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Stringing, Cleaning, & Tuning Guitars

Alan Horvath (325) · [archive]
Style: Basics · Level: Beginner · Tempo: 120
Pages: 1

Stringing, Cleaning, & Tuning Your Guitar
by Alan Horvath

It Don't Happen Until You Do  ...
The Myths and the Truths:
  • I don't know why anyone would string a guitar by putting the end of the string through the tuner-hole, and then winding and cranking and winding and cranking ... winding some more ... cranking some more ... and winding and cranking and winding and cranking ... man! Have you ever seen the wad of string that sits around the peg of a guitar strung that way? Pulleeeze!!! That is *not* the reason they give you all that extra string.

  • Whenever I see a guitar strung in this manner, I know I'm looking at a guitar that goes out of tune every ten minutes or less! Consider all the pressure created when a string is fully cranked to it's proper pitch. I wouldn't want my finger between that string and the nut! There's alot of pressure going on, eh? Mere common sense tells you that a string wound some twenty or thirty revolutions -- and rather loosely at that! -- around that little peg, is gonna stretch for quite some time before all that slack is taken up! What a miserable experience! Have you ever noticed, after putting a fresh set of strings on your guitar, that it takes a couple of days before all the strings stop stretching? It's a real pain, ain't it? Well, let's put an end to that, once and for all.

  • When I string up my guitar with a new set of sweet crunchy bronze wound honeys, and set all the strings in tune, I can put it back in it's case and be fully confident that the next time I take it out of the case, it'll be in perfect pitch. And here's how it's done:

For the Record:

Heavy - - - - - Thin

Procedure for Steel Strings | Acoustic or Electric Guitars:

Picturing the #6, #5, and #4 Strings:
NOTE: This illustrates the procedure when all of the tuning
pegs are on one side of the neck - like a Fender Strat.

Step One...Step Two...

1. Starting at the bridge, set the ball-end of the string into it's proper seat, at the bridge of the guitar, firmly. If you are using bridge-pins, drop the ball-end a couple of inches into the hole ... put the bridge pin almost all the way in, and pull the ball-end up against it - then press the bridge pin all the way in while pulling the ball-end against it. Press firmly on the pin.

2. Next, take the other end of the string and slip it through the appropriate tuner, at the top (head) of the guitar, and pull it all the way through the peg hole ... snug ... don't pull too tight, but gently take up the slack ...
NOTE: The fatter the string, the more slack it needs: On the high-E (thinnest) string, I'll pull it *snug* -- the string is not relaxed (laying down) but off the fretboard. But, on the *low*-E (fattest) string, I'll pull the string much less snug, letting it relax enough to lay on the fretboard. 3. Next, kink the end of the string, at the peg -- to the right on the #6, #5, and #4 strings - see illustration above ... and to the left on the #3, #2, and #1 strings - see illustration below.

4. Now, bring the end of the string around ... and under itself (between the nut and the tuner side of the string) ... then up and over itself (see illustration) ... only, unlike the illustration, pull tightly on the string, maintaining a very tight wrap.
NOTE: You do not want the string (from the bridge, up to the tuners) to be tight ... you do want the wrap of the string, around the tuner, to be tight. Capeesh?
Picturing the #3, #2, and #1 Strings:
Step One...Step Two...

5. Start cranking the string up, and you'll notice - as the peg turns - the string immediately bites down on itself ... it will not stretch beyond that "bite" point - and therein lies the key.

6. All six tuners -- I mean the part that you turn with your hand, in the interest of tightening the strings -- are turned counter-clockwise, so that the string rests on the INside of each peg.

7. Tune the string up to pitch. Then, grab the string at the 12th fret and pull it up, off the fretboard, 2 to 3 inches ... bearing a good amount of pressure on the string, as you stretch and pull the slack out of it. Ummm ... if you don't know your own strength, be cool about this ... you don't want to bust and snap strings here - the idea is to stretch it a little bit. Then, tune it to pitch once again.

Repeat the above "stretch.N.tune" procedure until the string no longer goes out of pitch after pulling on it - it usually takes 5-7 applications. When you are finished, look at the amount of string that has wrapped around each of the tuning pegs -- if you see more than one revolution/full wrap, you could apply less slack on your procedure next time you change strings ... if you see less than 1/2 revolution, you could allow more slack on your procedure next time you change strings. Eventually, you'll get the hang of it and you'll wind up with one revolution, or less, to the amount of string wrapped around each tuner.

Finally, you can neatly coil the ends of the strings, or cut them off with a small pair of "nippers," as I do. Frets.com | The Wonderful Frank Ford
If you need further clarity concerning the above procedure, Frank Ford will repeat the process for you, with photographs of each and every step - including a few more cool tips, to boot! THANKS Frank!

