How to String an Electric Guitar Properly

Time to Restring Your Electric Guitar?

Whether it’s the first time you need to restring your electric guitar, or you’ve done it before. Sometimes it can be difficult to know how to string an electric guitar properly. It’s a reasonably simple process as long as you have the tools to hand and a little guidance. This post will guide you through how to string your electric guitar. There are even pictures to keep you on the right track. So without any further delay, let’s get stringing.

Pick Your Strings!

The first hurdle to clear is the type of strings you’re going to use to replace your current set. There are a variety of brands with a variety of features, not to mention the gauge. Some of this is about personal preference, but there can be some certainty when choosing your gauge.

There are some exceptions but generally strings come in a number of gauges:

Extra-Light:

These are good strings for beginners because the thin gauge makes it easier to fret notes when you’re getting started. They’re easier to manipulate when you need to bend a note, but aren’t so good for rhythm guitar due to their light-weight nature.

  • Low E: .038
  • A: .030
  • D: .022
  • G:  .014
  • B: .011
  • High E: .008

People using extra-light string typically will play pop, light rock and finger-style. They can also be used by pure shredders, but they’ll let you down when you need a bit more oomph behind your sound!

Light:

Similar to the extra-lights but more commonly available, these strings are also great for beginners. Easier to fret and bend they’re great for lead guitarists. Again they’ll lack a bit of oomph if you need to switch between rhythm and lead, but they’ll cope better than the extra-lights.

  • Low E: .042
  • A: .032
  • D: .024
  • G: .016
  • B: .011
  • High E: .009

Lights usually have a bright tone so are good for cleaner styles. Country, pop and light rock as well as finger-style. Punk guitarists may find that lights work for them too.

Mediums:

These tend to be the ubiquitous strings for most. They give you a good balance letting you switch from playing lead to crunchier rhythm without needing to switch guitars. They also allow for warmer tones, making them a good choice of jazz and blues guitarists.

  • Low E: .046 or .048
  • A: .036 or .038
  • D: .026 or .028
  • G: .017 or .018
  • B: .013 or .014
  • High E: .010 or .011

Mediums are more likely to hold their tune due to the tension of the thicker strings. They’re slightly harder to bend but you’ll soon get used to the extra tension. They’re a choice for metal guitarists too with the crunchiness offered by the thicker gauge but with the higher strings retaining qualities allowing for shredding.

Heavy:

These are the domain of the blues, jazz and metal guitarist. The thickness of the strings supports drop tuning without affecting the feel of the string. You may need to adjust the nut of the guitar to accommodate the thicker gauge, but that’ll depend on your guitar.

  • Low E: .052 or .054
  • A: .042 or .044
  • D: .032 or .034
  • G: .024 or .026
  • B: .016 or .017
  • High E: .012 or .013

There’s much less “give” with these strings, so bending, fretting and picking can be harder work.

Material:

Most strings are made from nickel. There are variations, such as pure nickel and nickel plated. Nickel strings tend to provide a warm tone with a brighter top end. There are variances however. Pure nickel strings are a bit heavier and give you the vintage warm sort of tone. Nickel plated strings give you a clearer tone that’s reasonably balanced in terms of a low, mid and high tonal range.

Cobalt strings, an alloy of iron and cobalt, provide more emphasis on the treble giving you a bright tone with slightly less mid. The output is boosted due to the magnetic properties of the alloy. These might suit rock and metal players, especially those looking to shred.

Steel strings tend to emphasise the low, whilst also giving a slight boost to treble. These strings also output well allowing you to crank it up during playing. They’re a good choice for those looking for richer, warm tones. Also good for metal given the crunch of the low whilst preserving some of the treble required for shredding.

Getting Prepared:

The guitar I’m stringing today is a Mexican Fender Fat Strat with a maple neck. I’m replacing with a set of light Fender Super Bullets. There may be slight differences between guitars, however you should be able to adapt the principles I’m covering. First let’s gather some tools:

List of Tools:

  • Medium cross-headed screw-driver
  • Cleaning kit / fluid
  • Pot to keep screws
  • Wire cutters

Let’s Get Started!

We’ll take this step by step. I’ll try to keep steps as short as possible to that it doesn’t get confusing. The associated image should help you to follow along.

Step 1: Remove the back panel

How to string an electric guitar properly - Remove the backplateTake your screw-driver and remove the screws that hold the back plate in place. This will allow you to remove the old strings. Once you’ve removed each of the screws make sure to pop them into the pot for safe keeping, you’ll need them again soon. Remove the back plate and place it somewhere close by.

Ok, so my back plate is a bit of a mess but I wanted to keep the Fender sticker. Call it sentimental!

Step 2: Loosen & remove old strings

Loosen the old strings

You can start with any of the strings, but I’ve begun with the high E string in the picture. Twist each tuning peg until the string becomes very loose. You should now be able to remove the string from the machine head.

How to string an electric guitar properly - Stringless guitar

Thread the old string towards the bridge. The string should start to protrude from the back plate, allowing you to pull the string clear of the guitar.

