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I love guitars, and unlike many of my friends I actually like the process of changing strings, but whenever anyone asks me if there’s anything I dislike about being a guitarist, I’ve got only one answer and that’s the sharp string edges that stick out.
I can’t even recall the number of cuts they’ve caused me and the cursings that followed, but I’m smarter now and I have the proper tools to get rid of them. But even if I don’t have my wire cutters I always find a way to cut my strings.
So, how to cut guitar strings without wire cutters?
A guitar string cutter is the best tool to use if you want to cut the excess string sticking out at the tuning post, but guitar strings can also be cut with pliers, scissors, toenail clippers, and in some cases a knife. You can also use your fingers to bend and break the sharp edges.
If you want to find out what alternative tools you can use to cut the strings on your guitar and whether you need any tools to remove your strings then keep on reading!
How To Cut Guitar Strings?
Before we talk about how you can cut your guitar strings properly I do want to clarify that if you’re referring to cutting old strings in order to remove them, you really shouldn’t. The only time I and most guitarists cut strings is to trim the excess string that is sticking out at the tuning post after putting new ones on.
There are plenty of tools you can use to protect your fingers from getting poked by the rigid string that sticks out, including wire cutters and that’s because wire cutters are excellent at cutting metal wires made from copper, brass, iron, aluminum, and steel.
Wire cutters are also effective against thicker strings that you usually see on bass guitars, but they can easily cut nylon strings too. Most importantly wire cutters are easy to come by because most of us have a set in our tool kit.
How To Cut Guitar Strings Without Wire Cutters?
If you don’t have any wire cutters laying around or you don’t think this tool is doing the right job for you then here are a few alternatives you might want to consider.
Guitar String Cutters
In my opinion, a guitar string cutter is the most efficient tool when it comes to trimming the excess string at the tuning post and the bridge if we’re talking about a classical guitar.
They function in a similar way that wire cutters do, but they are specifically designed for cutting strings because they allow you to apply the right pressure to cut even heavy gauge strings or bass strings.
I also find that they are more comfortable to hold and use and aside from the built-in clippers plenty of guitar string cutters also have a bridge pin puller and a peg winder all in one tool.
You can see Marty in this video showing you how it’s done and what an incredible and versatile tool this is!
My favorite all-in-one guitar string cutter is from D’addario, you can check it out on Amazon and see what I’m talking about by clicking here.
It’s easy to confuse wire cutters with pliers, I mean they both give you the ability to cut metal wires, but if I had to choose between these two tools I would actually go with pliers because of their multi-functionality.
Aside from cutting, pliers can actually help you reach, grab, hold, bend and loop wire. So, if you don’t have any wire cutters or you don’t like using them then consider getting pliers instead.
Pliers can help you cut the strings and since they usually have a more tapered point it’s easier to position them deep enough that they will be able to cut the wire.
Even if your pliers are not sharp enough to cut the string you can use them to hold and twist the string’s edge back and forth until it breaks. Instead of cutting the string’s edge, you can also use pliers to tuck it under the string.
There’s a great variety of pliers that serve different purposes and instead of going for ordinary pliers, you could try side-cutters or diagonal pliers. You won’t be able to grab, hold and twist wires with this tool but because of their diagonal shape, you may find it easier to cut the string with less resistance.
Needle-nose pliers are also great because they will help you reach into tight spots and make sure that the ends of the strings are no more than a centimeter or two long. Additionally, smaller pliers are better cut out for this job because they can get closer to the excess and they will work better with thinner strings that you usually see on electric guitars.
No matter which plier you decide to go with make sure they are of good quality and made of hardened or stainless steel.
Scissors can be a solution as long as you are using strong and sharp scissors that can successfully cut through your guitar strings.
For example, children’s safety scissors that are flimsy and can hardly cut through paper are not going to work, but kitchen or barber’s scissors are more likely to get the job done.
I’ve tried trimming the string edges of my freshly strung guitar with scissors a few times, and while I did manage to do it, I still think scissors are not the best tool for this.
A lot of heavy-duty scissors are quite bulky and getting them to cut at that specific angle wasn’t easy or comfortable, and the way you have to hold the scissors can be uncomfortable too, compared to pliers or guitar string cutters.
You also can’t simply grab and twist the string’s edge with scissors so your only hope of success is actually to cut them off. Be prepared that his process is likely to damage the scissors unless you’re using an industrial pair.
