Every player has been there. You finish re-stringing your instrument with a brand new, shiny string set and you’re to start tuning and finally get to play…
Only to find that you’ll need a tool to cut the strings hanging and bouncing after the tuning pegs. New players will likely be in doubt as to what to use to cut guitar strings.
Should you cut the guitar strings?
The lazy player will either do nothing about it or simply wrap the strings under the tuning pegs and hope they don’t poke holes on people around them, entangle on clothes, gig bags, etc…
Since you are here, let’s discuss the best practices, so you can use the right tools and cut the work short.
This article will deal with cutting strings on instruments like electric/acoustic guitars and basses.
Note from the author: It was a real surprise to see that the biggest search engine returns articles indicating the use of scissors. Trying to cut guitar strings with scissors and other innapropriate objects will damage the cutting edge and eventually render them useless.
Having said that, the number one most appropriate tool obviously is…
There is nothing complicated about using these, they have a perfect size and allow for good cutting pressure that’ll work with most string gauges and materials.
- Hold the string in place at the right length and press the cutter.
- In thicker strings, it’ll sometimes be necessary to twist the cutter back and forth a bit in order to get in between the metal layers around it. Do this gently to avoid damaging the cutting edge, or consider using another tool.
Best Pliers for Cutting Guitar Strings
After the string cutter, the best pliers to cut electric and acoustic guitar strings are the ones that resemble it the most.
This is the case with these diagonal cutting pliers.
Diagonal cutting pliers / wire cutters
- They are called diagonal pliers because the cutting edge is, well, diagonal in shape, meaning that it is easier to cut through the strings since a diagonal cut will offer much less resistance.
- These pliers are, in fact, intended to cut wire, and do not serve any other purposes like grabbing and twisting objects like regular ones. Guitar strings are somewhat similar to wires, which makes them excellent for the job.
Regular pliers – What to Use to Cut Guitar Strings
Common, ordinary pliers used in day-to-day tasks like holding, squeezing, and turning objects will also be useful for the purpose of cutting guitar strings (in most cases).
Almost every plier I have seen has a cutter in the innermost portion, after the slot for grabbing and turning nuts and screws.
If by chance, the regular pliers you have available do not have the ability to cut anymore, you can consider simply holding twisting the strings back and forth until they break.
Nail clippers, scissors and other improvised tools
A nail clipper is an object that almost every household should have, but in order to cut guitar strings, you’ll need a relatively beefy one.
Smaller nail clippers won’t allow you to exert the necessary pressure to cut the strings, and will likely break or bend in the cutting area. It’s not a viable solution.
Using nail clippers to cut guitar strings might work, but it isn’t the right tool and will likely damage the clipper, rendering it useless to cut what it was designed for.
Nails are (usually) softer than the metal on the strings, so we do not recommend using nail clippers to cut guitar strings unless it’s your last option. The same goes for scissors.
Again, the tip to hold and twist the strings back and forth works well in this case.
Where to Cut Guitar Strings
This has long been a subject of debate among players.
The best advice one can get is to cut the strings only after having a couple of extra turns in the tuning peg pole.
This has a couple of goals:
- Adding extra grip so strings don’t slip when you play (in case you don’t have locking tuners)
- Leaving a bit of extra string in case you want a lower tuning
As far as the cut itself goes, a piece of good advice is to:
- Cut it long enough so that the string is flexible enough not to poke your fingers when you are trying to tune. Especially on the G and B strings.
- The general idea is to cut the strings so they are not so rigid as to poke your fingers, and not too long so they will collide with the other strings, making unwanted sounds, or even compromising the looks of the instrument.
- 1 to 1.5 inches after the pole seems to be a good measure for most instruments we had in the past.
But it’s ultimately up to you to decide. If you ever had the not-so-pleasant experience of drawing blood from one of your fingers because a string was cut too short you’ll prefer it a bit longer after the pole.
Cutting them shorter will look better, but cutting longer leaves extra string and opens up new possibilities, and avoids painful memories.
How to Remove Guitar Strings Without Cutting
On electric guitars and bass guitars, this is fairly simple:
- Turning the tuning peg to the point where you’re able to remove the string by guiding it through the pole.
- Guide the loose string through the hole where it is being held on the bridge.
On acoustic instruments, this might vary, but as a general rule, the process is the same as on electric instruments, except in some cases where the strings are tied by knots on themselves at the lower portion of the bridge.
In these particular cases, the process is the same, except when guiding the strings through the hole, you’ll need to use a bit more pressure, to undo the knot and be able to remove the string completely.
How to Cut Bass Guitar Strings
The principles are the same, but the strings aren’t.
Bass strings are way thicker and will last longer than regular guitar strings, hence they need replacement much less frequently and cost more.
String cutters are again the best tool for the job, and in case you don’t have them, diagonal cutters or regular pliers are the best options respectively.
But since the strings are thicker, it’s best to consider using beefier tools.
If the tools you have available aren’t enough to cut through the strings, twisting and turning the strings on themselves a few times will do the trick, and this is possible using only your hands, though a plier or similar tool would make it much easier.
To summarize – What to Use to Cut Guitar Strings
Guitar strings are somewhat flexible, and will eventually break. Regular tensioning, bending, picking, rust from humidity, and sweat from fingers are all factors that contribute to diminishing the string lifetime.
Having this in mind enables us to understand that it doesn’t take an act of extraordinary violence in order to cut them, independently if you are cutting them after the tuner or if you need to cut them somewhere else for any reason.
When deciding what to use to cut guitar strings, it’s best to have a tool dedicated only to do this ready at all moments.
String cutters are not expensive and can save a ton of time when opposed to twisting and turning the strings on themselves until they give up.
In case you don’t have one available, you should consider buying one and keeping it readily available in your gigbag/hard case along with your equipment/gear/supplies.
The other options such as diagonal cutters and regular pliers are okay as well, considering you make sure that cutting the strings won’t damage the tool permanently.
When in doubt it’s best to twist the string until it breaks using the tip of a regular player than to risk losing a diagonal cutter or a nail clipper, which are not intended for this kind of work.