Is It Safe To Take All The Strings Off Your Guitar At Once?

Is It Safe To Take All The Strings Off Your Guitar At Once?

Many people say it’s bad to take all the strings off your guitar at once, that it will mess up your neck or your setup. But is there any truth to that? Here’s our take:

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Is it safe to take all the strings off your guitar when you’re changing them or is it better to change them one at a time and ensure that you have constant tension on the neck?

Let’s talk about it. Believe it or not, this is the one most controversial issues in all of guitar. Everybody takes one side or the other and they believe quite vehemently in whatever side that is. But, is there an actual answer? In my opinion, yes.

The truth is, and I know I might catch some heat for this, there is nothing unsafe about taking all the strings off of your guitar all at once. A lot of people think that it might cause the neck to bow backwards or something like that but, the truth is, your guitar’s neck is way sturdier than I think a lot of people realize.

Not only is wood tougher than people seem to think, you have a steel truss rod going the entire length of the guitar’s neck helping to reinforce it and ensure that it’s not going to bow forward or backwards for that matter.

Now I get it, your truss rod is designed to put tension on your neck in order to keep it in position, so one might think that if your truss rod is really well tightened, and you take all the strings off your guitar it could cause it to bow back the other way but this is accounted for in the construction of the guitar, and it just doesn’t really happen in real life.

Now the other thing that people will say is that taking all the strings off your guitar all at once means that you’re going to have to do an entire new set up for the guitar. That isn’t true either.

I’ve seen all sorts of different techs, I’ve talked with different techs, or even luthiers themselves about this, and when it comes down to it, the tweaks that you’re going to have to make after taking all the strings off your guitar, assuming you’re keeping the gauge the same, are minimal—if they exist at all.

Take for example, people that store or treasure collectible guitars or people that travel or fly with guitars. They’ll always tell you the same thing, take the tension off the strings before you fly or if you’re storing it, a lot of times they’ll put no strings on it at all or strings under very little tension.

This doesn’t cause any issues with the guitar, in fact, it’s generally safer. If you’re guitar had its own way, it probably would prefer to have no strings on it at all.

Now, there are a few instances in which it might be better to change strings one at a time but it doesn’t have anything to do with safety or risking the guitar’s setup. The best example I can think of is when you’re dealing with floating tremolos, like a Floyd Rose or even an Ibanez Edge. Those tremolos are generally kept up in position by the tension of the strings so if you take all the strings off at once you’re going to have it falling into the body of the guitar. It doesn’t risk damaging it or anything like that, it just makes it a little bit harder to re-string and some people that like those systems prefer to just go one at a time to keep that tension constant.

The other instance is when you’re dealing with a guitar which has a bridge that isn’t actually attached to the guitar itself. A lot of archtop guitars are like this. A lot of mandolins are like this as well. In these instances, it doesn’t pose a risk to take all the strings off, it just might make your life a little bit harder to have to worry about the position of that bridge versus changing the strings one at a time and keeping the bridge in the same place.

Now, all that said, if you’re one of the folks that prefers to change their strings one at a time, there’s nothing wrong with that. Keep doing it. It’s not going to pose any issue, it certainly isn’t going to hurt in any case. But, if people have been telling you or dogging you about changing all the strings at once and telling you that it’s going to ruin your guitar, mess up your neck or throw your set up off, it just isn’t true. Don’t believe it. You can do whatever you want.

So, what do you think? Do you prefer to change all the strings at once, clean off your fretboard and do all that? Do you prefer to change one string at a time for various reasons? Tell us about it down in the comments. Be sure to subscribe to our channel so you can keep up with more great stuff like this.

16 Responses

  1. I’ve done both often. Even with a Floyd Rose and moving bridges. Never worried about it messing up the neck. The only damage I see probable is the loose bridge. Like a TOM bridge and tailpiece, if it happens to get dropped on the guitar top somehow. Or the lockers on a Floyd Rose digging into the body if not recessed.

  2. You didn’t mention anything about string tension appropriate for shipping a guitar. The general consensus is to loosen the strings before shipping. What’s your take on it?

  3. I change all at once except on my units with Floyd Rose tremolos. I always oil the fretboard with commercial fretboard oil and clean the body well before putting new strings on.

  4. If I don’t need to clean & oil the fretboard, I like to change the strings one at a time, starting on the high E. I find it quicker because I can tighten the string until it matches the next lower string. Then it is just a small step to correct pitch. I never have to worry that I might inadvertently tune past correct pitch and end up an octave high as I follow my tuner.

  5. Glad someone finally addressed this age-old question! Like others, I like to take ’em all off to clean and oil the fret board, but have always wondered whether there was any real problem in doing so. Now I can sleep at night. But on my arch top with unsecured bridge I will probably continue to change them one at a time, just to avoid knocking the intonation out of whack. Keep the interesting columns coming!

  6. Thanks — very helpful. I have done both, though generally prefer to take all strings off in order to clean.

  7. I find removing all the strings also allows me to do a good cleaning of the fretboard and the hard to reach areas when fully strung.

  8. I’ve been playing 50 years and always take all the strings off so I can clean the neck and whole body. I do have to pay attention to the bridge on my 62′ 335 and my SG, but it’s easy enough if you’re careful. Once I restring it I check the action for any adjustments in case I moved it a little in the process. Love Stringjoy!

  9. I have found some 12-strings that backbow so much without the strings that they become almost impossible to restring and retune. The strings hit the neck and you have to guess how much tension on each string is necessary, I’ve broken more than one string doing this. When up to pitch, the neck is straight and all is well. So, I will always do one string at a time on 12’s.

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