Sometimes we have to think outside of the box, especially in times of need. So, if you are restringing your guitar but you don’t have any access to wire cutters then you could try using nail clippers, specifically toenail clippers since they are usually stronger.
I mean every household must have at least one pair of toenail clippers laying around!
I’m not sure if all toenail clippers are strong enough to cut through the string, but you might be able to grab and hold the string and then twist and bend it back and forth to break it off isntead.
I do want to warn you though that if the quality of the nail clippers is bad then they might become useless after this process.
Toenail clippers are meant to cut nails that are much softer than metal and you might find the sharpness and effectiveness of your clippers have been reduced after cutting through one or more strings and you won’t be able to use them on your nails or strings for that matter ever again.
It’s not always easy to find your wire cutters, pliers, guitar string clippers, or any other sharp tool for that matter if you are away from home.
I’m also the only guitarist in my band so if I do forget my cutters when we’re traveling and doing gigs, then I either have to go buy new ones or get creative.
In desperate times like these, I’ve often used my fingers to trim the excess string. Admittedly it’s not necessarily the best or most efficient way to do it, but it gets the job done.
How did I do it you may ask?
Well, once I’ve wrapped the string around the post three to four times and had them up to pitch I took each excess string one at a time and bend it back and forth at the post. The string broke off in a few seconds without leaving a sharp edge that would have poked or cut me otherwise.
Once all my sharp edges are gone I retune my guitar and spend a few hours breaking the strings in and making sure it stays in tune.
Can You Use A Knife To Cut Your Strings?
When it comes to cutting another option that might come into your mind is using a knife and before we go any deeper I do want to warn you that using a knife to cut through metal near a guitar or yourself is not a good idea.
First of all, accidents can happen, one wrong move and you can end up cutting yourself or damaging the headstock or fretboard, especially since you need a sharp knife to do the job in the first place.
But if you are out of options and you don’t want to use your fingers because you’re too afraid of poking yourself then make sure to use a small knife, like a pocket knife, instead of a kitchen knife.
Instead of actually cutting the string you can use the blade to bend the string one way and then the other until the metal simply breaks off.
This is most likely to work on lighter strings that are much thinner and easier to bend this way. If the strings are too heavy then you might be left with strings where the outer wire starts to come off and unwind around the core.
Should You Cut Your Strings?
If you want to remove your old strings that are dead then you should not do so by cutting them. You should only cut your strings when you’re trying to clip the excess string that is sticking out of the tuning posts.
You also should never cut old strings, especially if they’re fully tuned and under tension. The tension exerted on the neck by the strings shouldn’t fluctuate too much, that’s why you should remove them one by one, but if you start snapping them then the sudden loss of tension can end up damaging the guitar’s neck, or the strings will end up whiping you with force instead.
Instead of cutting your strings you should loosen the tension of the strings slowly and unwind them off of the tuning post and remove them. This way if your strings are not completely dead you can reuse them.
If you don’t want to cut the end off of the strings after putting a new set then you can use pliers to tuck the excess underneath the strings in a way that they won’t poke or cut you when you’re playing.
How To Remove Guitar Strings Without Tools?
Since you don’t actually have to cut your strings to remove them you don’t actually need any tools. All you have to do is release the string tension by unwinding the tuning peg, remember to do it at a steady pace, and then once the string is loose you can unwind it off the post.
The most difficult part of changing strings that may require a tool is when you’re removing the bridge pins from out of the bridge to take the other end of the guitar off your guitar.
You might have to work a little harder to undo the knot at the lower portion of the bridge and remove the string. This will also depend on the design of your guitar, but if you can’t use your fingers then you may need pliers or a string winder to pull the bridge pins out.
I do want to mention that some guitarists believe that you should change the strings one by one, while others say that the guitar is strong enough to handle the change in tension. Since I always want to be on the safe side so I do change each string one by one.
When it comes to cutting strings it’s always best to use tools that were meant to cut guitar strings and other stringed instruments or at least metal wire, like guitar string cutters or wire cutters.
But if don’t have any of these tools nearby and all the stores are closed because you decided to restring your guitar at 3 am then you can try using sharp scissors and toenail clippers instead.
However, if you are in a completely desperate situation where neither is available then you can simply trust your own fingers to do the job, by simply twisting and bending the edges of your strings this way and that until they snap.
I don’t know if this is something you would do, but I would do anything to make sure no string edge will poke my flesh!