How to String an Acoustic Guitar

Things Sounding Dull…

If you’ve been playing for a while you might notice that your guitar is starting to sound a little bit dull. Chances are there’s nothing wrong with your guitar, you probably just need to replace your strings. In this post I’m going to show you how to string an acoustic guitar, and I’ll even include pictures.

I’ll deal with stringing an electric guitar in a different post, because the method can be quite different. I’m stringing a semi-dreadnought electro-acoustic guitar in the pictures. There’s no difference between stringing an acoustic and an electo-acoustic. There may be a slight difference when stringing a classical, nylon stringed guitar, but for the most part this will method will work for you.

Step 1 – Choose Your Strings:

You don’t have to string your guitar with the same gauge or type of strings that you currently have on your guitar. There are a number of thing to take into account when choosing your replacement strings.

Guitar Body Type:

Dreadnought and semi-dreadnought guitars usually come with a heavier gauge to compliment their fuller sound. Half sized guitars usually come with a lighter gauge because the’re designed for a subtler playing style. You can get away with putting a set of light strings on a dreadnought guitar, but if you put a heavy set on a half sized guitar, you might end up damaging the neck.

Desired Tone:

If you want to play hard and loud you’ll want a heavier gauge of strings. That’s another reason why heavier strings suit dreadnought and semi-dreadnoughts. If you want to strum lightly and are predisposed to playing finger-style then you’ll want a lighter gauge of strings.

Style:

If you strum chords with a plectrum chances are you’re after more robust sound. Medium to heavy gauge strings are for you. If you’re more of a finger picker or strum mainly with your fingers, then lighter strings are the best choice. There are no absolute rules on this, so experiment. String aren’t that expensive after all.

Material:

Stand in front of a music shop counter and you’ll probably see a wall of guitar strings. We know that there are different gauges, but what about the different materials?

  • 80/20 Bronze: These are the most common type and give a bright and clear tone
  • Silk & Steel: These offer a very warm and mellow tone. These are generally available only in lighter gauges
  • Aluminium & Bronze: These give a crisp tone, a little crisper than the 80/20 bronze
  • Phosphor Bronze: These give a balanced tone. Not as crisp and slightly warmer
  • Nickel Bronze: These are quite neutral. What I mean by that is they bring out the tone of your guitar rather than promoting an artificial tone provided by the strings
String Gauges:
  • Extra Light: .010 .014 .023. 0.30 .039 .047 – Known as 10’s
  • Custom Light: .011 .015 .023 .032 .042 .052 – Known as 11’s
  • Light: .012 .016 .025 .032 .042 .054 – Know as 12’s
  • Medium: .013 .017 .026 .035 .045 .056 – Known as 13’s
  • Heavy: .014 .018 .027 .039 .049 .059 – Known as 14’s

Step 2 – Gather Your Tools:

how to string an acoustic guitar - Tools to restring a guitar

It’s best to assemble the tools you’ll need before you get started. I prefer to have everything within reach so I don’t have to keep running off to find tools at each stage. Don’t be put off, you don’t need to be an engineer and you don’t need many tools. I’m absolutely terrible at DIY and it takes me ages to do anything manual, but I can quite easily change the strings on my guitar. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Wire Cutters: These will be used to trim the excess length of the strings from the machine heads when you’ve finished
  • Cleaning Fluid: I used Jim Dunlop cleaning fluid
  • Medium Cloth: This is used to remove dirt from the fretboard and headstock
  • Soft Cloth: This is used to remove dust and to give your fretboard and headstock a nice finish
  • Small Storage Pot: You’ll be removing the pegs from the bridge and you really don’t want to lose them!

how to string an acoustic guitar - Loosening the strings

Step 3 – Remove The Strings:

It doesn’t matter which string you start with. Turn the tuning peg to loosen the string, just as if you were flattening the tone of the string. Keep going until the string is no longer coiled around how to string an acoustic guitar - Remove the bridge pegsthe machine head. You’ll now be able to loosen the string from the fretboard.

Pull out the peg at the bridge, and place it in your storage pot. You can now remove the string from the bridge, which will enable you to fully remove the string. Repeat this process with all of the strings until your guitar is string-less! The old strings will probably be rough with gunk, especially on the side that was facing the fretboard. Make sure to dispose of the strings properly. If you can recycle them in your area, please do so!

