How to Change Strings on Classical Guitars

How to change strings on classical guitars

One of the trickiest aspects of buying and owning a classical guitar is learning how to change your strings. Changing the strings on classical guitars is completely different than changing the strings on a typical acoustic or electric guitar.

It’s not that changing nylon strings is harder as long as you know what you’re doing.

So hopefully I can help you along in the learning process by sharing with you a few step-by-step instructions to changing your nylon strings. It all starts with choosing the correct strings and ends with proper stretching of the strings – something most “guides” don’t tell you about.

Guide to Change Strings on Classical Guitars

Step #1: Choose the right strings

This may seem like an over-simplified step, but it’s absolutely crucial. Some people think that you can buy pretty much any kind of guitar strings and put it on a classical guitar.

This is not true and could end up damaging your guitar!

A classical guitar is specifically manufactured to work with nylon strings so you should avoid steel strings, acoustic strings or electric guitar strings even if they seem to fit your guitar.

There are actually quite a few options when it comes to nylon strings:

  • Various tensions: you could get “light” tension, “normal” or “hard” tension depending on how you want the strings to feel. Go with normal to start with but test the others to see what fits your style.
  • Ball-end vs Open end: nylon strings with a ball end (similar to acoustic and electric guitars) are available. Most classical guitarists look down on these kinds of strings however and if you own a classical you might as well learn to tie your knots which I’ll show later in this guide.
  • Clear vs Opaque: this doesn’t affect sound so don’t worry. It’s all a matter of personal preference whether you want the bottom two strings (B & E) to be clear or opaque.

You’ll find most all of these options at a local guitar store, but here are a few that you can get cheaper online:

Step #2: Remove Your Current Strings

Simple as pie. Some people like to cut them with scissors and others like to just unwind them. Either way, the whole point is to just get every piece of the string off of the guitar.

You might find that some of the knots have become really tight, especially on the bridge. Just work on them until you can get it loose enough to take off. This whole process shouldn’t take more than a couple minutes but it goes even faster if you have a guitar winder.

Step #3: (Optional) Clean Your Guitar

I say this to everyone who is changing strings no matter if it’s on a classical guitar, acoustic guitar or electric guitar: take advantage of the time you have without strings to clean your guitar. (click here for a comprehensive guide on how to clean your guitar)

This means cleaning the fretboard, which can often get quite dirty with finger oil buildup. I also like to polish the guitar soundboard, especially between the soundhole and the bridge.

Step #4: Knotting the Bridge End of the String

There are two knots that you’ll have to master to change strings on classical guitars: the bridge knot and the tuning peg knot. There are numerous “styles” that some classical guitarists like, but the important part is just making sure your knot doesn’t slip.

To tie a basic knot, take the tightly wound end of the string (there’s one side that is loose) and pass that end of the string through the hole giving yourself about 3-4 inches of room to work with (you can cut off the excess later).

Tying the bridge knot while changing strings on classical guitar

Wrap that end portion of the string over the bridge and under the string itself, pulling tight to create a little “bend” in the string. Once you’ve done this you just pass the remaining string under itself on the opposite side of the bridge and you’re done. It’s important to keep tension on the remainder of the string or else it might come undone on you!

My advice: don’t cut off the excess string until you have completed the restringing process and have tuned the guitar.

Step #5: Knotting the Tuner End of the String

With your classical guitar on its back, pass the loose end of the string down through the appropriate tuner hole. Don’t pull it tight, you’ll want to leave a little bit of slack that will wrap around the tuner.

Tying the knot on the tuner pegs of a classical guitar

Here’s the tricky part: pull the string back up on the headstock side of the tuner peg (as opposed to the body-side) and wrap the string around itself pulling down. Once we start winding the tuner this will essentially lock the string in place.

Start winding the guitar, keeping tension on the string between the tuner and the bridge so the knots don’t come undone.

Repeat steps 4 & 5 for each string. Once you’ve done this and tuned the guitar, cut off the excess string.

Tuning your classical guitar and stretching the strings.

Step #6: Stretching the Strings

It’s important to stretch your strings no matter what kind of guitar you’re restringing. It’s a big myth that new guitar strings always go out of tune. They don’t as long as they’re properly stretched.

Tug on each string at about the 12 fret and then retune the guitar. You should have to do this multiple times while the knots tighten, but once done they should mostly remain in tune for you.

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That’s it! I might take you a little while on your first try but after that it’s really quite simple. For another detailed guide, I highly recommend this PDF by Taylor Guitars. They do an excellent job if this wasn’t clear enough for you.

Now, in order to keep that guitar in tune, check out this ultimate guide to guitar tuners.

Happy picking!

4 Responses to How to Change Strings on Classical Guitars

  1. Banacek60chord says:

    I’m shocked at the lack of instruction available on this most basic procedure, these days, as it was covered in my first guitar book by Manuel [Peroda?] 50 years ago. I was going to post a tutorial myself [and may still do that].
    Your bridge knot should be a ‘timber hitch’: as you’ve done correctly but not on the bass E. It’s not locked properly. Also, tying in subsequent string tails to the next string commits you to change all of them if you only break one, or at least to have to release, or cut off the tail.
    I would only tie a knot on the tuning barrel in extreme circumstances, where a short string repair emergency, or damaged barrel caused problems. The trick is to take the tail at right angles across the barrel and lock it with the turns from the standing part of the string as you wind them on. Two turns is usually enough to make it secure.

    • Josh Summers says:

      Great comment, Jack. While I agree with you that tying in subsequent strings forces you to change them all when just one breaks, I find that usually that’s not a bad thing. Unless it breaks within the first week or two, the breaking of one is usually a good sign to change them all.

      Plus, it looks so much nicer…and I have to admit that I’m a sucker for organization like that 🙂

      • Keith says:

        I agree with both of you, but particularly with your comment Josh It does look much more ‘ professional ‘ !

      • PickerDad says:

        Absolutely agree. If one breaks, the others aren’t far behind. With a whole new set, you’ll get that breathtaking new-string tone. It’s the best your guitar is going to sound. Get into the habit of changing your strings on a regular basis, depending on how much you play. Then you’ll always know how old your strings are.

        I’m new to nylon strings. Do they need to be changed as often as steel strings? Is breakage a problem?

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