Changing strings – vintage-style Stratocaster

Photos: Miloš Berka

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Here’s what you need:

A pack of strings, a wire cutter, a tuner and a guitar lead. A cheap plastic crank speeds up the whole process of string winding.

A metal ruler comes in handy for measuring the vibrato’s tip-up (the distance between the back of the baseplate and the face of the guitar), as well as the action at the 12th fret before you start. If you take down these measurements it will be easy to readjust your guitar’s vibrato and action, should the need arise, due to the new string set differing in gauge compared to the old set.

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It’s easiest, in my opinion, to take off all of a Strat’s strings once.

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The old strings are much easier to pull out of the vibrato block, once you’ve snipped off the coiled end that was formed by the tuner post.

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And out the string comes…

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On vintage-style Stratocasters the tuners are copies of old Kluson-machines, which feature a well inside the tuner post for the string to go in.

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It’s a good idea to check the tuners for loose fixing screws, and tighten them carefully, if necessary. Slightly stiff tuners benefit from a drop of oil, applied via the small hole in the tuner’s back cover.

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I recommend starting with the low E-string, working your way up. This way offers you slightly more manoeuvering space on the headstock than doing it the other way around.

The new string is fed into the vibrato block and through the vibrato’s base plate. Pull the string up first in a straight line away from the body, until you feel the ball-end hitting the top of the vibrato block, before pulling the string towards its tuner.

If you pull the string carelessly through the vibrato block, pulling it towards the tuner before the ball-end has travelled fully through the block, you can easily end up with a kink in the brand-new string, which may well cause breakage, possibly already during the first tune-up.

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Because of the handy hole in the tuner post, you won’t need the full length of string. Shorten it, by cutting it off at about the second next tuner post (in this case at the D-string’s tuner). Be careful, cutting through a string may cause it to jump at you. The cut-off point is very sharp, so mind your eyes!

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Feed the start of the new string all the way into the tuner post…

…then bend it towards the headstock, once it’s in.

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Keep the string pressed downwards, while you’re turning the crank. Each new winding should pass under the one before it.

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Note that the bridge saddles on a vintage-type Strat feature no groove for string alignment. You can check the correct alignment by looking at the middle pickup. Each string should pass over its magnet approximately through the middle.

Realigning a string is much easier, if you remember to tune down a few turns before pushing the string over the saddle’s surface.

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Getting new strings to stay in tune is a much faster process, if you stretch each string carefully. It works like this: First you tune to pitch, then you stretch each string, and retune again. Once you’ve repeated this process four to five times, you should be ready to go (a floating vibrato may need a few tugs and retunings more).

Your fretting hand should hold down the string you’re stretching at the first or second fret to avoid damage to the top nut.

Once the guitar is in tune you should check the tip-up of the bridge and the string action at the 12th fret and compare it with the values measured with the old string set. Adjust the tip-up first by changing the position of the spring claw inside the back compartment, before adjusting the action via the bridge saddles’ adjustment screws.

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The last stage should be checking and resetting the guitar’s intonation. Always check your intonation with the guitar in playing position, by comparing the correctly tuned open string (or its 12th fret harmonic) to the fretted pitch at the 12th fret.

If the fretted note is flat (its pitch too low), you need to adjust the bridge saddle closer to the bridge pickup. Give the screw a few turns, then retune and check again. Repeat if necessary.

If the fretted note is sharp (its pitch too high), you need to adjust the bridge saddle further away from the bridge pickup. Give the screw a few turns, then retune and check again. Repeat if necessary.

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