Changing mandolin strings can seem like a challenge at first. Not only are there eight strings to change, but the instrument is small enough that things can get a bit cramped.
Luckily, with the right tools and know-how, you learn how to string a mandolin and get it sounding better than ever in no time.
- 13 Steps to Stringing a Mandolin
- Step 1: Clear a space to work on the instrument
- Step 2: Turn the tuning peg on the mandolin’s head to begin loosening your first string
- Step 3: Remove the tailpiece cover
- Step 4: Remove the string that you had loosened from its spot on the tailpiece
- Step 5: Begin attaching the new string
- Step 6: Pull the string across the instrument and align it properly
- Step 7: Push the string through the hole in the tuning peg
- Step 8: Tighten the string using the tuning peg
- Step 9: : Cut off the excess string using your wire cutters
- Step 10: Repeat steps 1–8 for each of the remaining strings
- Step 11: Stretch the new strings out
- Step 12: Replace the tailpiece cover
- Step 13: Tune the mandolin
- When and why should you change your mandolin strings?
- What kind of mandolin strings should I use?
13 Steps to Stringing a Mandolin
Step 1: Clear a space to work on the instrument
- Make sure you have plenty of room to work with. Clear the workspace to make sure that you don’t lose any of the old strings, which can be quite painful if you accidentally step on them.
- Hold the mandolin on your lap, face up, or place it on a towel or another soft surface to protect the back of the instrument.
Step 2: Turn the tuning peg on the mandolin’s head to begin loosening your first string
- As you turn, note which way the string is wrapped round the post. When you replace the old string, the new string will need to wrap in that same direction.
- You don’t need to completely loosen the string – just loosen it to the point that you can easily unwind the rest of the string with your hand.
- Only loosen one string at this time – the rest will be loosened later on in the process.
Step 3: Remove the tailpiece cover
- How to remove the mandolin’s tailpiece cover will depend on the brand and model you have.
- Most tailpiece covers can be removed by either lifting them up or by sliding them off the bottom of the mandolin.
Step 4: Remove the string that you had loosened from its spot on the tailpiece
- The mandolin’s eight strings are attached to hooks, which are usually covered by the tailpiece cover to protect your arm from being caught.
- Unlike guitar strings, mandolin strings generally only have a simple loop at the end. Simply remove the loop from its hook to finish removing the string.
Step 5: Begin attaching the new string
As with any instrument, you only want to remove one string at a time when stringing a mandolin.
If you remove all of the strings together, the tension created by the strings will disappear and the instrument’s wood will stretch and shift.
Over time this can cause serious damage to the mandolin and decrease its lifespan.
- When you’re ready, take the new string and attach its loop onto the open hook on the mandolin’s tailpiece.
Do not bend the new string anywhere along its length, including by the hoop at the end.
Any bends in the string will make it extremely susceptible to snapping when you tighten the string.
Be sure that you’re replacing the old string with the corresponding new string.
Mandolins are tuned to the notes G-G-D-D-A-A-E-E, from low to high. If you buy medium gauge strings, the gauges should be .040-.040-.026-.026-.015-.015-.011-.011.
Step 6: Pull the string across the instrument and align it properly
Maintaining tension to keep it hooked on the tailpiece, align the string with the correct slots on the bridge (close to the tailpiece) and the nut (between the fretboard and the head).
There should be clear slots vacated by the old string that will hold the new string in place.
Another reason not to remove all of the mandolin strings at once is to keep the bridge secure.
Mandolins have a floating bridge, which means that it is only held in place by the tension of the strings.
If you lose the placement of the bridge while you change your strings, the relative tuning may be affected until you get the bridge properly placed again.
Step 7: Push the string through the hole in the tuning peg
- This is the hard part. You want to leave a bit of slack so that the string is not too tight, but pull it through far enough so that you won’t have to spend too long wrapping the string around the post.
- A good rule of thumb is to leave enough slack so that there is about an inch between the string and the neck when you pull the string up and away from the neck.
- Mandolin string lengths out of the box can seem to be much greater than you need – don’t worry, you’ll remove the excess string before you start to play.
Step 8: Tighten the string using the tuning peg
- First you’ll want to bend the free end of the string around the tuning peg so that it won’t slip through the hole as you turn.
Turn the tuning peg so that the string wraps around the post in the same direction you observed when you first removed the string.
All eight strings should wrap around the post toward the center of the head and down to the nut, so that there is plenty of room for all eight strings.
