In this post I would like to focus on a few simple things that every guitarist should do to ensure proper maintenance of their guitar.This post is by no means a replacement for a qualified guitar technician. There are several aspects of guitar repair that should only be performed by a qualified professional.However, there are also numerous things that each player should know how to do themselves.You would be surprised to know how many people are unaware of how to change guitar strings!
I don’t want to overstate the obvious, but string change is very important to your guitars “health”. It’s also important to getting good tone.Now, how often should you change your strings? The answer will vary from player to player, are you a working pro, weekend jammer, etc…Those are questions that factor into how often strings need to be replaced. Let’s look at the actual correct way to change a set of electric guitar strings.
I will use my Fender Telecaster, as the model for this post. I use D’Adarrio 10 – 46 guage strings.With a heavier guage string the process is still the same, though the amount of turns may slightly vary. So, you know that you have to change the strings. Now comes the first step, the tools you will need to use for the job. There really isn’t an option if you want to do the job correctly and besides, these tools are not very costly and they will serve you well for future string changes. Bite the bullet and invest in the following tools.
- Small Pair of wire cutters
- Stringwinder (the contoured type with slotted top)
- Electronic Guitar Tuner (Ibanez, Korg, & Planet Waves make very good affordable tuners.
- Small ( 3 to 6 feet ) 1/4 inch guitar cable
- Soft cloth or rag ( used to cover body of guitar to avoid any scratches, nicks, dents caused by dropping a tool) Note: I have used a product called “Guitar Sleeve”, for many years. It is a soft shammy type cloth that fits over top of the guitar as well as the back. Very worthwhile investment.
- Nut Sauce friction Remover. One of the best little products!! Used to make sure that string slippage isn’t caused by excess friction. Planet Waves is the product that I have used for a while and it more than does the job
- Roll of duct tape. You just never know when you’ll need the use of duct tape.
One final thing before I explain the actual procedure of changing strings: Do any string changes ONLY ON A FLAT SURFACE. This is important. Most times there is absolutely no need for re stringing any instrument on anything but a flat surface. At least that’s what one would think. However, I have repaired several electrics and acoustics as a result of players doing re strings while talking on a phone and dangling the guitar precariously over the edge of a table, chair, file cabinet, or whatever else. Never a good idea to do a re string, or any other repair for that matter, on anything but a flat surface.
Ok, now we come to the re string process, itself.
- Remove all guitar strings by unwinding them. DON’T CUT BEFORE UNWINDING. As a rule, I generally remove my old strings in the following order: 6.1 – 5.2 – 4.3. This is done to balance out the loss of tension during removal.
- Lastly, don’t just yank the old string through the trem or stop bar bridge. Doing that can cause the spinning end of the string to scratch the finish.
After the above steps have been taken, I like to wipe down my guitars neck and try to clean any fret dirt and fingerboard grime.It feels a lot better knowing that I have a clean surface for my brand new string set. For the fret cleaning I like to use a light synthetic steel wool. This can be used on the fretboard as well but It depends on how bad the grime accumulation is. When that aspect of the cleaning is done, take a small toothbrush (Hard bristles will work best when cleaning the edges of the frets where they meet the fingerboard)
- Next thing to do is to apply a little bit of the nut sauce. Little bit, is the operative word, here. Most of these kits will come with a pair of applicators. These are the small little “Q-Tip” type sticks that have a tiny swab at their ends. Generally I apply one small squeeze to the end of the swab and then dab it into each slot of the nut.A little bit of the stuff does indeed go along way.My rule of thumb is to use the one dab for the whole nut and then wipe off the swab, apply another dab to the swab and then apply to the saddles and string trees, then to the insert slots at the back of the guitar.
Wait approximately 1 min and then we are ready to commence with the re stringing.
- Place all of the strings into their insert slots (With rear insert slots make sure that you hear the small “click” of the string as it is pulled firmly into position.)
- Pull the string through the slot and thread through the peg hole of the appropriate machine head.
- As with string removal, I like to re string in the following order:6.1 -5.2 -4.3
- Now we have to begin winding the string around the post of the machine head. The idea is to have the right amount of turns on the peg head. This can be a little tricky because a lot of manufacturers use different string lengths.It’s important to note that too many turns on the peg and the string will wind over itself, too few and string slipping is bound to occur.To get the right amount of turns can take a little experience. Below, I have modeled the correct amount of string turns for the .010 – .046 string gauge.I tend to leave about 8 – 10cm of slack at the bridge when I bend the the string into the peg head for my first turn. That way I’am assured of having enough “String” to make the correct amount of windings.
- E: 2.5
- A: 3.5
- D: 5.5
- G (Plain) 5.5
- B 7.5
- E 7.5
-When you have the string wound to the appropriate turn, stretch it in an upward bowlike fashion. Pulling up but lightly.Then you should notice the string has gone out of tune. Now you have to retune to pitch and then repeat the bowlike stretching and then retune to pitch. This will cause each of your strings to get in tune and stay in tune.Take your time when doing this and your guitar will reward you with better stability in it’s tuning and you will also sound more professional whenever you are to jam with someone. There is nothing worse than a good guitar player, good guitar, good situation for playing and then you have tuning problems. Eek!!
So, now all of the strings are on your guitar and you have stretched them out and you are ready to plug in, turn up and tear it up!!Great!! Just don’t forget one last little step: RE-TUNE (using your electronic tuner)- play a few chords, do a few bends and then re -tune, again. It may seem a little overkill but it has served me very well during almost 30 years of playing, performing, recording, touring and teching for players of all styles.
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