Thursday, May 29, 2008

Restringing the Guitar - One Player's Method

This is what works for me and the way I play – your mileage may vary. My goal is to have strings that don’t slip and also are easy to remove when I need to restring in a hurry. I think that by being careful and methodical about it, you can have both. My method varies slightly depending on the guitar and the gauge of the strings, but here are the basics for traditional setups (i.e., fixed bridge or non-locking tremolo), and is applicable to most electric or steel-string acoustic guitars.

- Change strings one at a time or two by two. This keeps tension on the neck and on tremolo springs, if so equipped. You also get to have a tuning reference using the existing strings, unlike when you change all the strings at once. If you have a fully-floating tremolo, it’s probably better to change the strings one by one, unless you have a way to block off the tremolo while you restring.

- Precut the strings to the length you want. I allow for 2 to 3 winds on the wound strings, and 4 to 5 on the unwound strings. I use the distance between posts as a reference for the length of the string after it reaches the tuning post. This distance varies by the make of the guitar.

- Inserting the string into the post: If it’s a slotted-post Fender-type vintage tuner, push it all the way into the slot and bend it down. For other types, push it through the hole and let about 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch protrude. Some people leave more, but I’ve never had a problem with this short a length, and I don’t like poking myself with the protruding ends.

- For non-slotted tuners, wind the string once around over the protruding end, and then wind all subsequent turns under the end. For slotted tuners, just start winding the string down. Keep it neat so that the string comes off the post at the lowest wind.

- For non-slotted tuners, bend the protruding end of the string in the reverse direction of the wind. In other words, if the post turns counter-clockwise to tighten the string, bend the end in the clockwise direction, and vice-versa.

- Tune the strings up to pitch and stretch them out. I do this four times on each string, tuning, stretching, and re-tuning until stretching the string doesn’t detune it. Be careful with the 1st string – it’s really easy to break when you pull up on it.

- Lubricate the nut. At this point, I’d recommend putting a bit of graphite in the nut slots, as I’ve described previously.

Editorial section

If you notice that there are a couple more instructions for non-slotted post tuners than for the vintage-style slotted ones, you’ll understand one reason why I like the vintage-style tuners better on Fenders – ease of restringing. I don’t know why Fender persists in using the cast, Schaller-style tuners on all their non-vintage reissue guitars, other than the fact that they’re probably easier to install. The reissue vintage tuners are much more exact and reliable than the originals, and I believe the lighter weight results in better tone for that type of guitar, another good reason for liking them better.

That’s why the last two Fenders I bought that came with the sealed, cast tuners immediately got vintage replacements. Stewart MacDonald ( sells retro-fit grommets that convert the larger tuner holes to the correct size for vintage tuners. They also sell vintage replacement Kluson tuners.

No comments: