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Change Strings All at Once, or One at a Time?

This is a guest post by Luthier Dan Koentopp. Dan builds classical and archtop guitars in Chicago, IL. Connect with him on facebook and twitter.

Most well made guitars are set up and adjusted with all the strings up to tension. As the strings are stretched, the forces are distributed and stored in the guitar’s body. The top, sides, back, and neck move together in order to absorb this energy. With a minimal amount of built-in compensation by the maker, the guitar reaches a perfect setup once the strings are at pitch. The question at hand:

Is it safe for your guitar to have all the tensioned strings removed together or is it better to only change one string at a time?

When all the strings tension is released the guitar relaxes. It’s common thought that quick changes to an instrument are bad. The removal of the strings, however, is a change that your guitar is used to. When your guitar was assembled and the last few steps were made to close the soundbox, it was done without being under the tension of the strings. As a result, the guitar goes to a state that is familiar to it. The arch of the top settles down, the neck relaxes and flattens out, and all the stress that was distributed to the back and sides is lost.

It may not be a bad thing for your guitar, but it may be a problem for you. With the strings off and the guitar body in a relaxed state, getting it back to its normal, equalized state will take a bit longer than it would when replacing one string at a time. The wood in your guitar is most happy to get back to the physical setting that it has spent most of its life. If you plan on performing I wouldn’t suggest changing all the strings, unless you have a window of at least a couple days to work with them. I wouldn’t suggest changing your strings right before a performance anyway.

Your guitar needs to be cleaned and conditioned at least once every year

Conditioning your fingerboard can prevent cracks and unwanted movement in the ebony or rosewood as well as maintaining a nice surface for your fingers. Also, polishing your frets and removing oxidation can make your guitar more enjoyable to play. This type of work is best done with all the strings removed.

The guitar is designed to have strings on it with sufficient tension. When working on guitars it’s necessary to take the strings off to make things both easier and faster. With other guitars, such as archtop guitars and electric guitars with floating tremelos, the worst thing about removing all the strings is that you loose the guitars setup.

This is usually necessary in my line of work, but it can be the worst nightmare for many players. These systems are the focus for future writing but it simply takes more time and effort to get them back to the perfect setup than it would be to maintain the setup and replace one string at a time.

7 Responses leave one →
  1. 2010 November 11
    Pete M permalink

    Chris,

    When you change your strings, what method do you prefer? This was a great post btw. I love learning more about guitar construction in general.

    • 2010 November 11

      Pete,

      I do one string at time.

      Helps keep the guitar okay, AND helps me remember how the hell to tie the strings on. The guitar I got last year has a 12 hole tie block, and I’m still not used to it.

      -CD

  2. 2010 November 16
    franck B permalink

    Higly interesting, as usual on your blog,
    Thank you.

  3. 2012 January 19
    Jim z permalink

    I clean my fretboard every time and oil it so all come off, it is easier to clean the entire guitar wother all the strings off. Iam pretty neurotic when it comes to cleaning and my guitars, if i wasn’t I never would have accelerate in playing and wouldn’t be me.lol

  4. 2012 March 14
    mark rollinger permalink

    I own a 1957 Goya model G-30 with maple sides and back. The low end is very strong while the treble is not as responsive. Are there strings or a combination of strings which might help. I am currently using a D’Adderio “Pro _ Arte” with composit “G” string. Thanks. Mark

  5. 2012 October 15
    carlos oliveira permalink

    I still don”t understand why in this day and age the string companies haven’t created a device that you could stretch the strings before you re-string your guitar so they would be much closer in pitch than simply waiting 5 days for the stretch.

  6. 2013 April 2
    Elsa permalink

    Does anyone have suggestions for classical guitar string brands? I have been using Pro Arte for the whole time I have been playing (10+ years) and have been trying to decide if I should experiment with new brands. I thought about trying Pirastro because my siblings and I like that brand for our violin family instruments; however, no one carries their guitar strings in the USA. Thanks for any help.

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