How and when to restring my guitar?

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  • By Erik Bogaards
  • Posted in strings
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How and when to restring my guitar?

Lots of time at home, not much to do and trying to find something to pass the time? This is a perfect moment to restring your guitar, 'because life is too short to play with shitty strings!'


When should I replace strings on my western guitar?


This, like so many guitar related questions, is a matter of strong and very different opinions. From: after each performance. Until: only if they break.


In all fairness: it does differ from guitar player to guitar player how often it is best to replace strings, but we don't recommend leaving them until they break. It's a bit like coffee: a freshly ground hot cup of Java is a lot tastier than cold coffee that's been sitting for a while. Freshly broken in strings just sound the best to our ears. That's why all the guitars we sell leave our store only after a proper setup with a new set of strings. When they need to be replaced, wil vary. If you have one guitar and you play it every day for a few hours, some strings will lose a lot of their magic within a week. If you own more guitars and you can spend fewer hours on the strings per guitar, they will last longer.


If you play a gig on stage and  sweat a lot during a performance, then the best part of the strings will soon be gone. And to make it more diverse: it also matters  which strings you use: coated strings last longer, but more on that later.


So, when do you have to replace them? Our advice: if a string starts to sound somewhat dull, and when it gets a bit more difficult to get and keep them in tune it is best to replace them.



What are the best strings?




No: D'Addario!!


No way: Martin!!!


Put this question to 10 guitarists and you get 10 different answers and all of them are right. Because every player is unique, just like every guitar is. Strings are an easy way to give your sound a twist and tweek the playability of a guitar.  That's why  we at TFOA offer a wide range of  strings. So the question should not be: what are the best strings? The question is: which strings best suit you and your guitar best? We see that many guitarists are somewhat singleminded when it comes to strings  and choose the same one over and over again. Sounds logical, but our advice is: try something different. It’s not going to cost you a lot of money, it does require some of your time, but new strings can really make you feel like your guitar has had a huge make over.  


Do you want a clear, distinctly more modern sound with a little more treble? Try a set of  Elixir. Are you looking for something darker, a more earthy sound with more emphasis on the wood? A set  of Retro by Martin might surprise you. Are you looking for balance? Santa Cruz  strings may not be the cheapest,  but  they have a loyal fanbase because of that balanced tone.  Looking for better playability? Try a set of Flexible Core. You really can go in any directions with strings and we recommend to just try them. 



Should I buy Phosphor/Bronze,  80/20 or coated strings?


That really depends on your taste, because the material used determines the sound. We list the most important ones below. Just to give you some fresh ideas, we deliberately don't start with the best-selling strings, but instead we present to you:


Silk and steel

The Mellow-Fellow of guitar strings. You sacrifice some volume, but you get a very nice 'folky' sound in return. And lots of playability, because  silk and steel strings are thinner.



Martin calls this mix of metal 'monel' and incorporates it into the Retro strings. Wanna hear more Wood and less String? Try this.


Other exclusives

Besides the above, there are many other variants, such as strings with Chrome: very smooth operators! If you want the most expensive strings out there, you buy  Titanium. Pricey, but you don't have to break them in first to get rid of the initial harshness that almost all other strings have and they keep sounding beautiful for a long time. Very usefull in a studio-setting.


80/20 bronze

That 80/20 refers to its composition: 80 percent copper and 20 percent zinc. Actually, that's brass, but everyone calls it 'bronze'. These strings sound clear and pronounced, are affordable and wildly popular, they just don't last very long.


Phosphor Bronze

Sound warmer than 80/20 strings, due to its slightly different composition: 92 percent copper and 8 percent tin and a pinch of phosphorus so they rust less quickly. The ones from Gibson, for example, cost less than 6 euros and are definitely worth a try.



To ensure that strings 'last up to four times longer', they get a thin layer of plastic: a coating. This has many additional advantages: they 'squeak' less when you slide over the strings and they are slightly softer on the fingertips. Many guitarists like that, but coated strings devides guitarists in lovers and haters. The haters say they feel a little too 'rubbery' and the sound can be a bit dull. They go one to say that the claim that they 'last four times longer' is something like a car that drives one in 25 kilometers to 1 liter  in the showroom, but in real life never performs better than 1 in 17.  They may last longer, but thát much longer... it really  depends on so many factors.


