Changing Strings on an Electric Guitar

A bench in a guitar repair shop
A bench in a guitar repair shop.

making_ultimate / Getty Images

 If you have an electric guitar (or any kind of guitar) sooner or later you will need to change the strings.  Strings break, get old and worn out and become more difficult to keep in tune.  If you are new to guitar, you may have never had to change your strings before. 

Here's a step by step guide on how to do it correctly.  Please note that the procedure is different for acoustic guitars, bass guitars, mandolins, ukeleles, etc.

First, make sure you need to change them, then make sure you have the right strings for your instrument and playing technique (and preference).

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Loosening the Sixth String on Your Guitar

changing the old sixth guitar string
loosening the old sixth string.

Begin the process of changing strings on your electric guitar by taking your string winder, and loosening the sixth string on your guitar (be sure you're loosening the string - the pitch should drop).

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Removing the Old Guitar String

wrap and dispose old electric guitar string
wrap and dispose old string.

Once you've completely loosened the string, unwind it from the tuning peg, and remove it from your guitar entirely. You may find it helpful to snip the string in half using your pliers, and remove it that way.

CAUTION: Only remove one string at a time! Removing all six strings at once dramatically changes the pressure exerted on the neck of the guitar. Relieving this pressure, and then quickly adding this pressure back by putting on a new set of strings can cause some serious problems for your instrument. Best to leave this to the pros.

Be careful with those old electric guitar strings! If left laying around, they can end up in the bottom of your foot, or stuck in your vacuum cleaner. To prevent accidental injury (or a serious repair bill), loosely wrap and immediately dispose of old electric guitar strings.

Take a moment now to clean the newly exposed areas of your guitar with a slightly damp cloth.

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Feeding the New String Through the Back of the Guitar

feed new string through the back of the guitar
feed new string through the back of the guitar.

Open your new set of electric guitar strings. Find the sixth string (it'll be the heaviest-gauged string in the pack), and unravel it/remove it from it's packaging.

Feeding the new string through your guitar varies from instrument to instrument - for some electric guitars, you'll simply feed the string through the tailpiece, in a manner similar to stringing an acoustic guitar. For quite a few electric guitars, however (like the one in the accompanying photo), you'll need to feed the new string through the body of the instrument. Flip the guitar over, and locate the appropriate hole to feed the new string through. Slowly feed the new string through the back of the body, and out to the bridge on the other side of the guitar.

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Pulling the New String Through the Bridge

pull electric guitar string through bridge
pull new guitar string through bridge.

After you've successfully fed the string through the body of the guitar, flip the instrument over, and pull the entire length of the string through the bridge.

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Leaving Extra String Length for Wrapping Around the Tuning Peg

measure extra string length, then crimp string
measure extra string length, then crimp string.

Rotate the tuner for your sixth string, so the hole in the tuning peg forms a right angle to the neck of the instrument.

Bring the string up the neck of the guitar. Pull the string fairly taught, and using your eye to estimate, measure about one-and-a-half inches past the tuning peg you'll eventually be feeding the string through. Crimp the string lightly at that point, so the end of the string points out at a right-angle (see photo).

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Crimping and Winding New Electric Guitar String

feed string through post, then begin winding
feed string through post, and begin winding.

Slide the string through the hole in the tuning peg, up to the point where the string is crimped. The end of the string should point outwards, away from the center of the headstock. You may want to crimp the


Note: If your guitar headstock is built with three tuners on each side, instead of all six on one side, the direction you turn the tuner changes for your third, second, and first string.

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Using Tension to Control String Winding

use both hands to create tension on string while winding
use both hands to create tension on string while winding.

In order to control how the string wraps around the tuning peg, it helps to remove slack in the string, by creating artificial tension. As you continue to slowly wind the new string, take the index finger of your free hand and push down slightly on the string, against the fretboard of the guitar. With the remaining fingers in that hand, grasp the string, and gently pull up and back, in the direction of the guitar's bridge (see photo). If you pull too hard, you'll pull the string out of the tuning peg altogether. The goal is to eliminate the string slack near the tuning peg, allowing you to wrap the string more precisely.

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Wrapping the Guitar String on the Tuning Peg

pay attention to how string wraps on the post
pay attention to how string wraps on the post.

Different guitarists prefer a different method of wrapping their strings around the tuning peg. Some prefer their first wrap-around to go above the exposed end of the string, and then cross over, with all subsequent coils falling below the string end. Your primary concern should be making sure there are several full coils of string wrapped around each tuning peg. Try to make your coils as neat as possible, and be sure they don't wrap on top of each other. Because of it's bulk, you may find the sixth string to coil slightly more awkwardly than the other strings.

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Cutting Excess String

after tightening, cut excess string
after tightening, cut excess string.

Once you've successfully wrapped the string around the tuning peg, bring the string into approximate tune. When completed, take your pliers and snip off the excess string protruding from the tuning peg. Leave approximately 1/4" of the string, to prevent slippage. Dispose of the excess string immediately.

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Stretching New Electric Guitar String

slightly stretch string
slightly stretch the string.

Initially, this new string may have trouble staying in tune. You can help correct this problem by stretching out the new string. Grab the string, and pull it approximately one inch away from the surface of the guitar. The pitch of the string will probably have dropped. Re-tune the string, then repeat the process, until the string no longer falls out of tune.

Once you've completed changing the sixth string, repeat the process for each additional string on your electric guitar. Changing strings is a process that is challenging and time-consuming at first, but after you've done it a few times, becomes a simple bit of regular necessary maintenance.

Good luck!