Tuesday, May 12, 2009

How to String a Guitar

As I mentioned previously, I started taking guitar lessons this spring. And, my teacher is a miracle worker - I'm making progress! I'm loving it, actually.

Last night at my lesson, I "graduated" from my first book into a new book. I really like the new book - it's similar to the kinds of "scale and etude" studies I practiced as a music student. It's all written in musical nomenclature - no tabulature (sp?) or chord symbols - and music, well that I understand. I can read that. I don't have to learn that. So, so far, I really like this book. Now, try to teach me a Beatles song, it'll take me four weeks. But, scales and etudes, I'm there baby. I know, I'm a music nerd. I'm OK with that. I'm also getting book two of the Hal Leonard series and we're going to study out of both of them. It just hasn't arrived yet, because I bought it off Amazon.com and decided to wait for the super saver free shipping. So, it'll get here before Christmas.

The guitar, missing a "tooth".

Also at my lesson, my teacher showed me how to change the strings on the guitar. It was time - they had been bugging me for more than a week - it just didn't sound good anymore. He changed the top string, which actually broke as he loosened it, which doesn't usually happen. (Also a good sign the strings were done.) Then, he watched me as I changed out the B string. Then we went on with the lesson. After he left, I changed out the other four strings. Some way through the process, I decided, "Hey, I could take some photos of this and post it on the blog!" Unlucky for you, because here we are with a post all about how to change guitar strings. Woo-hoo. Welcome to music nerdville!

I think it's plain to see in the photos above which is the new string - this is the sixth, or largest string in diameter. Now, I wash my hands before I play the guitar each time. But, the strings, they just get "dirty" or change color from some sort of oxidation or something, because that string on the left in both photos is the "old" string, and the one on the right is the new string. Definitely whiter.

The first thing you do is plan to replace each string one at a time. There are good reasons to do this - first, it's easier to see where the new string should go - and which way to twist the tuning pin. Second, you don't get those bridge pins mixed up. They are all the same size, but I understand it's good to keep them where they've been.

So, you release the string from the tuning key - then you pull out the bridge pin to free the other end of the string. Sometimes those bridge pins can really be down in there. If that's the case, use some small pliers and a soft cloth to grab hold of it and free it from it's misery. Doesn't that photo on the right look like I pulled a tooth? Once the pin is out, the string will come out easily and can be discarded.

Then it's time to replace the string. Take the end that has the little metal "o" on it and put it on down in that bridge hole. Then, line the grooves up in the pin with the string and simultaneously push the pin in and pull the string up to catch it in place. If you get it just right, it'll sort of "pop" into place.

Then you want to give yourself some leeway on the string before you start winding it up on that tuning pin. My teacher recommends leaving 3-4 inches of slack on the low strings, and more on the high strings. The other end of the string goes on through the hole in the tuning pin. Here's where it's helpful, especially for a newbie like me, to have the other strings in place. I can easily see to what side of the pin the strings should thread, and how it interacts with the other two strings on the same side properly, without putting the neck or head into any sort of bind. And you can enjoy my retro-mod watch band, no?

So after that you start turning that tuning pin in the direction to add tension, while giving the string some tension yourself with your finger while it loads up on the pin. You can purchase these string winder gizmos for about $2 that speeds up the winding process. I don't have one yet, so I turned the crank the old fashioned way. You can see evidence of my fat little sunburned hand guiding the string and turning the tuning pin above. (And, yes, for you eagle eyes, that's S's pile of medicines in the one photo - he's on a lot of medicine these days.)

On the lower three strings, to add tension, your direction on the tuning pin is away from the body of the guitar. The upper three strings - you guessed it - the other way - toward the guitar body. You keep this up until the string is close to in tune. Then you trim off the excess string with some small wire cutters. Below is a short yet riveting video of the string coming into the "almost in tune" range.

Groundbreaking video where most of the "action" isn't even in the shot.

That's pretty much it - repeat six times and you've got a newly strung guitar. After they are all in place, you will need to tune it up more effectively. A video is below if this process - it's a little more than a minute of footage of someone with fat sunburned fingers (me) tuning up a (my) guitar to be approximately in tune. I directed, recorded and starred in this fine video because S was out mowing the yard. It's really only worth watching if your toenails don't need trimming, you've flossed every tooth in your head, read every book in your house and you still have some time to look it over. I just posted it for those of you all caught up on all of that and really in desperate need of a time filler. So for those people, here you go:

So, there you have it. How to string a guitar in 15,000 words or less and two lame videos. Aren't you glad you stopped by today? Come back tomorrow and I'll find some other great topic you can spend your time on! Thanks for stopping by today, and I hope to see you again tomorrow.


  1. video= very Zen-like

  2. Last comment was me. sorry.

    I do like the video. :)

  3. Cool. Maybe you can teach Andrew to play one day? I even have a guitar. A nice one I am told. I guess my dad hoped I would magically know how to play if he bought me one. :-)

  4. Very useful, if I ever forget how. I find that it is best to string in an E,A,D,E,B,G pattern so that the strings that are farther out on the head don't get in the way of the closer ones while winding them. Maybe you could get S to do one on how to change the oil next. -Steve

  5. My toenails don't need trimming, I've flossed every tooth in my head, read every book in my house and I still had some time... found it interesting... does that make me a nerd?

  6. Embrace the nerdiness, Anonymous. Embrace it.

  7. Coming soon - infomercials on a complete line of guitar accessories and instruction videos from Amy W.


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