I’m often asked by my students – how often should I change my strings? There is not definitive answer because there are too many variables. The most important is how much do you sweat when you play? If your hands stay reasonable dry, a good set of strings should sound bright for a couple months, assuming you play just about every day. If your hands get sweaty or you live in a hot, humid climate it’s likely you’ll need to change them more often if you want your guitar to resonate to its maximum capability. Less obvious is the effect of strings going dead on acoustic guitars made of different types of wood. Generally speaking, guitars with mahogany bodies will sound good for a longer amount of time with “dead” strings than those made of rosewood. This is because rosewood is more dense than mahogany and strings that are gunked up with dirt and sweat do not transmit vibration as well as new ones, hence the dense rosewood will not resonate as well. The take-away here is that string changes are the least expensive way to keep a good guitar sounding good.
When it does come time to change strings, make a slight bend very close to the ball on the end of the string. This assures that the ball will rest against the bridge plate on the under side of the top, which is vital for maximum transmission of the vibration of the string to the top. While the ball end of an unbent string will most likely find its way to the bridge plate as you tune up, this may not always be the case; sometimes the ball will get stuck against the bottom of the bridge pin. Not only will this severely dampen the sound, but when this happens there is the real possibility the pin will come flying out as you tighten the string, which is disconcerting and annoying at the least. And possibly dangerous to your poor innocent playing partner who’s sitting across from you, waiting impatiently for you to finish changing your strings!
On the opposite end of the string, first and foremost, there is no need to tie a knot before tightening the string. That will only make the next string change more complicated and may result in piercing your finger or scratching the head stock when you try to push the string back through the hole in the post. Just wrap the string around the post 1 to 1 ½ times and push the string end through the hole, making sure the wrap is below the hole. In that regard, here’s one a guitar maker taught me years ago. Before cutting off the excess on the high E and B string, Put a sharp bend in the string about a half inch past where is exits the hole, then cut off the excess at a point that is the same length as distance between the hole and the bend. This leaves a short, “folded” section of excess string. That extra bit of string makes pushing the string back through the hole on the next string change much, much easier and should help you avoid stabbing your finger tip with the sharp ends of those skinny strings. (with the high E and B strings you should wrap the string about two or three times around the post before pushing the end through the hole, to keep the string from slipping as you tighten up the new string – but again, avoid knots!)
Be sure to wrap the low E, A, and D strings around the post in a counter-clockwise direction; the G, B and high E strings should be wrapped in a clockwise direction. With my less than perfect eyesight, I find it helpful to line up the hole in the post to be in a more or less horizontal direction so I can make an accurate guess just where that hole is when it’s time to push the end of the string through. This is not required of course, it just makes the job a lot easier.
Changing strings on a nylon string classical guitar or any steel string with an open or slotted head stock is definitely a bit more complicated and labor intensive. I will wrap the string all the way around the horizontal post on one side of the hole, then, keeping tension on the string, make another wrap on the other side of the hole before I then push the string end through the hole. That way, when the string is tightened it is crossed over itself and will be less inclined to slip. Just be sure you’re wrapping OVER the post, not coming from under the head stock.
Especially with nylon string guitars, I find it very helpful to use one of the many “string winder” devices that are available (I use one made by Planet Waves). These cool tools make string changing much quicker. Just be careful to avoid scraping the device against the side of the head of the guitar to avoid scratches. Some of those devices come with a string cutter and pin puller on the end but I stick to using a good quality small-jawed wire cutter to cut the strings and small pliers to pull the pins (straight up – do NOT wiggle the pin as it probably break). By the way, don’t cut the excess too close to the post as the string may slip back through as it’s tightened. Leaving about 3/8” is about right, then after you have cut, bend the excess down to avoid slippage and also stabbing your hand.
Always change strings one-at-a-time tune up as you proceed because this will keep tension on the neck. Repeatedly taking close to 200 pounds of pressure off a steel string guitar neck and then re-applying that pressure by taking all the strings off and then replacing them is a recipe for an early neck re-set job. It’s OK to do this very, very occasionally to clean the fingerboard but don’t make it a habit! I’m speaking from experience. I just about ruined my first good guitar, a 1970 Martin D-35 by doing this!
Peace & good music,