Every guitarist should learn how to restring their acoustic guitar.
The first time you break a string, it can come as a bit of a shock.
People don’t necessarily tell you that breaking a string is an inevitability, so when it happens, you might even assume the guitar itself is broken (but it’s not).
The first thing you need to know is that breaking a string is normal.
There are a variety of reasons strings break, with the most common one being wear and tear from daily use (i.e. practicing).
The second thing you need to know is that broken strings can be – and should be – replaced.
So, let’s look at how to restring an acoustic guitar.
Important Note: Acoustic Guitars Aren’t All Created Equal
Although the step-by-step process that follows should apply to most acoustic guitars, it could vary slightly depending on the exact configuration of your guitar.
For example, a Fender acoustic sometimes has all tuning gears on one side of the headstock instead of three per side as most guitars do.
If you get stuck at any point, carefully review the instructions noted here as well as the included photos.
If it still doesn’t make sense to you, see if you can find another tutorial online.
As a last resort, you can take your guitar to a guitar store for a restringing.
The guitar tech will probably charge you a fee for this, and you may not even get your guitar back on the same day, but in some cases, someone at the store will be willing to help you work it all out, then and there, entirely for free (this has happened to me).
With that disclaimer out of the way, we’re ready to begin.
Get Your Tools In Order
Although you don’t need all the accessories recommended here, purchasing them will make restringing your guitar a lot easier.
I suggest picking up:
- A new pack of strings. This is mandatory – you can’t replace the strings on your guitar if you don’t have a new pack. In most cases, you’ll want to get standard 12 gauge acoustic guitar strings, but if you’re unsure, or if you want to get the same strings your guitar came with, check the guitar manufacturer website for your specific guitar model and you should be able to get this sorted out.
- A string winder. Winding strings (loosening or tightening) by hand can require a lot of effort. String winders can cut down on the amount of time and effort required. Additionally, winders are basically a necessity for restringing acoustic guitars because they help with taking the bridge pins out (more on this later).
- String cutters. Prior to writing this guide, I didn’t own a pair of string cutters, but I picked up a pair so I could show you how the restringing process works. They can certainly speed up the process when removing the old strings and cutting the excess off the new strings. It’s possible to find a string winder/cutter hybrid as well.
- A tuner. An electronic guitar tuner is a good accessory to keep on hand for all occasions (practice sessions, lessons, gigs, etc.). You can, however, download free tuner apps for your smartphone, too, if you prefer.
Once you’ve secured these items, you’re ready to restring your guitar.
Here’s the first step…
Loosen The Strings & Cut Them
Depending on who you ask, some people will tell you that you can loosen all your old strings and cut them simultaneously.
Some will do two at a time.
Here, I’m going to recommend loosening, cutting and replacing one string at a time.
This isn’t necessarily anything to get worked up over, but since your guitar is used to the string tension, loosening and cutting all strings at once obviously relieves that tension completely and suddenly, which can be problematic for some of the components (mostly the neck).
Again, nothing to fuss over, but I thought you should know.
So, let’s begin by loosening your sixth string (the thicker E string).
First, take your string winder and loosen the string (if your guitar was set up correctly, you’ll be turning clockwise) as pictured here:
Once you’ve relieved the tension, you can cut the string (somewhere around the soundhole is a good place to aim for), as seen here:
Now, the string has been cut into two.
But we still need to remove the string.
First, let’s look at the string post on the headstock:
You will need to unwind this piece of the string manually using your fingers.
Note that the end of the strings can be sharp, so avoid poking yourself in the process.
Now, we need to deal with the other half of the string at the bridge:
Do not yank on this piece of the string until it comes out.
It is necessary to remove the bridge pin to take the string piece out, but to do this, you’re going to need to use your string winder.
Your string winder has a cutaway – use this cutaway to lift the bridge pin out of its hole:
Remove this piece of the string (pull it out), throw it away, and you’re ready to move onto the next step.
Note that we will need to repeat this process for all strings, but as already noted, we’re going to be replacing one string at a time, so let’s finish the job we started before we replace the other strings.
Now you’re ready to…
Put The New String On The Guitar
Most string packs tell you which string is which (sometimes, each string comes in its own individual envelope).
Right now, we need to pull the new low E (sixth) string out of the packet:
Unravel the string and identify the two ends.
On the one end of the string, you should see a ball end, as pictured here:
This end of the string goes into the bridge and will be secured by the bridge pin, if you hadn’t figured this out already.
The other end of the string shouldn’t have anything on it.
So, your first step is to put the ball end into the bridge and to secure it with the bridge pin:
Apply some pressure to the bridge pin to ensure the string is secure (you can also tug on the string to make sure it doesn’t come out).
Now, the other end of the string is going to go through the string post at the headstock:
At this point, don’t pull the string all the way through – instead, leave a little slack so the string can wind around the post two to three times.
