1. #1
    DanAmrich's Avatar Rocksmith Dev Team
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    How to Restring Your Guitar -- The Explicitly Explained & Illustrated Version

    Hey all. In addition to my usual ComDev duties, I also try to keep Ubisoft Studio SF’s in-house instruments running and ready to rock. I’ve heard a few new players say they’ve never changed the strings on their guitar because they’re either afraid to do it or they simply don’t know how. There’s a tutorial in Rocksmith 2014 that walks you through the process, but it’s come up so often, I have to assume that people are seeking more info. Since changing strings is the most common guitar maintenance out there, let me walk you through how I do it, and hopefully some of my tips will make your next string change easier.


    They can make beautiful music together

    For this string change, I’m using an Epiphone Les Paul Junior – the same model that was sold as part of the Rocksmith guitar bundles – and a fresh package of lime-green Ernie Ball Regular Slinky strings (.010 to .046 – a popular all-around choice). Your guitar might be a little different, but I’ll bring those differences up as we go. I’ll also call out some helpful tools as I use them.

    Start by loosening all but one string to the point where they are slack and floppy. (A pegwinder – simple or fancy -- makes this easier.) Most Les Pauls, including our Junior, feature bridges that are designed to stay in place from string tension, so they will fall off if you remove all the strings. I find it’s easier to keep the low E string on during this part of the process. You’ll want to loosen the low E a bit so you can move it out of the nut, but keep a little tension there so the bridge stays put.


    Never cut the strings if they're still tuned up. Never, not even once.

    Cut the loosened strings with wire cutters, but never cut a string that still has tension on it. You can really damage the neck with that sudden change. Remove the old string bits and wipe away dust from the headstock and around the pickups and bridge; this is really your best chance to clean those areas.

    Now take a look at the fretboard. You might find that there’s some gunk from your fingers caked on or around the frets. Here is a nasty example from one of the house guitars that had gone without cleaning for more than a year.


    Ew. Ew. Ew. Nope.

    Our Junior has a rosewood fretboard, so I like to use 0000-gauge steel wool (sometimes called “extra fine” or “superfine”) to remove the grime and give the frets a little polish at the same time. I also cover the pickups with painter's tape so the steel shavings don’t wind up covering the magnets of the pickups.


    Low-adhesive painter's tape keeps the metal shavings out of your magnetic pickups

    Do not use steel wool if your guitar has a maple fretboard; those are coated and sealed, and using steel wool will damage the finish. For maple, I use a clean toothbrush to get the gunk out, or the edge of a credit card. But on rosewood, you not only remove the dirt but wind up polishing the frets a bit as well.


    Take care not to scratch the finish with those metal shavings

    You might notice that your fretboard is a little dry; the natural oils of the wood are stripped as you play, and the oils in your fingers wind up trading places. That’s not necessarily what the wood wants, so – again, on rosewood fretboards only – Ernie Ball’s no-brainer Wonder Wipes Fretboard Conditioner will put the right oils back into the wood. You can also use lemon oil or mineral oil; apply it with a soft cloth (I use microfiber cloths or cut-up old t-shirts). You don’t want to leave the neck dripping, but you can be generous and let it soak in a bit before wiping off the excess with a different corner of your cloth.


    And now a wipe from our sponsor

    Once you’re done with the moisturizing, it’s time to replace the strings. If you’ve left the low E on to keep the bridge in place, start with the A string. Feed the string through the tuning peg and give yourself about six to eight inches of excess before you start winding. On a 3 & 3 headstock like a Les Paul, turn the tuner counter-clockwise (away from you) so that the string coils up the right side of the tuner.


    Leave the string loose enough so that you can wind it several times before it's taut

    As you tune, with your left hand, guide the string down with your right index finger so that the coil you’re creating “feeds” from the bottom and stays tight. You want to avoid having some of the wraps of the string go above and below the entry point – you want them all tucked underneath that entry point. I try to get three loops of the string on the post for stability, but you can get away with one more or one less for the A string. Once you start winding, try to get it in one shot, as kinks in the string will make this part of the process more difficult. Again, a pegwinder really helps here for creating a smooth motion and avoiding kinks.


    Use your index finger to encourage the string to wind itself below the entry point on the tuning peg.

    Some folks prefer “locking” the string by twisting a little of the excess string around itself once you’ve got it on the post. This definitely works but I’ve never been a fan. Don’t be afraid to try it if you find your strings slipping a lot; I don’t play too aggressively, and on a hardtail bridge like the one on this Junior, I think three or four coils around the peg will suffice, give or take half a wind.. I also find not locking the strings makes removing them easier during the next string change.

    You’ve probably figured this out, but you want to start with these lower, thicker strings because they can handle more of the neck’s natural tension – I don’t recommend starting your string change with the thinner, weaker strings.

