Guitar Tips

Guitar Maintenance — Cleaning Strings

There are 3 ways to make your strings and your frets last longer.

1. Clean your strings!

2. Clean your strings!

3. Clean your strings!

Most people clean their cars but not their guitars. I believe that a guitar should be cleaned after each hour of playing. But it depends on the individual, the more you sweat the more your strings need to be cleaned.

When strings are not kept clean, it creates extra fret wear, so cleaning your strings will definitely save you money in the long run.

You need a clean, lint free cloth (an old pillowslip or hankie works well). Place the cloth under the bridge end of each string, one at a time. Drag the cloth along the entire length of the string up towards the nut and back. Repeat this for each string to remove all Finger Filth. Doing this will definitely prolong string and fret life. Most people just clean across the top of the strings and miss the Bad Stuff lurking underneath between the string and the fret.

Guitar Maintenance - Changing Strings

How often you need to change your steel strings depends on how much you play and how much you sweat (and your proximity to the ocean)! Some players e.g. Tommy Emmanuel need to change strings after every gig, while others can keep their strings for months.

The method of changing strings that I believe to be the best, after many years and extensive experience is as follows:

Step 1: You need a string winder (crank handle) and a set of small but good quality side cutters. An electronic tuner helps to expedit the process. There are at least great guitar tuning apps available now.

Step 2: Loosen your strings one at a time before cutting them, so that the guitar neck is not presented with the sudden jolt of going from full tension to no tension.

Step 3: With acoustic pin bridges, I gently remove each bridge pin with the side cutters, working upward, so that my hand is upside own on the face of the guitar and I’m pulling the bridge pins up towards me. That way if I slip I injure my face, not the guitar’s face! I also often use my left hand inside the guitar to push the pins out from the inside.

Step 4: After lemon oiling the fretboard and hand buffing the frets, I put the strings on one at a time, beginning with the low E.

Step 5: I rotate the machine heads so that the through holes for the strings are facing towards the nut slots.

Step 6: I put the string end through the hole, holding the end of it tightly with my left hand, I lift the string away from the neck by approximately 4 - 6 cm.

Step 7: I then make the string go around the peg head, above the protruding part of the string. Then use the string winder to wind the other winds below the protruding part. As the string winds on, I hold its tension by simultaneously pushing down on the string with the forefinger of my right hand and pulling up on it with the other fingers of my right hand.

Step 8: The object is to get 2 - 5 snug winds of string onto the machine head post. I find this a far better technique than the knotting method recommended by some manufacturers. Whenever there’s a knot, there’s space between the string and the machine head which can therefore go flat.

Step 9: It’s very important not to hold the strings in the nut slot whilst winding them on as this will wear the nut down prematurely.

Step 10: Finally, when the strings are getting tight enough that it has to sit in the nut, tune the strings to the desired pitch. Then stretch each string individually. I hold the neck with the fingers of my left hand, making them like a capo when stretching them so there’s no sideways force which may crack the nut. I stretch each string in turn by holding it with my right hand, pulling up with my first two fingers and pushing up with the heel of my hand at the same time. I use quite a bit of force here remembering that the thicker strings will need and take more force than the thinner ones. Stretch them all 2 or 3 times each, until they don’t go flat when you do it.

By using this method you’ll find that your guitar can stay in tune for weeks unless you bump the machine heads or bend the strings one and a half tones or more when playing! Another HUGE advantage of this stringing method is that it enables the string to be removed easily as there are no knots around the posts to be untied.