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Classical Guitar String Replacement

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 1 4

Replacing your guitar strings often can be a way to revive your love for the guitar. New strings bring a brightness and freshness to your music. Having new strings on my guitar is as refreshing as sliding into a bed with freshly washed sheets. While you may not have noticed that the sheets (or strings) were getting "dull" as soon as you replace them with fresh ones you instantly feel the difference.

For those of you who already know how to replace classical guitar strings on a basic level, here are some advanced string replacement tips.

Remove All the Strings
As you get more skilled at replacing guitar strings you can pull them all off at one time so that you can clean the guitar very well. There are a couple of precautions you want to take so that you don't damage your guitar when doing this.

The guitar was designed to have the pressure of 6 strings pulling on it at all times. Taking the strings off at one time will not damage the guitar if you leave them off for only the time it takes to clean the guitar and replace the strings. What you don't want to do is leave the strings off for an extended period of time.

Loosen all the strings a little bit to get started. If you pull off, or just loosen the first 3 strings and leave the guitar to sit then you risk putting a twisting pressure on the neck that it was not designed to have. It is best to loosen them all a bit at a time until you can start taking them completely off.

Clean Your Guitar
Once you get all the strings loosened and pulled off you can start cleaning the guitar. First wipe down the guitar with a clean soft cloth (a cotton sock or tee shirt works well) to remove any dust. Usually you will build up dust just behind the nut and in front of the bridge. These are two places that are hard to clean when the strings are on the guitar.

There are various opinions as to whether you should polish your guitar, or use some specialty guitar cleaner. I personally have never used any kind of guitar polish or cleaner. I only wipe down the guitar after playing it and do a thorough cleaning with a dry (or slightly moist) cloth when I change the strings. If you decide to use some special polish, such as Martin guitar polish, you want to avoid anything that will penetrate the wood or add moisture to the guitar. An aged guitar will sound better because there is less and less moisture in the instrument over time. If you use a cleaner, polish, oil or wax that prevents the guitar from drying, or worse, that adds moisture to the instrument, then you are preventing your guitar from going through its natural aging process.

Ultimately you will have to make your own decision on this, but I recommend you do a lot of studying before you potentially damage your expensive instrument. A soft, dry cloth is very safe. If necessary you can use a slightly damp cloth to help remove any spots.

Replacing the Guitar Strings
Just as you removed the strings as a group you will want to put the new ones on as a group. Don't put one on and tune to perfection before putting the next one on. Put them all on loosely and begin tuning them up as a group.

Tying off the guitar strings
I like to tie my strings like in the picture to the right. After passing the string through the bridge holes loop them once around the top of the string and then tuck them under themselves at the base of the tie block and then under the string next to it. This looks very classy and it locks the guitar strings in at three different points.

Eliminate String Stretch
While all strings will stretch the first few days there are some things you can do to lessen how much they stretch. One thing you want to avoid though is manually stretching the guitar strings by pulling them with your hands. This "pre-stetching" can cause the strings to stretch unevenly. It is best to stretch them using the normal method of just tuning the guitar.

Make sure the new guitar strings do not slip. They can slip at the bridge and at the tuning pegs. By tying them well at both ends you can eliminate slippage. While this is technically not a stretching problem, it will effect your guitar in the same way as if the strings were stretching. You do no want your strings to slip off the bridge or the tuning pegs. This could be dangerous for you and your instrument.

Another way to lessen the effects of the strings stretching is to make sure you don't have any excess string at the tuning pegs. If your string has to wind on top of itself to fit in the slot alloted for it it can continue to stretch as it compresses of the rest of the string underneath it. Pull the string tight up to the tuning pegs when you start winding the strings. I usually run the string through the peg hole twice (if it will fit) then loop the excess string under a couple of turns of the string as it tunes. Beyond that you don't want to have the guitar string sitting on top of other string as that can cause the string to slip or take longer to stretch to its tuned state.

Cut the excess string with a pair of nail clippers and you are ready to start tuning.

Tune and Enjoy
You will find that you have to tune your instrument often the first several minutes or hours. After that your strings will start to settle down and not stretch much more.

Make sure you wipe down your new guitar strings, fretboard and body after playing. The oils in your skin will speed the breakdown and cause dulling of your new strings. Keep them as clean as you can and they will serve you longer.

How often you have to change your guitar strings will be up to you. Some people go a few days, but most probably make theirs last many weeks or months. Some of the length of life you can get out of strings has to do with the quality of the strings and how often you play. But mostly it depends on how picky you are to have that bright fresh sound on your strings. Just like sliding into a bed with freshly washed sheets.



Oct 24, 2010 9:34am
You have prompted me to change my guitar strings! Great article.
Oct 24, 2010 12:32pm
I love the feel of new strings on my fingers.
Oct 25, 2010 12:19am
I never knew it could be so complicated. I have a guitar that I have always wanted to teach myself to play, but that mostly went out the window when I had kids. I still hang onto it because I still want to get back to it some day - it seems like it would be so soothing!
Oct 25, 2010 6:40am
The guitar can be a lifelong passion. Don't feel bad if you aren't able to play well as soon as you finally get started. But the sooner you start the sooner you will be able to enjoy playing. Check out Music101's profile here at IB. She has some great, simple toutirial articles that can help you get started.
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