How to Restring a Guitar (Acoustic): guides on restringing-cum-cleaning a guitar for beginners

Can I change guitar strings at home by myself? Surely you can! Anyone can do it easily. I’m going to show you step by step with pictures and videos on how to restring a guitar acoustic as well as clean and condition since it is a good opportunity and convenient to do so when you have removed all the strings.

Guitar strings will get corroded, over-stretched over time and become brittle and hard to tune. The frequency you need to replace the strings depends on how often and how hard you play the guitar. The harder you play, the more often you need to change the strings. The period varies from 1 month to 3 months or 100 hours of playing, even when you rarely play since the strings will wear with the elements, the sweat and oil you left on them from your fingers when you played your guitar last. When the notes become dull and the strings become hard to tune, it’s time to change the strings. 

There are three different types of guitars: Classical, Acoustic, and Electric. Simply identify with reference to the below pictures and choose the one you are going to work on.

Here are the step-by-step guides on restringing an acoustic guitar. For different types of guitars, please check out our guide on How to Change Electric Guitar Strings and How to Change Classical Guitar Strings.

Prepare the following tools and get started:

It is best to change the whole set of the six strings to get the same level of tone since new strings will give out brighter and richer tones. However, if any one of the strings breaks while other strings are relatively new,  you can just replace that broken string.

How to Change Guitar Strings Acoustic Guitar:

1, Remove Old Guitar Strings

Loosen the tension of the old strings by turning down the machine heads.

2, Cut the Old Strings Safely

Use a wire cutter to cut all the old strings. Use the little cutout on the winder to pry up the pin from the bridge. You can put all the pins back in order so that you won’t lose them. After restring, you can put the old strings into the new string envelopes and dumb them safely.

3, Remove loose particles

Use a can of compressed air or a super-soft brush (MusicNomad The Nomad String, Body, & Hardware Cleaning Tool) to remove any loose particles on the surface before you start cleaning your guitar with anything else. This helps avoid scratching your guitar with the loose particles adhered to the surface when cleaning with the cloth afterward.

4, Clean and Lubricate the Guitar Nut

The nut is the little piece that the strings slot through. Dirt and grime will be accumulated over time and the strings may get stuck in the slots then causing tuning problems.

  • Use dental floss or your old strings to run through the slots a couple of times to remove the dirt stuck in the slots. 
  • Lubricate the nut slots once or twice a year for avoiding string binding and ensuring smooth tuning. You can find many lubricants on the market for nut lubrication. 
  • For a quick fix, you can rub some graphite from a pencil into the string slots generously by simply coloring the slots. A more permanent way is to grind the graphite to a powder and mix it with a small dollop of Vaseline. Then use a toothpick to put a little bit of this graphite paste into the nut slots. 

5, Clean the frets and fretboard

Dirt will adhere to the frets and fretboard, particularly those made of unfinished rosewood or ebony. The frets will oxidize and lose shininess over time as well.

Brush the fretboard and the frets gently with an old toothbrush to clean out the grime. If the dirt is too heavy, you can use an old pick with sharp edges to remove the heavy dirt, especially the grime accumulated at the fret grooves on both sides. Similar tools like credit cards and plastic spatulas will do as well. For maple fretboard or fretboard with big and delicate inlays, simply clean it with a soft microfiber cloth with a guitar cleaner.

Although a lot of people say that you can use fine steel wool to clean the frets, I strongly recommend NEVER using it as somehow the fibers from the steel wool may get stuck in and ruin the pickups even if you use masking tape to cover them. Never take the chance on this!

6, Polish the Frets (Optional)

Before polishing your frets, apply masking tapes on both sides of the frets or simply use steel protectors to protect the fretboard from scratching.  Many different products can be used for polishing the frets.

Miracle Polishing Cloth is probably the cheapest choice, then Lizard Spit MP 15 Ultimate Fret Polishing System and MusicNomad FRINE Fret Polishing Kit are more expensive but you can get a better result out of them.

7, Condition the Fretboard and Bridge

Unfinished fretboards may dry out and crack with time, except maple fretboards with lacquer finish. Conditioning the wood will help prevent the dirt from easily adhering to the wood and make the fretboard look nice too. 

Conditioning the wood 2-3 times a year according to the humidity. You may have to do this more frequently if you are in a very dry environment. Either any brands of Lemon Oil or Music Nomad F-One Oil are great for the job. Put one to two drops of the oil on each fret and lightly rub it with a cloth and let the wood suck the quantity for around 10 minutes. Then remove the excess oil with a cloth. Repeat the process if the wood is still too dry. You can oil the bridge if it is unfinished wood.

Remember, NEVER use lemon oil on a maple fretboard.

8, Clean the Headstock, Neck, and Body

Use a microfiber cloth with guitar cleaner to wipe the headstock, neck, and body to remove the fingerprints and dirt adhering to the guitar surface. I highly recommend that Music Nomad The Guitar One All in 1 Cleaner would be the best choice. However, any other brands of guitar cleaners such as Dunlop 654 Formula 65 Guitar Polish & Cleaner and D’Addario Shine Guitar Spray would be fine.

9, Polish Guitar Body (Optional)

You can use Music Nomad Pro Strength Guitar Polish to polish the guitar if you want it to be shiny nicely again. The MusicNomad Premium Guitar Cleaner and Polish Care Kit is a good choice including the One All-in-1 Cleaner and the Guitar Polish, F-ONE Oil Fretboard Cleaner, and also two 16-inch x 12-inch lint-free, washable premium microfiber cloths. There are also some alternative products such as Ernie Ball Instrument Polish and Fender Custom Shop Guitar Polish.

Squeeze a little bit of polish gel on the cloth and gently rub it on the guitar body. Do it slowly and make sure the polish is on every part of the guitar, then use a clean cloth to rub the polish off. You can repeat this process a couple of times if your guitar was really dull.

10, Put New Strings on the Guitar Bridge

We start at the low E(6th string) first. The bridge pin has a little cutout that corresponds with the string when it’s inside the bridge. Place the string ball end into the bridge hole then push the pin down with the cutout facing the string. Press the pin in place and then pull the string hard to secure. Repeat this progress on the rest of the strings.

11, Pass the Strings through Machine Heads

Pass the string through the machine head and pull it tight then measure roughly the distance from the one you are attaching(about 4cm). Pull the string back then until the point on the tuner post(the fewer winds would help with tuning stability).

12, Tighten the Strings

Grab the string winder and start winding. Pull the string back and give it some tension and hold down on it. Remember the string is being wound towards the center of the headstock(the other side of the machine head). The first wind goes over the string then the next one should go down towards the headstock. You don’t have to tune it to pitch yet, just wind it enough to it in place. Clip the ends of the string off as close to the tuner post as you can. 

Repeat step 11 and 12 on the rest of the strings.

13, Stretch the Strings

Stretch your new strings after you have replaced them by gently pulling up on the strings but not too hard or else they will break.

14, It’s All Done! Now You Can Tune Your Guitar

What to do next? 

You have new strings on your guitar now. The next step is to learn to tune your guitar and even set it up like a professional. Please check our guide on How To Tune A Guitar and How To Set Up A Guitar(coming soon). 

Photo of author


Gavin W has been mastering several types of music instruments like guitar, drum, bass, and audio mixing tools for over 15 years. He has participated in many rock shows such as Hajin Chan and Super Junior concerts. He was the guitarist of a pop-rock band called Pendular, which has won some significant awards like Asian Beat, Champion in Warehouse Youth Band Competition, and No Drug Music Contest. He is also active in the music education sector and has been a music tutor in schools and music learning centres since 2008.

Leave a Comment