Remove the Old Strings
This is the best time to clean the guitar while also inspecting the hardware and electronics more closely. If any of the controls are noisy or intermittent, we would need access to clean them, as well as to take care of any other issues, such as changing batteries (if applicable). When planning on using under-string radius gauges for the setup, measuring the fretboard radius is easiest when the strings are off the guitar (more on this in Guitar Setups).
Lay the guitar down and prop up the neck, so you have access to the tuners on the headstock. You can use a rolled-up towel if you don’t have a neck rest designed for the job. Starting with either the 6th or 1st string, loosen the string and remove it from string post. If you have some side cutters, clip the string near the bridge and remove each end of the string carefully. Cutting the string will make it easier to remove from the tuner, and the bridge saddles with minimal wear on the hardware- especially on tremolo equipped guitars.
How to Restring a Fender-Style Guitar
Fender-style guitars are often loaded from the rear. A Telecaster typically has a rear-loaded fixed bridge, which is called a “string-thru” design- the strings are inserted into the body through small holes on the back. The string passes up through the body and out at the top before being pulled over the saddles.
Strat-style guitars are often back-loaded as well but through the tremolo bridge. Vintage style tremolos can be set up to either sit flat on the body or to float. When setting these types of bridges up, it is important to set the tension correctly to maintain string tuning (read more about this in Guitar Setups ).
1) Start by inserting the string into the tuner. Pull it through until you have between 2 and 2½ inches of slack past the tuner (on Fender-Style guitars, that distance is equal to pulling it past two tuners).
2) Keep the string pinched in your left hand and pull it back towards the string post to hold the amount of slack.
3) Put a kink in the string at a right angle from the inside, and an opposite kink on the outside like a reversed ‘Z.’
4) Loop one wrap around the top and wind the remaining slack underneath the loop, feeding the string downwards. Gently keep some tension on the backside of the string while winding up.
5) Tune-up to pitch and trim the excess. Three windings per string are sufficient on wound strings. Treble strings may have more.
How to Restring Gibson-Style Guitars
Most Gibson-style guitars have a 2-piece bridge made up of a tailpiece and a bridge with saddles. These are known as Tune-o-matic bridges.
Pass the strings through the tailpiece towards the headstock and pull them over the appropriate saddle. Seat the string in the nut slot and wind it around the tuning peg, as mentioned previously.
Many Gibson-style guitars have three tuning pegs per side of the headstock as opposed to the usual 6 in a line style found on most Fender-style guitars. This changes the direction that you wrap the strings at the headstock end. The E, A and D strings are wound counter-clockwise, and the G, B and high E strings are wound clockwise.
For Floyd Rose-Style Bridges, visit the dedicated article here.
Stretch the Strings
Once the strings are installed and properly tuned to pitch, stretch them thoroughly to properly “seat” them. This will minimize slippage and tuning issues. Grab the strings and gently pull up on it up and down the neck, retune and repeat. Once the string stops loosing pitch, stretching is complete- move on to the next.
Lubricate the Nut Slots
Add some Vaseline, guitar nut lubricant, or pencil lead to the nut slots to further improve tuning and prevent binding at the nut.