Electric Guitars are indeed powerful music gears. For numerous reasons you may have to change the strings of your electric guitar, quite often than you’d do on your acoustic guitars. Restring An Electric Guitar- Beginner/Pro Tips & Guide 2021 is a simple but very informative step by step guide specifically to serve this purpose.
Dirty strings, improper storage/handling, or humidity are some reasons that would make your electric guitar sounding dull. Even due to broken strings or just before a long gig you may like to change one or more of your guitar strings to fresh ones. We are addressing here the common process of changing strings of an electric guitar and comparing it with different brands and types of electric guitars.
Restring An Electric Guitar- Basic General Method
- Fresh New Strings
- Wire Clipper
- String winder (optional)
- Soft cloth
- Approved cleaning chemicals
Step one: Find Correct Strings
What primarily stands between your guitar and the best sounds you are trying to achieve is the guitar strings. Wrong guitar strings could not only damage your tone but can also damage your guitar hardware. Choosing a set of durable, good-quality electric guitar strings will boost the quality of your guitar sound, playability, and durability.
Q. How to choose the correct guitar strings for your electric guitar?
Electric guitars players typically prefer .010–.046 gauge strings. Lighter gauge strings are generally easier to play, bend easily and produce brighter tones with less volume, but can break easily. Many experienced electric guitar players prefer heavier gauges. Although they are hard to play, they produce high volume, are high in durability, playability, and effective when playing drop tunes.
The most common electric guitar string materials;
- Steel –Most popular option. A good combination of brightness and warmth.
- Pure Nickel – Warmer than nickel-plated steel and gives a classic old-school vintage sound.
- Stainless Steel – Most resistant to corrosion, least prone to finger squeaks, and has a good combination of both brightness and sustain.
Other less common metals for electric strings include Titanium, Cobalt, Chrome, and Copper.
Refers to the center of the strings with windings going around it to create larger wound strings. Made of steel in most cases. As a modern approach, hexagonal-shaped wires are being used as core as they are well reputed for keeping the outer windings in place and also for the ability to hold the tune well.
The Winding Method affects both tone and playability of the strings.
3 common types of winding:
- Roundwound: Most common. Made by wrapping a round outer wire around a round or hexagonal core wire. Brighter tone but could result in finger squeaks.
- Flatwound: Made by wrapping a flat ribbon-like wire around a round or hexagonal core wire. Smoother tone and make strings last longer.
- Halfwound: Between both above. Roundwound strings are then ground and polished until the string is almost flat. The tone is between bright and smooth.
Step two: Remove Old Strings
It is easier if you remove the tremolo arm first of all. Be careful, there may be a spring left in the hole on some models.
If you are new to the process, we recommend you give a good look at the existing string pattern before you start making any changes. It’s a great idea to take a picture of the existing string positions or use a similar picture to your guitar from the internet as a guide as a reference. Well, this entire process is not complicated at all, but it is important to ensure accuracy in order to avoid extra hassle.
Detune each string until they are loose. You could use a winder or do it by turning the pegs manually, counterclockwise. You most probably can loosen and unwind the strings and pull them out by hand. Alternatively, you could cut the strings from the middle and remove them from either side. Use wire cutters to cut the string in half, usually where the neck meets the body.
NOTE: Not so common but some guitars come with special holes or winding patterns near the strings, so you need to check well before cutting the strings.
- You can just lose the strings from pegs, unwind from nuts, pull out through the bridge block, coil it up, and keep the old strings wrapped and safe for later.
- If you are a beginner, we recommend you lose one string at a time. This will prevent the tension from drastically changing across the whole guitar.
- Removing all strings at once will give you an opportunity to detail clean the fretboard. Use recommended cleaning products only.
- Do not yank the strings out when removing! Take your time to avoid accidental damages to your guitar.
- Lose the strings before cutting them off to save both yourself and the guitar from any possible damages.
- On a regular bridge, you can just pull the string out by holding it from the donut-shaped metal. But if it’s a wrap-around bridge, pull them out of the underside of the bridge.
- Professionals prefer installing the low E string first which makes the whole process easier.
Step three: Fretboard Cleaning
Gently wipe down the neck with a soft lint-free cloth and some fret-cleaner/conditioner. Remove any built-up dirt or debris. A small paintbrush can be used for dusting in-between the saddles. Oil the fretboard with Lemon Oil if your fretboard is made of unfinished wood such as Rosewood or Ebony. If it’s a lacquer finished material, a simple polish would work just fine.
Unfinished fretboards can eventually dry out and even crack if it is severely dried out. Conditioner and oil help to keep unfinished fretboards moisturized. The oil will also give your fretboard a new clean shine.
Step four: Installing New Strings
Lay the guitar on a flat, soft surface. You could place a cloth or towel underneath to avoid any scratches. If the tuning posts are with holes, turn the holes facing toward you. Basically, the holes should be pointing up when you are holding the guitar to play.
Identify each new string either by packaging label or by the small donut colors at the ball end.
Now pass the string through the correct hole located at the bridge block (back or bottom of the guitar) and anchor by the ball end. The ball end acts as a knot to hold the string in place.
