll really mess things up if you start tinkering with your baby. Tinkering with the carburetor of your Lamborghini is one thing, slapping a set of $6 strings on a guitar is another.


Step one: Get new strings. Which ones? If you are an electric guitar-God, most likely you’ll want “9s”—that means the little “E” string is .009. This size is listed on the package. This means the six sizes of strings will be .009, .011, .016, .024, .032, .042. Save yourself the headache and get Ernie Ball Super-Slinkys (the pink pack!). All those confusing brands of strings? They’re all made by the same two factories. Get what’s cheapest, and forget those coated, frozen, lactose-free, environmentally friendly ones that cost double.

If you are the next Tommy Emanuel or Charro (yes, Charro is a smoking nylon-string player!), you’ll want ACOUSTIC strings. If you play steel (folk, flat-top, or any other euphemism), I recommend the lightest gauge you can get—and the cheapest. The package doesn’t always say the numbers but in a choice between light, medium, and heavy, I know which ones my digits will prefer: light. Again, forget the strings advertized as being cryogenicly frozen in space and are an 80/20 mix of Barium and Sour cream—get the bronze babys and you’ll be fine. “Silk and steel” are nice, too—less tension, and don’t we all need a little less tension in our life? Bottom line: cheap and light. NYLON STRINGS PLAYERS: Okay, okay—you want to say “spanish” or “flamenco” or “classical”, but you’re flailing away at nylon. So sue me. You must get nylon strings. You should never put steel on a nylon string guitar. Get cheap and light, just like steel players should. Do yourself a favor: get nylon strings with ball ends—WAY easier to re-string. Again, forget those expensive strings endorsed by Segovia. He’s dead.

Step two: Okay. You have your strings. They’re shiny and pretty and the ones on your gee-tar look like Uncle Bob’s rusted rear fender on his pick-up. Here we go:

We’re going to replace each icky string one-at-a-time. Why? It keeps tension on the neck and this is the only time in life where we want tension on our neck! We will be replacing them in order, low-to-high, meaning the thickest one to the itty-bitty cheese-cutter one. These six, when tuned to the correct pitches will be (from low-to-high) E,A,D,G,B,E (strummed “open” of course…”open means you haven’t pushed down any string).

Remove the old big fat “E” string. Nothing fancy—just unwind it from the tuning post (you know, the winding thing) and thread it out of where it’s secured. Electric dudes, you may have to thread it out of a Fender-style tremelo block but that’s what you get for fooling with a whammy bar in the first place. All others, acoustic and electric, will thread the old string out of its bridge/ tailpiece and then you get to throw the string away. On acoustics with pins holding the balled end in, gently pry the pin up (a plastic stringwinder is fine, I sometimes use a spoon—just be careful not to mar the finish.)

Get out the new big “E”. Take caution: When you uncoil it—you could put somebody’s eye out. Well, at least that’s what mom used to say. Okay, thread the big string through the bridge/tailpiece so that the ball end will be at the end and take the “cut” end of the string up to the tuning post. As you get the string aligned, you’ll want it to pass over the bridge in the same manner all the other ones are. They’re in little channels, aren’t they? Them’s your bridge pieces. One day we’ll adjust them for intonation. On acoustics with bridge pins, we’ll push the new string (ball end) into the old hole, push the pin in, and tug on the string until it “seats” itself in the hole. Thread the string over the bridge and on to the tuning peg.

Okay, put the string in the hole, slot, or opening in the tuning post and run it through, leaving a little bit of slack so that once you start winding, you’ll have a few windings around the tuning post. A few windings good, a thousand—bad. Now, steel players (be patient, nylon guys—your thing’s coming), take your excess string and pass it towards the logo on your guitar. If you have 3-to-a-side or 6-to-a-side tuners, it makes no difference. It should look like this:

As depicted, we’re going to take the excess string under itself, just like doubling back under the overpass in our car. Once you’ve done that, take that excess straight towards the sky so that when you wind your tuning peg—the string will wind over itself, creating a knot. This is good. Your goal is to have a little slack in the new string down around the neck, NO slack in any of the windings around the tuning post.

Wind your brains out till your neck slack disappears and you approach the note you’re shooting for (“E” in this case). Is the string seated nicely at the nut and them bridge pieces? Cool. Tighten your “E” string until it is an “E”.

Now do the same for the remaining five. Mind your order! Fat to skinny, E,A,D,G,B,E.

Nylon persons: If you listened to me and bought ball-end strings, your nylon strings will secure at the bridge end just like the steel-string players. If not, the solution is coming up. But first, no matter how you secure the bridge end of the string, you have to pass the other end through the tuning post and do that tie maneuver I described earlier. Don’t worry—just because you probably have a cylindrical thing passing through the head as a tuning post, you can still do the under-and-up thing, only you don’t have to “go towards the logo”—you just pass the new string through the hole, bring it under the post (the cylinder), and wrap the excess one time around itself. Wind like crazy, keeping tension on your knot. Achieve an “E” note. Remember: new nylon stretches like crazy so you’ll be tuning a lot at first.

Finally, we take it to the bridge….

Nylon guys: if you blew me off and bought non-balled end strings, your strings look the same at one end as they do the other. Does it matter which end goes where? No. But, if you don’t have ball ends, you’ll have to perform the same tying exercise at the bridge end as you did at the tuning post. Coordinating all your limbs to do this is such a pain in the butt that you should have listened to me earlier. I forgive you.

Pass the end through the hole, wind it around itself at least three times, maintain tension as you wind and eventually the string will wind onto itself and tuning nirvana will be achieved. Since both ends have to be secured more-or-less at the same time, now you know why I said to get some balls.

Sorry.You should have achieved re-stringing your guitar. Maybe some of the windings are a little sloppy but so what? You’re not going to practice much so no one will ever know…right?

Cut off the excess string, tune up and happy strumming!


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