How to Put on Electric Guitar Strings

black & white pick, vintage fretboard electric guitar

So you broke a string huh?! Well, hopefully, it wasn’t while on stage. 

Now let’s dive right in. Here’s a step-by-step list on how to change your guitar strings: 

  1. Loosen up them old strings. All of them? Yeah, all of them. I’ll explain why below. 
  2. Remove the old strings
  3. Clean the fretboard
  4. Restring the guitar, thickest string first. 
  5. Trim the exceeding part
  6. Repeat 
  7. Tune! 

Ok so, that’s the gist of it. The details of the process, however, vary depending on the type of guitar you have. We’ll look into each step in more depth. In the meantime, please make sure to check our recently updated pieces on top bass envelope filter pedals here, and best overdrive pedal for metal and rock here).

But first, there are a couple of things you need to know… 

This is the first thing because it will determine how you remove the old strings. Electric guitars come in a wide variety of shapes and types but, for the most part, the strings either come through the back of the guitar or through the front of the bridge. The bridge is the part that which, with the help of those metal balls at the end of each string, holds the strings tight in their place. It’s usually located in the front and bottom center of the guitar. 

Not a golden rule, but most hollow-bodied guitar or semi-hollows are stringed at the front of the bridge, in various ways, while solid body guitars like Telecasters and Stratocasters (for the most part) have the strings coming from six little holes in the back. 

What type of strings should I get?

Before you even start loosening the strings, you should try to procure the new strings, and even keeping a spare pack with your guitar case all the time. To do so, you have to decide on the type of string gauge you want (how thick they are), the material, and the brand. 

All of those things will factor heavily into the playability and sound of your guitar, so it’s very important that you test out various models until. eventually, you figure out what fits best for you and the particular type of guitar you play.

Here’s a guide to how to pick strings for an electric guitar. 

All that being said, if you only broke one string and would like to just replace that one for now, by all means, try and make that one new string the same type that the other strings. 

Meaning? Try and figure out how thick they are in general, so you can narrow down the choice into a string package (string guitars packages are divided into “sizes”, such as XL, Light, etc.) and make sure it’s one from a similar package. If that’s confusing, the staff at your local guitar shop will very likely be able to help you out.

Do I need to restring the whole thing if I just broke the one?

Of course, now comes the question of whether to restring the whole thing or not. If you just broke one guitar string, restringing all of it or not depends on how new your strings were in the first place. 

The reason? Old strings, broken in, worn out a bit, and maybe even a bit dirty, will have a very different sound than new strings. If you have a shiny new string along with 5 other strings that have been with you for ages, it’s going to be noticeable on your sound, and it’s likely to sound weird as hell. 

This is why most guitar players change the whole set whenever an old one breaks, as it’s a way of keeping a consistent sound, but also of avoiding having another one breaking any time soon. If you string your guitar properly (we’ll get to that), you won’t have strings breaking happening that often to you. 

That being said, if you break a string while on stage, don’t feel pressured to change the whole thing. Just get that damn new string in and keep playing. The show must go on, right? 

What other tools do I need?

Apart from new strings, a tuner, and your guitar, you’re definitely going to be wanting a pair of wire cutters. These are sold in pretty much any hardware store, and they will come in handy when it comes to making your new strings the right size. 

You may also want to consider getting your hands on a string winder. This is a little tool that lets you loosen and tighten the strings without so much manual effort. It’s nice to have, but not super necessary. 

step-by-step Guide on how to change your Electric guitar strings

Now, let’s go back to the steps from the beginning, but this time with a closer look. 

1. Loosen up them old strings.

Why all of them? Well, mainly because you’re likely to want to change all of them at once, but also because relieving the pressure of the whole fretboard is better for your guitar than just taking it out of a certain spot and keeping the same pressure on the rest of it. 

For the same reason, it’s good to take your time on this step, trying not to rush the unwinding of the strings too much – just as it takes time to get good at guitar.

2. Remove the old strings

When removing the old strings, you’re going to notice how they were set up in the first place. 

3. Clean the fretboard

This part is super important. When else do you get the chance to reach every nook and cranny in your fretboard? Keeping a clean fretboard means better sound and durability for your guitar, so it’s very wise to do this. Just a cleaning cloth will do, but you can also use some guitar or wood polish if you’ve got some. 

4. Restring the guitar, thickest string first

Once you have identified the way your guitar is stringed, start with the thickest one. On a normal six-string, this would be E. Take it out of the package and straighten it up a bit to make the next steps easier. 

5. Trim the exceeding part

You’re going to want the other end of the string (the one that goes to the headstock) to loop around the post about 2 or 3 times. A general rule of thumb here is to stretch the string over its own peghead (sixth in this case) and then cut at the place where it meets the next peghead (5th).

Now, this applies more to guitars with headstocks that have 3 strings on each side. If your guitar is different, you can leave around 2 fingers of extra space and that ought to do it. 

When it comes to looping the string, you want to first insert the string into the post, and then turn the tuning peg in a counter-clockwise direction to tighten it. Don’t worry too much about tuning it to a perfect E at this point, but try to get it close to it so the wood starts adjusting back to the normal tension. 

If you trimmed your string first, the end should protrude about 1/8th of an inch from the tuner hole. If you want to go the punk-rock route, you can also just loop the string, leaving the remainder just dangling, and just wait until the end to trim all of them. If you want to go the Tom Morello route, don’t trim them. 

6. Repeat

Now do the same for the next strings, working your way down from the lowest to the highest (or thickest to thinnest). 

A very important thing to note here is that while two or three loops are good for the bass strings (E, A, and D) the treble strings will require up to six loops ( G, B, and e) and make sure to check our acoustic guitar strings article here as well. 

More loops than that are not necessarily better. You also want the loops to be even, not having the string loop over itself, because that may lead to your strings breaking faster. 

7. Tune!

Give your guitar a final and exact tune, get your amp and pedals ready you should be ready to go! 

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