String ’em up!

Close-up of guitar frets and strings

Today was the first time, I’m ashamed to say, that I’d changed the strings on my Burns Brian May guitar. I’d got it into my head that the Grover Locking Machine Heads (tuning pegs, to you and me) would be difficult to operate.

Quite the opposite. They were a dream to use: slide the string through, begin to tighten and they automatically lock the string in place on the machine head. It couldn’t be simpler. They do exactly as it says on the label.

What was difficult, however, was stretching the strings in on a guitar with a knife-edge / floating tremolo. In the end I had to hold the trem down while I stretched the strings in, retuned, stretched a bit more, retuned, ad infinitum. It took me about a hour to get the tuning settled. Thankfully, the strings on the other two guitars — electro-acoustic and acoustic bass — were much easier to change and tune.

I’ve had an article from the US Guitar Shop magazine in my guitar resources folder since 1995. It’s kept me absolutely right on how to replace strings since then. So I’ve scanned it and offer it to you below. (I’ve reformated the layout to make it easier to follow.)

Finally … the Right Way To Put On Strings

by Mike Duffey

Guitar Shop, February 1995

Say you just strung up your guitar and every time you play it, it goes out of tune. I’m sorry to tell you that you probably strung it up improperly — surprisingly, it’s even a common error among advanced players. So get yourself a fresh set of strings and let’s try it again. Proper stringing is one of the most basic lessons for guitarists, but once you learn how to do it, the rest of your guitar-picking life will be ever so much smoother.

Diagrams on how to correctly string a guitar

Acoustic steel-string and standard electric guitars

First, we’ll deal with the easiest guitars to string: the acoustic steel-string and standard electric.

  1. Start by attaching the low E string to your bridge; there are so many different types of bridges out there, but I’m sure you can figure out where to put the ball-end.
  2. Next, take the string and thread it through the proper tuning machine stem. Leave enough slack in the string between the tuner and bridge so that the string pulls taught approximately 4″ from the fretboard (this equals about 1 – ½” length-wise).
  3. Here’s where it gets tricky. Once the string is through the stem, bring it around the stem in the direction away from the tuner knob (see Figure 1).
  4. Take the string end under the section of the string that originally entered the stem and then bend the string at a right-angle away from the face of the headstock (see Figure 2).
  5. As you tighten the string up, the friction of string-against-string should keep it from slipping.

Once you are used to this manner of stringing, you will find that it’s an easy on/easy off method that can’t be beat.

Classical and Nylon-string guitars

Unfortunately for you classical/nylon-string guitarists, your stringing method is a little tougher.

  1. Start at the bridge. Feed the string through the appropriate hole, then lead the string back under itself next to the saddle.
  2. From here you take the end of the string and wind it around the section of string directly adjacent to the bridge two or three times (see Figure 3).
  3. Take care to leave the string end pointing toward the center of the bridge.
  4. Now to the headstock. Leaving practically no slack in the string, fish the string through the appropriate tuning post.
  5. Bring the string around the post, wrapping around the section string that first entered the post and finish the loop by threading the string back under itself (see Figure 4).
  6. Again, as you tighten, the string will tighten against itself and therefore not slip.
  7. Lastly, take a graphite pencil (a good ol’ #2 will do), and twist the point in each nut string slot. This will allow the string to move freely through the slot.

And that’s all there is to it. I hope these stringing methods will help to keep your guitar in tune. The explanation was a little like telling a blind man how to tie his shoes, but if you stick with the pictures, you’ll do just fine.

Mike Duffey does guitar repairs and restorations at Future Music in Media, PA, in addition to finding time to play local jazz and pop gigs, and teach around 50 guitar students a week.

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Gareth Saunders

I’m Gareth J M Saunders, 46 years old, 6′ 4″, father of 3 boys (including twins). Latterly, web architect and agile project manager at the University of St Andrews and warden at Agnes Blackadder Hall. Currently on sabbatical. I am a priest in the Scottish Episcopal Church, and I sing with the NYCGB alumni choir.

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