    With three or four winds around the peg, your A string will now probably be higher in pitch than the string will be during playing. That’s okay; we’ll tune later, and the string is now stretching a bit, which you’ll want. But once you have some tension on the A string, you can completely loosen the low E, clip it, and remove it. Then repeat the process with the E. Keep in mind that you might only want two coils of the low E string since it’s so much thicker than the A.

    Repeat this process as you install the other strings. With each thinner string, you can get away with an extra wind around the post, so the D string might look and feel right with four winds. Three is usually my minimum, though, and I tend to err on the side of more winds rather than fewer. (B.B. King famously wrapped the entire length of the string on Lucille – and once, he did it live in the middle of a song!)

    The 4th string, the G, is the first on the other side of the headstock, so you want to turn the tuning pegs in the opposite direction – clockwise – so the string winds on the left side of the tuning peg. The G is generally the first plain string, so I usually give that a few extra wraps; I notice it’s the one that’s most likely to slip on me. Otherwise the process is the same.


    Four windings is good on the G, but doing more will only make it more stable.

    Since the plain strings can more easily slip out of the peg while you try to wind them, I have a little trick I like to do to prevent that. Once I’ve gauged the length I want to wrap, I wind the string with one hand and keep a little tension on the string with my other, pulling it out to the side. Gentle pressure is key; you don’t want to put any kinks in the middle of the string this way. When I get close to done, then I quickly guide the loose string over the other tuning pegs, line it up in the nut and saddle, and use the index-finger technique to make sure it stays properly coiled. The thinner strings will want to fight you a bit more and are easier to get jumbled on the tuning peg, so that’s how I tame them. It might take a little practice.


    The key here is not to put too much tension on the string, or you'll put a bend in it where you don't want it.
    (Sorry ladies, as you can see, I'm married.)

    Now, grab a tuner and tune up. It will probably take you several tries, as the strings will stretch as they acclimate to their new tension. You can lightly pull on the strings and stretch them by hand if you like. Most of the time, I tune it a little sharp, no more than a half-step. Sometimes I leave it overnight, then come back and find they’re in pretty good shape and ready to do a final tune and play.

    It’s understandable that you might get a bit skittish as you hear that high E string get higher and higher and you wait for the inevitable snap that you have now convinced yourself will happen any second. Truth is, if you’re buying quality strings, you should have nothing to worry about, but if your string breaks during this stage, it might be due to a small burr on the tuning peg or the nut – it’s probably not the tension of the string itself so much as something making contact with that string. Still, a snapped string can be dangerous and you have a reason to be cautious at this stage. Is it crazy to wear eye protection? Nope – I have a set of hard plastic goggles that I sometimes throw on if I’m concerned about the guitar in question.


    Time to tie up the loose ends -- or cut them altogether.

    Now you have six strings in place, probably not tuned to proper pitch yet, but not too far off. Unless you’re B. B. King, you also have a crazy mop of excess strings flopping around your headstock. You have two options: Curl them or cut them. To curl them, just make a small loop with the excess string and coil it around itself; you’ll wind up with six little circles sticking out of your tuners. I prefer to cut the strings with a small pair of wire cutters. Get in close to the post – I generally go to about ¼” – and carefully trim the excess. The excess won’t always be sticking out to the side – maybe it’s facing the center of the headstock – so make sure you don’t overshoot and also cut the new string you just put on!


    Cutting the string about this close keeps the spiky ends from catching on clothing and fingers when tuning.

    Last stage for me is a quick polish. You’ve probably gotten fingerprints all over your guitar’s body and neck during this process, so I always take a polish cloth (and optionally some spray polish or a Wonder Wipe) and polish the body and especially the back of the neck. Don’t use the same cloth you used for the fretboard oil – get a second one for polish. I’d favor less polish and more effort in rubbing, because you can always put more polish on, but you don’t want a goopy mess from the start. Again, one-use Wonder Wipes make this a non-issue.


    And now another wipe from our sponsor

    That’s it! It will probably take your strings a few hours to stretch and settle; you can speed that process by lightly tugging on them, straight up and away from the fretboard, once they’re close to concert pitch (again, be careful not to kink the strings this way). Also, when you do your final tuning before playing, always tune up to pitch – turn the peg up from a flat note to the target, not down to pitch from a sharper note. This will generally help the strings stay in tune.


    Give it a few hours -- maybe a day -- to settle. Then you'll be ready to tune up and rock out.

    I can’t imagine you read 1800 words on something this mundane and still have questions, but if you do, fire away below.
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  2. #2
    A couple of general observations: I've found that by changing strings one at a time, its much easier to keep the guitar in tune. The times I've pulled all the strings (or slackened them all, like when I've checked my axe on an airplane flight) the opposing force from the truss rod moves the neck enough to make getting all the strings in tune somewhat lengthy process. When doing a total restring, I generally work back-and-forth from one side of the neck to the other, in a criss-cross pattern: High e; low e; B; A; G; and finish up on the D. Sort of like tightening the lug nuts on your car in a star pattern - it seems to keep neck movement to a minimum. You obviously can't do as good a job cleaning and oiling the fretboard this way. Its obviously not permanently harmful to change all the strings at once. But for a once-a-month restring, the one-at-a-time seems to go much quicker.

