How to string an acoustic guitar

All guitarists should learn how to string an acoustic guitar, when doing it for the first time it can be a little intimidating and there is a temptation to take it down to the shop and have an expert do the job, this really is a waste of time and money as the process is quite straight forward and unless you do something spectacular, you are not going to break your guitar. So let’s see how to string your acoustic guitar.

How to string an acoustic guitar

How to String an Acoustic Guitar

Although my post is about stringing an acoustic guitar, but in this moment I’ll just be looking at the steel string acoustic guitar on this page, I will create a separate post for all the nylon plucking classical and flamenco warriors out there.

I’m also going to have a look at when strings should be changed, the different types and try and make sense of the brands, gauges, coatings etc.

No One Likes a Worn Out G String

So when should you change your strings? Ask 100 guitarists and you’ll get 100 different answers, of course how often you play and to what standard are very significant details in this.

Some change their strings after every performance, others every three months religiously, a friend of mine who used to perform regularly only changed them when they broke.

Ultimately it’s down to the individual, if you think your strings sound dull then change them, if (like my friend) you think they sound too tinny when they’re new then don’t change them. It’s down to your preference, if someone tells you you need to change them, the fact is you don’t if you like them the way they are.

Of course when you break a string you have no option and unless the broken string is relatively new it’s not a bad idea to replace them all, as one bright new string against 5 warn in strings can create a bit of a contrast. Other times when they will probably need changing are when they loose their tone, when they become corroded or if the strings are damaged.

Needed Tools

It’s not a necessity but I would always recommend buying a peg winding tool, they only cost about £6-8/$8-10 and they do make the process a lot easier. Make sure you buy one that is also a wire clipper and bridge pin puller. Trying to make do with whatever you’ve got in your tool box could be the exception to my previous statement of not damaging your guitar during this process.

How to string an acoustic guitar

There is some debate as to whether all strings should be changed at once or one string at a time, the latter theory came about because it was thought that the change in pressure could damage the truss rod (the steel rod running up the neck of the guitar), this myth has pretty well been debunked for any guitar made to a reasonable standard but may hold some weight with a poorly built guitar.

Removing all the strings also gives you a good opportunity to give the guitar a good clean. I will go into more detail about this on another day.

Lord of the Strings

I told you the beginning that I’ll let you know how to string an acoustic guitar. So here are the basic steps of how to change acoustic guitar strings, in this basic steps will helps you to know the best way to change acoustic guitar strings.

How to string an acoustic guitar

Every guitarist will have to change their guitar’s strings from time to time. Guitar strings wear out, corrode and break over time. If your guitar is sounding dull and lifeless, then it’s probably time for a new set of strings. In this beginners guide, we’ll walk you through the process of how to change strings on your acoustic guitar!

Changing strings on a guitar is really quick and easy once you know how. Sure you can take your guitar to the repair shop every time you need a new set of strings, but think of all the time and money you’ll save by doing it yourself!

How often you change strings really depends on your playing style, personal preference and how much you play. Some players only change strings every month or two. Others change strings as often as once per week.

The instructions below should apply to most steel string acoustic guitars. Classical, or nylon string guitars will be covered in another article.

Safety Note: Be careful when handling guitar strings. The ends of the strings are very sharp. Be careful not to let them cut or poke you. Always keep strings away from your eyes and face.

What You’re Gonna Need

Changing strings on an acoustic guitar is pretty straight forward, and you should only need basic tools and materials to get the job done!

These include……

  • Guitar strings of your choice
  • Wire cutters
  • Cleaning cloth
  • Electronic guitar tuner
  • Fretboard conditioner (optional)
  • Wire cutters

You’re also gonna need a place to work! Always work on a large, uncluttered table top that has decent lighting. Also, be sure to work on top of a towel or blanket so that your guitar doesn’t get scratched.

So now, enough of the chit-chat! Let’s get going!

Changing Strings Step by Step!

1 . Loosen all six guitar strings. Make sure that all the tension is removed from the strings.

