For a guitar player, snapping a string can be an emotional experience. Especially if it happens at the worst possible time, which is normally tuning before a gig. There are many reasons why your guitar strings are breaking, most of which can be prevented.
Guitar strings normally break once they become old or worn out. There are also times when a part on your guitar becomes sharp or out of adjustment and can lead to premature breaking. This is normally at the bridge or nut and will happen when you tune.
In this article, we are going to look at the most common points of failure and what you can do to prevent snapping strings as often as you might currently be experiencing.
Old Guitar Strings
Once your guitar strings become old, they will lose their elasticity. This is due to the metal work-hardening over time. The outer wrap wire will also start to unravel and come undone. As a result, the string becomes unbalanced and more fragile.
They have also been tuned several times, rubbing against the tuners, nut, and bridge. This friction will eventually begin to wear the metal at the point of contact, eventually having it snap.
You can tell when your strings are getting old because they will sound dull, and they will also start to change color. The first sign of this is usually a slight darkening near the bridge. This is corrosion and will eventually destroy them.
This is all normal when it comes to electric and acoustic guitar strings. Over time, they naturally wear, begin to sound bad and might even smell or change colors.
Unfortunately, there is no solution. This is the lifespan of a guitar string, and at this point, it’s time to replace them with a new set. There are a few things that you can do to prolong the life of your strings:
- Clean them after every session
- Don’t rest the strings against anything when you put your guitar down
- Make sure your guitar is properly maintained and clean
Sharp Tuning Post
If your guitar string snaps while you are tuning, this is most likely due to a sharp edge on the tuning post. Because it has to wrap tightly around the tuner, it cannot be sharp.
This is most apparent with the thinner strings, if you find you are breaking them at the tuning post, this is more than likely your problem. It doesn’t take much to snap them, and over time the machine head will become deformed at the hole the string passes through.
The metal gets pushed up from the force of the string over time, which then creates a sharp point.
The thicker strings are nickel-wound and will last a bit longer as a result. It can still happen once it cuts the winding, and so this is a maintenance issue that should be resolved with all machine heads.
There are 2 suggestions to fix this issue:
- File down sharp points at tuner hole
- Add an extra string wrap around the machine heads
How to Remove Sharp Edges On Tuning Post
The first remedy is to make sure that there are no sharp edges around the holes in the machine heads shafts. This can be done in one of two ways. The first is to use a small round file with a sharp tip.
You can use the file to try and remove any noticeable metal build-ups or deformities by simply pulling back on it. This will clean the hole and round the edges. You must make sure you are not creating a bigger problem by doing this, if in doubt, see a guitar technician.
The second method is to use an old string and run it back and forth through the hole over the sharp edge. This can be done with one of the thicker strings with the winding around it. This will act as a file and should work down the sharp edge.
Just make sure not to use a new string to do this, it’s recommended that an old one be used to perform this step.
Add An Extra String Wrap
Another solution, to go along with removing any sharp edges, is to add one or two more wraps around the tuning post when you install new strings. A lot of guitar players only use 3-4 wraps per string, and this is fine in most cases.
But if you are the type of player who does a lot of bending and changes tuning a lot, an extra wrap or two will alleviate some stress the string is under right at the tuning post hole.
This method spreads the tension across all the wraps and won’t rely so heavily on the area of the string right at the hole.
If you find you are breaking the 3rd string a lot, this has helped many people resolve the issue.
Worn or Dirty Guitar Nut
The nut is the small strip of white plastic at the headstock end of the fretboard. There are grooves cut into this strip where each string rests. This is another point where sharp edges and burrs can form.
Because there is so much string force against the nut, sometimes it can create sharp spots or ridges. These are known to break strings as they are uneven areas.
Another issue with the nut is the material itself. Some low-quality plastics are used in certain guitar models that accumulate dirt and become very dry. When you play the guitar or tune it, the strings move in the nut slightly.
This dry, aggressive groove in the nut then wears away at the metal, eventually leading to a broken string.
To remove any burrs or uneven spots in the nut grooves, a set of guitar files is necessary. Using a flat file, run it through the nut grooves lightly, removing any imperfections.
A small piece of sandpaper can work here too, but a file will do a better job at creating a good string seat. The sandpaper may not get the groove as flat as we would like.
Additionally, if you have a plastic nut, using a drop of graphite lube in each groove will help with any friction. This will ensure the string can move freely without any binding.
A better solution is to replace the nut with a higher-quality one. By upgrading to a nut with a PTFE lubricant already in the material, you can rest assured that binding will be dealt with. A good guitar nut for this is the Graph Tech Tusq XL.
The frets are the metal strips that run perpendicular to the strings along the neck. These need to be level with one another and free of sharp edges. Any sharp fret ends can snag a string and cause it to snap.
As you play your guitar, sometimes the wear and tear will create some low divots on certain frets. These can be small, but over time they can also become sharp.
As your frets begin to wear down, they will also start to break strings. If you notice that your strings are breaking in the middle of your neck, it may be time to inspect your frets.
The solution here is to use a file or some sandpaper and level out the frets until they are all flush with one another again. You can use a small ruler or a straightedge to check each fret for any high spots.
You also want to look for sharp ridges or areas of concern that might be breaking your strings. Sometimes it’s hard to see if you do not know what to look for. In cases like these, it’s best to take it to a guitar technician, who will be able to fix them for you.
