How much slack do you leave when changing guitar strings?

You may be a new guitar player and are maybe trying to change guitar strings for the first time. There may be many things that you are unsure about, perhaps the tightness of the string itself. How much slack do you leave when changing guitar strings?

In general, when restringing the guitar, you should leave around four fingers of gap standing (index to pinky) between the fretboard and string before starting to turn your tuning peg. This allows the tuning page to turn several rounds first, generating some friction before the strings become tight and hard to turn. 

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In this post, we discuss changing guitar strings, from how often and how to change the strings down to the slack you should leave when changing guitar strings. We also discuss how you can break in new strings faster.

When Should You Change Guitar Strings?

You should change guitar strings when they have shown signs of worn, accumulated dirt underneath the string, and lost their vibrant tone. You should also change your strings often if you play hard or have acidic sweat. 

There are no hard rules on when you should change guitar strings, but in general, these factors may determine if you need to change your guitar string:

Signs of Worn Strings: Worm strings may show signs such as discoloration or dent and wear marks on the fret bar area. Strings may be worn because of many reasons, but they should be changed quickly as a worn string may break anytime when played and may hurt hands or, worse, eyes. 

Dirt On Strings: Frequently played strings may get dirty from the oil, sweat, and dead skin cells we leave behind. These things eventually form gunks and may gather on the strings, especially at the back of the string. Some of these gunks may be deep inside the strings, especially the wound strings on the 4th, 5th, and 6th strings. When the strings turn gunky, it’s time to change them. 

Loss of Tone Vibrancy: Old and worm strings may become less vibrant in their tones because they may no longer vibrate at the right intensity or when they are brand new. You may also notice worn strings become harder to tune right or get out of tune easier. 

Hard Playing: The general rule here is the harder you play, the more often you need to change your strings. This is because as much as guitar strings are tough, they will still yield and break down if constantly punished with hard playing. 

Acidic Sweat: If you have acidic sweat, you will likely break down your guitar strings faster than others. This is because the acidic sweat from your fingers may corrode the protective layers of the string, leaving it less sturdy and not performing as well. Corroded strings may also be more likely to snap. 

Humidity: If you live in humid areas, you may need to change your strings more frequently. This is because high humidity encourages rusting, and guitar strings may rust, become brittle, and over time may not stand up to play. These strings may also snap anytime while playing. 

How To Change Guitar Strings?

To change guitar strings, loosen the tuning peg, cut the strings, and remove it from the tuning peg and bridge. Fit the head of the new string into the bridge hole and close with the bridge pin. Pull the string and insert it over the tuning peg, leaving a slick of about four fingers. Tightern the string by turning the tuning peg, and tune to note. 

Changing a guitar string is not rocket science. It is rather easily done with the right tools. You just need your pack of new strings, a wire cutter, and a plier. To change guitar strings:

  1. Start by turning the tuning peg to loosen the string. You do not need to loosen it all the way, just enough to remove tension on the string. 
  2. Cut the old string with the wire cutter. Remove string from the tuning peg. 
  3. Remove the bridge pin from the guitar bridge. If the pin is too tight, use the plier to pull it out from the guitar bridge.
  4. Unpack your new string, and you should see that one end of the string has a rounded ring (head), and the other does not (tail).
  5. Insert the string head into the bridge hole, and close it with the bridge pin. Press in with your fingers to secure it. 
  6. Pull the string over the fret, and insert it into the tuning peg hole. The string should enter the tuning pin hole inside the headstock surface and exit the tuning peg hole outside the headstock. 
  7. Leave some slack, around four fingers between the bridge and the tuning peg. Start turning the tuning peg to tighten it. 
  8. Repeat steps 1 to 8 for all the other strings. 
  9. With all strings tighter now, start tuning the strings with a tuner. Tighten or loosen the tuning peg to get the right note you need. 
  10. You may cut it short with your wirecutter if any extra strings are dangling from at the headstock. 

How Much Slack Do You Leave When Changing Guitar Strings?

Consider leaving about 4 standing fingers of slack on your string before tightening your tuning peg. This allows your tuning peg to string up a few turns of the guitar string and build up some friction before the string tightens. More friction may allow the tuning peg to better keep the string in tune.

When measuring the slack when restringing your guitar, consider leaving a slack of around 4 fingers, standing. The fingers are your index, middle, ring, and pinky. Once you measure the slack well, you can start to turn your tuning peg.

You do this to allow the tuning peg to roll in some of the guitar strings before the string becomes tight. This allows the tuning peg to collect more friction, which helps the tuning peg to hold on to the string better during hard playing or if not played for long. This means your strings are less likely to go out of tune fast. 

To properly create the slack while restringing:

  1. Start by putting the string head into the guitar bridge hole, and secure it with the bridge pin. 
  2. Pull the string along the fretboard, and put it through the guitar tuning peg. The string should enter the tuning peg from inside the headstock and exit away from the headstock. 
  3. Now, place your non-dominant hand on the guitar fret, with your four fingers stacking up from the fretboard. Your pinky should be at the bottom, followed by the ring, middle, and index finger. 
  4. Place your guitar string on top of the fingers. This creates the slack needed to restring your guitar string properly. 
  5. Now start to turn your tuning peg to roll in some string. You should see your string tightening. Stop when the string is tense. 
  6. Tune the string to the desired note using a tuner. 

Do You Need To Break In New Strings?

New strings need to be broken in. The difference is whether you prefer to break them in naturally or break in the strings faster. If done naturally, it may take up to a few hours of constant playing for the string to settle. If you want to make the process faster, consider tuning it half a step higher than usual and leave it for a few hours. 

Guitar strings typically will need some form of breaking in, as new strings may still have an excess stretch that may cause the strings to be stable in their tuning. New strings also tend to have an overly bright and crisp tone when played. 

The key is to decide between natural breaking in or doing it faster. To do it naturally, simply tune the strings to their notes and play on them regularly. Getting the strings stretched well may take a few hours of total playing. This will help the string to achieve stability in tuning and lose that overly bright and crisp new string sound.

If you prefer to try to break in the strings faster, consider tuning the string half step up from usual, and then leave the string in that state for a few hours. You may also consider pulling the string towards you at multiple angles to stretch out the strings faster during this time. 

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