How to Change Classical Guitar Strings (Step by Step)

At some point in our guitar journey, we may want or need to change strings on our classical guitar.

We can change all the strings at the same time, or just one, if it breaks. (Although electric guitar strings have more of a tendency to break than classical.) 

It’s tempting to get intimidated by the special knots the nylon-strung classical guitar requires.  But like most things, it’s only hard until you do it once or twice.

So let’s look at how to change a guitar string. 

How to Change Classical Guitar Strings: Tools

Before you get started, first assemble your tools.

  • A string winder (optional, but highly recommended)
  • Strings (just about any set of classical guitar strings will do, more on this below)
  • Nail clippers or wire cutters, for the final haircut
  • A tuner

You’ll probably be most comfortable sitting in a chair when changing strings.  This way you can put the guitar across your lap, hold it between your knees, and turn it around as need be.

Which Strings Should I Use?

There are many classical guitar strings on the market.  But unless you’re an advanced player, you probably won’t be able to tell the difference between them.

d'addario guitar string

The most important thing is that you use classical guitar strings (most commonly made with nylon strings), not steel strings (or regular acoustic guitar strings).  String tension on steel-string guitars is much higher, and classical guitars are not built to handle that much tension.

Also, acoustic guitar strings are made to have ball ends (balls on the end of the strings).  Classical guitar strings do not, so they require a knot.  Don’t buy anything with a ball end. Those are made specifically for acoustic guitar and require bridge pins to hold them down.

Most players will be fine with normal tension strings made by any major manufacturer.  Whatever they have at the local music store.  Perhaps the most common and widely available is the D’Addario Pro-Arte Normal Tension Classical Guitar Strings.

If you test many different brands and models over time, you may find a specific set of strings that sound especially good on your guitar. For example, you may prefer high-tension strings, medium-tension strings, light tension, carbon treble strings, or other brands like Savarez or Augustine.  D’Addario has a good a good String Finder tool on its website so we can see which of their strings would suit us best.   

Some players mix and match different brands and different tensions on their guitars.  Some people prefer nylon trebles.  Some swear by carbon.  

But most players benefit more from improving their tone and technique than by switching brands of strings.

Tutorial: How to Change Classical Guitar Strings

Step One: Remove one string

To change a classical guitar string, use your string winder to loosen a string fully.  Many players begin with the lowest-sounding string (6th string, Low E).

Step Two:  Tie a new string to the bridge

Important:  You may find one end of the string has a different texture, and a wider wrap.  This end goes at the tuning post, NOT the bridge.  Use only the consistent end of the string at the bridge.  

Put the end of the new string through the hole in the bridge.

Bring the tail up and around the main length of the string.  You can make a crease in the string to mark your place if you like.

Tuck the tail of the string under the loop you’ve just created.

change classical guitar strings tie knot
Put the string through the hole.
change classical guitar string
Bring the tail up and around.
loop guitar string
Tuck the tail under the loop created.

On the low E (6th string), and optionally the A (5th string), you only need to tuck the string under once.

For the other strings, you’ll need to wrap it through twice.

string a classical guitar knot

To “seat” the knot, make sure the tail crosses under the knot over the lip of the bridge.  This gives the knot its strength.

guitar string tail
Make sure the tail crosses over the lip of the bridge.
switch guitar strings
Tighten the knot, with the tail crossing over the lip of the bridge.

Step Three:  Attach the string to the tuning key

Once you’ve knotted the bridge, put the string through the hole in the middle of the post in the tuning key.

change guitar string head
Put the string through the hole.

To figure out how much slack you’ll need, hold the string a finger-height above the 12th fret.  Notice how much slack that leaves at the tuning key, or make a crimp or crease in the string at the tuning key.

slack in guitar string
For slack, give a finger-height at the 12th fret.

Wrap the tail of the string around the length of the string two or three times and hold it firm.

