If you have been playing for at least a few months, you really should know how to restring your guitar yourself. In this case the cost would be limited to the cost for a set of replacement strings. If you are a beginner however it might be best to have someone at your local music store restring the guitar at least once for you to ensure you are using an appropriate string gauge (e.g. the thickness of the strings) and save you breaking strings. In this case the costs can be anywhere from between $20 and $40 dollars. If however, your guitar requires a set up e.g. there are intonation issues or the guitar just doesn’t feel or sound as good as it once did to play you would be advised to have your guitar set up correctly. This involves restringing the guitar along with performing basic maintenance and making adjustments to the neck to ensure maximum playability.
Guitar not staying in tune? Or feeling a little harder to play. It might be time for a string change. But if you are fairly new to acoustic guitar (both steel string and classical) you might be wondering how much it costs to restring your guitar? In the following article we’ll cover the three different scenarios acoustic guitarists find themselves in with regard to strings and some ballpark costs you might encounter when restringing.
How much to restring a guitar if you have been playing for a while$6 – $12 e.g. the cost for a new set of strings
If you have been playing guitar for any period of time, there really is no excuse not to know how to restring your guitar yourself. You are going to break strings, or your strings are going to get old. It’s not ideal to have someone charge you to perform this basic task every time.
Restringing a guitar involves four basic steps.
- Buying a set of new strings
- Removing the old strings
- Installing the new strings
- Tuning up the guitar
Buying new Strings
The first thing you are going to get asked when buying new strings is what string gauge you prefer. String gauge refers to the thickness of the strings, measured in thousands of an inch.
When referring to string gauge, either the high E and low E are used or just the high E. For example a set of light acoustic guitar strings with a high E of .11 thousands of an inch and a low E of .52 thousands of an inch would be referred to as a set of 11 to 52’s or just as a set of 11’s
Generally speaking acoustic guitar strings are found in the following gauges:
* Based on Ernie Ball 80/20 bronze acoustic guitar strings
10 to 50’
11 to 52’
12 to 54’
13 to 56’
There are of course many variations on the above, depending on the manufacturer and the range of strings they offer but for the most part if you refer to extra light, light, medium light or medium, or 10’s, 11’s, 12’s or 13’s people you will be on the same page as the person behind the counter.
What gauge strings should you use?
Generally speaking string gauge is a trade off between playability and tone. E.g. the lighter the strings the easier to press down on and bend and the lower your action can be set to.
Thicker strings on the other hand have a greater amount of tension on them due to their increased mass, making them harder to play but producing a warmer, fuller tone in most cases.
If you have to ask the question you are probably reasonably new to the guitar, in which case I’d recommend a string gauge on the lighter side e.g. 11’s or even 10’s.
As your hand strength develops you may like to eventually experiment with 12’s or 13’s. But it isn’t simply a case that the more experienced a guitarist is the thicker gauge string they play. It really comes back to personal preference and what helps you play the way you like to play.
Removing the old strings
I can still remember cutting a set of strings when much younger and somehow ending up the the high E string embedded deeply in the top of my thumb, in fact it was almost through to the other side. Since then, I have always remembered to take care when removing strings.
The best way to do this is to place the guitar flat on its back on a towel to prevent it from being scratched or moving around. Use a second towel to support the headstock and then loosen the strings, one at a time. From here you can either cut them with a pair of pliers or unwind them from the headstock completely.
Once the strings are removed from the headstock you can ‘pop’ the fixing pegs and remove the ‘ball end’ of the strings. If you have a string winder you may even have a fixing peg tool attached to the winder. If not, fixing pegs can be stubborn to remove. If so, this guide might be useful.
Just take care to protect the guitar, I’ve seen many guitars scratched when someone wasn’t taking the level of care they should.
Installing New Strings
Armed with your new set of strings it’s now time to install them on your acoustic guitar. For the most part this is fairly self explanatory but do remember to check the orientation of your guitar e.g. if you are left handed don’t put the strings on upside down (trust me, it happens) and I like to work in from the outside e.g. high E and low E first, followed by the B and A strings and lastly the G and D strings.
Start by inserting the ball end of the string into the fixing peg hole. The fixing pegs come with slots on one side for the strings to sit within, allowing them to be fixed. Ensure the ball end of the string sits beneath the end of the fixing peg and peg is firmly in place.
