Changing Strings on an Acoustic Guitar

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Changing Strings on an Acoustic Guitar - Removing the Sixth String

These instructions apply to acoustic guitars. Here is our tutorial on changing electric guitar strings.

What You'll Need

  • Wire snips
  • Pliers (maybe)
  • A cloth to wipe down guitar
  • Guitar polish (optional)
  • A "string winder" (optional but recommended)
  • New guitar string

Begin by finding a flat surface on which to lay the guitar. A table works well, but the floor works in a pinch. Position yourself in front of the instrument, with the guitar's sixth string closest to you. Completely slacken the sixth (lowest) string of the guitar, by turning the tuner. If you're unsure of which direction to turn the tuner to slacken the string, pluck the string before you begin turning the tuner. The pitch of the note should get lower as you slacken the string.

Once the string has been completely slackened, uncoil it from the tuning peg at the head of the guitar. Next, remove the other end of the string from the bridge by removing the sixth string bridge pin from the bridge of the guitar. Commonly, bridge pins will provide some resistance when trying to remove them. If this is the case, use a pair of pliers and gently coax the bridge pin out of the bridge.

Discard the old string. Using your cloth, wipe down any areas of the guitar you can't reach with the sixth string on the instrument. If you have guitar polish, now is the time to use it.

It is important to note that some guitarists remove all strings from their guitar at once and then replace them. I highly advise against this procedure. The six tuned strings of a guitar produce a great deal of tension on the neck of the instrument, which is a good thing. Removing all six strings at once drastically changes this tension, which many guitar necks don't react well to. Sometimes, when all six strings are replaced, the strings will sit impossibly high off the fretboard. Change your strings one at a time to avoid a variety of issues.

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Replacing the Sixth String

New Sixth String Inserted into Bridge
New Sixth String Inserted into Bridge.

Uncoil your brand new string from its package. Note that there is a small ball on one side of the string. Slide the ball-end of the string down a couple of inches into ​the hole in the bridge. Now, replace the bridge pin back into the hole, aligning the carved slot of the pin with the string.

As you replace the bridge pin, lightly pull on the string (being careful not to crimp the string with your fingers), until you feel the ball slip into place. If the pin pops back out while very lightly pulling on the string, repeat the process. This may take a bit of practice, but you'll get a feel for it quickly.

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Pull The Sixth String Toward the Headstock of the Guitar

The string has been crimped at a 90 degree angle, but not yet slid through the tuning peg.
The string has been crimped at a 90 degree angle, but not yet slid through the tuning peg.

Now, very gently pull the string up towards the headstock of the guitar, applying just enough force so that most of the visible slack disappears from the string. Pull the string about one generous inch past the tuning peg you will be feeding it through, and, using your fingers, crimp the string to a 90-degree angle, so the end of the string points in the direction of the tuning peg.

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Slide Sixth String Through Tuning Peg

Slide Sixth String Through Tuning Peg
Slide Sixth String Through Tuning Peg.

Without yet feeding the string through the tuning peg, turn the tuner until the hole in the tuning peg will allow the crimped end of the string will slide straight through it.

Slide the string through the tuning peg until you hit the crimp in the string. At this point, you may again crimp the end of the string protruding from the tuning peg, in order to help keep the string in place as you tighten it.

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Tightening the Sixth String

Guitar String Winder
Guitar String Winder.

Now, we'll begin tightening the string, to slowly bring it into tune. If you own a string winder, it will come in handy now. If not, consider purchasing one - they can be big time savers while changing strings, and they will only set you back a couple of dollars.

Begin slowly and evenly turning the tuning peg in a counter-clockwise manner.

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Apply Tension While Wrapping the Sixth String

While one hand tightens the tuner, the other hand creates tension in the string.
While one hand tightens the tuner, the other hand creates tension in the string.

To help keep the excess slack in the string from acting erratically while rotating the tuner, use the hand not tuning the guitar to create artificial tension in the string. Gently press the sixth string against the fretboard with your index finger, using the rest of your fingers to lightly pull up on the string. Meanwhile, keep rotating the tuner with the other hand. Mastering this technique will save you a great deal of hassle when changing strings.

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Watch While You Wind the Wrapped String

acoustic guitar tuning peg
Make sure that on the first rotation, the wrapped string passes over top of the end of the string protruding from the tuning peg.

As you begin to rotate the tuner, watch and make sure the wrapped string passes over the end portion of the string protruding from the end of the tuning peg, on the first wrap-around.

It is normal for the bridge pin to pop up slightly while tightening the string. Use your thumb to push it back down into position.

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Wrapping the Sixth String

wrapped guitar string
On the next (and all remaining) rotation, the wrapped string will coil below the string end protruding from the tuning peg.

Immediately after the wrapped string has passed over the string end, guide the string so that on the next pass, it will wrap under the string end. All subsequent wrap-arounds will also wrap under the string end, each wrap going below the last.

Avoid wrapping so that the strings lie on top of, or cross over one another. Keep turning the tuner in a counter-clockwise manner, until the string has been brought into tune. At this point, your tuning peg should look approximately like the one above(there may be additional string wraps on the peg if you left more slack in the string initially).

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Stretch the String To Help Maintain Tuning

pulling the sixth string
After bringing the string into approximate tune, gently pull up on the string for several seconds, and then re-tune the string. Continue until the string no longer goes out of tune.

Although the string has now been brought into approximate tune, you'll find that pitch will be hard to maintain, unless you take a moment to stretch out the string. Grab the string somewhere over the sound-hole, and gently pull upwards for several seconds. The pitch of the string will drop. Take a moment to re-tune the string. Repeat this several times.

Finally, use a pair of wire cutters (or an equivalent) to trim the excess string. Snip off the end of the string protruding from the tuning peg. Try and leave about 1/4" of string remaining.

Congratulations, you've just changed the sixth string of your guitar. It may have taken you a while, but with practice, you'll be able to change a string in under a minute.

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Repeat This Process To Change The Remaining Five Strings

alternate wrap for strings
Note that the direction the strings enter the tuning peg for strings three, two, and one is opposite than strings six, five, and four.

If you managed to change your sixth string, the other five strings will only get easier. The only part of the process that differs on the remaining strings is the direction you'll feed the strings through the tuning pegs. For strings three, two, and one, as the tuners are on the other side of the headstock, you'll need to feed the string through the tuning pegs in the opposite direction. Because of this, the direction you'll turn the tuners to tighten the string is also opposite. While holding the guitar in normal playing position, turning the tuners "up" (away from the body of the guitar) will tune the string higher for strings six, five, and four. In order to tune strings three, two, and one higher, you'll need to turn the tuners for those strings "down" (towards the body of the guitar).

(NOTE: If you own a guitar that has all six tuners on the same side of the headstock, then you'll ignore this and put all six strings on in the exact same manner.)

That's it! You've learned the process of tuning an acoustic guitar. It may seem overly tricky at first, but after a few full string changes, you'll have the procedure mastered. Best of luck!