2 . Cut all six strings over the sound hole of the guitar and unwind the top half of the strings from the tuners.

3 . Gently pull out the bridge pins and remove the ball end of the strings. If any of the pins are stuck, reach into the sound hole of the guitar and gently push up on the end of the bridge pin. Be gentle and don’t force them out. Don’t break any of the pins!

4 . Clean and oil the fingerboard if needed.

5 . Carefully uncoil a new string and put the ball end into the correct hole of the guitar bridge. Line up the slot in the bridge pin with the guitar string and push the pin into place. Do not over tighten the pins! Only use finger pressure to install the pins. DO NOT use a hammer or mallet!

6 . Pass the free end of the string through the appropriate tuning peg on the headstock. Leave a 1-2 inches of slack on the string and start winding the string onto the tuning peg. Be sure to turn the tuner in the correct direction, so that the string winds onto the tuning peg from INSIDE the headstock. Continue winding until there is a little bit of tension on all six strings.

7 . Use wire cutters to carefully trim the string ends to length. Try to trim off the extra string length as close as possible to the tuning peg.

8 . Stretch out each of the strings. Pull each of the strings up about 1-2 inches above the fretboard and gently let them back down. Repeat this at several spots along the length of the strings. This helps the strings to stretch out and to seat themselves on the tuning pegs. Just be gentle and don’t break a string!

9 . Tune the guitar and start playing! Don’t be discouraged if your guitar wants to go out of tune right after you’ve changed strings. The new strings will need some time to stretch and “settle” on the guitar. After you play a few times they should be just fine.

That’s a Wrap!

So that’s all for now folks! I hope that you found the post useful. If you have any questions, or if there are any topics that you would like me to cover in future posts, be sure to let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading and I’ll see you on the next one!

How to string an acoustic guitar

How to strings and tie a classical guitar

A guide to changing or replacing the strings on your classical or nylon string acoustic guitar. Classical and flamenco guitars have six strings, the three bass strings look like wound metal, they have a nylon core and a thin copper wire wrapped around the outside. The treble strings are a clear nylon composite material. Classical guitars need to have their strings changed regularly to get the best projection, tone, and playability. These days there are two types of tie blocks (on the bridge), a six-hole bridge and a twelve-hole bridge, we’ll look at both.

Quick tips before you begin

  • Don’t take off all your strings at once – If you take off all your strings you can’t copy how they were previously tied when you re-string the guitar. Also, the saddle (the white bone or plastic in the bridge) is held in place by the strings so that can fall out if you take off all the strings.
  • Change all of the strings (not just a broken one) – Strings ‘go dead’ when they loose their elasticity and get worn down by use. If you break a string it’s best to change all six.
  • Re-string often – Beginner students can just replace the strings twice a year but more advanced guitarists should change them before each concert or as often as affordable.
  • Protect your guitar – Have a cloth or thick paper to protect the top of your guitar as the tips of the strings can damage the finish or even the wood.

What Strings or Gear Do You Need?

You’ll need some nail clippers or wire cutters to clip the string ends. Of course, you’ll also need strings. I’d recommend D’Addario Pro Arte normal tension strings as a basic choice for beginners (or hard tension for intermediates) but you can see my review of classical guitar strings to see what I prefer. Make sure you use nylon classical guitar strings, not steel strings. The tension used for steel-string guitars is much higher and can damage your classical guitar. Also remember that nylon classical guitar strings do not have ball-ends, that is, balls attachments on the end of the strings. Classical guitar strings require that you tie a self-fastening knot of sorts.

How to change classical guitar strings on a 6 hole bridge

Here’s a few videos on how to restring nylon guitar guitars with a basic 6-hole bridge. There are various ways to tie nylon strings on a guitar but if you are a beginner just choose one and go for it as they all work just fine.

Here is a video by the great Matthew Hinsley via Guitar Curriculum on their Youtube.

Here’s a video on how to put strings on a classical guitar by our friends over at the high quality site: Classical Guitar Corner. This is probably the best video in terms of comprehension.

