Calling all guitar players, even intermediates and pros! Although you probably know a lot of this, you can rest assured that you will learn some top-tier secrets by the time you finish reading this article.
Having said that, we want to take a moment for all of the noobs that landed on this page.
Changing the strings on your electric guitar might seem daunting at first. This is a refined skill and you must possess a certain level of attention to detail. However, as you get the gist of it, you will be master this skill in no time.
Our goal at Higher Hz is to give you the best possible advice to get started and take you all the way to the pro level. Read on.
Here’s how to change electric guitar strings in 10 easy steps:
- Position your guitar appropriately
- Remove the strings and hardware
- Clean and polish
- Reinstall the hardware
- Attach the strings
- Wind the strings
- Tune the guitar pt.1
- Set the string action
- Stretch the strings
- Tune the guitar pt.2
1. Position your guitar appropriately
Ideally, you want your guitar to be placed so the neck is positioned higher up than the body.
Make sure that the surface beneath the neck is somewhat soft, yet consistent in form. That way you are preventing damage to your neck and also making sure that the guitar is in the same position throughout the whole setup.
2. Remove the strings and hardware
Before we remove what is left of our old strings, we need to make sure that we have loosened them. This will prevent any injury and eccentric string behavior by diminishing the string tension as much as possible. To speed this process up, we suggest you use a string winder tool.
Now, let’s get started! Remove the strings by unwinding them from the machine heads first. Do it gently, to avoid scratching the headstock. After you take them out on that end, we can move to the bridge.
If you have a regular fixed bridge, you just take the strings out on the rear end. If you have a stoptail type fixed bridge, remove the stoptail altogether and then take off the strings.
When removing the string from the stoptail bridge, you have to cut them in half first. The ethos is that we don’t want to have to pull the twisted and bent parts of the string through the bridge. It much more difficult that way, and it can cause damage over time.
For the environment’s sake, you can recycle the old strings. Mother Nature will appreciate the effort.
Onto the hardware removal! Make sure that you remove all of the hardware parts from the top section of your guitar body. If your knobs won’t cooperate while removing, use a screwdriver and a rag to make your life easier.
3. Clean and polish
To clean the metal hardware, we highly suggest a Gibson Metal Cleaner. Apply it to a cloth and wipe it away! One of the best ways to clean up the guitar body is to use a product that is specifically designed for that.
It is important to clean out all of the residue. If you don’t do that, you risk your guitar finish growing increasingly more fragile. Over time the sweat, acid, and oils can start to eat at your guitar’s finish incrementally.
The Dunlop Formula 65 is a tremendous product for adding that shine and an extra layer of protection. It is a truly great guitar polish solution!
Let’s move on to the fretboard. Get yourself a great cleaning solution that is specifically designed for fretboards. After all, it is the most abused part of the guitar with the most gunk and acid residue.
Make sure to use it on the fretboard exclusively. Letting this solution drip or leak can mess up the body finish. Leave the fretboard cleaning solution in for 5 minutes. After that, rub the solution in with the cloth and wipe all of the excess liquid off.
The next step is focused on nourishing the fretboard wood. Get a good deep conditioner and apply it on each fret. Leave that one in for 5 minutes also. Moving on, you know the drill – clean off the excess solution with a cloth.
To make sure all of the excess oil is wiped off, put a cloth across your fretboard and take a flathead screwdriver and move it across the bonding point of the fretboard and the fret.
It goes without saying that the cloth is vital to protecting the fretboard. You don’t want to scratch that sexy piece of tonewood!
4. Reinstall the hardware
Now that the body and the hardware are squeaky clean everything should gel just perfectly.
5. Attach the strings
Get your strings from the bridge to the machine heads. Make sure to approach the machine head from the outer side. That will significantly improve your tuning stability.
Cut the excess string length one and a half machine heads away from the machine head you will use to attach the particular string.
Before winding the string, make it so that the string sticks out of the machine head for no more than 1 cm.
6. Wind the strings
There is no real philosophy involved here. Just make sure to keep the string tight just under the machine head while winding.
The part of the string that sticks from the machine head should be above all the windings that are to follow. Use your fingers to achieve that effect.
7. Tune the guitar pt.1
With the first iteration of tuning, spot-on precision isn’t the aim. You just need to get “in the ballpark”.
The whole purpose of the first tuning round is to establish a well-balanced tension across the whole scale length.
8. Set the string action
The string action is basically the height of the strings in relation to the fretboard. The lower string action allows for a more comfortable feel and it makes fast playing much easier. The higher string action can make your playing a bit more expressive.
To change the string action you just have move your guitar bridge up or down.
Be wary of the fact that the extremes in both low and high action can produce unwanted results. The exaggerated low string action can create the dreaded fret buzz. The exaggerated high action can make your playing sound out of tune, due to the fact that the mere pressing of the string will make the string bend.
9. Stretch the strings
This one may seem somewhat counterintuitive. Especially if you’re trying to just follow along with a written word explanation of the process. So, we suggest you check our video (below), to get a full grasp of this fine trick.
It really does wonders and improves your tuning stability. The logic is that it’s better to stretch the strings before starting to play them. Otherwise, they will stretch as you are playing the guitar and will cause you tremendous tuning problems.
10. Tune the guitar pt.2
We are almost there! One last thing would be that you have to tune your guitar again and after that, you will be ready to rock!
Tips ‘n tricks
Use different cloths for the body and the fretboard.
Since the solutions for these two parts of the guitar are very different, make sure to have separate cloths- one for the body and one for the fretboard.
Tune the strings in this order:
Start with the low E, and after that go to the high E. The third one should be B and the fourth one A. Finally, go to the G string as the fifth and the D string as the last one.
This way you are making sure that the tension is equal all across the scale length.
Press on the first fret while you stretch each string.
This way, you are making sure there is no excess friction on the nut. In return, your tuning stability will be much better overall.
Check the action all across the fretboard.
The easiest way to do this is to put one finger on the first fret of the string, and another finger on the last fret of the string. Now, focus your attention on the space between the strings and the 12th fret underneath.
The space should not be bigger/lower than the space you’d need to put the credit card under.
This wasn’t so daunting after all, right? Right! As with all things music-related, you can count on Higher Hz to provide you with cutting-edge, easily-digestible content.
Until then, take that (not so) long and winding (wink, wink) road to guitar setup excellence! Rock on!