February 24, 2010 - ModGuitar Senior Editor
Changing Strings: String Winding/String Snapping
This tutorial covers guitars with stop tail, or fixed bridges.
String winding seems simple enough, right? Put the string through the hole in the tuner and wind it up. What could be simpler? If I had a dollar for every time someone wanted to change their tuners, switch to a different brand of strings, have a new nut installed, switch out their tremolo or even swap out the neck of their guitar – all for the sake of “Tuning Stability” I’d have at least $1000 bucks.
String winding is the kind of thing that, done right, can have a real impact on how your guitar plays, and more importantly – stays in tune.
The Theory: Tight windings tune and play better. Why? As the string wraps around the tuning post tight, even windings distribute the pull of the string as it comes to tension – while allowing a little bit of flex. Strings that are wound sloppily flex unevenly, at times abruptly losing tension or causing one string to feel tighter than the next because it can’t flex.
Part One: The Wind Up
First a note about safety. String ends are sharp, and during tuning and winding the strings ends can whip around and catch you in the face or eye, so be careful. Un trimmed wound strings can snag clothing and puncture skin or poke your face or eye. Trimmed wound strings can still have a sharp end at the tuning peg. Be careful, wear eye protection.
- For best tuning stability change one string at a time, especially if you are restringing a guitar with a tremolo (Tremolo specific tutorials here).
- Remove a string by detuning it rather than cutting. Cutting is easy, and sort of cool, like tattoos. But it also jolts the neck, trem and other strings. At least don’t come crying to the ModGuitar.com crew when it takes days for your newly strung guitar to settle and hold it’s tuning.
- Load up a new string, align the tuning peg’s hole straight on with the path of the string by turning the tuning key forward or back, then pull the string thru th hole until it’s taught. Place your finger on the string at the nut and pull 2-4 inches of string back from the tuning peg. Wound strings take less pulled back string, because the peg can only take so many wraps before overlapping. The idea is to have an even winding of string without overlaps that ends just before the bottom of the tuning peg when the string under full tension. You can snap fresh strings easily if you over tighten them. Leave a little slack before your final tuning.
- With the pulled back bit of string held at the nut, take the end of the string going thru the tuning peg and crimp it in the opposite direction of the tuning pegs rotation. Six on a side guitars the peg rotates counter clockwise, 3 on a side guitars the pegs rotate from the inside out.The kink helps the string to grab onto the peg, keeping the loose end of the string from shifting.
- Now use your string winder (you’ll want one if you don’t have one, they’re cheap, get one). Steadily wind the tuning peg as you guide the string making sure that as it comes around the second time it doesn’t overlap and it settles in underneath the first winding. This is important. As the string winds around and down the tuning peg the correct angle is created at the nut to minimize pings and improve tone.
- Now as you finish winding the fresh string around the post, use your other hand to both press the string into the nut so the string winds down the tuning peg without overlapping and take up the slack on the string so that it winds up evenly.
- Ideally your freshly wound string will look something like this. If you end up with too much string at the bottom of the tuning peg and it starts to overlap, you can unwind it and take up a little more slack before re-winding, or chalk it up to experience, and try again the next time you change strings.
- Repeat five times (remember to use less pulled back string as you go to the lighter strings). At this point your guitar should be in tune and ready to be played.
- You can go ahead and clip the ends of the strings with a string clipper or a pair of nipper pliers available from most hardware stores, careful for flying string ends, which can be very sharp.
Wow! A lot of steps for such a simple task. Following this step-by step method should put you on the road to great tuning stability and long string life. Moving on… For even better tuning stability learn to also ‘Snap’ your strings.
Part Two: String Snapping
The tuning tutorial goes over tuning basics, but the first time tuning up a fresh set of strings you’ll want to do what’s known as “String Snapping” which is pretty much what it sounds like. What snapping does is to jolt the individual strings in a controlled way which tightens the windings on the post and helps the stabilize the strings tension, so you have less detuning and retuning to do with a fresh set.
- With all the strings wound up and roughly tuned, begin with the sixth (low E) string and using a reference tone – tune it up to pitch. Now, with your finger and thumb gently lift the string away from the fretboard, about an inch or so. Then let it snap back down. Do this three or four times, you’ll notice if you pluck the string that it’s pitch goes down as you snap flexibility out of the windings.
- Retune the string and snap it again. Repeat the snap & retune cycle until snapping no longer causes the string to drop in pitch.
- Repeat with all the wound strings, and sometimes the 3rd unwound G string. Depending on the gauge your using, the unwound strings – if they are wound correctly, don’t need much snapping, if any, before they are stable.
You’ll probably notice that as you go across the wound string snapping and retuning that you need to go round-robin and again snap and tune all the strings a few times before the tuning stabilizes. With this technique coupled with a tight and even wind on the tuning pegs, you’ll notice that your guitar stays in tune better, stayed tuned longer, and holds a tune sooner with a fresh set of strings (All fresh strings stretch a little, evan after snapping them).
Conclusions: Tight string winding around the post, and carefully snapping strings at tension to remove excess slack are the best ways to change strings and keep your guitar or bass playing in tune.