It can be a little hard to measure exactly how much slack to leave.
Here’s a trick I learned from a guitar tech – set your hand in between the fretboard and the string to keep a set amount of slack as you’re winding the string:
This next step may seem a little odd, but it can be helpful to do.
Manually put a bit of a kink in the string where it exits the string post:
As you’re winding the string, this can stop it from slipping around but to some extent, you may still need to secure it manually, so the string doesn’t just slip through the string post as you’re tightening it.
If it does, you’ll need to reinsert the string and start the tightening procedure all over.
Now, it’s time to bring out our trusty string winder again:
This time, we want to tighten the string (instead of loosening it), so we’re going to rotate in a counterclockwise direction.
Once there’s a decent amount of tension on the string (don’t leave it too loose or too tense), you’re ready to repeat the process for the fifth, fourth, third, second and first strings.
The process for each string is the same, except that the tuning gears for the third through first string on your guitar are likely on the opposite side of the headstock (facing downward instead of upward).
This doesn’t change a whole lot, but be sure the strings wrap around the left side of the string posts (as opposed to the right side) as seen here:
Once all your strings are wrapped two to three times around the string posts, you can cut off the excess using your string cutters, as shown here:
There is a bit of a trick with the bass (thicker) strings in that you can cut off the excess without your cutters.
This is done by putting a kink in the string at the point it exits from the string post and manually winding it around the string post until it naturally breaks off:
This procedure, however, is not recommended for the higher strings, as they might end up loosening all on their own, in which case you’d be required to start over.
Now that you’ve replaced all your strings, you’re ready for the next step:
Tune & Stretch Out The Strings Until They Keep Tune
Use your electronic tuner or tuner app to get your strings in tune.
For this guide, I’m using the built-in tuner on my multi-effects pedal to tune up my guitar, but rest assured the process is the same no matter what tuner you’re using.
Assuming you didn’t over-tighten your strings during the last step, likely you will need to tighten (and not loosen) each string until it’s in tune.
Remember, this is what each string needs to be tuned to (the numbers correspond to the thickness of the string, where six is thickest, and one is thinnest):
E (6), A (5), D (4), G (3), B (2), E (1).
This may well be the trickiest part of the entire process, because depending on your experience level, you may not know how each string should sound when it’s tuned up.
But, again, knowing that you need to tighten the strings (counterclockwise) to reach the target notes is helpful.
So, let’s start by getting the low E string in tune:
Now, we want to repeat this process for each string.
The fifth string should be tuned to A (remember, it should sound higher than the low E – each string should sound higher than the one preceding it).
The fourth string should be tuned to D.
The third string should be tuned to G.
The second string should be tuned to B.
The first string should be tuned to E.
Now, here’s the thing.
We’re not quite done yet, because if you go to play your strings now, you’ll likely find that they’re still out of tune:
They may not be way out of whack, but they probably aren’t right on the money either.
This is because your strings need to be trained to keep their tune, and this doesn’t happen instantaneously.
Fortunately, there is still something you can do to get your strings to hold tune:
You can stretch your strings.
I know some people are scared to do this, but you can literally yank on your strings, as shown here:
Unless you’ve bought horrible quality off-brand strings, they should easily hold up to this level of abuse, and honestly, they do need to be stretched out.
Just don’t get carried away, okay?
So, across the entire length of each string, I will stretch them out.
Then, I will tune them up again.
At this point, they’ll be a little closer to on the mark, but not quite.
So, I will keep repeating this process until the strings have had the chance to stretch out.
Generally, the only thing to watch out for during this process is your strings popping out of the string posts (rare) or bridge (less rare but still possible).
If you didn’t push your bridge pins deep enough into the bridge, there is the chance they will pop out under the tension and you may even need to loosen the string and start over the restringing process.
It’s okay to make mistakes assuming you learn from them.
Anyway, if you’ve finally reached the point where your strings are holding their tune, it can only mean one thing…
You’ve Now Restrung Your Acoustic Guitar!
Assuming you’ve a) removed all your old strings, b) put your new strings on and c) tuned up all your strings to your satisfaction, you’re basically done the restringing process.
Strings don’t necessarily hold their tune perfectly, even after you’ve stretched them out, so be sure to tune them before each use.
Once you’ve gone through the process of restringing your guitar a few times, you will get better at it, and it won’t take as long.
The first time you do it, it can feel like quite the undertaking, but guaranteed it will only get easier from here.
After a point, you won’t even need to think about each step as you’re restringing your guitar, because it will feel like second nature to you.
Don’t forget – your strings can lose their appearance and tone over time, which makes them more susceptible to breakage.
It’s better to replace your strings regularly than to set it aside until the last minute, especially if you’re a live performer or recording artist!