- Written by David Tannen
- Category: How To
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How to String a Guitar
The following information was provided on one of the guitar newsgroups which is how people shared information on the Internet before the birth of the 'Web'.
The question about getting a guitar to stay in tune dusted off a memory. I went hunting through the archives and sure enough, in 1996 I wrote a piece about that exact topic. With little editing here it is...
A good friend of mine had, just the night before, played his first gig with a newly formed band that had been rehearsing for months. They couldn't have been better prepared. I asked him, "So how did the gig go last night?". His reply was, "Oh man it was awful, I made the mistake of putting new strings on the day before the gig, and I was out of tune all night." To which I said, "Mistake? I change my strings before every gig, and I never go out of tune. Not since Eddie taught me how, anyway"
Eddie, was a mutual friend. Eddie (Ed Wright) is an excellent Blues guitarist, and an expert Luthier. He is one of the nicest, kindest, and most generous men I know. He was performing miracles on a tele of mine (raising a low fret) when I mentioned something I had seen him do on stage that puzzled me. I saw him flexing his whammy bar (he played a Strat) several times, BETWEEN phrases, when his guitar was silent. "Oh that.." he responded, "I probably felt like I was going out of tune. That usually puts it back in tune". "Back in tune?", I said, "I always thought that damn thing put you out of tune." Ed said "Didn't I ever show you how to keep your guitar in tune? When I finish this I'll restring your guitar for you and it won't go out of tune."
I will pass on the simple things I learned. All you have to do to rid yourself of tuning problems is to faithfully do what he told me. First, go to Radio Shack and buy a tube of teflon lubricant. It comes in a dispenser that looks like a hypodermic needle. Next, and this is a biggie, wash your hands. You wind up handling the end of the string that winds around the tuning peg a lot. If your hands are oily you will defeat the rest of the process by making that end slippery. It doesn't matter if you replace one string at a time, or take all the old ones off first. (unless, of course, you have a beautiful archtop and your bridge just rests on the surface. You probably don't want that to move, so one at a time for you.) It also doesn't matter what order you do them either.
Place a tiny drop of the lubricant on every point that touches your strings (except your tuning pegs). Each string slot in the nut, each spot that the string touches the bridge, and if you have a Fender type trem, where the string bends into the trem block. I was taught to do this before I put each string on, but I like to do this after, so as to avoid getting any lubricant on the part of the string that's going to be wrapped around the tuner post. I usually put on each string leaving enough slack that I can lift it away and place my drop of lubricant underneath.
Perhaps I should explain what the lubricant is for. It's for the Blues. It's for string benders. When you bend a string you stretch it, and a tiny bit of string slides over each of those friction points. If there is too much friction, when you release the string not all of it slides back over the friction point and you are "out of tune".
Next, and maybe most important is to never exceed 3 turns of string around the tuning peg (2 is plenty). If you are lucky enough to have locking pegs you really don't need to wrap more than once. If you have non-locking tuners, you need to learn how to make a "locking" loop when you thread on the string. This is much easier to show than to describe. In fact I think I'll refer you to an illustration. I have seen a wide variety of recommended ways to thread your strings, this one works.
As each string is put on, using a tuner, bring it up to pitch, and a half step beyond. Don't worry you'll lose that half step in no time at all with neck flex and string stretch. When all the strings are on and "rough tuned", it's time to stretch them. With the guitar lying in front of you, using as many fingers as you need, bend each string several times as far as you can, the high ones towards the low ones, and the low ones towards the high ones. Retune the whole guitar to concert pitch (it will be very flat). Repeat the stretching process and retune (it will be slightly flat). Once more and it may not be flat at all. Now pick it up and play normally for a few minutes, and then check the tuning. If you have done it all by the book, it will be smack on. Put it away, it's ready to play, and it will stay that way.
It's that simple.
Here's a neat thing for you Strat players with trems. If you are playing and you suspect you are slightly out of tune. Flex the trem once or twice and you will go back to smack on. I'm not BSing you. After the strings have been stretched, the only thing that makes them go out of tune (if they are locked right at the tuning pegs) is their hanging up at the friction points. Flexing the whammy usually frees them and they are right back at the correct pitch.
Locking tuners are best, but learning to make the "locking loop" is almost as good. If you have Fender vintage slotted tuners, all you have to do is follow Fender's instructions and stay at a three wrap maximum and they work perfectly. I wish all my guitars had those slotted tuners.
The following Web sites can provide you with more info about restringing your guitar:
- How to String a Guitar (video)
- How To Change Guitar Strings- Stringing to stay in tune
- Restringing - Archtop
- Restringing - Slotted Headstock
- Restringing - Steel Strings
- Setting Up Your Guitar Strings
- Stringing Method Tutorial