If you’ve recently purchased a guitar for your child, you might wonder when is the best time to change strings and what the best strings for children’s guitars are.
Perhaps your child’s strings have been there since you purchased the instrument, or maybe a string has snapped during a practice session. Either way, you might not know where to which guitar strings to use and how to replace them.
Fret not, as you aren’t alone! Every parent needs to do this sooner or later. The good news is that finding the right strings is pretty easy and changing them is an important skill that you can pass on to your child.
This article provides everything you need to know, from the best guitar string brands to the different types of strings and instructions on restringing the guitar.
Nylon strings are best for kids—these strings are softer and much easier on the fingertips than steel strings.
Here are our top choices for each type of guitar string:
- Nylon: D’addario Classic Nylon
- Steel: Ernie Ball Earthwood Extra Light .010 – .050 Gauge
- Electric: Ernie Ball Super Slinky
Why You Might Need to Change Guitar Strings
There are four main reasons to change your child’s guitar strings.
Your child snapped a guitar string
One of the main reasons you’ll have to change strings is when one of them snaps. This could be due to over-tightening the tuning peg or playing too hard. Strings can also lose strength if they get too old and it may be worth replacing them before they snap.
When one breaks, it is usually best to replace the whole set to ensure all guitar strings have the same sound and condition. The only exception is if you recently added a full set of new strings on the guitar and one has broken. In this case, you will be fine just replacing that one broken string.
The Guitar strings are rusting
One sign of aging guitar strings is rust. Rusting strings appear discolored, leaving a musty metallic odor on the player’s hands after practising. Rusted guitar strings can also discolor the fingerboard and are more likely to snap—so be sure to change them before this happens.
Poor sound quality
The sound of guitar strings degrades over time. They become dull, sound bland, and lifeless. This is often the first sign of ageing guitar strings. You can still play them, but it won’t sound as good and they may start going rusty. If your ears aren’t trained to the guitar, it can be hard to spot a drop in sound quality, as a rule of thumb, it’s worth changing your strings at least every 6 months to keep your child’s guitar sounding good.
Uncomfortable guitar strings
Comfort is an important factor for a beginner. It can be extremely discouraging for kids to practice on guitar strings which cause blisters. If the guitar you bought is causing them pain, then it’s worth changing the strings to something lighter, or even a different material in order for them to continue.
Factors to Consider When Choosing Children’s guitar Strings
Here are some of the reasons you need to think carefully about the type of strings you use for your child’s guitar.
One of the most important factors to consider is that your child’s hands will be more sensitive than an adult’s. This is why softer nylon guitar strings are generally a better choice for children.
Your child may experience some pain in their fingertips when they first start playing these can sometimes turn into painful blisters. This is normal and not something to be concerned about.
In some ways it’s a good thing—these blisters eventually turn into hardened skin known as calluses. Building up this hardened skin will enable your child to play longer.
Nylon guitar strings still cause calluses to develop, but at a much slower rate.
Kids’ hands also have less strength than adults’, which can make holding down and bending the guitar strings more difficult for them. Thinner strings can be better for your young guitarist’s hands.
The thickness of guitar strings is measured by their ‘gauge’ (pronunciation: ’gage’). The string gauge is noted by numbers after a decimal point. For example, .010 is a light string gauge for the high E string.
The lower the string gauge number, the lighter the guitar strings will be. Most string packs have handy labels saying whether they’re ‘light’ or ‘heavy’.
If your child finds playing guitar uncomfortable then try switching to lighter gauge strings.
String gauges only apply to steel and electric guitar strings. Nylon strings don’t have gauges and instead are measured by tension. They come in low, medium and high tension.
There are smaller guitar sizes which might be more suitable for children than full-sized models. These range from the quarter-sized (1/4), up to the 7/8 guitar, which is just smaller than a full size.
It is typically recommended for small children to begin learning the guitar on these smaller sizes, like the 3/4.
Normal strings sound wrong on smaller-sized guitars and feel looser than they should. This is because of the string tension.
In this situation, we recommend using a higher-tension set of strings. They are built from stronger material and tend to be thicker gauges to maintain the tension needed on smaller guitars.
The strings will clearly state ‘high tension’—if they don’t, assume that they are normal tension strings.
|⚠️It’s hard to find good kids’ guitars
|While smaller-sized classical guitars are recommended for beginners, finding a quality but affordable guitar can be difficult.
Most of these types of acoustic guitars are cheap and sound terrible. The ones that sound good tend to be more expensive.
If you can’t find a small classical guitar that your child likes and matches your budget, you should consider a full-sized steel-stringed guitar instead. These types of acoustic guitars tend to offer greater quality at a lower price point.
Difference Between Guitar Types and Their Strings
Classical, or ‘Spanish’ guitars are most commonly strung with nylon strings. These strings tend to be most comfortable for children learning to play.
A typical acoustic guitar has steel strings. These are much harder, and coarser than nylon strings. But they also produce a much brighter sound. This is the acoustic guitar sound you hear in most rock, pop and blues and is probably the sound that comes to mind when most people
think of these instruments.
These strings can be difficult for beginners to get used to. The coarse outer layer can cause blistering after just one practice session.
