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The title says it all. Should I change strings one by one, or take them all at once? Does this matter at all?

If I take all strings off, will it damage my neck in any way, because the pressure is released?

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16 Answers 16

up vote 59 down vote accepted

I have heard that it is not a problem taking them off all at once, and luthiers I have seen work on instruments will take all the strings off to clean the fretboard and alter the bridge. This website corroborates this theory, saying:

It's definitely OK to take off all the strings on any fretted instrument. It's just an old husband's tale that taking off all the strings will injure the neck or any other part of the instrument.

And further:

...your instrument would "rather" have no strings at all! Collectors and others who put their instruments into storage usually either remove the strings or detune completely.

It does, however, mention the practical benefits of changing one at a time; guitars with movable bridges are best done like this to stop the bridge moving. Also, if you don't have a tuner to hand, changing one string at a time makes it easier to tune up to the right pitch.

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Good answer this. May I just add, never cut the strings if they are carrying any tension, as this may damage your neck. A twisted neck is easily fixed by a good tech but it's not cheap (good excuse for a refret though...) –  gingerbreadboy Jan 1 '13 at 22:18
The other reason not to cut them until you de-tune enough to relieve tension is that if the string is under tension and you cut it - it recoil and poke your eye out. –  Rockin Cowboy Feb 21 at 20:32

I remove all strings at once. Like Brian I don't see how this could damage the guitar but that's not to say I'm doing something that I shouldn't - all I know is it hasn't harmed any of my guitars in all the years I've done it that way.

And as a small digression, I actually take advantage of having all the strings off the guitar as a rare chance to really properly clean some hard to reach areas e.g. all around the pickups, any dirt or grease around the fretboard etc.

EDIT: Just seen your update Jimi :) I suppose a lot depends on how valuable your guitar is whether you're concerned over the big change in tension from strings on to string off. You could probably still perform a rigorous clean with only one or two strings off at a time to maintain the bend in the neck.

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Taking them all off at the same time isn't a problem so long as you detune the string before you cut it... This may seem rather obvious but I've seen it happen far too often. By detuning you can lower the tension in a safer manner for the guitar, then clip and continue with your restring. BTW. Getting a good cleaning in can be especially important for people with high acidity in their skin oils.

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cut them? Don't think I ever cut a guitar string unless something bad has happened and there is a tangle! –  Dr Mayhem Jan 30 '11 at 23:31
@DrMayhem Its standard SOP at our shop. Detune til completely loose then cut in the middle. It's not a major must do or anything, depending on the guitar it can make taking the strings off minutely easier but it's a convenience of about 2 seconds. More so I was speaking of the many people that have come in and will just lift and cut a string without detune or anything... It's amazing the things you see working in a music store. –  Anonymous Jan 31 '11 at 3:54
Ah - interesting. Thanks @Raye –  Dr Mayhem Jan 31 '11 at 10:50

Taking all six strings off at once creates a sudden decrease in tension across the neck of the guitar. The truss rod could even be damaged if they were heavy gauge strings. Certainly, this rarely, if ever, happens. Nevertheless, such abrupt changes as caused by the tensional shock of releasing all strings at once are not good for your instrument, especially the neck. (Imagine what happens, not just to the band but to your finger, when you released a stretched rubber band.)

Thus, it is recommended you change the strings one after the other. The only disadvantage of this is that you will not be able to have unobstructed access to the neck to give it some thorough cleaning. Prolonging the life of your instrument should be a priority, though. This is stuff I've read in several books and probably what a luthier would tell you, as well.

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It's just an old husband's tale that taking off all the strings will injure the neck or any other part of the instrument - see this FAQ referenced by Bill Cheatham in his answer –  awe Jan 14 '11 at 10:45
It's conceivable that a problem might arise if you simply cut the strings off without detuning. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow ... –  luser droog Oct 1 '12 at 3:59

I don't see how it would matter. The neck is under stress when the strings are on, not when they're off.

Though I can't say for sure that there aren't any benefits to changing one string at a time as I've never considered it.

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When I change my strings, I always change all of them in one sitting, unless I've broken one in performance and need to replace it on the spot. However, I remove and replace them individually, beginning with the low E and working up to the high E. This is true of both my electric and acoustic guitars (including classical). At least for my ES175, this is for practical reasons: I don't want the floating bridge falling off, making me re-intonate the thing. For the others, I'll only remove all the strings simultaneously to do maintenance: fretboard dressing, polishing, and so on.

As for whether you'll damage the guitar's neck removing all the strings at once, I don't think you will. I have, on occasion, removed all the strings from my 12-string (see comment on maintenance), without problems. And, as others have said, luthiers do this all the time.

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Surprised nobody has stated this yet, but you do NOT want to remove all your strings at once on your guitar if it has a floating bridge (Floyd Rose, EBMM JP, Kahler, etc.). Those require a '1 by 1' string replacement to maintain tuning/proper setup.

If your bridge if fixed, feel free to remove all the strings at once. Don't just cut them with wire cutters while they are tuned though...detune all your strings, and then remove them. Any major sudden tension changes to the neck will cause irreversible damage to the truss rod.

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Just put a wedge under the FR, then remove all the strings. Making the wedge the exact right shape might take some time, but it's worth it. –  snailboat Mar 29 '14 at 23:51

One at a time is (usually) easier on guitars with floating bridges -- the tension of the other strings keeps the bridge in place.

