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Ask a dozen guitar players how they stretch new guitar strings and you’ll get about a dozen different answers and techniques. Though people’s methods may vary, one thing’s for certain:
When you install a new set of guitar strings, you need to stretch them.
Even if you’re one of the few people who don’t believe you can physically “stretch” a guitar string (more on that at the end of this article), the fact remains that when you install a new set of strings, you need to do something to get them to stabilize and stay in tune, or they’ll continuously go flat on you for the first few hours that you play.
So, let’s get straight into the demonstration. I’m going to show you my method for stretching guitar strings, but know that it’s not the only method that works. This is simply the technique that I like to use.
To keep my hands free for this demo, I had to lay the guitar on its back for some of the photos and video below. However, do this stuff with your guitar in the playing position whenever possible (especially important for tuning). Just ensure it’s secure or that you’re using a strap so you don’t accidentally drop it during the procedure. If you do this with the guitar on its back, please wear eye protection.
1. Change your guitar strings
In case you aren’t aware and skipped my intro, I’ll re-state it here: string-stretching is only something you need to do with a brand new set of strings. So, if you haven’t already, change those strings and read on!
Change out those old guitar strings with a fresh set and get ready to stretch
2. If you have an electric guitar with a locking nut, don’t lock the nut clamping blocks yet
If your guitar is electric and has a locking nut, after you’ve installed all your new strings leave the clamping blocks off. You do NOT want to lock down the clamping blocks until after your strings are fully stretched, stable, and in tune.
On electric guitars with locking nuts, leave the nut unlocked while stretching new guitar strings
3. Grab a single string and start stretching
Beginning with you biggest/lowest string, get ahold of the string near the bridge and begin stretching at little intervals down the length of the guitar string toward the headstock. Once you’ve reached the nut, come back toward the bridge, stretching at little intervals all along the way.
My exact stretching technique, while not unique, is a bit difficult to describe only with words or images. So, I’ve created a quick video clip showing you exactly how I stretch a string. There’s no sound, so don’t bother adjusting your speakers.
Demonstrating my string-stretching technique on one string
Be careful when you get to the nut. At one point in the video, you may have noticed me exaggeratedly press my left index finger onto the nut when I got down there. This is to ensure I don’t accidentally pop the string out of the nut slot. If a string pops out of the nut slot, it’s usually not a big deal, but it can potentially damage the nut slot.
Acoustic Guitarists: If yours is an acoustic guitar, be careful that you don’t pop the bridge pins out of the bridge. “Bridge pins” are the little white (or sometimes black) pegs that hold the ball-ends of the strings in the bridge. When stretching strings like this, it’s a good idea to place a finger on top of the bridge pin of the string you’re stretching, just to be safe.
4. Re-tune the string you just stretched
After you stretch a string like this, it’ll be extremely flat, which is the whole point. You’re purposely stretching the string to expedite the inevitable–making it flat now so that it doesn’t continue to go flat while you play. So tune the string back up to the correct pitch.
After stretching a new string, it’ll be flat, so tune it back up to pitch
5. Stretch the same string again
Got the string back in tune? Great. Now make one more pass–stretching up and down the string in the exact same manner.
Now that the string is back in tune, give it another stretch
6. Retune the string… again
After stretching a second time, the string will be flat again, but not quite as flat as before. This is because the string is beginning to stabilize. So, tune it back up to the correct pitch.
7. Repeat this process on each of the remaining strings
Okay, one string’s done, so go ahead and stretch all your remaining strings… making sure you re-tune each string after you stretch it. Usually, it takes about 2-3 passes per string before it fully stabilizes and no longer goes significantly flat. I say “significantly” because your string may go just a little flat anytime you yank on it this much. So, the way you know that a string is sufficiently stretched is when it no longer goes significantly flat after stretching. If it goes every-so-slightly flat, you’re probably good to go and don’t need to continue stretching.
Cool Gadget Alert: The String Stretcha™
So, now that you know how to stretch your guitar strings by hand (which is perfectly fine and all you really need), I want to at least tell you about a helpful little gadget called The String Stretcha™. You can read my in-depth review here.
My String Stretcha in action. Just slide it up and down each string twice, and you’re done.
Years ago, I discovered the Stretcha being used by a guitar tech at a live show. I ordered one for myself and liked it so much that it’s all I use now. This tool does the job much faster and better than I’m able to do by hand. Nowadays, the only time I stretch strings by hand is when I don’t have my String Stretcha with me.
Just 2 quick passes up and down a guitar string with The String Stretcha and that string is done–rock solid and staying in perfect tune. I definitely recommend checking it out if you don’t like stretching your guitar strings by hand or just want to speed-up the process a bit.
Can You Actually “Stretch” Guitar Strings?
There’s a small number of people out there who insist that it is physically impossible to actually “stretch” a metal guitar string. Most claim to have an engineering or physics background, and at least one of them has tried to explain the science to me. I’m sure one or two will chime in on this blog post.
They’re a very vocal minority, and their argument is usually some variation of this:
“You’re not actually ‘stretching’ your guitar strings. A fresh set of strings goes flat for awhile because the strings aren’t fully seated into all their contact points–such as the string posts on the headstock or the bridge saddles at the bridge. So, when you tug on the string, you’re tightening up all those contact points–not stretching out the string itself.”
So, What’s the Truth?
I have no idea.
I don’t care whether you choose to call it “stretching” or “seating” or “stabilizing.” The exact terminology is up to you, but one thing I know for sure is that when you install a fresh set of guitar strings, you need to do something to get the tuning to stabilize quickly. In a live situation, a guitar tech will be fired if they make a habit of handing their artist a freshly-strung guitar without first stretching the strings.
I choose to call it “stretching” because that’s the physical act I’m performing on each string. I’m grabbing it and stretching it. What’s actually happening at the molecular level… well… I’ll leave that to the scientists.
Do you stretch your guitar strings? If so, how do you like to do it? Let me know in the “Leave a Reply” section down below.
Bobby Davis is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.
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