Changing the strings on a guitar is a necessary evil for the classical guitar player. There are very few guitar players who will tell you they actually enjoy doing this kind of maintenance, as it's tedious and somewhat time consuming. However, there is nothing like playing a great classical guitar with fresh strings on it. The payoff is always worth the effort.
Steps for Changing Classical Guitar Strings
The process for changing classical guitar strings is more involved than changing strings on a steel string guitar. Traditional classical guitar strings do not have ball ends that quickly secure them into place. This means that you must tie the end of the string to the bridge instead of feeding it through a hole. The following steps will ensure that your strings are tied properly.
Remove the First String
It is crucial that you only remove and replace one string at a time. Taking all of the strings off at once will damage the guitar's neck. Changing one string at a time maintains a consistent tension in the neck. The first string to remove will be the low E string. If you are able to obtain a string winder, this will speed the process. Place the string winder over the string's tuning peg and crank until the string is slack. When it is slack enough, unwind and pull the string out from its tuning peg.
Tie the String to the Bridge
At the top of the bridge, you will notice six small holes.
- Take the new string marked as "low E" or "sixth string" and feed it through the bridge hole that belongs to the low E string, the one closest to your body when you're playing the guitar.
- As it comes out the other side at the bottom of the bridge, loop it up to the left towards the top of the bridge where you fed it through.
- Tuck the loose end under the string (under itself) at the top of the bridge.
- Bring the loose end back down to the bottom of the bridge and thread it under itself by the hole where the string comes out. For the low strings (E, A, D), you'll only need to perform this twist at the rear of the bridge once, but for the high strings (G, B, E), twist them two or three times to make sure they stay in place.
- Once you have your knot in position, hold the loose end of the string in one hand while you pull the other end of the string toward the headstock of the guitar. This cinches the knot and makes sure that it will stay in place while you attach the string to the tuning peg.
Attach the String to the Tuning Peg
- On the headstock at the top of the guitar, find the tuning peg that corresponds to the string you're changing. For the low E string, for example, it is the peg spindle on the bottom left if you are facing the headstock.
- Turn the tuning peg until the hole in the middle of the peg spindle is facing you.
- Feed the string through the front of the hole.
- Allow two to three inches of string to pass through it.
- Loop the end of the string around the bottom of the spindle and pull it back towards you until the end of the string is pointing at you
- Guide the end of the string past the peg spindle's hole where you fed the string from the front. If you are changing the low E, A, or D strings, guide it to the right of the string. This will create a loop. If you're changing G, B, or high E, guide it to the left of the string.
- For low E, A, or D, wrap the end of the string around to the left and guide it through the loop you just created. This is similar to tying a simple knot. If you're tying G, B, or high E, wrap it around to the right of the string.
- Slip the end of the string through the loop you just created and tie the knot. If it's low E, A, or D, you'll be slipping it from left to right into the loop so that the end of the string will be pointing towards the center of the headstock. If it's G, B, or high E, you'll be slipping it from right to left through the loop.
- The end of the string should always end up pointing towards the center of the headstock. This is why you tie the knot from different directions depending on which string you're changing.
- Tighten the tuning peg clockwise when you are changing the three low strings: E, A, and D. For the three high strings -- G, B, and E -- turn their pegs counterclockwise.
- Wind the excess string towards the center of the guitar. If you tied the knots with the string's end pointing in the proper direction, the excess string will naturally wind itself towards the center.
- Notice how the string, as it tightens, wraps over the loose end of the string. This is good because it helps ensure that the string won't slip when you're playing, and it will stay in tune.
After this first string is tightened and tuned, repeat the process of removing the old string and tying the new one for the remaining five strings.
Stretch and Tune
After all the strings are on the guitar, gently stretch them out by pulling each one away from the neck with your fingers. Don't pull too hard, just hard enough to feel the strings stretch a little. After the strings are stretched, tune the guitar. Once you get it in tune, stretch the strings one more time and tune it again. You are now ready to play on your new set of strings.
Five Tips for String Changing and Care
- When you buy a pack of strings, each string comes individually wrapped and labeled. Only remove a string from its package when the old string has been removed and you're ready to tie the new one. If you remove multiple strings from their packages, it becomes difficult to tell which strings are which, especially the G, B, and high E strings. To avoid tying the wrong string onto the wrong tuning peg which could destroy the neck of your guitar, keep all of your strings in their packages and only remove them one-by-one as you tie them.
- After you remove your old strings, wipe the fret board down using a few drops of lemon oil on a small cloth.
- Keep wire cutters handy so that you can clip the excess string that dangles from the headstock after you tie the new strings.
- After your new strings have been tied, try to avoid placing your guitar in very hot or cold temperatures. As the neck adjusts to the new strings, widely varying temperatures could strain the neck and cause your new strings to go out of tune.
- Never leave your classical guitar in a hot location such as a parked car on a hot day. In general, extreme temperatures damage the wood and cause strings to go out of tune, especially new ones. Bring the guitar with you instead of leaving it in the car, if possible.
Change Strings Often
Depending on how much you play, you should get in the habit of changing your strings regularly, not just when they break. Sometimes guitar players forget how good their guitar can sound if they play on old strings for too long. As you play longer and change your strings more, you'll get better at knowing how to hear when your guitar is ready for a fresh set.