Changing strings – Les Paul -type guitars

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 action at the 12th fret before you start. If you take down these measurements it will be easy to readjust your guitar’s action, if you’ve taken off the guitar’s hardware, for example.

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I keep my 1980s Les Paul Junior strung in the old-school way, with the strings going over the stopbar. This approach gives you a slightly looser feel.

This is how Les Paul -type guitars are usually strung these days, which looks cleaner and neater. Both approaches are valid – take your choice.

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I use sticky tape to secure the tune-o-matic bridge and stopbar to the body to prevent them from falling off and damaging the guitar. Don’t use adhesives that could mark your guitar, like duct tape, and don’t keep the tape on the guitar for longer than it takes to change strings, if you don’t want to leave (possibly permanent) marks on your finish.

If you own a recent Epiphone guitar, or your guitar is equipped with Tone Pros hardware, the tape is not needed. In these cases the hardware is already fixed to their posts.

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

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

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Here I’m pushing the old string through the stopbar.

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My Junior was equipped originally with Grover Minis, which I replaced with Schaller M6-Vintage tuners a few years ago.

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Sealed tuners are practically maintenance-free. You can adjust their feel with the small screw at the tip of the tuner buttons.

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I’d recommend you work your way up from the wrist of the headstock and work in pairs: first E-e, then A-b, and lastly D-g.

Pull the new string all the way through the stopbar, and only pull it over the bridge, once the string’s ball-end is in place inside the stopbar.

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Insert the string…

…pull it around the post…

…and lock the string in by pulling it up away from the body.

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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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I’d recommend cutting off the surplus string in close proximity to the tuning post. Then I bend the stub down towards the headstock face. Be careful, a cut off string is very sharp!

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If everything went according to plan this is how the new low E-string should look in the tuner.

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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.

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 string action at the 12th fret and compare it with the values measured with the old string set. Raise (or lower) the bridge as needed.

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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.

PS: On older guitars the tune-o-matic-bridge’s bridge post holes may be worn. After a string change, I always have to give the bridge’s bass side a little push towards the stopbar to get it back into its correct position on my Junior. The actual difference in terms of millimeters is only incremental, but it does make a discernible difference to the guitar’s intonation!

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