Learning the basics
In this guide we will go over how to change your electric guitar strings. Because Acoustic guitars, electric guitars, and classical guitars are all made slightly different, we will break them down into three separate guides. For those that are new to playing the electric guitar, we will first go through some quick terminology so that you will know what you will be looking for. Starting from the top of the guitar and working our way down there is:
- 1. The Headstock, this is where the tuning pegs and post is located at the top of the guitar.
- 2. The Nut. The Nut is just below the Headstock and has small grooves to hold the strings into place. The materiel for the nut may be different for each guitar but its purpose is the same for all types of guitars rather it is for a classical or electric guitar.
- 3. The Neck and fretboard. The Frets are the metal wires you see going down the Neck of the instrument.
- 4. Whammy bar/Vibrato arm: This is located near the bridge and pickups, it is the metal rod that you use to adjust the pitch of the strings to generate vibrato.
- 5. Volume and tone Controls: These are the two nobs to adjust how loud your electric guitar sounds, and to also adjust the tone of how your guitar sounds.
- 6. The Bridge, saddle and Tailpiece. The bridge and saddle are located at the bottom part of the guitar, but it is made differently from acoustic and classical guitars. The electric guitar has metal pickups used to generate sound and a metal bridge. Some electric guitars use a tailpiece where the strings slide through and hold the ball end of the string in place. We will explain more about this later.
Changing your Electric guitar strings
- 1. The first thing we want to do for all guitars is loosen the strings using the tuning pegs, but for electric guitars we also want to unplug it from the amp and turn the volume controls all the way down. You want the strings to be nice and slack so that they wobble when you pluck the strings, this will keep the strings from popping out and hitting you in the eye. After the strings are nice and loose you can then remove the strings from the body of the guitar.
- 2. Next you will either have to unravel the string from the tuning post or cut them off with wire cutters. Be careful though, sometimes the strings can have sharp edges. It will probably be faster to cut the strings off with your wire cutters, but I normally save the old strings as a extra pair and take the time to unravel them from the tuning post. There are two different body types for Electric guitars, so we will walk you through both ways for changing your strings. Some electric guitar strings insert from the back bottom side of the guitar, so you will have to flip your guitar over to push the string down from the bridge and then pull the ball end out through the back of the guitar. For most other types of guitars the strings insert through the bridge tailpiece and rest on top of the saddle like acoustic guitars. For both types you will simply slide the string free to remove it from the guitar. Continue to repeat this process for all six strings to remove them from the guitar.
- 3. Now we take our new strings and will put them in one at a time. Let’s start with the top bass “E” string. If your strings enter from the back of the guitar, start by placing the string into the slot and slide it through the body and out of the front part of the bridge, so that the ball end locks the string in place, just make sure the string comes out the right hole on the other end. If the guitar isn’t designed where the strings inserts from the back of the body, then you will simply thread the string through the guitar’s tailpiece and have it rest on the saddle.
Important Note: Now there is a small debate about bringing the string through the tailpiece. Some electric guitar luthiers will recommend putting the string through the tailpiece backwards, so that the ball end of the string is on the headstock side of the tailpiece when you slide it through, and then looping the string up and over the top of the tailpiece so that both the ball end and the pointy end of the string will both be on the same side as the headstock. The reason for putting the string in backwards and looping it around is to prevent the string from breaking by reducing string tension. I should point out though that not everyone uses this tailpiece looping method, and their strings have never snapped. Use the method that seems best for you.
- 4. Next we run the string up to the tuning post at the top of the guitar and through the hole. Make sure you don’t bend the string too much because it may damage the string and cause it to break in the future. Take your time putting the strings on to avoid mistakes. You will need to measure out how much string you will need before you start tuning the guitar. A good way to measure the slack is to take the string and pull it all the way up through the tuning post so that it is tight, and then measure up just a little past the tuning post above it. In our case this will be just past the 5th string “A” tuning post. Bend the extra part of the string above the “A” tuning post so that it is completely vertical and facing up towards the ceiling, this will mark how much extra string you will need to tune the guitar, which is roughly around 2 inches worth of slack.
(Refer to Picture 2 before moving on to the next step)
- 5. After you have measured how much string you will need, we will now slide the extra part of string away from the 5th string “A” tuning post and back towards the 6th string “E” post, so that the bent vertical part of the string should be touching the “E” string’s tuning post. You now should have about two inches worth of extra string to work with to prevent breakage during tuning. Before we move on, I must point out that there are two different types of tuning posts. The first type is what I named above, the tuning post has a hole through the middle of it and you thread it through. However, the second type of post has the hole through the top of the tuning post. You will have to insert the string through the top hole and slide it down to lock it in place. If you have the second type of tuning post you may need to first use some wire cutters to clip the extra slack off the string so that it can fit down into the hole before moving on to the next step. Either way, use the above method to first measure out how much string you will need before moving on.
- 6. We’re almost done, just a bit more. The next thing you will do is tighten the string. You can use a guitar winder to turn the pegs, but your hands will do just fine. The strings should be facing the inside center part of the headstock while you are tightening the strings, if they are turning towards the outside of the headstock you are tuning it the wrong way. While winding the tuning pegs you will need to use one finger to guide and hold the string in place on the headstock so that it stays properly aligned with the nut and bridge as it tightens. If the string is not properly aligned you may get a string buzz when you began to play the instrument. The strings should neatly wind down into a coil on the tuning post and fit snugly in place into the nut while you tighten the string. For now you don’t have to worry about getting the strings in perfect tune; just get them all on the guitar first. Repeat the above steps until you have all of the strings set in place.
- 7. If you have the 2nd style tuning post and you have already clipped the strings, then you should be pretty much done. But if you have the first style of tuning post, and if you bent the strings up vertically, then you should now have a large group of long loose ends wobbling around near the headstock. Use some wire cutters to snip off the bent string for a neat clean finish and discard the sharp clipped pieces of string. Now that you no longer have the dangerous loose ends hanging off of the guitar you can now tune each string up to pitch without having to worry about the loose ends cutting your hands.
Some people will stretch the strings out with their hands by pulling the string towards them and will then retune the guitar back up to pitch so that it doesn’t keep slipping out of tune while they are playing. I don’t encourage this string stretching method though because for beginners you may make a mistake and bend the string too much causing it to snap. If the strings are brand new, I recommend that you take your time and tune up slowly to stretch the strings out a bit so that you don’t make a mistake and snap the strings. Once you are done you can plug the electric guitar back into the amp and turn up the volume slightly.
Alright soldier, your electric guitar is tuned and ready to rock!
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