Changing strings for most bass players is usually no big deal, but some bassists still have trouble with it or they’re doing it wrong and don’t know it.
And while there is no one completely agreed upon method, I’ve found over the years that one way…especially for Fender Basses seems to work best.
When I say Fender Basses I’m talking about the classic four in-line tuner headstocks found on Precisions, Jazzes and other models. The key here is to safely remove the old strings and correctly and safely install the new ones so they will sound and perform at their best.
Removing the Old Strings
When I first started changing strings I read somewhere that you should always cut the old strings instead of unwinding them off the post. This was to insure that you didn’t scratch your beautiful finish while pulling the curled up ends through the bridge. The thing is though, I like saving old strings just in case. You never know when you might need them or maybe you don’t like the new ones. I’ve even sold several old string sets, mostly flatwounds to people who are looking for that worn-in tone.
I should note that I always remove and install one string at a time so there is always tension on the neck. There are people that say it’s perfectly safe to take all the strings off at once but I like to play it safe, and it seems easier to get each new string in tune one at a time.
The first thing I do is carefully start loosening the E string. I generally turn the tuner until the windings start to pop off on their own. when they look good and loose, carefully unwind them from the post. At this point I like to straighten out the ends as much as possible, that way it’s easier and safer to get the strings through the bridge. I always take my time when running the string out of the bridge especially if it has silk windings. If you rush this part and just yank the string through fast, the silk will get frayed and you could scratch up your finish.
After the old E string is off I always check the tuning post and bridge for dirt, grime and pieces of silk that may be caught in there. Once that is cleaned up take the new E string out of the package and stretch it out. I like to take a paper towel and rub the string down to remove any oils that are sometimes still on there from the factory. I’ve noticed that this is especially the case with flatwounds.
Installing the New Strings
Now your ready to install the new string. Carefully insert the string through the bridge and run it over the saddle. Make sure you hold the string up as you pass it through so as not to scratch the finish. I like to have the string at least 3 inches past the post before I cut it. Just remember that it’s always better to have a little extra string length than not enough. Make sure to bend the end of the string just before where you will cut it. This insures that the string’s windings (however unlikely) won’t unravel.
After cutting the string, insert the end into the center hole in the tuning post. Make sure it goes all the way in the hole. Now bend the string tightly around the tuning post towards the inside, only going about half around the post. One mistake many people make is wrapping the string around the post fully by hand. This will almost always cause slipping issues later on.
Now holding the string tightly in place, begin turning the tuning key slowly as you guide the string, making sure that all the following wraps fall underneath the previous ones. This is extremely important with Fender Basses as they do not have angled headstocks and need the windings as low as possible on the post to insure good tension across the nut. If the string sits too high on the post you could have string buzzes or lose definition with open notes. The greater the downward angle past the nut the better.
Once you have the string about halfway to being tuned, press down on the string with your thumb near the bridge to create a good contact point. Now tune the string to pitch and then gently pull it upward at about the 12th fret to stretch it out and remove any slack in the windings. Recheck your tuning and adjust…you will probably need to tune up after stretching, do this at least 2 or 3 times.
Simply follow the same steps for all the strings being careful to remember to pass the D and G strings under the string retainer on the headstock before it gets too tight.
One other important note: I find that the most crucial string is usually the A string. I always give it a little more length as it seems to need the most windings to avoid any buzzing and sound better played open.
Whenever I change strings I will re-check the tuning often for a week or so until they settle in…even stretching them out again from time to time. All of these steps usually take me about 15 minutes for all 4 strings. Well worth the time in my opinion.