Guitars are pretty rugged instruments. Changing strings regularly will improve the guitar's sound, help keep strings from breaking at the wrong moment, and help identify possible maintenance problems. (You may discover a rattling tuning peg or a gouged bridge or nut.) Old strings tend to sound dull and lifeless, and they become brittle with age. This makes them feel tougher to fret and harder to keep in tune.
Removing the Old Strings
An old wives' tale has it that replacing strings one at a time is better for the guitar because it maintains tension on the neck. Not true. Funny as it may sound, guitar necks have “memory,” and guitars themselves are made of sterner stuff. However, replacing strings one at a time can be more convenient. (A string winder, as shown in FIGURE 2-5, makes the job of winding new strings easier.)
It can be tedious to turn your tuning pegs while putting on new strings. Save yourself time by buying a string winder, which fits over the tuning peg and allows you to turn it far more quickly.
A potential problem with taking all the strings off at the same time is that on guitars with a movable bridge, the bridge
You can unwind the strings by using the tuning peg to lessen the tension, or you can try a more radical approach and use wire cutters to snip the strings near the tuning peg. Once you have the old strings off the guitar, throw them away.
The bridge is what holds the strings in place at the end of the guitar. There are various types on different guitars. Here are the most common:
• Pin bridge: Found on steel-string acoustics; pins anchor the strings at the end of the bridge
• Fixed thread-under bridge: Primarily found on classical guitars (shown in
• Through-body bridge: Found on Strat-style and Tele-style guitars; strings go in the back of the guitar, through the body, and up into a metal bridge
• Tailpiece bridge: Also known as a “stop” tailpiece; found on Les Paul–style guitars
• Tremolo-style bridge: Some guitars have “whammy bars” that allow you to give the guitar a vibrato sound. The strings are attached to a metal block that pivots back and forth, making the strings vibrate when the whammy bar is moved.
It is important to know what kind of bridge your instrument has so you can properly change strings and keep your instrument in tune.
Classical guitars have fixed bridges, which allows you to replace the strings all at once if you like. Nylon strings aren't as springy as steel, and attaching the strings to the bridge can be tricky at first.
Pass the string through the hole in the bridge, leaving about an inch and a half sticking out the back. Loop the short end back up, and wrap it behind the long end and then under itself. Pull it taut by tugging on the long end of the string. You may have to practice this a few times. Don't cut the string until everything is in place and in tune.
Thread the long end through the hole in the tuning peg at the head. (FIGURE 2-6 shows the order of the strings on the head.) Bring the end of the string over the roller (or capstan) in front of the hole and under itself. Make sure the string sits in the small groove on the nut. Then take up some of the slack of the string and tighten the tuning peg by winding the bass strings from right to left (counterclockwise), and treble strings from left to right (clockwise). As it picks up the slack of the string, the tuning peg will tighten and lock itself in place. While the string tightens, start tuning it and stretching it by pulling on it at various times. Once the guitar string is in place and in tune, snip away the excess string, leaving maybe a couple of inches at the tuning peg, and an inch or less at the bridge.
Steel-Strung Acoustic Guitars
Steel-strung acoustic and electric guitars have a moveable bridge, so when you change the strings you want to be careful not to dislodge it. It's a good idea to change the strings one at a time, or three at a time, but not all at the same time in order to keep the bridge anchored in its best position.
Acoustic guitars often have pin bridges that anchor the end of the string by popping the string into a hole and keeping it in place with a pin. First, loosen the string tension at the tuning peg. Then ease out the bridge pin.
Bridge pins can stick sometimes, so carefully use needle-nose pliers to ease the pin out of its hole. Some of the newer string winders have a notch by the end of their tuning-peg holder that is used specifically for this purpose. Be careful not to dig into the wood. Once the pin is out, you can remove the string.
Place the end of the new string that has a little brass ring into the bridge-pin hole. Then wedge the bridge pin back into the hole, locking the ring and the string in place. You'll notice that the pin has a slot. Make sure the slot faces forward, that is, toward the tuning pegs.
Now pass the string over the bridge post, making sure each string fits snugly into the groove on the bridge and on the nut. Thread the loose end through the hole in the tuning peg post. If you want, you can kink the string a little to help keep it in place. Take up the slack on the string and then turn the tuning peg clockwise for the treble strings, and counterclockwise for the bass strings, tuning the string as the tension increases.
After all the strings are attached, retune the guitar carefully, bringing all the strings up to concert pitch. Be careful; you don't want to break a string. The best technique is to turn the tuning peg a couple of times, then check the tuning until you get the string in tune. When the string is in tune, clip the end off at the tuning peg, leaving about an inch of extra wire protruding.
New strings need to be constantly checked and then “played in” before they settle into the correct tuning. When they're put on correctly, new strings will make your guitar sound brighter and make it easier to play.
With electric guitars, you attach the string to the bridge by passing one end through a hole and threading the string up to a brass ball, which keeps it in place.
Some guitars use what is called a locking nut system, such as a Floyd Rose tremolo unit (as shown in FIGURE 2-7). These can make strings difficult to change. The strings are clamped into place at the bridge saddle using a special Allen key. It's a good idea to use a piece of wood or a pack of playing cards to take up the tension when a string is changed; this stops the unit from rocking back and forth. On tremolo units, when one string is changed, the tension on all the strings changes.
In order to use these bridges, you must snip off the ball end so that the string can be fitted into a small vise-like mechanism that holds the string in place. When all the strings are changed, you can remove the wood or playing cards supporting the bridge. Tune the strings as usual, using the tuning pegs. Then make the final adjustment on the bridge anchor using an Allen key. But be careful not to tighten the strings at the bridge too soon. If you overtighten a string, when you remove the block supporting the unit, the string may snap as the tension increases.
Remember, if you have a guitar with this kind of bridge, the spare strings need to have the ball ends removed. Get in the habit of carrying wire cutters around in your guitar case.