Is there a right way to change strings? - Jun 2002

Yes! Several string-changing techniques can reduce your frustration, make your tone better & your strings last longer. 

 

Use the lightest gauge strings that give you a sound that you enjoy. Heavier gauge strings require more tension than lighter gauge strings to reach the same pitch (medium gauge guitar strings need 3-5 pounds more tension per string than light gauge– about 25 extra pounds for the whole set). The extra tension produces a larger, fuller voice, but pulls harder on the string attachment points. As a result, the neck/body joints fail earlier with heavier strings. 

Change one string at a time . Each guitar string puts 20-40 pounds of tension on the instrument, for a total of 150-180 pounds. Mandolin strings add 18-28 pounds each, for a total of 175-190 pounds. While string tensions for violin, cello, bass, banjo...differ from the numbers cited here, the principle is the same: one string contributes only a fraction of the total tension. Therefore, changing one string at a time causes a smaller change in tension...on average, only 10-20% of the change in tension caused by removing all strings simultaneously. By reducing the change in tension on the neck joint, you reduce the back-and-forth flexing it endures, & the likelihood of loosening the joint. A second, equally valuable benefit comes from changing one string at a time on instruments with floating bridges (violin family, banjos, mandolins & some guitars): strings hold the bridge in place so that you don’t have to re-intonate the instrument with every string change (once/year, removing all of the strings is a good practice that allows you to thoroughly clean instruments & oil unfinished fingerboards). 

Tune each string to pitch before changing the next string. Tuning each string to pitch before relieving tension on the next string, like changing one string at a time, minimizes the change in tension that the instrument has to endure. 

Make sure that the bridge-end of the string is properly seated at its attachment point. When properly seated at the bridge-end attachment, the string more effectively transmits vibration to the top of the instrument (louder & better tone). More important to string longevity, strings form ‘kinks’ where they bend over bridges & nuts & around tuning pegs. If the string is poorly seated, the kinks move when the string pulls into its proper placement. The string material, weakened at the kink, & moved to a new location that exposes it to different stresses is more prone to breaking prematurely. 

Make sure that each string has 3-5 turns around the tuning post. Unless an instrument has locking tuning pegs (pretty much limited to electric guitars) strings that have fewer than 3 turns on the tuning post cannot hold securely & are prone to slipping. Strings with more than 5 turns on the post are prone to binding on themselves. In either case, tuning will be a chronic problem. Excessive flexing from constant tuning shortens the life of the strings. 

While stringing, look for sharp or rough edges anywhere the instrument contacts the strings. Rough spots on the tuning posts, the bridge/saddle or nut notch & abrade the strings; the weakened strings break prematurely. If you don’t find rough edges, but chronically break strings, have a good tech look at it. 

Unless you MUST play fresh strings right away, let new strings settle on your instrument before playing them. When a string experiences initial tension & relaxation, the steel, synthetic or gut from which the string is made experiences stresses that are not present after the string comes to ‘equilibrium’ at the tension required to achieve a correct pitch. String vibration creates another set of stresses. If fresh strings settle before they’re played, they experience only one set of stresses at a time, & have slightly longer life. 

Tune UP to pitch. Strings can bind at the nut as you loosen them. When you play, strings vibrate & can work free, letting their pitch go flat. If you drop BELOW the desired pitch & then tune up to it, you eliminate binding & tune less. As a result, you sound better & have strings that last longer.