Here’s how to restring a classical guitar from Cordoba Guitars, I like the big demo with wood and rope.

How to tie guitar strings via String by Mail. Do not use an electric tuning drill, never even bring a drill into the same room as your guitar. Ever.

Another good link:

  • Check out this article on how to string a classical guitar by Sweetwater. It has cool animated gifs of each step.

How to change classical guitar strings on a 12 hole bridge

How to tie classical guitar strings on a 12 hole bridge via Erez Perelman. FYI, I really don’t think you need to do an extra knot on the treble strings except maybe the 1st string. Some high tension strings it might be necessary for string 1 and 2. That said, you can air on the safe side if you want.

Here’s a picture of my tieblock on my Douglas Scott 12 hole bridge.

How to string an acoustic guitar

Step by Step Gifs – How to replace classical guitar strings

Check out these cool gifs from this great article on Sweetwater.

Bass Strings

How to string an acoustic guitar

Treble Strings

How to string an acoustic guitar

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From the January/February 2021 issue of Acoustic Guitar | By Martin Keith

No matter how varied and unique each of us may be, from our tone and touch to our gear preferences, all guitarists have one thing in common: we eventually need to change our strings. In my life as a guitar maker and repair tech, I’ve encountered every conceivable approach to stringing—from the merely ineffective to the truly insane. I’ve pricked my fingers on enough razor-sharp, rusty string ends to warrant dozens of tetanus shots, and I’ve frequently spent more time getting the remnants of old strings off the instrument than it has taken to put a whole set of new ones on.

A surprising number of my clients, many of whom have played for decades, are still reluctant to change their strings themselves, often for fear that they might do something wrong that could damage their instrument. In hopes of making this process easier and more fun, this article will present some basic information about restringing, as well as a few helpful tips that I’ve learned the hard way.

DETERMINE WHEN TO CHANGE STRINGS

Beginning guitarists often ask me how often strings should be changed, and there really is no right answer. Many factors determine the useful life of a string, including the player’s style, frequency of use, and sweat chemistry. I’ve known some guitarists with acidic sweat who could kill a set of strings in about 30 minutes, while others could leave a set on for months without needing to change them.

As a rule of thumb in my shop, I will change strings if they have any visible grime or gunk accumulated on them (usually most visible on the underside of the string, facing the fretboard), or if the wound strings have any dents or wear spots over the frets. Some players crave the bright, vibrant response of a fresh pack, while others prefer the broken-in warmth and balance of an older set. Learning to find the sweet spot of a given set’s useful life is a big part of identifying the best set for your needs.

LOOK OUT FOR COMMON PITFALLS

A frequent and easy mistake is to accidentally lose parts during restringing. It’s quite common for many parts on the guitar to be held in place by string tension alone—the bridge pins, saddle, nut, and tuner bushings (the small metal sleeves around the tuner posts) are often loose on older guitars, and can simply fall off the guitar when the strings are removed. These tiny parts can be maddeningly hard to find underneath a couch, which is why I always recommend working on a clean table.

On archtop guitars, the bridge is always held in place by tension alone, so when restringing one, be careful to take note of the bridge position so it can be placed back in the correct spot. I use a small piece of masking tape, which I de-tack by first sticking it to my shirt before putting it on the guitar top. I place one small piece on each side of the archtop bridge, with a small pencil mark aligned to the front edge. This allows me to replace the bridge in the exact same place during restringing.

Partly to avoid losing the pins, and partly for simple convenience, I like to anchor all the strings in the bridge or tailpiece first, before winding them onto the posts. It’s important to make sure that the ball ends are correctly anchored—in typical pin-style bridges, it’s possible for the ball ends to dangle below the bridge plate and rattle, causing mystery buzzes. Place the string ball into its hole, and insert the pin loosely. Pull up on the string until you feel the ball seat firmly against the bridge plate (underside of the top) and then press the pin more tightly into place. In the case of tailpiece-equipped guitars, double check each string’s anchor point before you bring the string up to tension, as it’s easier for those ball ends to slip out during installation.