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Some instruments are held together by string tension. The bridge of archtop guitars is held there only by the strings, and the neck and pickups of the Mosrites that Johnny Ramone used were held to the body with string tension. (No, I'm not sure how, but read a story where a guitar mag journalist was asked to do this for Johnny when he was researching the story.) In these case, change half of 'em (the top half or bottom half, probably) then the other half.

Otherwise, I don't see how it would matter.

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Saying that taking all of the strings off at the same time damages the guitar definitely sounds silly - guitars are made to take stuff like that.

By changing strings at the same time, you get more consistent tone, as they're all at the same level of wear. Additionally, you may want to change all of the strings even if you haven't broken any, to restore some tone if they've undergone excessive wear.

If you change one string at a time, you get more awkward tone and playability (not a huge difference, but it's definitely there). Additionally, this makes everything more difficult to organize (what if you break two G strings consecutively? You have to throw away a bunch of perfectly good strings).

Thus, my answer is: change them all at once.

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Its depend on the temperature in the room. I will recommend you change the string in the temperature where you keep your guitar Removing 1 or all string at a time do not make any harm to the guitar.

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Good answer. +1 to get you started! –  American Luke Jul 24 '12 at 15:05

When we make bows of straight sticks of wood, we spend a long time using an instrument that pulls the bow into the "final" shape. You take it up one notch, then wait for a few hours to a few days, then take it up another notch until you finally get it to the shape you want. There's a reason bowyers didn't do this all at once.

Sudden release of tension on a dry piece of wood can damage it.

I solved this just by using a leader string system. Detune them all except the middle string, having it at the lowest tension where it still floats. remove the other strings and clean fretboard. Put strings on either side of the leader string and tighten them just enough to hold that pressure when you remove the lead. clean fretboard under that string and replace string, add the other strings.

When you have a xx00 dollar instrument, you don't take a laissez faire approach to it.

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I usually remove the 3 bass strings, do my cleaning on the neck, replace with the new strings, then change the 3 trebles. That way there is still tension on the neck, and the fretboard underneath the half of the strings that are removed can be cleaned easily.

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It may not matter but I wonder if the uneven tension (just on one side) might tend to want to twist the neck. I detune and remove all 6 at once and when installing new, I alternate between bass and treble. Just my own method to stay on the safe side. –  Rockin Cowboy Feb 21 at 20:42

Firstly, on a technical level you should always change your entire set of strings in one sitting versus changing only a string that breaks or sounds bad unless you're in the middle of a gig, practice session, etc; but afterwards change your strings starting with low E (6E) and then A & so on.

Secondly, to address everyone's concern about being able to clean & oil the fingerboard I would suggest taking the time to reduce tension a small amount & equally ie same number of peg turns for each string (a great deal is not necessary) and clean your fingerboard and as you will find you can move the strings to clean it fairly quickly if you have been maintaining your guitar properly and once clean oiling is easy; who cares if you get a little oil on your strings? You're changing them anyway.

To clean the oil off of the strings take a dry cloth (flat, not bunched) & slide it under the strings & then just fold cloth over top of all 6 strings & run it up & down the fingerboard, then do each string individually to be on the safe side.

Before changing the strings I would re-tension them but you shouldn't have reduced the tension much in the first place.

Third, change your strings one at a time, loosening the string so that there is no tension at all before removing, fitting the new string and retensioning before moving to the next string. The important things to remember are that you should check with your manufacturer on oiling (but always keep it clean), don't guess if you don't know, and most importantly, whether just changing strings or cleaning and oiling your fingerboard, do it one string at a time.

All guitars are different - don't generalise, as depending on design, you could really screw up your guitar's setup or damage it. Those of you with stop bars would cause the bar to fall out and damage your guitar if you changed all the strings at once.

Yes, many professionals change all six at once for a concert, with roadies using impact screwdrivers and other electric tools, but they also use masking tape to hold the stop bar in.

Remember it's your guitar. If you care about it speak with Manufacturers, Luthiers, Tech Specialists; Just changing the gauge of strings can screw up your intonation.

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I have done my best to sort out your over-enthusiastic capitalisation, and removed your slightly confrontational first sentence. –  Dr Mayhem Apr 28 '13 at 13:50
Good advice for electric guitar with movable bridge. Otherwise no problem removing all strings at once. –  Rockin Cowboy Feb 21 at 20:35

I have removed all strings at once (after tuning them down to slack) since 1972. It's a great pportunity for a deep clean too! I have also cut strings once slack to avoid damage when puling thru the bridge, body, etc. I have never had problems with any guitars doing it this way. I do tend to tension the strings across the board gradually when tightening new strings but that probably goes without saying. It's a lump of wood and really the tension isn't so great to be honest...

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If you are using guitar with tremolo, you should replace only string at a time, otherwise will be hard time tuning back your guitar to tune lock with bridge. if you tune one string the other will go off as string tension modify the balance of the bridge position.

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Why does it matter if it is on tremelo –  Cody Guldner Mar 15 '13 at 0:20
@CodyGuldner He probably meant a floating bridge, not a classic Fender-esque tremolo. –  Bartek Banachewicz Jan 5 at 9:17

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