While this is normal, it can be quite disheartening for a kid that just picked up their instrument for the first time.
Electric strings feel similar to acoustic strings but are built quite differently. They are coated in a conductive metal so the pickups capture sound from the string vibrations. Electric guitar strings are also thinner than acoustic guitar ones.
If you haven’t bought your child a guitar yet and you’re thinking of buying them an electric guitar, remember to buy an amplifier as well. You will only really be able to practice properly whilst plugged in.
It’s important to remember not to mix up guitar strings on your instrument. Doing so could result in poor sound quality or even breakages.
For example, the classical guitar is built differently and cannot sustain the tensions that steel strings have. Many rookie guitarists have put steel strings on them only for the bridge to eventually break off.
You can make sure you’re buying the right ones by looking closely at the packet, or asking a store employee.
Here are the strings we recommend for kids’ guitars. We’ve included to for each string type.
D’addario Classic Nylon: D’addario are a well-known brand, and its nylon strings are liked by beginners and professionals alike. They make it very clear on the packet whether they are for a normal guitar or any other size.
Spock Colorful Strings for Classical Guitar: In this pack, each string is a different color. If you want extra encouragement for your kids’ practice sessions, these might be for you. They are good guitar strings for beginners. That’s because, even though they don’t sound as good as the D’addarios, they will help kids to learn the names of the strings.
Ernie Ball Earthwood Extra Light .010 – .050 Gauge: These light, inexpensive acoustic strings are ideal for kids that don’t want to play a classical guitar. They sound bright and have a light touch to them. However, blistering will still occur from extensive practice with these.
D’addario Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings, Super Light, .009 – .045 Gauge: Going even lighter this time with the D’addarios. Again, you get a great set of acoustic guitar strings from a highly reputable company, but they are slightly more expensive. The ever-so-slightly lower gauge will make them easier to for children to play.
Ernie Ball Super Slinky electric guitar strings: Ernie Ball describes the range of each pack’s string gauges by how ‘slinky’ they are. From ‘Mammoth Slinky’ to ‘Zippy Slinky,’ covering a wide range of different gauges. The lighter you go, the more ‘twangy’ the sound is. This is why I recommend medium-light Super Slinky—they keep the electric guitar strings sounding decent during practice while still being light on the fingers.
D’addario Pro Steels Electric Guitar Strings, Extra Super Light: D’addario’s Pro Steels are marketed as professional-grade electric guitar strings and therefore cost more than the others on this list. Get these if you don’t mind paying extra for good build quality and a great sound with long, resonant sustains.
Replacing the Strings
Here’s a step-by-step guide on string replacement. If you’re not confident doing it on your own for the first time, you should ask a guitar technician at a store, or someone with experience to show you how.
Step 1: Turn the tuning pegs until the strings are loose and have zero tension. You should pluck the string to ensure they’ve been wound the right way. If the pitch drops, then they are loosening.
Step 2: Keep loosening the strings until you are able to unwind them from the tuning pegs. You can make this easier by cutting them in the middle with a pair of wire cutters once they are no longer taut.
Step 3: To dispose of the old strings properly, you can wind them up in themselves so they don’t flail about and cause an injury. If you’re putting steel strings on an acoustic guitar, then you must remove the string pegs at the bridge using a pair of pliers.
Step 4: Open your new set of strings and grab the thickest one—the E string. Slot one end through the bridge.
- For an acoustic, place the peg back on once the ball end is through the right hole, ensuring that the ridge on the peg is placed with the string inside.
- For a classical, you will need to tie a special knot: Insert the string through the hole in the bridge, then wrap the string back up around the post, creating a loop. You should then get about an inch of the end of the string, pull it through the loop, and give it a tug. It will tighten fully when you tune the strings.
Step 5: Run each string through its corresponding tuning peg holes. Once you have a couple of inches through the right hole, turn the corresponding peg until the string tightens.
Here are some tips for doing this:
- Make sure the string is wound the correct way around and neatly around the peg.
- Take it slow, and gently nudge the string so it winds neatly in a spiral downwards from the hole.
- Try to avoid overlapping the string.
- Be aware of the ridges in the bridge, and the nut. The string should fall into its corresponding ridge as you tighten it up.
- Before turning the peg, you might want to bend the excess string so that it doesn’t get caught in other parts of the guitar’s headstock. It’s possible to bend the excess at a right angle to get it out of the way. Now do this for every one!
Step 6: Grab yourself a tuner, and pluck one note at a time, while adjusting the tuning pegs to get them all in tune. From the lowest note, they should read E A D G B E. As you are tuning the strings can be helpful to gently tug on each one. This will tighten the string around the peg and help it keep its tuning.
Step 7: Finally, cut your excess ends at the tuning peg (and at the bridge if it’s a classical) and voila! You now have a freshly strung guitar!
Note: The tuning may be unstable for a couple of hours while the new strings settle in. You can speed up the process by continuously playing and retuning the guitar for a while—this is known as “playing them in”.
Help Your Child Learn Guitar With Guitarist 101
Now we’ve explained the best string types, gauges, and even how to restring your guitar. Your child will be acquiring the techniques of a pro in no time.
Guitarist 101 has a whole host of articles aimed at helping parents guide their child to learn guitar.