No guitar string lasts forever – over time the strings on your electric guitar will dull, they’ll start to corrode, and eventually they’ll snap. Of course, you should ideally change your strings before they begin to lose their tone, but regardless of when you switch them out, knowing how to do so is an essential skill for every guitarist, and that’s why we’ll be learning how to restring an electric guitar today.
In this KillerGuitarRigs Guide you’ll learn:
- How often should I restring an electric guitar?
- How to restring an electric guitar (step by step guide)
- How Often Should I Restring an Electric Guitar?
- How To Restring An Electric Guitar
- Final Thoughts on How to Restring an Electric Guitar
How Often Should I Restring an Electric Guitar?
Believe it or not, many guitarists, even experienced players, tend to keep strings on their electric guitars until they are way past their best. Unlike acoustics, electric guitars can hide behind distortion and other FX which can go some way to masking the extent of the wear on the strings.
This can make it difficult for new players, especially, to figure out when they actually should be changing their strings. In truth, there is no one answer to when you need to restring with a fresh set. It all depends on the type of strings you play, how often and how long you play, and even the conditions in which you play your guitar.
One of the primary factors in determining useful string life is the type of strings you use. Coated strings, for example, have a much longer lifespan (provided they don’t break) than almost any other type of uncoated string. They feature a special polymer layer on the outside of the string that prevents the buildup of gunk and dead skin on the outer surface that typically takes responsibility for dull sounding strings.
The material, or alloy, that the strings are made from also plays an important role. Most electric guitar strings have a steel core with a nickel plated, or pure nickel wrap wire. On nickel plated strings, as the outer layer of nickel wears off, the more reactive metal underneath (often tin), becomes exposed and begins to corrode.
Strings with solid metal wrap wires, whether pure nickel, or even stainless steel, have much greater resistance to corrosion, and tend to last longer. Not only does corrosion make strings sound dull, it also weakens them, making them much more likely to break.
Frequency of Play
No matter which types of string you play, how often you pick up the guitar will also impact the life of the strings. The more you play, the more sweat, dead skin, oil and subsequently dirt, will end up stuck to the strings, and as we know already, these are some of the leading causes of dull sounding strings.
Another potential accelerant for corrosion on your guitar strings is airborne moisture. Guitarists who play a lot of outdoor gigs will find that their strings tend to become dull faster than they’d expect, especially compared with strings played exclusively indoors.
As far as frequency of string changes goes, if you play indoors for under an hour each day, you can expect a set of uncoated nickel, or nickel plated strings to last somewhere around 3 months before becoming too dull to use.
With coated strings, you’ll get an extra month or so, stretching the useful life to around 4 months in the right conditions.
If you play more often, outdoors, or even both, you’ll likely notice that your strings don’t last quite so long before sounding dull. Heavy duty users should look to change strings every 1 to 2 months.
How To Restring An Electric Guitar
When restringing an electric guitar, you can opt to remove all the strings at once and change them out all together, or you can remove one string at a time and replace them one by one with fresh ones. In most cases, either method works, although if you’re restringing a vintage, or otherwise delicate guitar, you might want to change the strings one by one to prevent sudden changes to neck relief.
For the purposes of this guide, we’ll be removing all of the strings at once and replacing them after.
Set up your Work Area
Keeping your guitar safe from damage should be your highest concern when doing any kind of maintenance, restringing included. To help prevent accidents, clear off a workbench, table or even a bed to gently lay your guitar on. If you’re using a table or workbench, lay a towel, cloth, or even some carpet scraps down under the guitar to prevent scratches to the back.
Keep the Neck Supported
To stop your guitar from wobbling as you’re changing the strings, you should support the neck. We like the Music Nomad Cradle Cube for this as it can support all kinds of necks at different angles.
Remove the Old Strings
Slack down the strings until loose using the tuning heads. Once there’s enough slack to get your fingers behind the strings, you’re ready to snip.
Take your string cutters or pliers and then string by string, cut a couple of inches below the nut.
Next, unwind any excess string from the tuning posts.
