Change your electric guitar strings is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to breathe new life into your instrument. A new set of strings will draw new definition to your guitar and it will feel and play better too. But how do you know when it’s time to get new strings on your electric? And if you’ve never changed strings before, what’s the process and what tools do you need?
This guide will show you step by step exactly how to rearm your electric guitar. In this example, we’ll show you how to install new strings on an electric guitar that also has a Floyd Rose tremolo, but we’ve also included information on how to complete the steps with a non-Floyd setup.
Why change the strings of your acoustic guitar?
So why have new channels then? The old strings no longer work as they should to begin with; they are corroded by sweat and other dirt and take on a different color. This grime makes them duller. Worn strings can also warp, most obviously on wound strings where they are dented to the point where they press against the frets.
Dirt on old strings can even cause them to play out of tune! When the mass of the string changes, it doesn’t sound as it should, meaning the higher you play the fingerboard, the more out of tune it will sound.
Another thing to consider is that leaving old cords can also pollute your guitar case, especially the furry types. If the case is dirty, even new strings will be stored in dirty fur, yuck!
What you will need
To rearm your electric guitar you will need a new set of strings (obvs), a string winder to save time, some heavy duty wire cutters and a guitar tuner. Stringing a Floyd Rose equipped electric guitar will additionally require a 3mm hex wrench and a thin wooden stick to support the tremolo. We advise you to replace the strings again with the same gauge, otherwise you will have to reset the tension of the tremolo.
How to rearm an electric guitar: step by step
1. Release old ropes
When tackling an electric guitar with a Floyd Rose locking tremolo system, you must release the strings first; Take a 3mm Allen key and loosen the string clamps at the nut. Remove them completely and store them safely. Since the bridge can move in both directions, we need to keep it stable while we work on it. Simply dropping the strings will cause the bridge to drop into the body and on some guitars the springs are a bit uncertain and won’t return properly. Insert a lollipop stick or piece of soft wood under the bridge to hold it in place. Lower the string height and loosen the string clamp blocks at the bridge again with your Allen wrench, the string will pull out.
If you don’t have a Floyd Rose system or tremolo, just loosen the old strings using the tuners. You can speed up this process with a manual or even motorized winder if you’re really impatient. Once they’re loose, you can cut the strings with a quality pair of wire cutters – scissors won’t hack it unless you’re happy to dull them.
2. Remove old chains
With the end of the string released from your Floyd Rose you can now unwind the string from the tuners/mechanisms, be careful not to accidentally catch your fingers on the sharp ends of the strings. We recommend using pliers.
For non-Floyd guitars where you cut the strings, follow the process above to remove the old strings from the machine heads, then feed the ball end through your guitar’s tailpiece or body (this will differ depending on the type of guitar you have).
With your strings removed, it might be time to clean up your guitar body and the areas around your bridge and pickups. A soft brush should dust off most unwanted dirt.
3. Start installing a new channel
You don’t need the ball end of your new strings for Floyd Rose and similar tremolo systems, so in that case you can just cut it off. Stick the newly cut rope into the saddle and place it in the center, trap it with reasonable force, but don’t get too crazy.
If you don’t have a Floyd Rose, you should stick the non-ball end of each string down the back of the guitar and above the bridge. For Les Paul style guitars, you will pass the ballless end through the tailpiece of the guitar. The string will stop pulling once the end of the ball meets resistance.
4. Pass the string through the locking nut
Then route the string through the lock nut unit, under the string bar retainer and into the corresponding machine head. For guitars without a locking nut, you can run the string straight through the machine head.
5. Allow for some slack on each string
It’s time for our famous Karate chop; this helps dial in the same amount of slack at each string and ensures that you have the same amount of windage around the tuner when it comes to string tightening. Yes, on some guitars there is a locking nut, but this is good practice for all instruments. With the right amount of slack, it’s now time to secure the rope ready to be tightened. Wrap the tail of the string around the tuner and place it under the same string. Pull the tail tight and up, this will create a bend in the rope which will help hold it in place.
6. Wrap your strings
Wind up all the strings – using a string winder for speed – and you should see the same amount of turns on each tuner. If you don’t have a locking nut, you’ll need to make sure each string is placed in the correct nut groove of the guitar.
Before tuning the guitar, if you have trem, it is important to take the time to reset each fine tuning screw. Positioning each in the middle of its travel will allow you to raise and lower the pitch of each string with plenty of reach.
7. Tune your guitar
If you have a Floyd tremolo, this will take a few tries as the tremolo balances out. Non-trem guitars will be easier to tune the first time. We highly recommend using a guitar tuner to set things up (even a cheap clip-on tuner will do).
8. Stretch the ropes
You are almost there! Stretch the strings one by one, this tightens the wraps and also tests the clamps at the bridge to show you if you’ve tightened them enough. When a string is stretched, retune it before continuing. The goal is to tune the string for greater tuning stability.
9. Cut the string tails
Now cut the string tails at the head of the machine before they mess with you! For non-trem guitars, you are now ready to rock.
10. Lock up your Floyd Rose
For Floyd Rose guitars, you’ll want to re-tighten the lock nut a respectable amount, but remember it doesn’t need to be very tight. Now is the time to shred!