How to Restring an Acoustic Guitar – step by step guide on changing acoustic guitar strings

If you’re new to the acoustic guitar, you may be wondering what happens when it’s time to change out your strings. Guitar lessons tend to focus on playing, and not the basic maintenance steps required to keep your instrument sounding its best, which is why today we’ll be taking some time to learn how to swap out the strings on an acoustic guitar for a fresh set.

In this KillerGuitarRigs Guide you’ll learn:

  • How often should I restring my acoustic guitar?
  • Are acoustic guitar strings expensive?
  • How to restring an acoustic guitar?

How Often Should I Restring My Acoustic Guitar?

All too often, beginner guitarists keep the stock strings on their guitar until they start breaking. By this point, there’s a good chance that those strings are dead and devoid of any kind of tone. 

This happens because of a buildup of oil, dead skin, sweat, and other dirt and gunk that accumulates between the grooves on the wound strings. This buildup prevents the proper vibration of the strings, which kills the brightness, and leaves them dull, and much more likely to break.

In order to make sure that your acoustic guitar is always sounding good, you should get into a regular routine of changing strings, even if none are broken. The average player should think about changing strings at least every 3 months.

If you happen to play for a few hours every day, you will almost certainly need to reduce that period and change out your strings every 1-2 months. 

Are Acoustic Guitar Strings Expensive?

Acoustic guitar strings come in a wide range of prices. How much you will pay depends on the type you opt for. Some common types include bronze, phosphor-bronze, aluminum-bronze, coated strings, nylon, and silk and steel.

If you’re looking for budget strings, you’ll find an abundance of choice, but be prepared that longevity will often be sacrificed to keep cost low. Having said that, high price doesn’t always equal long life – some specialty strings like silk and steel give up longevity for tone.

Coated strings rely on special polymer technologies to improve the comfort and feel of strings, and also to increase their lifespans. Quality coated strings are quite expensive, but you definitely won’t need to change them so often, so while the sticker price may be higher than a set of phosphor bronze strings, you’re likely to get almost twice as much use from a single set.

Don’t forget to check out our article on our choices for best acoustic guitar strings.

How To Restring An Acoustic Guitar

Start with a Clear Space

How To Restring An Acoustic Guitar
How To Restring An Acoustic Guitar

To prevent the possibility of accidents while restringing your acoustic guitar, it’s best to set up a bench, table, or even a bed in order to start the job. As with any other guitar maintenance, it’s best to have a clear, uncluttered space, and we highly recommend getting a dedicated mat for the job to stop things moving around.

Support the Neck

How to Restring an Acoustic Guitar - Support the neck

When you lay your guitar down, always support the neck. You can buy purpose made supports, or you can use something as simple as a pillow. This stops the guitar from rocking back and forth, and again, reduces the risk of damage.

Take off the old Strings

How to Restring an Acoustic Guitar - take off the old strings

If you’re changing strings on a vintage, or other more delicate guitar, the best advice is to change strings one by one in order to prevent significant changes in the tension on the neck. Modern guitars, and especially those with truss rods, are readily able to handle changes in tension without sustaining damage.

No matter which method you use, be it string by string, or removing all 6, the procedure doesn’t change. Start by loosening the first string you plan to change – there’s no need to completely unwind it, simply get some slack in the string and then cut it with wire snips or string cutters (we use the D’Addario Pro-Winder multi-tool for almost everything in this job) and remove excess from the tuning machine head.

Remove the Bridge Pins

Next, you’ll need to remove the bridge pins. Now that there is no string tension, you should be able to remove them by hand. 

Using a Bridge Pin Removal Tool

How to Restring an Acoustic Guitar - remove bridge pins with a tool

If they are still too tight to remove manually, use a bridge pin removal tool to carefully pry them out of the bridge and then remove the old string from the pin. Don’t push too hard to avoid damaging your bridge.

Push the Pins Out From the Back

How to Restring an Acoustic Guitar - remove bridge pins from the back

If you don’t have a pin removal tool, or you’re concerned about damage, put your hand through the sound hole and push the pins out from the back

Deep Clean the Fretboard

How to Restring an Acoustic Guitar - deep clean fretboard

When all the strings are off, take a clean microfiber cloth and wipe away any loose dust and debris. Next, take a fresh cloth, apply a few drops of your favorite fretboard conditioner to it, and gently work it into the wood in small circular motions.

Condition your Bridge

How to Restring an Acoustic Guitar - condition your bridge

Using the fretboard conditioner, again, apply a small amount to a clean cloth and work it into the bridge. Keeping it conditioned will help to prevent cracks, and ultimately help to keep your guitar sounding its best.

Unpackage the New Strings

Remember, it’s good practice to only unpackage the string you’re planning to install next. This prevents incorrect installation, and will also reduce the chances of any damage happening to your strings before you install them.

Put the Ball End Into the Bridge 

How to Restring an Acoustic Guitar - put ball end of string into bridge
Make sure the slot end is facing the headstock

Place the ball end of the string into the appropriate cavity on the bridge. Once the ball is in place slide the bridge pin into the cavity, with the slot facing up towards the headstock. Push down firmly until the pin is flush, but don’t jam it into place, the string tension should be enough to secure the pin once the string is tuned.

If you remove all 6 strings, work from low E to high E. Of course, if you’re replacing string by string, you will install in the order in which you remove the old strings.

Place the Loose end Into the Tuning Posts

How to Restring an Acoustic Guitar - place loose end into tuning post

Take the tail end of the string and place it through the correct tuning machine post hole, then pull through. You’ll then need to back off the string – the amount of slack should be approximately the distance between the tuning posts.

Secure the Strings on the Posts

How to Restring an Acoustic Guitar - secure strings on posts

The first turn is the most critical when winding – the live end should be over the top of the loose end of the string, and then all of the remaining turns should go underneath the loose end. This is the best way to prevent slippage and ensure that the string remains secure on the tuning post.

Tighten the Strings

How to Restring an Acoustic Guitar - tighten strings

When tightening the strings, using a winder makes the job much easier. If you don’t have one, you can still tighten by hand, it will just take a little longer. Don’t worry about tuning until all strings are installed.

Tune the Strings

How to Restring an Acoustic Guitar - tune the strings

After all strings are installed, you can begin tuning. Using whatever tuner you have, be it clip on, line-in for electric-acoustic guitars, or even a smartphone app, work through your strings from low E to high E until all are in tune. 

Cut The Slack Off The Strings

How to Restring an Acoustic Guitar - cut off slack

With the strings now roughly to full tension, you can cut off any excess on the strings as close to the tuning posts as you can get with your multi-tool.

Tune a Second Time

How to Restring an Acoustic Guitar - tune strings again

You may have to go back through and tune each string again once you have all 6 tight, as the tension of the subsequent strings being tuned can change impact neck relief and drop the strings you’ve already tuned out of pitch.

Final Thoughts on Restringing an Acoustic Guitar

Restringing an acoustic guitar is a simple and straightforward task that any guitarist should be able to perform. In order to ensure that you don’t damage your guitar, however, it is important to take your time and be methodical with the steps.

  • Simon Morgan

    Simon is an Orlando based musician, but originally hails from Newcastle, England. He started playing bass and guitar in 1998, and played the local scene throughout his teen years before running away to work on ships. These days his passion is budget guitars, amps and pedals - though he's not afraid of the finer things.