Point the tail of the string towards the inside or middle of the headstock.  This is optional but helps the strings look consistent and organized.

knot the string in the hole
Twist the tail around the string 2 or 3 times and tighten it.

Then use your string winder to tighten the string.  (You don’t have to use a string winder.  You can do it without, but it will take longer.) When you cross over the wound string on the post, guide the tightening string to the middle of the headstock (instead of outwards towards the tuning peg).

headstock guitar strings
Wind all strings toward the center of the headstock for a tidy look.

Continue tightening the string until it’s near the correct pitch.

Step Four: Repeat with the other strings.

Step Five (Optional): Double-Loop the high E

For some reason, when we change classical guitar strings, the bridge knot of the high E string sometimes slips as we tune.  Because it’s under tension, it then “whips” the top of the instrument, just behind the bridge.

It has such a force that it can go through the finish and take out a chunk of wood.

It’s not uncommon to see a “whip mark” on classical guitars behind the E string.

guitar whip mark
The high E sometimes slips and damages the top of the guitar.

One way to prevent this is to double-loop the high E string through the bridge.

Instead of putting the string through the hole once, you bring it around and go through again, creating a loop.

loop high string guitar
Loop the high E string through the bridge twice, then tie as usual.
guitar double loop
Tie the double-looped string exactly like the others, wrapping the tail around both loops.

You then knot it exactly the same as the others, this time tucking the tail under and around both loops.

Step Six (optional): Give it a stretch

You can stretch your guitar strings manually and reduce the time they take to settle in.  They will still stretch naturally for a couple of days, but this can speed up the process.

Make sure to use your thumb and/or fingers to torque the string along its length.

stretch new guitar strings
String Stretching: Press with the thumb and lift with the fingers.
stretching guitar guitar string
String Stretching: Press with the index finger while lifting with the others.

You can continue to stretch the string periodically until they no longer slip wildly out of tune between or during practices.

Step Seven (optional):  The Final Haircut – Trim the Excess String

Finally, we trim the excess string and get everything neat and tidy.

trim guitar string tail
Trim the tails to the next string.

At the bridge, trim the tail to the distance to the next string.  This keeps all the excess strings a consistent length.

clip the end of the string
Trim the tails at the headstock.

Then, trim the tails at the tuning pegs approximately the same length as at the bridge.

Success!  Now What?

After string changes, celebrate your grand accomplishment with a drink or treat of your liking.  It’s a big job.

Expect frequent tuning for the first few days to a week.  This is natural and comes with the territory.  Be patient.  On the upside, you’ll probably notice a better sound quality.  

While your guitar strings are still stretching, you may practice more rasgueados.  These give the strings action and help them settle in (and are great for the hands).

How Often Should I Change Classical Guitar Strings?

New strings sound richer and brighter than old strings.  The nylon treble strings make less extra nail noise (if you use nails).  And the bass strings sound punchy and strong.

So when should you change them?

There is no one correct answer.  We can technically play them until they break and fall off the guitar.  But we may enjoy new strings now and then.  

  • If you ever get into a rut and don’t feel like practicing, new strings and a guitar spit-shine may get the juices back flowing
  • If you feel that the strings start to sound ‘dead’, or don’t stay in tune 
  • If you have a daily guitar practice, you may want to change your strings just before traveling or at another time when you’ll be away from your guitar for a few days
  • If you want to eliminate the question forever, decide on a schedule and put it on your calendar.  Be it yearly, quarterly, or monthly, you’ll know when it’s time to put on different strings

Another option is to change some strings, more often than others. If you are using silver-plated, or other high-quality bass strings, they will often sound “fresher” for longer than the higher-pitched nylon strings. Some guitarists will change the trebles but keep the same bass strings.

Some players change their classical guitar strings once every few years.  Others change them every few weeks.  Some performers change them almost daily.

It’s truly a personal choice when you want to change your strings.  (But when in doubt, switch them out!)

Allen Mathews

Hi, I’m Allen Mathews. 

I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
Click here for a sample formula.

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