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how to change classical guitar strings

How to Change Classical Guitar Strings (Step by Step)

At some point in our classical guitar journey we may want or need new strings.

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

How to Change Classical Guitar Strings

Before you get started, first assemble your tools.

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

You’ll probably be most comfortable sitting in a chair.  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.

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

Also, steel strings 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.

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.

Don’t buy any string with a ball-end.

If you test many different brands and models over time, you may find a specific set sounds especially good on your guitar.

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

Let’s Do It

Step One: Remove one string

Use your string-winder to fully loosen a string.  Many players begin with the lowest sounding string (6th string, Low E).

Step Two:  Tie a new string to bridge

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

Put the end of the 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.

Put the string through the hole.

Bring the tail up and around.

Tuck the tail under the loop created.

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

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

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

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.

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.

Twist 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.

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

Then use your string winder to tighten the string.  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 key).

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, the bridge knot of the high E string sometimes slips.  Because it’s under tension, it then “whips” the top of the guitar, 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 the high E string through the bridge twice, then tie as usual.

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 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.

Use your thumb and/or fingers to torque the string along its length.

String Stretching: Press with the thumb and lift with the fingers.

String Stretching: Press with the index finger while lifting with the others.

 

You can continue to do this periodically until they no longer slip wildly out of tune between or during practices.

Step Seven (optional):  The Final Haircut

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

Trim the tails to the next string.

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

Trim the tails at the headstock.

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

Success!  Now What?

After you finish changing strings, 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 much nice sound.

While your 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 treble strings make less extra nail noise (if you use nails).  And the basses 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 fresher strings now and then.

 

  • If you ever get into a rut and don’t feel like practicing, a string change and guitar spit-shine may get the juices back flowing.
  • If you have a daily guitar practice, you may want to change 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.

Some players change 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.  (But when it doubt, switch them out!))

 

 

 

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12 Responses to How to Change Classical Guitar Strings (Step by Step)

  1. Joe Abajay October 18, 2018 at 6:59 pm #

    Hello Allen,

    I’ve just finished changing my new guitar’s strings with a new one (d’addario pro arte med tension) with your instructions and I noticed it seems that the action of the guitar is higher than when I first got it and feels harder to press in the higher frets. , I have not done any measurements, just visuals..feel.

    Should I tinker with the guitar’s truss rod?

    • Allen October 19, 2018 at 10:29 am #

      Hi Joe,
      I’m not a guitar doctor, nor do I play one on the internet. So no blaming me if you guitar breaks in two. But I don’t think there is any harm in playing with the truss rod, and you may find a great setup for your guitar. So I say “go for it”, while also standing at a safe distance and denying any personal responsibility. The only thing I’ll mention is to make sure you use the right size allen-wrench, so you don’t strip it out. Truss rods screws are often tight, so you may need a bit of oomph at the beginning.

      Good luck!
      All the best,
      Allen

    • Peter Carucci November 16, 2018 at 9:35 am #

      Hi Allen,

      Great video! I was dreading changing the strings on my guitar and have been postponing the job for months. Your tutorial made the process very easy.

      Thanks.

      Peter C.

      • Allen November 16, 2018 at 9:36 am #

        That’s wonderful, Peter! Thanks for the comment.=
        Cheers,
        Allen

  2. Basilio July 27, 2018 at 3:53 pm #

    Hi Allen,

    I just wanted to appreciate you for this very detailed video lesson. Eventhough I don’t think of myself as a handyman, I didn’t have any problems whatsoever, while changing my guitar strings -just followed your instructions.

    Cheers,
    Basilio.

    • Allen July 27, 2018 at 3:59 pm #

      Hi Basilio,
      That’s really good to hear. Nice work!

      Cheers,
      Allen

  3. Peter April 11, 2018 at 5:35 am #

    Hi, Allen
    I just bought few packs of treble strings online and discovered they’re black nylon. Apart from appearance does it matter?
    Cheers

    • Allen April 11, 2018 at 10:28 am #

      Hi Peter,
      I’m not aware of any major differences. They may be a slightly different recipe, but they’ll still work fine. I’m not sure if the sound is any different or not.

      Cheers,
      Allen

  4. Danny Vandevelde December 5, 2017 at 12:05 am #

    Hi Allen,

    How about removing all the strings at once and cleaning the fretboard, apply a little lemon oil? And then cleaning (elbow grease… how do you get rid of that?) and buffing up the body, tightening the tuner screws, …

    Doing a little makeover or maintenance to your beloved instrument while you’re at it?
    I’m curious about your advice or opinion about that.

    Great tutorial, by the way. Thanks for keeping the flame burning.

    Danny.

    (Disclaimer: sorry about autocorrection mistakes. The computer tries to make this Dutch)

    • Allen December 5, 2017 at 9:45 am #

      Hi Danny,
      That sounds great. Luxurious even!
      Most times I just swap out strings as fast as possible. But the occasional spitshine is good for the guitar, and the soul.

      Thanks much,
      Allen

  5. Andrew November 25, 2017 at 5:20 am #

    Wow, this is the best tutorial on changing guitar strings I’ve ever seen. Thank you so much Allen!

    • Allen November 27, 2017 at 7:10 pm #

      Thanks, Andrew!
      Cheers,
      Allen

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