Changing Guitar Strings


Click Here for Guitar Scale MasteryThere are three occasions when you may consider changing your guitar strings. The first and most obvious one is if they break. Sometimes guitar strings can break from over-enthusiastic playing but more often they will break for the second reason you should change them - they are worn or damaged. 


Inspect your strings regularly along the neck in line with the frets. Look out for the strings to be flattened as they’ve been pushed down on the frets. If you see evidence of this you should certainly be thinking of changing guitar strings soon. Similarly, look for damage around the area they are plucked- particularly if you use a metal plectrum or finger picks such as the ones described in the article ‘Guitar Finger Picks’. 


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As strings start to wear they will start to sound a little different and you will begin to ‘know’ when it is time to change them. Fortunately, you will be familiar with the sound of your instrument much more than your audience so you will know it is time to be changing guitar strings before your audience does. The important thing to realise is that you need to be looking and listening. There is no rule in terms of how often you should be changing guitar strings as it will vary depending on the amount you play and the style you play. 


The third reason you might want to change guitar strings is to change the quality of the tone. Electric guitar and some acoustic guitar strings are made by winding a wrap of wire in a coil like manner around a core wire. The type of material used for the wrap wire will influence the tone of the guitar. So for example, whilst nickel is the most popular kind for electric guitars, stainless steel provides a brighter tone whilst phosphor bronze will produce a warmer tone. Classical guitar strings are traditionally made of nylon but sometimes the bass strings are also made of bronze wire or even silver-plated copper wire around a core of fine threads. A more recent innovation to provide different tonality has been the introduction of carbon fibre which can give a brighter edge to the tone. 


So you can see there are a number of reasons why you would want to be changing guitar strings. 


There are a few basic ‘rules’. First of all it is always prudent to replace the entire set if they’ve been played for some time. As discussed earlier the tone of the strings change as they start to wear out and replacing just a single string may cause it to ‘stand out’. 


There is a school of thought that suggests you should replace the string you’ve just removed before moving onto the next string to avoid having no strings on the guitar at any one time. The thinking behind this is that the complete loss of tension in the neck may cause it to warp. However, perceived wisdom is that this would only be a problem if you left the guitar unstrung for a prolonged period of time. Certainly if you had a luthier working on your guitar he would have no hesitation removing all the strings if he needed to. So as long as you re-string immediately after you remove the old strings you should not have any problems with the neck distorting when you are changing guitar strings. 


With the strings removed, brush away any string dust from the fret board and take the opportunity to polish the fret board with olive or walnut oil. 


Now you can start re-stringing your guitar. When changing guitar strings it is important that you replace the strings starting with the low E and working up. For each string in turn do an initial tuning and then stretch the string by pulling it hard at its midway point Re-tune it again, stretch it some more and keep doing this until it doesn’t go out of tune again. Repeat this for the other five strings working up. Finally spend some time tuning the entire guitar (see articles ‘Tuning a Guitar’ and ‘How to Tune a Guitar’) bearing in mind that there may still be some residual stretch left in the strings. Certainly give the guitar a good working before doing any public performances to ensure that the tension in the strings remain stable. 


So as you can see, although there is a little discipline involved in changing guitar strings, it is quite simple and well worth the time taken. 


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