Changing Guitar Strings: 4 Great Secrets

changing guitar strings

Every guitar player has to do it. Some like it more than others. But there’s an art to changing guitar strings that many guitarist don’t know about.

After decades of changing guitar strings on both my acoustic guitar and my electric guitar, on my own guitars as well as my customer’s guitars, I’ve learned quite a few secrets that I think you’ll find interesting.

Hopefully these 4 secrets of can help you as you begin changing guitar strings on your own.

Secret #1: Take All the Guitar Strings Off

I’ve heard it many times before and it still amazes me that this old wives tales is still alive and well: taking off all the strings on your guitar at once can hurt your guitar neck.

Wrong.

The thinking behind this logic is that your truss rod is constantly providing counter-pressure against the guitar strings.  And, by taking all the strings off at once the truss will begin to bend your neck backwards.

Well I can tell you based on my own experience, as well as that of many luthier friends I know – it just isn’t true.

The necks on today’s guitars are able to withstand an unbelievable amount of pressure.  Much more than the absence of all the guitar strings might cause. Taking off all the strings at once is not only an efficient way of changing guitar strings, it also helps in other ways.

Which leads me to my next secret:

Secret #2: Do More Than Just Changing Guitar Strings

When all the strings on a guitar are off, you have the ability to do things with your guitar that you might normally not get to do.

Back when I was working at a guitar store I would always use the guitar string changing as an opportunity to do an all-out “tune up” of the guitar.

Clean the gunk off your fretboardThis tune up included:

  • Cleaning the Frets: over time, the oil in your fingers leaves a residue that builds up next to the frets on your guitar. By using an old toothbrush, some special guitar cleaning oil and a rag, clean that off to ensure a longer life for your fretboard.
  • Oiling the Fretboard: your fretboard, which more than likely is rosewood, would love a nice oil bath. Grab some guitar cleaning oil from your local guitar store and spend a couple minutes rubbing it into your fretboard with an old rag.
  • Checking your Battery: If you have an acoustic-electric whose battery is housed inside the body of the guitar, use this time to change it if you can. Nothing’s worse than running out of juice and having to find a way to squeeze your hand between the strings to get to the battery.
  • Polishing the Face: there are a few places that are just too hard to clean when the strings are on. I always take the chance to give a good polish to the entire soundboard when I can!

Do all of this and your guitar will look as new as the new strings sound, I promise you!

Secret #3: Stretch the New Strings

Don’t you hate it when your new guitar strings never stay in tune when you first change them?

Stretch the new stringsI learned this tip from a guitar tech for one of my favorite bands. He was in charge of changing the strings for the guitarist.  There was no room for error when it came to keeping the new strings in tune.

What he taught me was to stretch the strings once you’ve installed them. Basically, this involved pulling the string from the point at about the end of the neck. A pretty good tug on each of the strings and inevitably the whole thing was out of tune.

Once I re-tune the guitar I do the whole tugging process over again – and mind you, this isn’t a sissy tug. I’ve actually broken a string doing this once, but it was a pretty gauge string.

Rinse and repeat until you tug and it doesn’t go out of tune. For me this is usually 4-6 times.

Secret #4: Beware of Finger Oil

This last secret has less to do with the actual changing of the strings and more to do with prolonging the life of the strings.  But, it should be helpful anyway.

A string’s worst enemy is finger oil.  Which is unfortunately what you apply every time you play your guitar (unless you play with gloves…which is weird).

The best way to combat this is to keep a spare rag or old t-shirt in your guitar case.  Once you’re finished playing, wipe down the guitar strings up and down the neck. I do this every single time I play.  I swear it adds at least a week to the life of the strings.

Use a rag to wipe off your guitar strings

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Are there any other tips or secrets you have to changing the guitar strings on your beginner acoustic guitar or beginner electric guitar?

More Helpful Tips

Looking for some more helpful tips and secrets for your guitar? Check these out:

 

6 Responses to Changing Guitar Strings: 4 Great Secrets

  1. Dean Hailstone says:

    Maybe it’s because I have high acid levels in my pH, but I find that my strings don’t last very long (I also gig a lot). If you’re interested, I did some research on improving the life of a new set of strings. Check out the post on my blog: http://www.playguitarlive.com/10-tips-to-make-guitar-strings-last-longer/

  2. Bobby says:

    Related to #1 (removing all strings at once), I used to have a strict policy AGAINST removing all strings at once, and gave that same advice to everyone. I would only remove all the strings if I was planning to do a major cleaning or other maintenance. Eventually, I realized that my paranoia was due to the fact that I’ve played primarily electric guitars with floating (Floyd Rose style) bridges all my life. My paranoia wasn’t about damaging the neck. It was about throwing my surgically precise setup out of whack. So, my “one string at a time” approach just naturally carried over to acoustics too, and even fixed-bridge electrics, and it’s just not necessary. Unless you have a guitar with a floating bridge, definitely feel confident that you can safely remove all the strings, and use that opportunity to give the fretboard and frets a good wipedown.

    • Josh Summers says:

      You’re absolutely right about the floating bridge guitars, Bobby. Thanks for the clarification.

      I come from the background of acoustic guitars and I remember asking one of Nashville’s premier luthiers about this exact issue. His response was that it wouldn’t hurt the guitar in the least. In fact, this is how he often repaired guitars – without the strings on.

  3. […] Further Reading: 4 Secrets to Changing Your Strings […]

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