LEARN A FOOLPROOF APPROACH

When I was first taught to change strings, I was shown a somewhat complicated technique that involved tucking the free end of the string underneath the first turn of wrap on the tuner post, to lock it against slippage. It took me several years to get to the point where I could do it without leaving slack in the resulting loops, and it was always a challenge to remove old strings from the tuners, as they would often break at the post, leaving sharp little rings of string stuck in the holes, which had to be picked out with pliers. Not fun, to say the least.

In my first job, at Veillette Guitars, I learned a much simpler way, which remains my go-to approach. I’ve used this stringing technique for everything from .007 strings at very high tension all the way to giant .095 sub-bass strings, and they have always held firmly without slipping. Even if tuned up to the breaking point, the strings would always snap before the windings would slip.

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The basic idea of this approach is to kink the string in opposing directions on each side of the string post. Simply insert the string through the post, leaving a small amount of slack between the nut and the bridge (about enough to stand four fingers between the stretched string and fretboard). Then, bend the string on both sides of the post simultaneously, so the string makes a Z shape through the hole. (If you are installing a bass-side string, you would bend both sides clockwise). Clip off the trailing side of the string and wind up the slack onto the tuning post. Be sure that each wrap winds below the prior ones, so the string gets closer to the headpiece as each wind is added.

If you’ve left the correct amount of slack, there should be two to three wraps on the heavier strings, and three to five at most on the thinner ones. Too many wraps can cause tuning problems, as it makes it more likely for the wraps to pile up on each other and not wind evenly around the post. Too few wraps will potentially make the string slip, no matter how it’s wound.

Stringing with a simple Z bend takes less time than any other technique I’ve seen, and it has proven itself to be reliable for me over tens of thousands of strings installed. Strings are very easy to remove from the posts, and even if they break at the post, the leftover ends just fall out of the hole without any need for tools. I have uttered some choice words over the years for strings that were double-threaded through the post, knotted into place, twisted around themselves, and even dabbed with superglue to help them stay put. Whether you change your strings yourself or have it done by a tech, this simple and foolproof approach will make it much more reliable and fun.

How to string an acoustic guitar

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2021 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.

By Ed Mitchell 10 September 2015

Learn how to change your acoustic guitar’s strings correctly…

One of the most common cries for help I’ve received recently concerns the restringing of acoustic guitars.

While this should be a straightforward job, it seems that your pesky bridge pins (see photo 1 in the gallery below) are causing trouble. I don’t want to start a fight here, but it’s probably your fault. If these little plastic, metal, bone or wood pins aren’t fitted correctly, they can shoot out of the bridge like a rocket when you tune the string.

Over the years, I’ve seen bridge pins mummified in sticky tape then jammed into their respective holes in the bridge. I’ve even witnessed the horror of bridge pins entombed in super glue to keep them from pinging out. Excuse me for stating the obvious, but these are not good solutions. Let’s learn how to do the job correctly.

When you’re fitting strings to an acoustic guitar, you can’t just stuff the bridge pins in and hope for the best. You have to make sure the ball end of the string applies enough tension to the correct part of the pin to stop it flying out when you tune the guitar up to pitch.

When removing bridge pins, use the right tool for the job, such as the built-in notch on the head of your string-winder (See photo 2). Don’t let me catch you using metal tools like pliers or snips. You’ll chew up or snap the pins. Speaking of which, always check on the condition of your bridge pins whenever you remove them from the guitar. If they look worn out or chewed up, replace them.

The ball end of the guitar string has to secure itself against the underside of the bridge to maintain the guitar’s tone and sustain. The ball end shouldn’t be allowed to sit on the tip of the pin (See photo 3). If this happens, the pin will work itself loose and you’ll spend the rest of the evening on your hands and knees looking for it. Putting a curve in the winding of the string (See photo 4) will help the ball end avoid the tip of the bridge pin and go where it’s supposed to. Gently bend the winding until the string looks like the one in the picture.