    I've also found that grasping the newly installed strings with your fingers and giving them a good hard pull prior to tuning helps get any inherent slack or stretch out of them.

    Lastly, I also find it a good idea to have something supporting the neck when doing a restring. I fabricated a little wooden cradle with a felt-padded saddle. But a throw pillow or a thick book works in a pinch. I usually cover my work surface with a clean old towel before laying the guitar down. And I bought a nifty little boars hair detailing brush from an auto parts store - very usefully fro whisking those odd bits of dust from around the pick guard; bridge; and tailstock.
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    DanAmrich's Avatar Rocksmith Dev Team
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    Originally Posted by vrDrew99 Go to original post
    A couple of general observations: I've found that by changing strings one at a time, its much easier to keep the guitar in tune.
    True, but it's a trade-off for when you need to clean and oil the fretboard, which you cannot do efficiently with strings on it. But if you are keeping that pretty well maintained, then sure, one string at a time works great. .

    I've also found that grasping the newly installed strings with your fingers and giving them a good hard pull prior to tuning helps get any inherent slack or stretch out of them.
    I mentioned that near the end.

    Lastly, I also find it a good idea to have something supporting the neck when doing a restring. I fabricated a little wooden cradle with a felt-padded saddle. But a throw pillow or a thick book works in a pinch. I usually cover my work surface with a clean old towel before laying the guitar down. And I bought a nifty little boars hair detailing brush from an auto parts store - very usefully fro whisking those odd bits of dust from around the pick guard; bridge; and tailstock.
    Not sure if you can see, but I have a little Planet Waves neck tripod in three of the photos. It folds up so I keep it at work, and I have a more solid one at home. Definitely a good idea to buy or make something, and the towel is a smart call too.
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    BazzTard61's Avatar Banned
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    Great instructions Dan, clear for even the newest of novices to follow step by step.

    You have covered it all, as a bassist, I can only emphasise the importance of giving the strings a good stretch. I like to pull it away from the fretboard, then repeat while fretting at each fret along it's length.

    I also use the PW neck rest, simple, cheap, just get one. And their peg winder with wire cutter , great for even the thickest bass string!
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    rapplebee's Avatar Member
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    Originally Posted by BazzTard61 Go to original post
    Great instructions Dan, clear for even the newest of novices to follow step by step.

    You have covered it all, as a bassist, I can only emphasise the importance of giving the strings a good stretch. I like to pull it away from the fretboard, then repeat while fretting at each fret along it's length.

    I also use the PW neck rest, simple, cheap, just get one. And their peg winder with wire cutter , great for even the thickest bass string!
    Same here, PW neck rest as well as winder/cutter. Simple, don't cost much and just work.
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    RokDog007's Avatar Senior Member
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    I have a bunch of Styrofoam Neck Rests..............you get them FREE in the protective box your guitar comes in..!!!
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    toreyj01's Avatar Member
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    A neat thing I figured out for my Gretsch which has a Bigsby may be relevant for this thread.

    A problem with restringing is that after attaching the string to the Bigsby it always tends to pop off the Bigsby before you can get enough tension on them from the tuners. If you are doing it on your own it can be very aggravating.

    So I use my Capo, it does the trick, I just keep tension on the string until I can clamp it down on the neck with my capo and then take my time guiding and winding the string through the tuning peg.
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  8. #8
    String stretching is necessary, but always seems odd pulling on them. Since my tuner is hooked up anyway, I just do bends two steps. That seems to be a pretty decent stretch and it's good practice for me to require that much tension on a bend. Then I re-tune and do it again until the tuning appears stable. That's just the way I do it. I may also wobble the bigsby a bit with fresh strings that helps too.
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    C.Linton's Avatar Senior Member
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    Dan, I would avoid steel wool at all costs. It causes more problems than it solves, even if you mask off your pickups. That steel dust will still get into the nooks and crannies of your guitar, no matter how careful you are. It's just safer to not use it at all, considering there are other safer and easier ways to clean a rosewood fretboard.
    Just use a basic household cleaner ( Dave, from "Dave's World of Fun Stuff" on YT recommends Simple Green) and a soft scrub brush, then wipe with a clean rag or paper towel to clean your fretboard. Follow that up with an appropriate oil (not Lemon oil) to keep the fretboard from going dry.
    Now clear-coated maple boards are a different story, no oil needed there, and especially don't use steel wool for that, you would ruin your fretboard completely by damaging the clear-coat.
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    DanAmrich's Avatar Rocksmith Dev Team
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    Originally Posted by C.Linton Go to original post
    especially don't use steel wool for that, you would ruin your fretboard completely by damaging the clear-coat.
    That's what it says above.
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