Change Your Stratocaster’s Strings

A surprisingly high number of guitar players don’t know how to change electric guitar strings properly! Here’s a simple guide to getting it right every time.

NOTICE: Everyone has different ideas about the best way to change guitar strings — so, don’t take the following as "gospel". This is just one man’s opinion about the best way to handle this task.

1. When to change your strings?

Change strings regularly, even if they don’t break. How often you change your strings depends on what sound you go for, and how often you play. If you’re playing 2 hours a day you need to change them as often as every 2-3 weeks. If you play in a band you may want a new set every time you play a gig.

Some people don’t like to change their guitar strings and prefer the sound of "old" strings.

Strings are made of steel, so oil and dirt from your fingers accumulates and makes the sound dull, but humidity causes corrosion as well, even when you’re not playing.

It’s not difficult to change strings, but you may need a few tries to get it right, and you may snap a few strings at first, so you could practice on old strings before getting the new ones out! Breaking your new E string when you’ve just bought them is not funny!

2. What string gauge to choose.

Selecting the string gauge you use on your Stratocaster is completely a matter of personal taste. Thinner strings are easier to bend, but thicker strings can sound fuller. Most folks choose their string gauge by experience in how they feel and sound. Changing the gauge (thickness of string) will mean adjusting the guitar action (the distance between the strings and the fretboard), so stick to the same gauge if you can unless you have a reason to change. Most people experiment with different gauges and then settle on one set size. Then they setup their guitar — or have a guitar tech setup their guitar– to accommodate their chosen gauge.

Very occasionally, you might get a bad string in the pack that won’t tune properly, in which case you should just replace it. But as I said that is only occasionally.

3. Removing the old strings.

  • Only remove 3 strings at a time – either the top or bottom 3. This will keep some tension on the neck at all times.
  • A Stratocaster has 6 tuning pegs in line, so work thickest to thinnest – 6, 5, 4 then 3, 2, 1.
  • If you’re tuning some other guitar and it has 3 tuning pegs each side, work toward the center– 6, 5, 4 then 1, 2, 3.

4. Clean the fretboard while you’re at it.

Once you have 3 of the strings off, clean the fingerboard and frets, and remove any accumulated dirt and grease. You may even need to scrape this off, if so be VERY gentle! Twice a year oil the fretboard lightly to moisturize it and prevent any cracking. Then clean the other side when the other 3 strings are removed.

5. Finally, putting on the new strings.

  • Take each new string in order.
  • Pull it through the ferrule in the body from the back and through the hole in the bridge.
  • Pull it tight and measure 2 posts up from the one you will use, and bend the string here at a sharp angle.
  • Run the bent string through the correct post and bend it again where it enters the post when pulled tight. Your bends should make a z shape so the string runs straight up, bends across at 90 degrees and through the post, then bends back up again.
  • Hold the string tightly at the first bend and wind the turning key.
  • Always wind so the string wraps from the inside of the post out.
  • Repeat with the other strings.
  • When all strings are on, give a couple of firm tugs to each string to stretch it, which will help it stay in tune better when you tune the guitar.
  • Cut off any spare string at the end.
Here’s a YouTube video that should echo the method discussed above:

Video Courtesy of Troy Dameron on YouTube

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