Next, slip the string into its hole in the bridge (See photo 5). Grab a bridge pin and slide that into the hole. Make sure the groove in the bridge pin is facing the sound hole of the guitar (See photo 6). Next, push the pin into place while simultaneously pulling on the string with your other hand (See photo 7). You should feel the string and pin snap into place. Nice work. I’ll meet you up at the headstock.

Snip the string approximately two inches past its corresponding machinehead. Now you can poke the end of the string through the hole in the machinehead shaft (See photo 8). Begin winding the string on the shaft with your string-winder (see photo 9). Aim for four or five neat windings on the post with no unsightly overlaps.

As you wind the string up to tension, eyeball the bridge pin. If it pops up a bit, push it back down. Repeat the restringing process with the rest of the strings.

As ever, give the strings a good stretch (See photo 10), then re-tune. Repeat the process until the tuning stabilizes. That’s the job finished.

Next time, I’m going to show you how to restring a nylon-strung classical guitar. See you then.

If you simply can’t get enough of Ed and his Shed, click here!

A Quick Guide to Acoustic Guitar String Gauges

By Ged Richardson

16th March 2021

How to string an acoustic guitar

Strings have a bigger impact on acoustic guitars than electric guitars, as there are no pickups or amplifiers that contribute to the sound.

That’s why the choice of strings you use requires some thought, especially the thickness (or ‘gauge’) of the strings as that, in particular, has a big influence on playability and sound.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at acoustic guitar string gauges and help you understand the difference between them.

Table of Contents

Characteristics of Light vs. Heavy String Gauges

Lighter gauge strings

  • easier to play
  • easier bending of notes and fretting
  • exert less tension on the guitar neck and are a safe choice for vintage guitars
  • break more easily
  • produce less volume and sustain
  • prone to cause fret buzzing, especially on guitars with low action

Heavier gauge strings

  • produce more volume and sustain
  • harder to play
  • require more finger pressure to fret and bend notes
  • exert more tension on the guitar neck

Acoustic Guitar String Gauge Comparison Chart

Strings gauges are designated in thousandths of an inch.

  • Extra Light – .010 .014 .023 .030 .039 .047 – otherwise known as 10’s
  • Custom Light – .011 .015 .023 .032 .042 .052 – otherwise known as 11’s
  • Light – .012 .016 .025 .032 .042 .054 – otherwise known as 12’s
  • Medium – .013 .017 .026 .035 .045 .056 – otherwise known as 13’s
  • Heavy – .014 .018 .027 .039 .049 .059 – otherwise known as 14’s

Key Considerations When Choosing String Gauge

When choosing which string gauge is right for you, you should also consider these other things too.

Body Style

Certain gauge strings go better with particular guitar body types.

  • Jumbo size – medium to heavy gauge strings (13’s, 14’s). This extra tension helps drive the top of the guitar to provide a larger body of tone. Typically, they’re used by folk and bluegrass players who are what is known as ‘heavy flat pickers’
  • Dreadnought size – medium gauge strings (12’s or 13’s), as these guitars are strong, sturdy builds and can handle the extra tension that heavy gauge strings put on them. They’re also designed to resonate louder.
  • Grand Auditorium size – typically have 13’s
  • Parlour / ¾ size – lighter gauge strings 11’s or lower (any heavy and they struggle with the tension). Because of the body size, these guitars don’t resonate so much, so there’s no point in putting heavy gauge strings on them anyway as you won’t hear the benefit.

Picking Style

Lighter gauge strings are much easier to fingerpick with. For strumming, medium gauge up will sound better. For a mix of fingerpicking and strumming, go with mediums. Fingerpicking with heavy gauge strings can be painful for beginners.

Instrument Age

For guitars over a certain age, be careful fitting heavy strings as they can cause the neck to bow or the bridge to lift or snap off completely. If it’s a vintage guitar, take extra care.

Heavy gauge strings accentuate the guitars’ bass register giving you those deep and strong tones. Great if you’re a strummer and want to play loud chords that really ring out

Lighter strings will give you more treble and are more subtle.

