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How to Change the Strings of a Stratocaster Guitar

Updated on October 31, 2012
My first electric guitar, and a real beauty.
My first electric guitar, and a real beauty. | Source

When you're a beginning guitar player, everything seems daunting. Your fingers hurt because of the strings, your hand aches, your brain hurts, and you grow frustrated when you're unable to grasp the basics at first. However, no challenge seems quite as difficult, as the first time you have to replace a broken string. I have even seen some guitars being sold second-hand with the catch "I'll replace the strings for you and everything!" as if it's some sort of amazing service they provide. A guitar isn't like a car; a new set of strings isn't like a new set of tires.

Though it may seem difficult at first, changing the strings on your guitar isn't difficult. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to change the strings on a Stratocaster guitar.

The string is pushed through the back of the guitar on a stratocaster.
The string is pushed through the back of the guitar on a stratocaster. | Source

Step One: Remove the Old String

There are two reasons why you might replace the strings on your Stratocaster guitar: The first being one of them broke (probably playing a killer solo!) and the second is they are old and don't sound as bright. If you break a string, usually it's okay to just replace the string you broke and keep on rockin'. However, if it has been quite some time and your tone is a little dead, you might consider replacing all the strings.

Start by removing the string from the tuning peg. The tuning peg is where the guitar attaches at the head of the guitar. If the string was broken, usually most of it is detached from the peg and you just need to take out the broken bit. If you're replacing the string, you will need to unwind the string a few times to get it lose. Take note of the direction you twist the tuning peg to unwind the string, as you will want to tighten it the opposite way you loosened it.

The next part can be a little tricky. On most stratocasters, the strings are actually connected through the body. (See pic 2.) A lot of stratocasters have a plastic cover on the back, but it's not necessary to remove the plastic cover to take out the old string, though it can be helpful. Begin by gently pushing the string, trying to push it through the body. Sometimes the little ball at the end can get jammed. I have found that a smaller headed screwdriver easily dislodges the ball.

You shouldn't have too much problem getting the string pushed through. Once you have removed the string entirely, discard the string. As the strings can be quite sharp, you might want to put the discarded string in a bag so you don't accidentally cut yourself. Cats or other pets can also be hurt if they get hold of a string and start to chew on it.

My strings of choice.
My strings of choice. | Source

Step Two: Choosing your Replacement Strings

One of the many great debates about guitars is string type and gauge. Usually, brand comes down to personal preference, but gauge is one of the most important things to consider when buying new strings. Thicker strings have a fatter, fuller sound, but are harder to press down and bend. My preferred gauge on all my electrics is .010/.046. (If you're curious, the gauges from thinnest to thickest are: .010, .013, .017, .026, .036, and .046) Lighter gauge strings are always recommended for beginners since they don't hurt your fingers as much, but once you start playing leads, you will want the bending speed that thinner gauge strings offer.

Brand is another thing many guitarists can't agree upon. Some popular brands are Fender, DR, Ernie Ball, and D'Addario. My personal favorite are the D'Addarios. They don't cost a lot but they're nickel wound and just have a bright sound, which is especially nice if you're playing a stratocaster.

Hit up your local guitar shop, ask the salesman what he thinks, and he can usually help you get on track.

Yes, I know it's a squier.
Yes, I know it's a squier. | Source

Step Three: Getting the string on the Guitar

The very first thing you will notice is that at one end of every string there is a little ball, and it is usually colored. The color helps you identify which string goes where. (For reference, the sixth string refers to the thickest string, or the one closest to your face when you're playing, and the first string refers to the thinnest string, or the one farthest from your face when you're playing.)

The tricky part about stratocasters is when you push the new string through the guitar, it's turned over, so you might feel like you're putting the sixth string into the sixth string hole, when really it is the first string's hole! However, it will be evident to you if you fail at it the first time. Just push the string out and try again.

Now, here comes the fun part. Align your tuning peg so that the hole you stick the string through is parallel to the neck of your guitar. Next, push the string through the correct tuning peg for that string. On a strat, the tuning peg closest to the body of the guitar is for the sixth string, and the tuning peg farthest is for the first string.

Pull back on the string so that you have a little slack. You need to wrap the string a couple of times around the tuning peg so you don't compromise the strength of the string. The strings are under a lot of tension, and a weak connection could cause a premature break. Then begin turning the tuning peg counter-clockwise. It's not super important which way you turn the peg, but 99% of guitarists have their guitars so that when you turn the tuners counterclockwise, you are tightening the strings. Make sure you don't tighten the string too much before you set it into the proper spot on the nut as well.

When tightening the string, you want the extra length of string to go down the tuning peg. Try to line up the wrap so that it goes underneath the end of the string. Imagine putting new line on a lawn trimmer. It works in the same way. The first wrap you may have difficulty with the string flopping around so you completely undo your wrap. I find it helpful to hold the end of the string right at the tuning peg so it can't flop around. After your first few passes, it will naturally line itself up. Try not to let the string overlap itself. You should try for three full wraps on the sixth string, and at least five wraps on the first string. Also, on a stratocaster, the thinnest two strings sit under what's called a tree. This helps break the tension up a little because otherwise, the string would be too long it could easily snap.

If you're new to stringing guitars, those two thinnest strings will give you trouble! But push through; knowing how to change your own strings will save you a lot of time at the shops. Unless you're me, and you spend all your free time there anyways.

Step Four: Tuning up and Stretching

No, we will not be doing yoga poses here. Once you have the string properly wound, and you will know it because you get at least some sort of noise, you are ready to tune the string. If you are replacing all the strings, wait to tune the strings until you have replaced them all, as the changing tension will always knock a string out of tune.

The strings should be tuned in this order, thickest to thinnest: EADGBE. I highly recommend getting a digital tuner. As a beginner, it is essential for you to develop your ear and playing out of tune will only confuse and frustrate you. There are even some Iphone and Droid apps that have tuners and they work fine in a pinch. If you absolutely must, you can tune to a piano, pitch pipe, or by ear if you're really good.

Once the string is in tune, hold the string in position on the nut with your left hand, and pull up on the string slightly with your right hand. This will help break the string in a little bit, which will also knock it out of tune. Tune up, do it again, until you no longer have to tune the string. Believe me, you will greatly lengthen the strings life with this one simple step!

So that's it. Even though it may seem daunting at first, changing the strings on your stratocaster guitar isn't anywhere near as hard as you might think. If you really need the help, ask your local guitar shop to show you how to do it. Then get to playing! I look forward to going to one of your concerts someday.

What brand of strings do you prefer?

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