It all comes down to tone and feeling with coated strings. That's why the strings makers don't keep improving their offerings, Maybe you have tried coated strings in the past and didn't like them: don't let that deter you from trying again. They're really getting better. Elixer,for example, started with the thicker polyweb  coating, but now makes strings with the much thinner  nanoweb. Many people like them better. Other manufacturers, such as  D'Addario,  go even further and, like Martin, now make coated strings where they manage to give them an even more natural feel.



What thickness  or gauge should I choose for my guitarstrings?


To indicate the thickness strings have a name: from extra light to heavy and/or a  number. That number refers to "thousandth of an inch"  Below an overview of the most common thicknesses.


Extra Light – .010 .014 .023 .030 .039 .047 – ‘ten’


Custom Light – .011 .015 .023 .032 .042 .052 – ‘eleven’


Light – .012 .016 .025 .032 .042 .054 - et cetera


Medium – .013 .017 .026 .035 .045 .056


Heavy – .014 .018 .027 .039 .049 .059


Now you might think, how much difference can one thousandth of an inch make? The answer: a lot! You will feel the difference between .011 and 0.12 immediately. Which  thickness best suits  your guitar depends firstly on the guitar model. The general rule is: the smaller the guitar, the thinner the strings. So on a small  parlor,  a set of  tens fits best,  on a  dreadnought  or Jumbo you can put thirteens or fourteens. 


Usually the guitar builder gives an advice which string gauge the guitar is setup for. Are you in doubt? Then we can always help, feel free to send an email.


There is nothing wrong with deviating a bit from the guitarbuilders advice and trying a different gauge. In fact: we encourage you to do so,  because thickness also has an impact on playability and playing style. Are you a strummer? Try thicker strings. Fingerstyle? Thinner strings can help bring out nuances? Do your hands get sore quickly? Also try  thinner strings.


If you're going to try something different, don't do so with big steps and pay extra attention if you go from 'thin' to 'thick'. The thicker the string, the higher the tension and the smaller models are not always made to handle that. If you choose to go thinner, strings may start buzzing. This can all be solved with a setup,  during which we can usually easily adjust the guitar to the desired string thickness.


Do you often play in a different tuning? Lowden even made special DADGAD strings for that.



What tools do I need when I'm going to replace strings..  ?


It is possible without tools, but a neck rest often comes in handy, a sharp clipper is useful for cutting the remaining ends and a string winder ensures that you get the job done a lot faster. D'Addario has brought some tools together in one very handy device.  We are also very pleased with the  stringwinder of Nomad. It doesn't have a built-in clipper, but it's one that also fits on twelve-string  guitars and mandolins. A  tuning machine also comes in handy.



How do I replace strings on my akoestic guitar?


With a regular headstock: watch this video of  D'Addario




Help! I have a ‘slotted headstock’


Martin made a beautiful video




Where do I cut a string?


Not too short, because your string needs some grip, and not too long either, because then you will keep on winding and winding. Some say this will also effect how your guitar stays in tune. The general rule is: secure the string-end at the bridge, pull the other end through the tuner, tightening the string. Now grab the string at the nut between thumb and index finger and pull it back just short of 2 frets . Then bend the string on the tuner and start winding. The string will then do about three winds around the tuner, which is what we are aiming for.



Help! I can't get my bridge pins out?


In the first video of D'Addario  you see an important tip: after loosening the strings, push the end of  the string back into the body. This way you remove some pressure from the bridge pins on the bridge and the pins come out more easily.  If this does not work, you can gently pop them up with pliers,  but do so gently don't start prying. Do you have simple string winder? At the side of some of them, there sometimes is a handy notch. On a side-note, D'Addario also provides its own string-winder: D'addario Guitar Pro -Winder.



  1. Alexander Gordon Alexander Gordon

    I think this is the clearest and most comprehensive analysis of guitar strings I have seen. Thank you

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