JAMES COLLINS
Before tackling this course, you should be comfortable with all the material from Tuning Your Guitar

In this comprehensive string changing course, James takes us through how the pros change strings! We begin our course with an introduction, talking about how often to change strings and which strings to use.

Summary: How Often to change

Our first line of conversation is the all-important question, "How often should I change my strings?". Well, as James so perfectly puts it, the answer is "probably more regularly than you do now!". Changing your strings regularly has a number of benefits, such as:

  • 1. The guitar will feel nicer to play, and you will therefore play more!
  • 2. The strings are less likely to snap when playing.
  • 3. The tone of your guitar will improve, sounding brighter and louder.
  • 4. Your guitar will stay in tune better.

So, to put a rough figure on it, be sure you are changing your strings at least once every 4-6 weeks if you are playing regularly. Even if you are not playing regularly, your strings still absorb dirt and dust and deteriorate, so be sure to still change them when you pick up the guitar after a break. If you gig with your guitar, you will need to change them even more regularly if you can.

String Types: what is String Gauge?

String Gauge is a measure of the thickness of your strings. Which string gauge to use is mostly down to personal preference. You will here people talk about 'nines' or 'tens' for example, which simply indicates the thickness of the thin E string. A set of nines, for example, refers to a measurement of 0.009 inches. The rest of the strings in the set will get progressively thicker, but we tend to always use the thin E string as the basic measurement for the set.

Which Gauge to use?

As we said above, string gauge is a personal choice. Great guitarists through history have used anything between very light eights (Santana famously used light strings) up to fourteens (SRV famously used heavier strings). There are a few things to bare in mind when choosing.

  • 1. The heavier the string, the harder it is to bend.
  • 2. The heavier the string, the richer the tone (hence why blues players tend to love heavier strings).
  • 3. The type of guitar you have will have an influence. Short scale necks (like Gibsons) will allow you to get away with a heavier string than long scale necks (like Fenders).

It's generally a good idea to start on nines or tens and then gradually work through different sets to see what works best for you. Before too long you, will settle on a gauge that suits your playing.

Summary: What is a Modern Fender style tuner

Modern style tuners on Fender guitars are the ones with a hole through the tuning peg. If you have a modern Fender, or Fender copy guitar, they will likely have these kind of tuners on them, unless your guitar is a reissue of some kind. Have a look at your tuners and see if they look like the following picture (ignore the height, just focus on where the hole is):





For those of you who are fairly new to any form of maintenance, some of the terms may be a little bit foreign to you at the moment. To help you follow along, here is a cool diagram detailing the key parts of the guitar for string changing.





Checklist: Changing Strings

Once you get into the flow of changing strings, and have done it a few times, all of this will become second nature. However, in the meantime, here is a checklist to work through:

  • 1. Pull the string through the bridge and up through the tuning pegs. Make sure it is nice and taut.
  • 2. Allow roughly two tuners' length of extra string after the tuning peg. With smaller tuning pegs, you may need to do 1 length instead.
  • 3. Put a kink in the string where the peg is, then pull the string back through, leaving half an inch between the kink and the peg.
  • 4. Aim for 3 wraps around the peg for taller pegs, and 2 for smaller pegs.
  • 5. Cut the excess string with a pair of wire cutters.

Equipment: What you need

In order to make your string changing quick and neat, we recommend two pieces of gear. Firstly a set of wire cutters and secondly, a string winder. These two tools will massively speed up the process and improve the quality of the finish of the string changing.

Summary: What is a vintage style tuner

Unlike modern style tuning pegs, where you pass the string through a circular hole, horizontally through the peg, vintage tuners have a hole in the top of the peg that you feed the string down. It's a fairly subtle difference, but does mean a different approach is required. These tuners look something like this:





Summary: Different Bridges

Another thing to bear in mind is that this guitar has a different bridge to the previous one we looked at. This is a Tune-o-matic style bridge, a type of 'hard-tail' or 'fixed' bridge commonly found on Gibson style guitars. Another guitar that commonly has a fixed bridge is the Telecaster (although not usually a Tune-o-matic!). The other main type is a 'Tremolo' style bridge, commonly found on Stratocasters. Make sure you have identified which type of bridge you have (bearing in mind these are the main 2 types and there are a lot of others out there!):

Tremolo style bridge



Hardtail style bridge



Checklist: Changing Strings

With vintage tuners, there is a slightly different process, as shown below:

  • 1. Pull the string through the bridge and up through the tuning pegs. Make sure it is nice and taut.
  • 2. Allow roughly three tuners length of extra string after the tuning peg. Cut off the remaining string.
  • 3. Feed the string downwards into the tuner and then pull back around.
  • 4. Start winding the string whilst still keeping the tension to get a good wrap around the peg.
  • 5. Cut the excess string with a pair of wire cutters.

Summary: 3x3 Style Tuners

The first point to remember with these tuners is to make sure the tuning peg holes are all facing the same way before you put the strings on. This will make it a lot easier as you then start to restring the guitar. They should all be facing forwards like this.





Checklist: Changing Strings

With 3x3 tuners, there is a slightly different process getting a good string change. The process is as shown below:

  • 1. Pull the string through the bridge and up through the tuning pegs. Make sure it is nice and taut.
  • 2. Allow roughly 1.5 tuners length of extra string after the tuning peg and create a kink in the string.
  • 3. Pull the string back until the kink is half an inch from the tuning peg.
  • 4. Start winding the string whilst still keeping the tension to get a good wrap around the peg.
  • 5. Cut the excess string with a pair of wire cutters.

As a final point, for the thinner strings it is beneficial to use James' technique to create an extra break angle. This involves using the thumb and first finger as shown in the image here:





Summary: Acoustic Bridges

The main difference when stringing an acoustic guitar is the bridge. The strings are actually placed into the bridge and held in place by a plastic or wooden peg. The bridges tend to look like this:





Equipment: String Winder

As shown in the video, once you've removed the strings from the headstock, you need to take the pegs out of the holes in the bridge. Sometimes you can simply pull them out, but they can be stiff. The string winder also has a little notch in it which you can use to pull out more stubborn pegs. The notch looks like this:





Checklist: Changing Strings

The process is identical to the 3x3 tuners we covered in the last video, except with the additional complications of the acoustic bridge. Here is the full list.

  • 1. Feed the string into the bridge hole and push down the peg. Pull up at the string whilst you push the peg down.
  • 1. Pull the string up through the tuning pegs. Make sure it is nice and taut.
  • 2. Allow roughly 1.5 tuners length of extra string after the tuning peg and create a kink in the string.
  • 3. Pull the string back until the kink is half an inch from the tuning peg.
  • 4. Start winding the string whilst still keeping the tension to get a good wrap around the peg.
  • 5. Cut the excess string with a pair of wire cutters.

Ready to move on – remember to check out every lesson in this unit first – then try the next unit...

Fretboard Maintenance

In this course James Collins walks us through every aspect you need to know to keep your fretboard well maintained and playing smoothly. We look at cleaning and polishing both rosewood and maple necks, including polishing the frets.