Has your electric guitar been sounding a bit off-tune recently? Perhaps you’ve noticed some residue on your hands after you play, or that it sounds a bit different when you play up high on the neck? Well, it may be time to change your electric guitar strings!
You’ll need to find a replacement set and in case you didn’t know, you can’t use any strings for any guitar! Electric guitar strings are made from metals and alloys, such as nickel and steel. These metal strings work wonderfully well with magnetic pickups, which further help amplify the sound. Likewise, acoustic guitars require strings made of materials such as brass, bronze, or nylon synthetics. As they resonate, these strings perfectly complement the acoustic style. Check out our post here on how to choose the right electric guitar strings for you!
Before we get into it, let’s get you familiar with the different areas of the electric guitar. We are going to be using some of these terms throughout the guide!
1. When to change the strings
You want to make sure that you’re changing your strings every 3 months or every 30 hours of practice, whichever comes sooner. You will know when it times to change them as they will have become rusty feeling or you will be having to re-tune your strings more than usual. You may have also broken a string and want to replace them all. If this sounds like you, you’re due for new strings!
2. Loosen the tension
Once you know that it’s time to change them, the first step is to loosen the tension on the strings. You do this by unwinding the tuners at the top of the guitar. You will find that the strings will become loose and easy to pull out of each tuning hole. We recommend for beginners to loosen the strings and replace them one by one, then repeat with the next string. Be careful when removing the strings to not scratch your guitar or poke your fingers as you remove them.
Note: You can check out the back of your strings packaging to see the order of your string placement. Some brands like D’Addario use a colour-coded system to show which string is which, others like Ernie Ball have the string widths on the packaging. Generally, starting with the largest and working your way down will help to keep things simple.
3. Pulling the strings through the bridge
Once you have loosened the strings from the tuning post and pulled it through the tuning holes, you now want to pull the string out of the bridge. This is where the other end of the string is being held at the base of your guitar’s body. You want to feed the string through the bridge and out the back.
You do this by flipping your guitar over (some may have an opening while others will have a plate that you will want to remove) and carefully pushing the string through the bridge at the back of the guitar. The ends of the strings have small metal balls which once you push the string through the back of the guitar, will be easy to grip onto and pull out.
4. Attach the new strings
Before attaching your new strings you want to lay your guitar down on a flat surface and take this opportunity to give your guitar a little spring clean. One at a time, you want to thread the new string through the back of the guitar to the front side. You then want to push it through the corresponding hole in the tuning post and twist the tuning peg to tighten. Make sure you leave enough slack in the string once it’s through the tuning peg. This is because you will be tightening and tuning your guitar later and want enough string. Repeat for all the strings. You are basically doing the opposite of how you took them out.
Pro-Tip: A string winder can be a big help when tightening the strings and save you from a hand cramp.
5. Keep the Wire Cutter Handy
Most strings are longer than required, which means some extra string is present even after restringing your guitar. In this stage, a wire cutter is convenient to snip off any extra wire. Strings are very tough, so your kitchen scissors probably aren’t up to the task!
6. Tune the Guitar
The last step is to re-tune your guitar and for this, you will require a tuner and a pick. We recommend the ultra-compact TC Electronic PolyTune. It gives you fast, accurate tuning and a high-quality tone-preserving tool in a single unit. An added bonus is that you can tune all your strings at once, not having to single tune them one by one. Very helpful at live gigs when you don’t have time to go one by one! If you’re after a more affordable option, we suggest the Korg Slimpitch Tuner which despite its small size, provides high tuning accuracy. It also includes a magnet mechanism that lets you attach the unit to your music stand.
Don’t worry if you aren’t able to use the tuning device on the very first go as it can take some getting used to. You do also have the option of using an online application from your smartphone like the Pro Guitar Tuner Tool.