String Material

The material the strings are made from also has an effect, each adding its own unique color.

  • 80/20 Bronze – the most common type of material, with a clear and bright tone. The downside is they age (due to oxidization) pretty quickly, but they tend to be cheap too.
  • Aluminium Bronze – crisper and better clarity than 80/20 Bronze, with a more pronounced bass
  • Phosphor Bronze – warmer resonate tone, but less clarity and brightness
  • Coated Phosphor Bronze – same as above, but coated to last longer (though they are a bit pricier)
  • Polymer Coated – corrosion resistant
  • Brass – bright, metallic, jangly sound
  • Silk and steel – steel core strings with silk, nylon or copper wrap, mellow sound and good for fingerpicking

Summary

So which should you choose?

Well, the standard gauge is 12’s and you’ll find them on the majority of acoustics. Go with 13’s if you want to try something more resonant, but only if you have a large body guitar like a dreadnought or a jumbo, or you won’t hear the benefit.
If you have a ¾ size guitar or a parlor, go with some 10’s or 11’s to make things easy

One last thing, remember if you’re moving to a heavy gauge string to make sure the nut slots have enough room for the extra girth of the strings. Similarly, when going from heavy to light make sure there isn’t excess space in the nut slots for the strings to move around and buzz (if that happens, you may need a new nut). In either case, if you’re unsure, it’s best to seek the help of a professional.

Changing Strings on an Acoustic Guitar – Removing the Sixth String

These instructions apply to acoustic guitars. Here is our tutorial on changing electric guitar strings.

What You’ll Need

  • Wire snips
  • Pliers (maybe)
  • A cloth to wipe down guitar
  • Guitar polish (optional)
  • A “string winder” (optional but recommended)
  • New guitar string

Begin by finding a flat surface on which to lay the guitar. A table works well, but the floor works in a pinch. Position yourself in front of the instrument, with the guitar’s sixth string closest to you. Completely slacken the sixth (lowest) string of the guitar, by turning the tuner. If you’re unsure of which direction to turn the tuner to slacken the string, pluck the string before you begin turning the tuner. The pitch of the note should get lower as you slacken the string.

Once the string has been completely slackened, uncoil it from the tuning peg at the head of the guitar. Next, remove the other end of the string from the bridge by removing the sixth string bridge pin from the bridge of the guitar. Commonly, bridge pins will provide some resistance when trying to remove them. If this is the case, use a pair of pliers and gently coax the bridge pin out of the bridge.

Discard the old string. Using your cloth, wipe down any areas of the guitar you can’t reach with the sixth string on the instrument. If you have guitar polish, now is the time to use it.

It is important to note that some guitarists remove all strings from their guitar at once and then replace them. I highly advise against this procedure. The six tuned strings of a guitar produce a great deal of tension on the neck of the instrument, which is a good thing. Removing all six strings at once drastically changes this tension, which many guitar necks don’t react well to. Sometimes, when all six strings are replaced, the strings will sit impossibly high off the fretboard. Change your strings one at a time to avoid a variety of issues.

From the July/August 2021 issue of Acoustic Guitar | By Martin Keith

What is the correct formula for placing a bridge/saddle on an acoustic guitar? Marc Lucas, via email

This is a good and very timely question—I was just involved in a discussion with a few other builder/repair people about a brand-new guitar whose saddle was placed in a puzzling spot. In order for the guitar to play in tune, the luthier had to fill the saddle slot and reroute it in a different placement—pretty unexpected work for a brand-new instrument that sells for almost $2,000.

All of this serves to illustrate that saddle position is not always approached as a strict formula in the industry. A survey of several very popular makes (Martin, Gibson, Taylor, Takamine) shows differing saddle angles, split saddles, and compensated or ramped saddle tops on some guitars and straight saddle tops on others. If tuning is something that can be so easily measured, and if there’s a clear right and wrong, then how can there be so many differences in saddle position and treatment?

