Having your strings break right in the middle of a gig or a great solo is a nightmare for every musician. However, fear not. It’s effortless to prevent this from happening if you keep an eye on your strings and make sure they are in good condition. If the strings sound hollow, seem dirty or rusty and are falling out of tune it’s a solid sign you have to restring your guitar. Even if you have a single broken string, I’d still advise changing them altogether, to ensure the consistency of the sound.
If you don’t know how to restring your axe yet and keep asking your band mates or a guitar doctor to do it for you, let me help you save some time and a couple of bucks. Restringing is much easier than you think; you’ll learn it in no time. But if you are, indeed, changing the strings for the first time, it might be a good idea to remove each one and change them one at a time – this will help you remember where each string goes and how they should be set up. I do personally prefer getting rid of all the strings and having a clean and empty fretboard, but if you aren’t 100% confident, that’s just fine.
To start with, prepare all of the necessary tools. Some guitars (with locking tuners for instance) require some additional tools (like a screwdriver), but it depends on the axe you have – if in doubt check with your local guitar store when buying the strings. In the meantime, here is the most basic set which will get you covered:
First up, place the guitar on a soft surface and make sure you’ve already removed all of the strings if you haven’t done so already. To ensure that you won’t whack yourself with a string, loosen them up first. Grab a peg winder, and keep turning each peg clockwise, until you can easily pull it like a bowstring. After that, you can either unwrap the string off the tuning peg or plainly cut it in the middle where the fretboard meets the body. If you are cutting it, don’t forget to free the pegs from the strings. When it’s done you have to remove the second half from the bridge. To do that, you need to force the strings down through the bridge and pull them out. After that’s done, get rid of the old strings, thoroughly clean the guitar all along the body and fret, rub in a little protective oil on the board (that never hurts) and now your axe is ready to be restrung.
Now we are down to the actual restringing. I’m not going to tell you which string you have to buy, because it’s totally up to you, but I do advise grabbing those that come with a color guide or with defined string notes (E-A-D-G-B-E). It’s always better to start with the thickest string – low E – and even though it’s pretty evident, it never hurts to have them labeled. So, you have the thickest string in your hand and here is what you have to do:
Restringing starts with the bridge. It works differently with various guitar brands and models, but usually, you have to flip the guitar and stick the strings into the holes in the bridge (poke it sharp end first). As soon as you can see it at the front, grab it and keep pulling until the ball is securely in the hole. For some guitars, you need to take off the back panel to get access to the bridge, others have “naked” bridges. There are also guitars that don’t require flipping the guitar over – you can set up the strings at the bridge at the front by pushing the strings through the holes towards the neck.
When all the strings are through the bridge, it’s time to wind them at the tuning pegs. But before you do that, make sure that the pegs are facing down the neck. After that straighten the string, and measure a distance of two pegs forward, then cut the rest with a wire cutter. If you are the lucky owner of an axe with locking tuners, just push the string, lock it and tune away. If not, here’s what you should do:
So all of the strings are in place, but there are still a couple of things you need to do. First, make sure there are no extra-long bits of string poking out of the machine heads. Cut the excess bits with the wire cutter, but bear in mind, it’s quite okay to leave a half or a quarter of an inch or so for more in-depth tuning.
Once that’s done – tune up the axe. I’d recommend tuning it as often as possible in the first few days. At first, the strings will not be very stretchy and there is a higher chance they will break. By tuning it frequently you can safely stretch the strings and prevent breaking. When tuning, keep one hand on the fretboard for safety – if a string does break, you don’t want it poking your eye out or leaving a nasty cut.
Now you know everything about restringing your electric guitar. It is not that hard after all, is it? Just always remember about your safety while changing the string (don’t poke your eye or something like that) and be careful with the tuning – don’t pull the strings too hard at first. Good luck!