Being a musician means always hitting the right notes to achieve the sound and tone that you want.
Of course, it requires work to achieve your desired sound all of the time, and it also requires that your instrument be properly maintained and tuned. The strings on your guitar are a good place to start - because, really, it's these things that are making the sound.
This, obviously, applies to acoustic guitar players as much as electric bass players. And, within the kingdom of acoustic guitars, it applies as much to the orchestral as it does to the dreadnought. It applies to the mandolin and banjo strings too.
When you are a professional musician, you'll know this - but too many beginner guitarists think that it is something that they needn't worry about.
In fact, they do. Because you're not going to get the best guitar sound you can get, nor the best playability, if you're guitar strings are dirty, rusty, or old.
However, if you're a beginner, you might not know what you're doing. When do you need to change your guitar strings? you ask, How do you know if a string needs changing?
Are there guitar tutorials for changing your strings? How do you change the whole set of strings on your guitar before playing guitar?
So many questions. We’ll answer all of them - and walk you through the steps you need to take in the article below.
Selecting New Guitar Strings
Once your strings are on the point of fraying, they’re all used up, or they constantly need re-tuning and tightening whenever you play guitar, it’s time to replace them.
But do you know what your guitar strings are really made of? What are the different types of guitar strings? Do you know how to choose the right kind of string for your guitar?
When you go into a guitar shop, the options can be pretty overwhelming. What is phosphor bronze, Elixir, Dunlop, or Slinky? What's the difference between classical guitar strings and acoustic guitar strings? Do you want Nanoweb, Rotosound, or Planet Waves? Dr Strings or Dean Markley? Do you want long life strings, or bronze alloy?
There is a lot to choose from.
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The Type of String
Strings are characterized by their windings - that is, by the way that the metal is actually wound around the string’s core.
There are three kinds of winding:
- Round wound - this is the most popular type of strings today, as they produce a brighter sound and have more grip.
- Semi-round strings - this type of string is softer to touch and produces a warm sound.
- Flat wound strings - these strings have a very smooth surface texture and a warm, vintage sound. These strings are very popular with jazz and acoustic music.
As a beginner guitarist, you are probably only going to be interested in round wound strings - and brands like Elixir strings, Ernie Ball strings, and the majority of nylon guitar strings sets all fall into this category. It is very unlikely that you would want flatwound strings at this point.
Guitar String Materials
Each type of guitar has its own type of guitar string, and it’s important to make sure that you do not put nylon strings meant for a classical guitar on an electric guitar, or vice versa. Of course there is a difference between electric guitar strings, bass guitar strings, acoustic strings, and nylon string. They all have their specific purposes and shouldn't really be mixed up.
Knowing your strings is essential for any budding guitarist, and something that should be covered in guitar classes or during your first couple of private guitar lessons - no matter which stringed instruments you might be playing.
All kinds of strings in order to play well on the guitar. Different materials bring different sounds to your guitar.
If you want to know everything there is to know about guitar, you should know that there are different types of guitar strings which can be categorized according to their material and their use. This is essential knowledge for the guitar player.
- Stainless steel strings make an impact, are louder, and are very precise. However they will wear out your frets quickly!
- Nickel-plated steel strings – these have almost all the same benefits as stainless steel strings, but are a bit softer and less clear.
- Nickel strings – this metal isn’t very strong on its own, so it is often mixed with steel to create an alloy. Nickel strings give you a warm, round sound, but are a bit less precise than stainless steel.
- Nylon strings – made especially for classical and traditional guitars. Make sure that you know which type is for you – each manufacturer has their own slightly different style of nylon strings, designed for flamenco or straight classical.
- Silk and steel – these strings are made especially for folk guitars. These have a soft and delicate tone, and are perfect for playing harmonies.
- Bronze strings – for folk and electro-acoustic guitars. These strings produce a warm and fairly well-balanced sound – bring on the arpeggios!
Tightening Your Strings: String Gauge - or String Sizes.
The tension of a string should correspond to its gauge - and to the material of which it is made. Steel guitar strings - so those for acoustic, acoustic electric, and electric - will require much more tension than those for a nylon string guitar. If you put electric guitar strings or bass strings on a classical, the guitar neck will just snap.
String gauges are often described as extra light, medium, heavy, or as a decimal figure that represents the diameter of the strings (.014 or .059 for example). The lower the number, the finer the string.
The tension of your strings will help define the sound and the kind of feel that you have.
Traditional gauges range from extra light to heavy, and though the differences may seem bewildering to a beginner, choosing the right strings can transform your playing.
The higher the gauge, the thicker the string, and the higher the tension will be when the string is tightened. Essentially, strings with high gauges could hurt your fingers and make it difficult to play, especially for beginners. It makes the strings more difficult to press to the fretboard.
Low gauges won’t hurt your fingers as much and will make it easier to play (perfect for students working on their finger vibrato), but they will make it more difficult to play certain techniques.
Generally, beginners should start with lower-gauge strings as they develop their fingers and explore different musical styles.
Watch out changing gauges on your guitar, however, because it can affect the intonation of your instrument.
Different Signs that It’s Time to Change your Guitar Strings
When do you need to change your guitar strings? How can you tell when they’re damaged or used up?