I’ve been asked this question before by clients and can’t always give them an easy answer. In my repair work, I prefer to consider each guitar on an individual basis—I measure the tuning accuracy with a strobe tuner, and determine string-per-string what adjustments are needed. This practical approach also gives me a convenient end-run around answering the larger question, but the question lingers nonetheless.

The simple math of fret scales suggests that the saddle should be placed exactly twice as far from the nut as the 12th fret. However, because strings are not perfectly flexible, and because that imperfection varies from string to string, the saddle needs to be moved away from that theoretical point. The strings’ stiffness causes the notes to play sharper than they should, so the saddle is moved to lengthen the scale, causing the frets to play a tiny bit flatter. When this is done precisely, the two effects cancel each other out perfectly, resulting in well-tuned notes up and down the fretboard.

The nut is also implicated here, and this is a great time to bring up the many ways this can impact intonation. A high nut (i.e., one whose slots are not cut deep enough) will force the player to bend the strings sharp just to get them in contact with the frets. This effect will be most prominent in the lower positions and is very common on new factory instruments. However, the effects of string rigidity do increase as you approach the nut, and modern luthiers have developed various systems to address those effects. Stepped or compensated nuts, first seen in the work of custom makers, are now starting to appear on mass-production instruments. Session guitarist Buzz Feiten developed a tuning system meant to sweeten the intonation of guitars, which includes a calculated change to the nut position. There are even aftermarket compensated nuts from companies such as Earvana, which allow the player to experiment with this idea in a non-destructive way on their favorite guitar. Finally, the most adventurous builders and players have jumped into the deep end by building instruments where the frets themselves are not straight, but instead zigzag across the fretboard in a slightly unsettling way.

Unfortunately, this brings us back to the same big question: Shouldn’t it be possible to measure each of these systems with an honest tuner and determine which (if any) gives a meaningful advantage over the traditional straight nut and fret? For readers who wish to engage in a well-documented technical analysis of the compensated nut, I would suggest the work of Trevor Gore and Gerard Gilet, two Australian luthiers who have done considerable research on the topic, including some fairly advanced math and physics calculations.

In my own instruments, I build-in a zero fret. This is an additional fret, located where the nut would normally be. The strings contact this fret when played open, so the guitar behaves as if it were capoed against a fret at all times. For this reason, I have not seen the advantage to pursuing any nut-end compensaion, and I’ll be honest that I have yet to get a straight answer about how nut compensation can be meaningful in any way once a capo is installed on the guitar.

However, for those that really wish to have a simple rule: Among the repair people I respect most, the consensus is that for a standard 25.5-inch scale, you should add 1/16-inch to the scale length for the first string, and 3/16-inch to
the length for the sixth string. This slope of 1/8-inch difference from strings 1 to 6 is likely to yield good results for the average setup, strings, and playing style. It will certainly get you close enough that any further adjustments can be made by carefully shaping the saddle top.

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How to string an acoustic guitar

Buzzing strings are a serious bummer and often difficult to diagnose. Download our FREE guide on identifying and fixing 10 common causes of string buzz.

It can feel counterintuitive, even frustrating, to think that something as simply measurable as tuning can cause such differences of opinion among professionals. No guitar will ever be perfectly in tune. And in fact, no fretted instrument can be: The whole idea of 12-tone equal temperament is that every note shares the same small amount of error, which hopefully makes it too small to notice. Professional piano tuners often play with this by stretching the tuning to adjust the timbre and character of the piano, giving it additional warmth or brightness in specific ranges as needed.

I know of a session bassist (one of the industry’s best and most renowned) who intentionally sets up his low E to trend a bit sharp, to help it cut through in big mixes. And, most importantly, small dips and rises in pitch from playing technique are an essential component of what gives each guitarist their own sonic personality. It is with all this in mind that I usually tell my clients to trust their ears above their calculators. Do your best to get the guitar as close as possible, check your work with a tuner, and then get back to playing.

How to string an acoustic guitar

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2021 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.