Next insert the other end of the strings into the appropriate tuner hole and begin tightening counter clockwise to make sure the strings are guided onto the inside face of the tuners. Your light strings will be attached to the closest tuners and will work their way up the headstock based on the gauge of string.
Leave sufficient slack on the string to allow enough length to wrap the tuners. Don’t tune to concert pitch, instead ensure the strings are on firmly but not overly tight. Do this for all strings.
Once all strings are installed on the guitar you can begin tuning. If you are new to guitar, ideally you will have a tuner, if not I’d recommend getting yourself one. Otherwise you will need to use a reference to tune the low E string to E. If you don’t have another instrument available, use your computer to ‘Google’ the sound of a low E acoustic guitar string.
The strings of your guitar must be tuned relative to each other to allow for the guitar to produce accurate chords and for anything other than single notes played in isolation to sound correct.
Again this is fairly simple concept. The A string should be tuned to A, which is the note produced when playing the 5th fret of your low E string. Simply play the 5th fret of your low E string and match the A string to this tone.
You should then repeat this for all strings (you will get faster at this, the more often you do it) except the G string which should be tuned to the 4th fret of the B string.
How much to restring a guitar if you don’t know how$20 – $60 including the cost of a new set of strings
If you are a beginner and haven’t restrung your guitar before, chances are you are going to get the wrong gauge of string, mess up the correct order of the strings or even worse break your high E and B strings regularly. This can obviously become frustrating and may even be enough to discourage a beginner before they have really even gotten started.
If this is the case, you will be well served speaking to your local music store and getting a price on having them restring your guitar for you.
Music stores typically offer restringing services for anywhere from $20 – $60 including the cost for a new set of strings. But don’t just assume the price,
be sure to confirm first, as the definition of ‘restringing’ is often open to interpretation.
Be specific about what you expect to be paying for e.g. to have a new set of strings installed on your guitar. You don’t want to find yourself handing over $120+ dollars because the store ‘set up’ the guitar for you, which in itself may be good value but isn’t what you specifically wanted or could afford.
In many cases, music stores will offer a ‘restringing’ service which involves nut and saddle adjustment, and fingerboard cleaning. While not a full ‘set up’. If your guitar hasn’t had a lot of attention in recent times, this level of maintenance will often result in your guitar being more ‘playable’.
How much to restring a guitar if your guitar requires a set up.$120+ including the cost of a new set of strings
Even if you are an experienced guitarist, your guitar will benefit from a set up from time to time. Guitars, being mostly an organic product tend to be affected by changes of season, humidity and just being played regularly. This can then impact on your guitar’s overall playability, tone and intonation.
While performing basic maintenance on your guitar is a valuable skill you can learn yourself, you may want to weigh up whether it is worth learning the more complicated tasks such as truss rod adjustment and fret dressing or alternatively letting a professional handle this for you.
Personally I feel it is a good idea to learn the basics of guitar set up and maintenance and I enjoy working on my guitars, but this will largely come down to how much of a ‘guitar geek’ you wish to be and how you enjoy spending your time e.g. do you like working on guitars or would you prefer to play them exclusively?
If you are going to have your guitar set up correctly, the guitar will be restrung along with some additional services, which may include:
- Truss Rod Adjustment
- Adjustment of the action e.g. saddle and nut height adjustment
- Adjusting intonation
- Fingerboard cleaning and conditioning
Fret levelling and dressing may or may not be included.
It’s best to check first and assess whether this is required for your guitar. Fret levelling is the ‘art’ of aligning the top of the guitar’s fretboard wires to be level with each other by filing down any raised frets. Fret wires can become worn due to the guitar’s strings being pressed against them regularly.
Fret dressing and/or crowning is the art of shaping the fret wires after they have been levelled. E.g. when levelling frets, the top of any fret wires that have been filed will need to be reshaped to ensure a nice rounded top making them easier to play.
As we can see, there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ answer to how much it costs to restring an acoustic guitar. There are different options available depending on your level of experience and the condition of your guitar.
If you are just diving into the world of acoustic guitars, I’d recommend learning how to restring your guitar correctly along with some basic maintenance e.g. how to clean your guitar’s fingerboard and body and make minor adjustments to the truss rod to fine tune your neck relief. But otherwise, especially if new to the guitar you will be best focusing on learning how to play before becoming overly concerned with working on your guitar.