When you first look at the way a classical guitar is strung it may seem a bit intimidating. You’re probably used to the simple thread-through method on dreadnought acoustics or electrics, and the knots found on classical guitars can look like a real challenge.
You’re a guitarist after all, not a boy scout.
However, this is a skill that is actually easier done than said, and absolutely necessary as you practice any of the hundreds of classical guitar songs out there.
After your first few timid classical guitar restrings, you’ll be able to change strings on your classical guitar just as well as you can tie your own shoes.
What’s the Difference?
Classical guitars and their nylon strings typically lack the bridge pin+ball end setup common on most other acoustics. As nylon strings are under much less tension than steel strings and classical guitars lack the truss rod that adds support to steel string acoustics, don’t be tempted to swap out for steel on your classical.
This will inevitably pull the bridge from the body and warp your guitar’s neck, so if you’re learning classical guitar you’ll want to learn straight away how to properly tie and wind ball-less nylon strings.
In addition to the difference between bridge styles, classical guitars usually have slotted headstocks with horizontally-oriented tuning posts, opposed to the vertical orientation of steel-string guitars. You’ll have to learn to tie the strings here with a different knot than at the bridge, but again, once you understand the basic technique you’ll have no problem setting your classical up with new crisp strings.
When to Change Your Classical Guitar Strings
You’ll want to change your strings periodically to keep sounding your best. Whenever your tone starts to sound dull or deadened, it’s time for a fresh set. You can also tell it’s time to swap out for new strings when you start to notice black oxidation on the three bass strings, or whenever you start to see copper showing on silver-plated strings.
And of course, the most obvious excuse for a full string change is after a string breaks; don’t just change the broken string or you’ll suffer a strange tone that can affect the quality of your practice and performance.
Tying Strings to the Bridge
First, make sure you’re using the correct end of the string to tie to the bridge.
You’ll notice that one end has a thicker metal wrap than the other, and this is the end that ties onto the tuning post!
The end with looser coils is more flexible, suited for the wraps you’ll need to make to tie it to the bridge.
So, after you’ve got the right ends sorted out, it’s time to start your knots.
First, slide the string through the hole in the bridge, and leave about three inches extending toward the bottom of the guitar. We’ll call this extra length the “tail” of the string.
Next, bring the tail up over the bridge and to the right of the longer end. Guide it UNDERNEATH the main length of the string. Here, it’s helpful to make a crease in the tail end. Then, you’ll need to lead the tail under itself, inserting it into the loop you created in the last step.
With the low E and A strings, the next step is a matter of preference.
You can do either one or two wraps of the string around itself.
Many players opt for one, as the thickness of these strings is generally enough to hold them in place with a single twist.
However, if you want the added assurance that your knot won’t slip, you can bring the tail end through the loop a second time before pulling the knot tight. This is only optional on the bottom two strings; all others need at least two wraps to hold them securely to the bridge.
At this point, you’re almost done tying your first string.
All that’s left to do is seat and tighten the knot. To do this, bring the tail end of the string toward the bottom edge of the bridge. Now, gently and slowly pull on the main length, easily tightening the knot you’ve just created. Don’t pull too tight, as the knot will be completely tightened when you wind the string for tuning.
Repeat these steps until you’ve tied all 6 strings, and you’re halfway through restringing the classical guitar.
To keep your work looking tidy, you can tuck the tail of each former string into the loop of the one you’re currently tying, then trim them with nail clippers or wire cutters to the appropriate lenght.
Additionally, you can prevent slippage of the high E string by bringing the tail through the bridge hole twice, then finishing the knot as previously described.
Tying Strings to the Tuning Posts
There are several different ways to do this, like Taylor Guitar’s method or this method from Sweetwater, but I’ll only tell you my favorite simple technique.
Starting with the Low E string, pull the main length up to the headstock and into the first groove in the nut. Turn the tuning key until the hole in the post points toward you. Take the string over the tuning post and guide it into the hole from the bottom of the post.
Pull the string so you have three to four inches of slack in the main length. Then, take the free end and loop it over the main length. Insert it into the tuning post hole again, this time from the top. Now, you can pull the free end tight, locking the main length in place.
All that’s left is to tune it up, winding the string toward the outside of the post.
Keep a little tension on the main string and guide your coils so that they lay beside one another. Ideally, you’ll have four to six coils at full tension.
Once your string is in tune, trim off the excess length and repeat these steps for the remaining strings.
Closing Thoughts and Tips
Your first time restringing a classical guitar might not be a perfect job, but the more you do it the better you’ll get. You’ll probably want to invest in a string winder tool to make the final winding faster and easier, but it’s not a necessity.
Nylon strings will stretch a lot and come out of tune many times during your first hours playing on new strings. You can abate this a bit by stretching them first by gently pulling up on each string near where the neck joins the body.
Although this can be an intimidating task, once you get through your first string change you’ll realize it’s not that bad a challenge and won’t have to fret so bad the next time you break a string.
Happy playing and may your knots never slip!