Repeat with the other strings until there are no strings left on your guitar. Remember to dispose of the old strings responsibly. If they can be recycled in your area, please remember to do so!

Step 3: Cleaning

Cleaning the guitar

Now that all of the strings have been removed, it’s time to do some cleaning! Follow the instructions on your cleaning product. Generally you’ll have a cloth included. Here I’ve applied a few pumps of the cleaning fluid to one side of the cloth. I’m staring with the fret-board. I run the cloth over each of the frets, applying extra pressure where required to remove any built up dirt and grime.

Once the fret-board is clean I apply a few more pumps of cleaning fluid to the cloth. Then I clean the head-stock and the body of the guitar. Once I’ve finished with cleaning I flip the cloth over to use the dry side. Then I begin polishing all over the guitar. Now your guitar should be cleaning and shining!

Step 4: Open the strings

How to string an electric guitar properly - Packaged New StringsIndividually packaged stringsThe strings usually come in a small package. It’ll contain the strings in paper cases, either one string to each or two to each. Fender Super Bullets come two to a paper package. The paper package should tell you which string or strings are contained within. Fender has paired strings that aren’t similar in size to avoid confusion. Other brands may color code the strings.

The first pack contains the first and fourth strings. It’d be wise to string them in that order so you don’t get confused.

Step 5: Thread the new string

Take the fine end of the string and thread it through the corresponding hole at the base of the cavity behind the back plate. You can see this in the first picture below. In this example I’m threading the low E string. Push the string until there’s no resistance. That’ll mean it’s popped through the bridge of the guitar as in the second picture below.

You’ll now be able to pull the string through the bridge until you reach the other end of the string. It’ll have some sort of “stopper” on it. In the case of the Fender string I’m using it’s a bullet shape, as pictured below in the third picture. Whatever the shape, it should sit in the cavity behind the back plate comfortably.

Step 6: Thread the string through the machine head

How to string an electric guitar properly - Slot the string into the groove at the nutTwist the appropriate machine head so that the little hole is facing towards the bridge. Now thread the fine end of the string through the hole in the machine head. There will be a slot at the nut of the guitar, which will house the string. Make sure to slot the string into the appropriate slot.

You’re now ready to start tightening. You may need to hold the string in the slot whilst you tighten, at least until it begins to take properly. Twist the tuning peg so that the string begins to tighten. You can pluck the string to see if the tone gets higher, indicating that the string is tightening and it’s producing a proper note that’s around where you’d expect it to be.

Don’t tighten too far at this stage, just so it’s held in place. We’ll properly tighten later when tuning. Repeat with the other strings until all six are attached and roughly tightened.

Step 7: Tuning

Now that all of the strings have been re-attached we can begin tuning. You might think we’d want to attach the back plate at this point, but occasionally new strings break when tuning up. It’s reasonably rare, but it does happen. If you’ve already screwed the back plate back on, you’ll need to take it off again to replace the broken string!

If you would like to hear the notes to make sure you’re tuning to standard properly Fender has created a really awesome free online tuner. It also includes non-standard tuning, such as drop-D tuning as well as bass and ukulele tuners too!

You’ll need to re-tune a few times because the strings take time to settle. Once you’ve tuned it a few times strum a few chords. You’ll need to re-tune again but it’s all a part of helping the strings to settle.

Step 8: Tidying up

How to string an electric guitar properly - Trim the excess string to tidy upOnce the strings are holding their tune you’ll have noticed there’s a mess of excess string flopping around at the head-stock.

How to string an electric guitar properly - Tidy head-stock

We need to trim these to tidy up and to prevent any injuries that might occur. The fine ends of the string are very sharp and it can be painful if they spike your fingers or any other part of your body.

Use the wire-cutters to trim the excess. I usually like to leave an inch and a half so that there’s plenty for tuning. Select the length you want to leave and then cut the string as demonstrated in the picture on the left. Dispose of the trimmings and you should be left with a tidy head-stock.

Step 9: Attach the back plate

How to string an electric guitar properly - Re-attach the back plate

Almost there! Now that you’ve clipped the excess string, you’ll need a final tune up. The string can go out of tune when the string is clipped. Once you’ve tuned up and the strings are holding their tune you can re-attach the back plate.

Line up the back plate with the pre-screwed holes on the guitar’s body. I tend to like to tighten one corner, then the opposite corner. This tends to form a figure of 8 type way of tightening. I start in the top left, then bottom right, then top right, then bottom left. Finally I’d tighten the two middle screws. That makes it easier as the main anchor points are tightened in order.

And You’re Done!

How to string an electric guitar properly - Restrung electric guitar

That’s it. You’ve restrung your guitar. It can seem a little intimidating when restringing your guitar for the first time, but you soon get used to it. Use this guide for the first few changes and you’ll be doing it in your sleep in no time!

Now you can enjoy the fruits of your labor, with a lovely crisp new sound from your new strings. As a bonus your guitar is now nice and clean! Now all that’s left to do is plug in and enjoy!

I hope you’ve found this post useful. As always please feel free to leave a comment or use my contact page to get in touch. If you found it useful, please share with others that might find it helpful. Happy strumming!

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