Let’s talk stretching.
In our ongoing quest for stable tuning, it’s worth chatting about string stretching.
In my view, a little string stretching after you’ve restrung can go a long way towards a more stable guitar. At the very minimum it can speed the natural process of ‘bedding in’ that occurs as you play and it can frequently help identify or resolve problems like an improperly seated ball-end or a string that slips a little because it’s not secured properly at the tuner.
How to stretch strings
Later in this post is a ‘disclaimer’. For now, here’s how I recommend you stretch strings.
Just grab it and pull it.
Tune your new strings to pitch. Get your fingers under the string somewhere around the halfway mark (that’d be the 12th fret although I find I’m usually a little higher — it’s not precision engineering and we’re not building rockets here).
Pull upwards slowly, away from the fingerboard.
See the photo. You don’t need to go nuts on this. Give it a bit of a gentle stretch and then retune that string. Stretch it again. It’ll go flat again but probably by less, this time. Retune it again.
Repeat until you don’t have any tuning to do after stretching and move on to the next string.
At the end, go back and give all your strings a final tuning.
You don’t need to move up and down the string, stretching individual sections. You don’t need a weird String Stretcherizer 3000® device to run up and down the strings. Just give it a bit of a yank.
String Stretching Controversy and Disclaimer
String stretching is a weirdly contentious subject. There are those with very strong opinions about what stretching actually does and about the best method — and even the best direction — to stretch strings (if they stretch at all).
If this is you, fantastic. Please don’t feel the need to comment or email me.
I don’t want to sound dismissive here but some subjects attract strong opinions and, while I usually welcome discussions on these articles, this is an area where I don’t want to encourage opinions. If you disagree strongly, cool. Keep doing what you’re doing. It’s entirely possible you’re right. What I’ve presented here is my opinion on this. It’s possible I’m right. All I know on this is what works for me. Cool?
What does stretching strings actually do?
There is a school of thought that stretching really stretches the steel strings. That it’s necessary to remove some initial elasticity and bed them in.
Actually, the no-comment disclaimer above notwithstanding, this is an area I am very happy to be educated on. If you have an actual engineering view on this, I’d really love to hear it.
Does stretching actually ‘stretch’ the strings?
The answer to that probably involves Young’s Modulus and complicated sums with Greek letters and is beyond my repairperson’s brain. I’ve read varying opinions but nothing that’s actually gone much beyond ‘opinion’. It’d be great to hear real, evidence-based, information on this.
My own view (view only — no real evidence) is that the action of string stretching is primarily about removing slack in the system. The repeated stretching of a string pulls any looseness in the string windings around the post, in the ball-end at the bridge, and anywhere else that some slack might hide.
I feel buoyed in this belief by the fact that even after settling, if you de-tune a string and bring it back to pitch, it will still benefit from a new round of ‘stretching’.
My opinion (definitely an ‘opinion’ only) is that any actual stretching that occurs to the steel of the strings is minimal. Like I say though, I’m really interested in this and happy to be corrected.
SIDENOTE: Since first publishing this, I've been emailed by a number of readers saying that they're engineers and that the view I present above is correct — the strings don't actually stretch. I still don't have actual evidence on this, though. So, I'm more convinced but not happy to call it closed.
The Bottom Line
If you want to buy a string stretching device, or you want to stretch strings in a particular fashion, or you don’t want to stretch at all, brilliant. Do that. Good luck to you.
Just don’t stretching-shame me for my opinion. 😉
Any comments that can be summed up as "You're wrong" or "I do this" will just be deleted if presented without actual evidence. Emphasis on 'actual' — the blog post of some bloke (like me) with just an opinion doesn't count.
However, if you’re someone with some sort of A-Beautiful-Mind information on the actual physics of string-stretching, I’d love to hear from you. Please hit me up in the comments or email and send me stuff with as few Greek letters as possible.
You can, of course, comment for any non-stretching-shame chats. That’s always welcome.