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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Restring Your Guitar the Right Way

Jim Dennis is owner of The Music Loft of Carrboro. Today Jim is going to teach us something I have never known in over 30 years of guitar playing--how to string a guitar properly. Tell it Jim!

JD: I come into contact with instruments and old and new. If you play any instrument with strings - violin, oud, electric guitar, ukulele (whatever), here are some tips on how to keep your strings working with you and not against you. First, wash your hands before you pick up your instrument! No, seriously. Your mom would want you to wash your hands anyway, so make her happy too. The natural oils produced by your skin as well as microscopic particles of dirt, grime, and even skin itself are what cause strings to “go dead” or loose their tone over time.

Be sure you have the correct strings for you and your instrument. If you put acoustic guitar strings on an electric guitar, it may do more that just sound weak and play badly. You could do catastrophic damage to the instrument. Acoustic guitar strings can have over 500 pounds of pressure when tuned up and an electric guitar (and electric strings) are made for half that amount. Keep the package the strings came in. It has information that you will need the next time you buy strings or take your instrument in for a tune up. By using the same size, type and composition of string, your instrument will respond and sound the same way so you can try different brands and compare apples to apples.

What strings should you use? That is determined by many factors--what kind of music you play, whether you are a beginner or an accomplished player, the condition of the instrument, which type of string has it been adjusted to play, the ideal sound you are seeking, and the difference between round wound, flat wound, ground wound, nylon, silk and tape wound strings. So many variables so....what does one do? Ask someone you know and trust to recommend a shop or store in your area.

Oh, David wanted to know how to put his strings on. Carefully. Spend a few minutes doing it correctly and save a bunch of hassles later. Observe how the old string is put on and use that as a guide for the tailpiece, bridge, and tuning key. Until you become an old hand at this, replace one string at a time and dispose of your old strings as you go. Believe me, you do not want to know what an old string can do to a vacuum cleaner, pet, or your little brother. Make certain the wraps on the post are neat and in a single layer like a stack of donuts. I use one hand to guide the string and the other to turn the tuning key. If it looks like a tornado of barbed wire, you could experience slippage and tuning problems. Always come “up” to the pitch for tuning. To keep the string in tune, always bring the pitch of the string up when tuning. Don’t go down in pitch to tune. If the string is sharp, bring it down below were it needs to be (i.e. flat) and come back up to pitch. The gears in the tuning machine will hold better, resulting in your instrument staying in tune longer. Use a reference like an electronic tuner, tuning fork, or pitch pipe. In a pinch I used dial tone (which is two tones - A440 and F). Strings that are cranked too high in pitch are bad for your instrument and hard to play. After you have all the stings replaced and tuned, check the tuning one last time and enjoy!

Strings are like the vocal chords of your instrument so the better shape they are in, the better you will sound.

Thanks for the excellent information Jim! I should also mention that the Music Loft of Carrboro has excellent deals on new and used musical instruments and gear, not to mention the great service and expertise of Jim Dennis and his dedicated staff.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You can always count on Jimmy to tell it like it is. I've known this guy a long time (even though I haven't seen him in years) and he is without a doubt a genious in all things music.

Rock on Jim!