Is It Okay To Remove All Guitar Strings

Will it damage your instrument to remove all guitar strings at the same time?  If you go online, or talk to other guitarists, you will often hear that removing all the strings at the same time, like when you go to replace a set of strings, will cause damage to the neck of the guitar.  But, others will tell you it doesn’t matter, that your guitar’s neck will be just fine.  So, which is it?  Damage?  Or no big deal?  Below I lay out the reasons for each point of view, so you can decide for yourself.

When I started playing guitar, I had no idea how to change strings, so I went online and read a few posts and watched several videos.  Every one of those stressed the importance of removing only one string at a time, or risk damaging the neck.  So, I followed their advice and only removed one string at a time when changing strings.  But, several years ago I ran across a flyer from Taylor Guitars on how to change strings, and it says to remove all six strings at the same time.  At first, I was like “What?  No!  It’ll damage the neck!”  But then my curious streak kicked in and I had to find the answer…

Here’s what I learned:

The neck on a guitar has to be able to withstand the tension applied by the strings.  The primary way it accomplishes this is with a metal bar inside the neck that runs the full length of the neck.  It’s called the truss rod, and it’s whole purpose is to counterbalance the tension of the strings.  It does this by providing the stiffness needed to stay straight and by actually applying force in the opposite direction from the pull applied by the strings.

One String At A Time

So, what happens when all the strings are removed?  The argument here is that since the truss rod counterbalances the pull from the strings, if all the strings are removed at the same time the truss rod will pull the neck backward and damage the neck.  Think of it like two people pulling on a door, but on opposite sides. With equal force, the door stays still.  But if one of them lets go, the door will swing toward the person still pulling.

If you remove only one string at a time, then the remaining five strings will provide sufficient tension to counterbalance the force from the truss rod, thus preserving the neck.

All Strings At Once

The people adhering to this approach say it’s okay to remove all the strings at the same time because the backward stress from the truss rod isn’t strong enough to apply sufficient pressure to damage the neck.  And, even if it were, the length of time the strings are off is too short to cause damage.

This argument relies more on the function of the truss rod being one of stiffness in the neck, with less importance on the counterbalancing force of the strings.

Some people have likened it to the following.  Guitars don’t just fall from the sky fully made.  Instead, it takes awhile to build one, and the strings are the last piece added, so why doesn’t the truss rod cause problems in the construction process?

My Take

Every time I’ve seen a guitar service technician working on an instrument, all the strings have been removed.  I’m sure there are some out there who will replace a set of strings by doing it one at a time, but I’ve never seen one.  Besides, some repairs just can’t be done with the strings still on.  So, why would a service tech risk damaging the neck needlessly?  I suspect they know that removing all the strings at once will not damage the neck.

The reason I started researching this issue came from Taylor Guitars.  In my opinion, someone with the reputation that Bob Taylor has will not carelessly throw it aside by some reckless recommendation like this.  If a luthier doesn’t have a problem with removing all the strings, then who am I to question them?  I certainly don’t know a fraction of what they do regarding guitars.

I have done some woodworking in my life, including trying to bend wood to fit patterns, and it takes time.  Like days, or even weeks.  So, I agree with the argument that keeping the strings off for short times won’t normally damage the neck.

Now, there will be some who claim to have seen necks damaged this way, and I’m not going to dispute them.  But I suspect these are cases where the neck was already compromised or not properly attached to the body.  A bit of extra pressure may have been all it took to cause damage.  If this is true, then the fault is not necessarily removing the strings.

Advice

I have several other tips you might want to keep in mind:

1. If you have a guitar with a moveable bridge, by all means do NOT remove all the strings at once.  This will mess up the placement of the bridge.

2.  Do not cut off the strings when they still hold tension.  They can recoil and either hit you in the eye, or scratch the finish.  Instead, gradually release the tension before cutting or removing the string.

3.  If you want to be more cautious, gradually ease the tension on all strings together.  Say, for instance, take each one down a 5th.  Then, an octave.  Then another octave.  You get the idea.  This approach will ease the pressure gradually and uniformly across the neck.

4.  By all means, if you’re still not comfortable removing all the strings at once, then don’t.  Replace one string at a time.  There’s nothing wrong with this.

So, that’s my take on whether it’s okay to remove all the strings at one time or not.  Feel free to disagree with me.  That’s okay.  But don’t stop playing.  Music makes the world a better place.  Remember that.

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Rock on!

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