Saturday, 9 February 2013

Confession #4 - Change Your Strings!

Over time, your guitar's strings wear out due to dirt and oil from your fingers.  When they do, they lose their tone.  This happens gradually over time, so you don't really notice it.  However, when you put a new set of strings on, you'll be amazed at the difference.  You'll get back the brightness that you didn't know you had lost.  A set of strings will only set you back around $5 or $6, so change your strings regularly.

Make sure you buy the same gauge strings as what's already on your guitar.  Changing gauges changes the tension on the neck, causing it to become more concave or convex.  When this happens you may need to adjust your truss rod (see Confession #3 - Set-up Your Guitar!).

  • I like to change one string at a time, starting with the low E string.  The reason for this will become apparent below.
  • Loosen the tuning peg to take the tension off the string, then use a pair of wire cutters to snip the string near the tuning peg.  You can then easily remove the remnants of the string.
  • When threading the new string through the tuning peg, consider which way the peg will turn and thus which side of the peg the string will be on.  I made this mistake once with my Fender Telecaster, which caused the nut to come unglued and shift a few millimeters from its intended position (see below).
  • Some people like to tuck the loose end of the string under the string as they are winding it on the tuning peg, the theory being that the loose end is pinched when the string is under tension and therefore the string can't slip.  Some people think that this is unnecessary and just bend the loose end back sharply at the tuning peg.  I've tried both ways on my guitars and haven't noticed a difference.
  • I don't have a great ear for pitches, so when I'm tightening up the new low E string and I think I'm getting  in the neighborhood of the target pitch, I will fret the low E string at the 5th fret and compare the sound to the open A string (see Confession #2 - Tune Your Guitar! The two pitches should match.).  If they don't match, I move up to the 6th fret, then 7th, etc. until the pitches match.  This tells me how close I am and that my low E string still needs some tightening.  If you've over-tightened the new string, then you'll have to fret the 4th fret, 3rd fret, etc. to get the pitches to match.  This is why I change only one string at a time.  It allows me to use the next highest string as a reference pitch.
  • Use an electronic tuner for fine tuning the new string.
  • New strings will stretch, causing the string to go flat, so don't stop yet.  Execute a series of whole step bends (or more) all along the fretboard and then re-tune the string.  Repeat this until bending the string no longer causes it to go flat when played open.  You don't want your strings to stretch while you're playing, so take all of the stretch out of them when you first put them on the guitar. 

Fender Telecaster headstock
Note how strings all go to the right of the tuning pegs and how the string is in a straight line before and after the nut.

Next Week's Confession - Use a Metronome!

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