Procedure for Nylon Strings | Classical Guitar:
1. Starting with the bridge, as you can see by the illustration below, you pass the string through the bridge hole, then loop it around itself, wrapping - 3 times:

Stringing the bridge;  Classical

2. Pull on both ends to snug up the wrap as tightly as you can.

3. Bring the long end of the string up to the headstock ... poke it through the appropriate hole ... pull it snug ... don't pull too tight, but gently take up the slack ... bring the string up over the tuner and back towards you ... wrap the end of the string 3 times, around itself (between the tuners and the bridge section of the string) ... and start cranking up the slack, tightening each string.
NOTE:You only want the string (from the bridge, up to the tuners) to be *snug* - not too tight (nylon strings stretch a whole lot more than steel strings do, so I set my nylon strings much more snug, to begin with, than I do steel strings). When wrapping around the tuner, you do want the wrap of the string to be very tight.
Stringing; Classical

Schedule for Changing Strings:
  • People often ask how frequently strings should be changed ... but the answer to that question depends on a number of things. Once conventional strings start showing a fair amount of oxidation (darkness in color) they become increasingly difficult to tune, and their sound quality will leave much to be desired. Once perspiration gets onto the strings, and especially into the windings, oxidation begins, and consequently, sound quality rapidly deteriorates.

  • Everyone has different body chemistry, so some may prefer one brand over another ... and you'll find your own eventually ... but, generally speaking, a new set of strings should be installed once a month - at the very least. They will lose their initial brilliance after 10 hours, or so, of playing ... and after a week of daily playing there isn't much brilliance left ... though they may sound "passable."

  • I use to put a new set on every week or so ... but now that I use Elixir Strings, I can go 2-3 months (easy) before needing a new set! ELIXIRS are coated, so they don't oxidize very easily and are a pretty safe bet, no matter what your body chemistry is like.
Elixir's are 3 times more expensive than conventional strings ... but since they last ten times longer, I consider them to be the least expensive strings on the market! Honestly ... these strings last a remarkably long, long ... long time.

Visit the people who make them ... [Click Here]
Visit the people who sell them ... [Click Here]

Cleaning Your Guitar:
  • Regarding acoustic guitars, wax is not cool ... and non-drying oils (like lemon oil) are even worse. Oils, waxes, and silicates penetrate the finish, entering the wood itself ... and over a period of time, they'll add a density to the wood that detracts from it's resonance. These "nasties" also turn simple repairs into nightmares - ask any experienced luthier, and you'll find no question about the matter.

The more the wood DRIES and ages, the more resonant and rich it's sound will become.

Generally, wiping the guitar down, with something like a chamois cloth, after each playing session, is all the maintenence your guitar will ever need. Most players have it backwards -- over attending to waxing and fretboard lubricants (bad stuff!), while abusing the wood by not keeping the guitar in it's case, where it should be whenever it's not being played.

I like to clean my guitar when I change the strings, so I can get at all those spots UNDER them. A damp rag is all that's needed - dipped in a little water, and wrung dry. Put some serious elbow grease into it though, with a soft, non-abrasive cloth (like an old t-shirt) ... and wipe the guitar down thoroughly - same for the fretboard. A little Murphy's Oil Soap, diluted with water (as instructed on the bottle) is excellent! Don't worry about the water: STANDING water is what damages wood -- we're talking about a damp rag.

After a few years, you may want to remove the "grunge" off your fretboard by giving it a very light brushing with #000, or #0000 steel wool. And if you want to use a polish, use Martin Guitar Polish (the only one I've ever heard confidently recommended by luthiers) ... but not on the fretboard! If you want something for the fretboard, luthiers recommend almond oil ... just a drop or two ... once per year.

Tuning Your Guitar:
  • Learning to tune your guitar is a process that takes time, and kind of grows into a maturity over the first few years of playing. You have to develop an "ear" ... you must become familiar with the nuances of what's "sharp" and what's "flat" and what's "in" pitch. I think a good practice excersize is to play with one note ... tuning it to pitch ... raising the pitch and *hearing* what "sharp" means ... lowering the pitch, and *hearing* what "flat" means, and so on.

  • NOTE: Electronic tuners are great tools ... especially on stage, when it can be hard to listen to the pitch variances involved in tuning. But aside from the stage, you should learn to tune your guitar by ear. The more familiar you become with tuning by ear, the better you will be at discerning the accuracy of what you're doing, even when you are using a tuner.
Don't develop a lazy ear by using the tuner all the time!

The Internet Tuner
If you want a tuner you can try right here and now, check this out -- there's also a bunch of very cool links to other sites.

Here's a simple tutorial that explains the whole process of tuning your guitar.

Amazon Honor System

Need strings? These bandits have guitar strings for $2 per set! -- But *no* Elixir Strings ...

Elderly.com ... you can buy Elixir Strings here.


For more information about Alan, including updates to this article, visit his web site: AlanHorvath.com