Generally, we recommend you start with the heaviest string. The top E is often the 6th string and the heaviest as well.
Once the string is sent through the hole, align the string over both its bridge saddle and nut slot.
Clip the extra string off. As a rule of thumb, clip two to three machine heads from the one you are attaching the string to (2-3 inches).
Run the string through the tuning peg pulling it away from the guitar. Move the string either through or into the tuning post depending on the tuner style.
Pull or drop the string back through the hole the two or three inches that you measured extra to keep some tension and hold down the string to prevent slipping. Now while keeping the string tight against the post with one hand, start winding with the string winder or manually from the other hand, clockwise, from bottom to up towards the middle.
Wind: First above the inserted string on the peg and second below the inserted string which will create a knot, locks it nice and tight. Preferably around the post 2 to 3 times.
For a left-handed tuner, you’ll be wrapping counter-clockwise to follow the same method.
Repeat the process to all your strings.
- Be careful when unwrapping the new strings. Don’t bend them.
- Don’t tighten the strings unnecessarily or they will end up breaking.
- Once the string is tightened, slightly lift them from the middle to stretch a bit (no need to really bend), just so it properly grips at both the nut and bridge block.
- This whole process of winding the strings can be a bit tricky, if it takes a few tries to get things right please don’t worry. Take it slow, take your time! Don’t rush and break your strings or cause damage to your guitar or the pegs.
Once all 6 strings are in place, you may start tuning the guitar either using an electronic tuning device or manually by ear. As the new strings are getting used to tension, they slowly stretch, so don’t miss tuning your guitar a little every now and then during the first one or two days.
Difference Between Popular Brands vs General Process
Tune-o-matic style bridges are pretty easy to change strings.
- Most Les Paul tailpieces are not physically attached to the bridge so pay close attention to the bridge. They are mostly held by the string tension. As the string tension is loose, the strings fall off naturally.
- Follow the same process and the string can go straight through the tuning post. Wrap the string around the post three times and bend the string at a 90-degree angle to help the string stay in place while tightening the tension. Now stretch the strings.
- Now, pull up on the string to maintain tension while you are turning the tuning button with your string winder/manually.
- Just as in the usual process, the wrap must be below the previous wrap.
- The tapered tuning post squeezes the string in the post’s hole by keeping the wrapped strings toward the center of the post.
- Complete all the strings.
The general process is applied for normal Fender electric guitars, but just a bit different when installing new strings to Fender Vintage machine heads and Telecasters.
- Telecaster: Since no tremolo, its solid back has 6 individual grommets. Feed the strings through grommets.
- Vintage machine heads string closing: Feed the string through as explained and measure up the machine head’s distance following the general procedure. Clip the string inserting it into the tuner until it hits the bottom there and then pull it around to the right wrapping around the machine head. Hold the string down with pressure and wind it as usual with a winding machine or manually.
Now tune up to pitch and play.
Wraparound electric guitars are considered a common type.
As you install the new string you need to first bend the non-ball end of the string to a 90-degree angle to make it easier to slip through the bridge block.
Everything else is basically the same as usual.
Guitar With a Synchronized Vibrato System
Example: Fender/Squier Stratocaster, Yamaha Pacifica, some Cort, Ibanez, ESP guitars, etc.
*Additional tools needed: ScrewDriver
- Remove the rectangular cover in the back of the guitar body, using a screwdriver and gain access to the internal vibrato gear where you will start seeing a metal box with springs attached to it.
- This box has six slots that hold ball-ends of the strings and any removing or installing new strings would happen through this box inside the guitar.
Installing new strings:
- Slip the non-ball end side of the string through the metal box in the internal vibrato gear.
- Now insert the string through the hole in the pole of the tuning machine and pull the string through. Do not tighten it yet.
- As usual, keep some slack 2 to 3 inches loose following the general process. Keep more slack for the thicker strings and less for the thinner ones.
- Follow the general process here onwards.
Guitar With a Locking Vibrato System
Example: Most of Ibanez, Jackson, some Cort, ESP guitars, etc.
*Additional tools needed: Allen key wrench (you normally receive one with a new guitar)
- First, loosen the screw that holds the string locking bracket near the nut and then loosen the string by rotating the tuning peg to release the tension.
- Then, loosen the string stopper screw on the bridge and remove the string from the saddle.
- Unwind and remove the other string end from the neck (tuning post).
- Leave a 2 to 3 inch slack as usually done.
- Now cut off the ball end of the new string and place the cut side in the groove between the saddle and the string holder block.
- Finally fix the end of the string by tightening the string stopper screw.
Now follow the new string installation process as mentioned on Synchronized Vibrato System guitars.
Note: Don’t forget to secure the string locking brackets firmly to keep the strings properly in place.
So, as you see, changing your guitar strings can be a little tricky at times, but definitely possible with a bit of practice. You can always run to a music store to get this done conveniently, however, if in case you prefer doing it on your own or you are left with no other option than doing it by yourself, you can for sure refer to this guide & tips and successfully restring your electric guitar.