Here are some of the different signs:
- A broken string – Obviously, in this case, you need to replace the string in order to keep playing guitar. It’s nothing to worry about, because a broken string is fairly normal, but if it happens to you a lot, you probably need to get your guitar checked to make sure that there aren’t any problems. Tightening your strings too much or too little can also damage them and cause frequent breakages. Take your guitar to a specialist luthier if you are experiencing problems.
- Oxidized string – Oxidization will occur on all metal strings, even on heavy gauges and acoustic guitars. If you’re sweating a lot as you play, that will also contribute to the oxidization. Some brands do anti-corrosive strings - such as Elixir Nanoweb - so that the string set doesn't oxidise so quickly.
- The sound just isn’t the same – often a new string will have a bright, clear, tone that quickly disappears as it’s played. Over time, the sound will become more muted and the notes cut abruptly as the strings vibrate less. If this happens, it’s time to change your strings. You'll notice this more on an acoustic guitar string than on an electric - because you don't have the amplification!
- You’re hitting the wrong notes – you’ve maintained your guitar, tuned it and adjusted everything, but it just doesn’t sound right. Some strings will loosen faster than others, which is why some notes sound wrong, but others are still okay. Guitar tuners can help with this in the short term, but get yourself to a shop that sells acoustic and electric strings pronto.
- Your strings are poorly made – it’s a common problem with new guitars, and not just for those on the cheaper end of the spectrum. Manufacturers, particularly at the low end, tend to put cheap strings on their guitars to keep costs down. We’d recommend changing the original strings with some higher quality ones to get a better sound and style.
- Are your tab readings confused because of the sounds coming from your guitar?
As you can see, there are many different reasons that you may need to change your strings and each guitarist will need to do so with a different frequency.
Don’t let worry about changing your strings stop you from playing. While some guitarists change their strings every month, others may go a whole year between sets.
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A Step-by-Step Guide to Changing Your Guitar Strings
Changing your guitar strings isn’t very difficult, but it can seem like a challenge, especially for novice guitarists. To change strings, what you'll need is a string winder, a guitar tuner, and a pack of new strings.
It’s a basic skill that every guitarist must learn as soon as he picks up his first guitar and accessories.
It’s a necessary skill for any regular guitarist!
Here are the basic steps to change your guitar strings.
Loosen the Strings and Remove Them from the Bridge
There are two different ways to do this, and they always cause debate – is it better to take your strings off one by one, or remove all of them at once and replace them all at the same time?
Some people say that, if you change your strings all in one go, the change in tension on the neck can damage the guitar. Watch out too that during the string change you don't damage the soundboard or anything yourself.
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If you do decide to change all of your strings at once, it’s a good opportunity to properly clean your guitar, especially the frets, where sweat and dust tend to accumulate. Although, obviously, you can do this when you do it one at a time too.
1/ Undo your Strings
Begin by loosening the first string completely until it sag by turning your tuning nuts counterclockwise.
Then you can cut the strings with a pair of pliers, or pull them out completely by totally loosening the tuning nuts and pulling the strings out from the holes of the bridge.
2/ Redo the bridge
The bridge of your guitar has little tips that look like black or white buttons and allow the strings to cling to the inside of the guitar.
If possible, use a bridge remover to clean this area.
3/ Clean your Guitar
This is your opportunity to really clean your guitar – make sure that you cover all of the bases including the neck, frets, and headstock.
Don’t ever use shoe polish or a glass cleaner – they could damage your guitar.
A simple cloth moistened with a bit of chamois or a microfiber cloth is all that you need.
Change Your Strings
4/ Prepare your Strings
Some strings are color coded at the ends to tell you which note they should play and where they should go. Whilst you should be able to distinguish between the bass string and the light strings, the ones in the middle can get confused.
5/ Put the New Strings on
The most common method is to start with the finest string, and then do the largest one, continuing to alternate from low to high gauges until they’re all on.
This way, you can keep the tension consistent.
Start by putting your strings through the hole in the bridge, and then fix it immediately. It is important to keep some tension in the string while you perform this step.
Next, tighten all of the strings on the guitar, and then pick the next string you want to add. Check the color on the tip, and put it in the corresponding hole.
Make sure that you always wrap the string to the right - it should always go clockwise.
Put your string through the hole and pull, but always make sure to leave a bit of slack to wind around the tension key. Don’t fully stretch your strings to the proper notes now; you need to finish restringing your guitar before you tune it.
Repeat these steps for each string until your guitar is completely restrung.
6/ Tune Your Guitar
Obviously, then, you need to retune it! But we're betting that you know how to do that by now!
Remember that new strings tend to become out of tune much more quickly than older strings. So, you'll have to make sure you tune up regularly in the first couple of days after you change your strings!
|1 - Unwind your strings||Using the tuning pegs, unwind the strings until loose - one at a time|
|2 - Clean your guitar||Clean the space beneath the strings, as this accumulated dust affects the sound|
|3 - Identify which string goes where||Take the correct string you need to replace each individual one you have removed|
|4 - Put the new strings on||Wind up the string, again with the tuning peg, until it is firm. Do each string.|
|5 - Tune up!||At this point, make sure the guitar is back in tune!|