Step 4- Cleaning:

I’m using Jim Dunlop 65 cleaner-polish in this example. It comes with a handy micro-fiber cloth, which is perfect forhow to string an acoustic guitar - Cleaning the fretboard the job. Follow the instructions on your cleaner or cleaning kit, but for these purposes I’ll apply a couple of pumps to the cloth and start with the fretboard. This is the best opportunity you’ll get to give your guitar a really good clean, so make the most of it.

how to string an acoustic guitar - Cleaning the headstock

I usually go fret-by-fret, cleaning off any muck that’s built up. You’ll find there’s more dirt much closes to the frets. It’s your muck from your fingers, so don’t turn your nose up – embrace it! Take a little time over this and top up your cloth with some more cleaning fluid if you need to.

Once you’re done with the fretboard move onto the headstock. Make sure to get in close to the machine heads and give the tuning pegs a good clean too. Finally clean the remainder of the guitar, the neck and body. Dependent on your kit you may be able to use the same cloth to “polish” or alternatively use a soft cloth and run it over your guitar loosely. Now we’re ready to start stringing the guitar again.

Step 5 – Stringing:

I tend to start with the low E-string, but the choice is yours. Take the string from the packet. It may be color coded to help you identify which string is which. The color on the end of the string will correspond to the color chart how to string an acoustic guitar - Thread the string and reset the pegsomewhere on the packaging. The string will be coiled so carefully unwind it.

There will be a nut at one end of the string, which may be colored to help you identify where the string should go. Thread the nut through the hole in the bridge for the corresponding string and drop it in to the body of the guitar. Reset the peg to hold the string in place. Take the other end and thread it through the hold on the machine head. Now turn the tuning peg as if you were how to string an acoustic guitar - Thread the string through the machine headsharpening the note. Once you’ve got a little tension the string should begin to wind around the machine head.

There will be a groove on the nut of your guitar, one for each string. Slot the string into that groove and continue to tighten the machine head. The string may loosen whilst you tighten, that’s completely normal. Eventually it’ll take. To help the string flex, it’s a good idea to lift the string away from the fretboard a few times whilst tightening. Keep tightening the string sohow to string an acoustic guitar - Flex the string whilst tightening that it remains against the fretboard unassisted. Don’t tighten too much now, we’ll worry about tuning later.

Repeat the process with all of the strings until you have replaced all of the strings on the guitar. Be a little careful with the G and B strings. These tend to be the most likely candidates to snap whilst you’re tightening them. It probably won’t happen but be warned. Once I snapped two G strings in a row when replacing a set of strings. That was annoying! Loosening the strings as described in the paragraph above should help to avoid breakages.

Step 6 – Tuning:

You’ll need to be a little patient with this as the strings will slip a little and won’t hold there tune the first time you tune them. Tune the strings one by one as normal. When you’ve finished strum a few chords. The strings will immediately slip out of tune. Repeat the tuning again and when finished play a few more chords. It’s likely that the strings will slip out again. Repeat the process until the strings hold their tune, it shouldn’t take too long.

You’ll probably notice, dependent on the type of string you’re using, that they sound quite metallic when you fist play them. They will dull slightly after a few days. This might be where you decide that you want to use a different material for your next set of strings. Now you’ll be left with a whole mess of excess string flopping around your headstock. That brings us onto the next step.

Step 7 – Cleaning Up:

That tangled mess of excess string clanging around at your headstock needs to be tamed! If you leave it, it can gethow to string an acoustic guitar - Trim the excess wire quite annoying and the end of strings can be quite sharp if pokes your fingers when picking up your guitar. Time to pick up your wire cutters. I usually leave 1 to 1.5 inches of string at the machine head to allow for tuning and for the strings to expand and contract according to temperatures.

Be careful here. As mentioned it can be quite painful if the end of the string sticks into your finger. You definitely don’t want that to happen on your fretting hand as it’ll make playing rather uncomfortable. You’ll notice the string makes a noise when you clip each one. For this reason you’ll need to tune the guitar again once you’ve tidied up. The strings should hold after the final tuning.

That Wasn’t So Hard!

That’s it. You’ve replaced the strings on your guitar. Congratulations. Unless you break a string you don’t need to replace them too regularly, however it’s best practice to replace them once per month. You’ll need to replace them more regularly if you’re gigging a lot. Changing your strings regularly also allows you to clean your guitar regularly, so don’t leave it too long otherwise your guitar will be thoroughly mucky!

You don’t need to fear changing strings as it’s really quite a simple process. What’s more, once you’ve done it a few times you’ll be able to restring your guitar seriously quickly. One of my friends managed to change two of his strings in the time it took me to play and sing “Always on my mind” by Elvis. Pretty impressive! I hope this has helped you. Please feel free to leave a comment below and share with anyone who might find it helpful. If you want to get in touch use my contact page. Happy strumming!

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