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There are a lot of tutorials on changing the strings of a guitar, and they mostly suggest that, after you put each string through the hole in the tuning peg, you turn the peg clockwise for the g, b, and e' strings, and counterclockwise for the E, A and d strings. (I'm interested in the case of three pegs on each side of the head.)

So when the strings are "properly" (according to those tutorials) installed, you need to turn counterclockwise in order to tighten the bass strings, and clockwise in order to tighten the treble strings.

Why is that? I presume there's more to it than just a convention? Sadly, skimming through the various tutorials, I couldn't find any reason for doing that. (And I have been winding the strings all in the same direction for years without problem... Now I wind them in the "proper" way but I can't see any difference.)

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    This is assuming you have three pegs on each side of the head, like a Gibson? Would the winding be the same for a Fender? – user50691 Oct 28 '20 at 14:13
  • A distinction without a difference. What you notice is true for orchestral strings. – Jason P Sallinger Oct 28 '20 at 14:16
  • @ggcg, Yes, three pegs on each side. I will edit it to clarify. – Ramillies Oct 28 '20 at 14:56
  • The same thing happens on the violin. Not too sure how it is on the guitar, as I have never seen one in real life, but on the violin the strings wound over the pegs instead of under the pegs, so if the pegs are on the right (as seen face up), you need to wound clockwise to make sure the string is over the peg, and if the pegs are on the left you need to wound counterclockwise. – KingLogic Oct 30 '20 at 5:02
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You are actually turning every pegs the same way, but not the handles…

For classical guitars

you want all the pegs to turn in the same direction for tightening (and the string to go on top, which goes along with the first condition, otherwise the angle of the string between to the top of the neck and the peg would not be the same for bass and trebles strings). As half of the handles are on an opposite side, you need to do the mirrored movement on them to have the pegs turning the same way than the others.

For electric

For Gibson style, the idea is the same, half the pegs are on the other side, so you just apply a mirrored motion. Note that, when facing the handle, you always have to screw in (clockwise) to tighten.

For Fender style, all pegs are on the same side, and you will notice that you turn them all in the same direction!

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This idea is based on how the string is oriented after it passes the slot in the nut. The less of an angle on that string, the easier it is for the string to slide in the slot of the nut when the string is being tuned. That means that Fender guitars should all be wound in the same direction because the peghead tuners are not positioned on both sides of the peghead. Many players also use graphite to lubricate the slots to help alleviate problems where the strings slightly bind in the slots causing problems when tuning.

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You're really asking about guitars which have 3 machine heads on each side. The idea is that each string goes in a straight a line as possible along its whole length. That includes over the nut all the way to the peg itself. It means there's less or no sideways tension at the nut, meaning the string is less likely to bind in the nut slot.

It's often a compromise, as it can't happen exactly with 3 a side. That's one reason Fenders were given 6 in a row, where the line through could be kept straight.That also helped the vibrato keep the strings in tune better - no binding in the nut.

It also makes good sense to have all three on the same side to turn the same way!

Also, on 3 a side, with backwards facing knobs, the strings need to go over the pegs first, not under.

On my Bass Collection basses, the low 5th string needs to go the opposite way, to keep it straight, so the 'wrong side' machine head gets that job. Same happens with top G. That means all the machine heads on each side can be turned the same way to tighten.

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  • Have a look at PRS headstocks. They have strings go straight over the nut with 3+3 tuners. It would be interesting to know how Gibson and Martin arrived at 3+3 that's now the usual one. – ojs Oct 29 '20 at 10:18
  • @ojs - a good example of an improvement over Gibsons. So simple, really. My Shergolds have string 'trees' wchich keep the strings straight at the nut, turning near their respective machine heads. Being round, the trees allow easy sliding round them. – Tim Oct 30 '20 at 11:45
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Basically for the same reason that from one side, a door unlocks clockwise, and from the other side it unlocks counterclockwise. The direction the lock cylinder has to turn to unlock actually stays the same but you're controling it with a key sticking out to opposite sides.

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