If you can see problematic areas, try smoothing them out with a file or sandpaper, just be careful not to create any divots or take off too much material.
Sharp Bridge Saddles
The bridge is a very important part of your guitar. The strings resting here are under so much force that the smallest burr or imperfection on the saddles can break them.
Over time, impressions left from the strings begin to create sharp and uneven surfaces on the bridge. These are the primary reason for broken strings right at the saddles.
If you are breaking strings at the bridge, then it needs some work before this will stop. New strings won’t last long until this is resolved, so don’t ignore it.
This is a relatively easy fix and can be done without a professional. Using your trusty guitar file set, simply select one that best matches the contours of your saddles. Then simply file the area of the saddles where the strings sit nice and flat.
If you notice that there are impressions left by old strings, try your best to flatten them without removing too much material. You don’t need to make sure the impressions are removed, they just can’t be sharp.
When performing this task, don’t apply too much force, you want to use nice light motions, back and forth until the saddles are burr-free.
Wrong Guitar Pick
While most players just assume the guitar pick is harmless to the strings, this is not true. Every time you strike the strings with a plectrum, it creates wear and stress on them.
Choosing the right guitar pick for the string gauge you use is quite important. A big, thick guitar pick slammed into extra light strings will only reduce their lifespan.
The material is also important, as a metal plectrum will wear out your strings faster than any other.
Once you have verified that your guitar parts are in good shape and not causing your premature string failure, explore your pick type. If you are using a rigid material, try something softer and see if it helps.
Maybe it’s too thick and causing you to snap strings as often as you do. Try something lighter and see if it makes a difference.
Technique Is Too Aggressive
Sometimes as guitarists, we get very passionate about our music. This is especially true when playing gigs or in front of an audience. We may not notice it, but our playing becomes more aggressive and can add too much stress to the strings.
If you find that you are breaking strings, but the guitar is in perfect shape, you might want to look at how you play. If the string gauge is pretty light, they might not be able to take the extra abuse.
Adjust how you play and try and work out your strumming technique. If you realize that you might be a bit heavy-handed, try and play lighter at least while practicing.
You could also consider using heavier strings that can take more abuse. If you don’t bend a lot, then this might be the perfect fit for your tone and the string performance.
Frequent Tuning Changes
Guitar players use many tuning arrangements for different songs. This can add some great variation to your tones and can be a lot of fun. But this can also lead to string damage if you are using one guitar for all of them.
As you tighten and loosen your guitar strings many times, this will begin to fatigue them. The tension changes, wear from the nut, bridge seats and tuning posts all lead to string breakage.
If you have ever bent a piece of metal back and forth, you know that it will eventually break. Your guitar strings are under this kind of stress when the tuning changes frequently.
Acquire another guitar and try and use more of them for different tuning variations. This can be a great way to alleviate the added stress of tuning changes. Even having 2 guitars that can be tuned to variations that are not too far from one another can help.
This can also help should you break a string on stage, an extra guitar can be a show saver!
Too Much Tension on Strings
Sometimes when we put new strings on, it can be hard to find the right octave. This can lead to a guitarist over tightening them, which in some cases can be severe!
A new set of strings can be snapped very easily this way, especially if they are thinner.
Whenever you put new strings on, use a tuner pedal that can help you realize the octave. This way, the strings will not be over tightened, and you will have the benefit of perfect tuning as well.
Guitar strings are an important part of the instrument and need to be taken care of, if you find that they are becoming discolored, change them. Be sure to inspect all the parts of your guitar and make sure they are in good condition to help them last longer.
If you find that your guitar is in good shape, you may also want to try using coated strings. They repel oils from your hands, and the coating may reduce friction when seated.
Check how you play and the techniques you use, as this can lead to string breakage as well.
Finally, when changing tunings, try and use more than one guitar if possible to alleviate the stress on the strings.
By following these simple tips, you can help reduce string breakage and enjoy your playing without downtime!
Frequently asked questions about string breakage.
Do guitar strings break easily?
Guitar strings can break easily when the conditions are not right. If your guitar is not in good shape, you will notice an increase in broken strings. Conversely, if your playing style is too aggressive for the thickness, they may not be able to handle the stress.
Under the right circumstances, guitar strings can tolerate a lot of abuse and can last a long time. So make sure to maintain your equipment and use the correct techniques.
Which guitar string is most likely to break?
If the conditions are not right, you will find that the first string, or your thinnest one, will be the one to break. This is because it’s thin and not wrapped with nickel.
In a lot of cases, it’s also the only string that gets overtightened, which will cause it to break even when brand new. Apart from that, there are a lot of players who complain that their 3rd or G-string tends to break more than they would like.
This can often times be fixed by adding a few more wraps around the machine head shafts.
Why does my low E string keep breaking?
The low E string is the thickest one and takes the most abuse. It also experiences high tension, which can lead to breakage if the guitar is in poor condition.
There are a few things you can do to help extend the life of your low E string. First, make sure that your guitar is in good shape and the nut and saddle are not causing any excessive friction. Depending on where it breaks, inspect the area for sharp spots
Second, be mindful of your playing style and try not to be too aggressive. A heavier string gauge can also help with this, as they can take more abuse.