- The string should wrap around the post around 2–3 times as you tighten. Ensure that the string is still correctly seated in the bridge and the nut as you tighten.
You don’t need to worry about getting the string perfectly in tune yet – the tuning will continue to be volatile as your replace the other strings.
Just make sure that the string is tight enough to be secure before you move onto the other strings.
Step 9: : Cut off the excess string using your wire cutters
- Mandolin strings can be sharp, so you’ll want to be sure to manage the loose ends as you go.
Wire cutters are necessary because they’re made from harder metal that won’t be bent by the strings.
Standard scissors may be able to cut the strings, but they will quickly become dull and unusable.
- Make sure you don’t cut any of the tightened strings, or they will snap back in a potentially dangerous way.
Step 10: Repeat steps 1–8 for each of the remaining strings
Step 11: Stretch the new strings out
- It is very normal for new strings to go out of tune quickly. You can help combat this by manually stretching them out when you first change the strings or by slightly over-tightening them when you are initially tuning.
- To manually stretch the strings, pull them away from the mandolin’s neck, one at a time. You should notice the pitch to fall flat each time you do this.
Be careful not to pull the strings too hard or to over-tighten them too far.
The higher pitched strings in particular are susceptible to snapping.
Point the instrument away from your eyes while you tighten for the maximum safety.
Step 12: Replace the tailpiece cover
Step 13: Tune the mandolin
Expect the tuning to be unstable for the next few days as the strings adjust to the tension.
You may have to retune more frequently during this period, but it should stabilize with time.
Now you know how to change mandolin strings, tailpiece and all!
When and why should you change your mandolin strings?
Sometimes you’ll know you need to restring the mandolin when one of its strings breaks.
That often means that the strings are brittle, so you’ll want to change them soon to make sure you don’t risk injury from another string breaking.
More often, you’ll have to judge for yourself when it’s time to change the strings.
Over time, the sound of your strings will grow more dull and uninteresting.
You may also notice the strings becoming discolored, particularly in certain places where the oil from your fingers frequently rubs off on them.
It can be hard to notice these types of changes because they happen gradually.
You might be shocked by how much the sound changes when you put the new strings on – it’s easy to forget exactly how a freshly stringed instrument sounds.
You’ll immediately get benefits in tone quality, response, and playability when you change your strings, so change them often to keep your playing fresh.
When you buy a new mandolin, you might want to change the strings right away.
If it’s been set up by a professional shop, the strings have probably already been changed, but if you bought the mandolin new out of the box, you’re best off changing the strings yourself upon receiving the instrument.
The manufacturer’s strings may have been on the instrument for a long time already – not to mention the wear and tear caused by shipping the instrument and the people who may have tried it out in the store.
What kind of mandolin strings should I use?
The type of strings you use can drastically alter the tone quality of the instrument.
As with buying an instrument, there is no right or wrong when it comes to picking strings.
It’s all about the sound you prefer – and how the strings interact with the sound of your mandolin.
The timbre of the strings is determined by their composition, or the metal used to make them.
Bronze strings have an extremely bright timbre, while phosphor bronze strings have a somewhat less bright sound.
Other metals like stainless steel, nickel, and copper have a darker tone, but also a richer bass sound.
Stainless steel strings have the additional advantage of being resistant to rust, which can quickly deteriorate the quality of strings made from other metals if you tend to sweat when you play.
The thickness of the strings, or gauge, affects their playability as well as their tone quality.
Lighter strings (which have lower gauge numbers) vibrate quickly and have a bright tone. They’re easy on your fingers, but they do not sustain as well as heavier strings.
Heavier strings sustain very well, but they can be harder to play with and will not have as bright of a tone.
Beginning mandolin players usually stick with medium gauge strings.
Once you get more comfortable with the instrument, you may find that you like some strings to be higher gauge and others to be lower.
Mandolin players frequently mix and match strings of different gauges, brands, and even compositions.
When it comes to brands, this is merely a matter of preference. Experiment with different brands until you find the best fit for you.
A final option available when buying strings is flat wound strings. This is a much more expensive option, but they do offer some benefits over standard strings.
Most standard strings are actually made up of a metal string that has another string wrapped around it.
Flat wound strings have much less wrapping, which means that they produce less noise as your fingers move across them and they are much easier to play.
If hurt fingers are holding you back from practicing, flat wound strings may well be a sound investment.