Remove the Remaining String Length
The strings will still be secured to the guitar by the ball ends. To remove them, the easiest way is to grip the string a couple of inches above the bridge and push down towards the bridge itself. Whether it’s a stoptail, wrap around, or string through, the ball ends should poke out. Grab the ball ends and pull the remaining string through the bridge.
If you can, and there’s a facility that accepts old guitar strings near you, give some consideration to recycling the old strings instead of throwing them in the trash.
Condition the Fretboard
Once the strings are removed you should take the time to clean and condition your fretboard and nut (if necessary). The first thing to do is to wipe away any loose dirt and debris using a clean microfiber towel.
You can also take a Q-Tip and clean up the crevices of the frets.
When the loose dirt is cleared away, put a few drops of your preferred fretboard cleaner and conditioner and gently massage it into the fretboard wood in small circular motions until there is no obvious residue on the surface. For more on cleaning and conditioning kits, check out our full guide.
If you don’t have a self lubricating nut, now is also a good time to clear out any dirt from the nut slots, and replace with a fresh dab of graphite grease in each slot.
Thread the New Strings
This step will vary slightly depending on whether you have a string through body (common on many Fender models), a stoptail, as found on most Gibson and Epiphone models, or bridge saddles, which are also commonplace on Fender instruments.
If your guitar has a string through body, you’ll actually need to pick it up off the bench for now. Hold the guitar up vertically and turn it so the back is facing you.
Take the tail end of each string and feed it through the appropriate hole until you can grab it from the front. Once it appears, pull it through until the ball end is tight in the correct cavity. You can then lay your guitar back down as it was before.
If you have a stop tail, or bridge saddles you can leave your guitar laying on the work surface.
Take the tail end of each string and thread it through the appropriate saddle hole, then pull through until the ball end is secure in its cavity.
Place the Tail end Into the Tuning Posts
Once each string is secure at the bridge end, ensure that it is laid properly over the correct saddle and that it is seated correctly in the nut slot.
Turn the tuning posts until the string hole faces vertically down towards the bridge, in the direction of string travel.
Take the tail end of the string and feed it into the correct tuning post and pull tight by hand.
Next, loosen the string a little. Around the distance between 2 tuning posts is a good guide to the amount of slack.
Fasten the Strings on the Machine Heads
This is more than simply winding a bunch of string around the post – the proper technique is as follows.
The live end, that is the part of the string that you play, should go over the top of the tail end on the first turnoff the tuning head.
For each subsequent turn, the live end goes underneath the tail end. This will properly secure the string to the post and assist in preventing string slip, which will cause tuning stability issues.
Turn the machine head until the string is tight. You can do this by hand, or by using a string winder.
Trim the Excess
Once the string is secured on the tuning post, trim the excess of the tail end as close to the tuning post as you can. This keeps the guitar looking tidy, and more importantly, prevents those sharp string ends from damaging the finish on your headstock.
For suggestions on tool kits or multitools for this, check out this guide.
Tune the Strings
Once all 6 (or more) strings are loaded into your guitar, it’s time to tune them. Starting at the low E will prevent added tension from interfering with the strings you’ve already tuned.
Pick up the guitar and hold it in playing position. While minimal, there will certainly be differences in string tension between when the guitar is laid down or being held in a playing position and this can affect tuning.
Using a clip on or line in tuner, pluck the string you’re tuning with a pick for the best possible accuracy. Keep an eye on your tuner, which will either read sharp (string is too tight), or flat (string is too slack), or at pitch (just right). Tighten or slacken the strings accordingly until they hit the correct pitch.
Tune Once More
As you tune a string and leave it under tension, it will undergo a settling period. This involves a small amount of stretch and also potentially some slippage from the tuning post.
As you tune subsequent strings, the effects of stretch and slippage, combined with changes to the neck relief can become more apparent, knocking strings you’ve already tuned out of pitch. Tuning the strings for a second time should leave you in a “ready to play” position.
Final Thoughts on How to Restring an Electric Guitar
A fresh set of strings on an electric guitar can really bring a dull sounding instrument back to life. Overall, it’s a simple and inexpensive piece of routine guitar maintenance that every player should know how to accomplish. The biggest takeaways from this guide should be to protect your guitar from damage, and to take your time and ensure you do it right.