There’s nothing worse than breaking a guitar string—surely there must be something you can do about it! Well, the good news is, there is. In this video, we go over why guitar strings break and how to prevent guitar strings from breaking in the future.
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Breaking guitar strings is the worst, like the actual worst. Even if you’re just playing at home, you have to stop what you’re doing, go find another string if you have one, put it on, stretch it out, tune it up. And God forbid if you’re playing a gig or something, you gotta pause the gig or transpose so you can play your parts on the remaining five strings.
It stinks. So the question is, does it have to happen? Is there anything you can do about it? And why does it happen in the first place? Well, the answers are no, yes, and we’re going to show you.
So there are really two different types of guitar string breakage. They happen for different reasons and we’re going to talk about both of them today. The first type is when a guitar string breaks pretty early on after putting the set on.
Whether that’s been a couple hours, a couple of days, or even in the first week or two, it really happens because the string is encountering a sharp edge on the guitar. And we’re going to talk about where those might exist on the guitar and what you can do about them. The second type of string breakage happens when a string breaks after a couple of weeks or months or whatever when you’ve been playing on it pretty hard and eventually it just gives way.
This typically happens because the guitar string itself has corroded at a certain point. So the wrap on guitar strings for the wound strings actually can’t really corrode, it can tarnish. Whether it’s nickel or it’s bronze, these metals don’t corrode or rust in the traditional sense where it actually eats away at the metal. They just tarnish where they develop a certain sort of patina on top, but it actually is protected. It doesn’t cause any corrosion of the actual metal itself.
The core, however, or with the plain strings the entire string, is steel and that can corrode or rust. This is exacerbated by two different properties. The first is the acidity, which typically you find in your hands or your sweat and seeps onto the strings over time. And the second is the humidity or moisture in the air. Eventually, these two different properties get underneath the wraps or just build up on top of the plain strings.
They can cause that core to actually weaken and eventually snap. So let’s dive in and talk about why strings break and more importantly how to prevent guitar strings from breaking. One of the first caveats I’ll make is that when you first put a set of strings on your guitar, just take a little bit of time when you’re tuning them up to pitch. Don’t go as far as you possibly can to get them up to tension. And that can solve a lot of problems especially if you find that you’re breaking strings right when you’re first tuning them up.
Now in most other cases of early string breakage what we found is that a lot of times the string is encountering a sharp edge somewhere on the guitar. And that’s causing it to break. So the best thing you can do is keep an eye out for where your strings are breaking, which you can oftentimes judge by how much string you have left on each side and see if you’re finding that there’s something that’s consistently seeming to cause the string to break.
If strings are always breaking at the bridge, for example, there’s probably something wrong with your bridge. We’re going to talk a little bit about the different places on the guitar that strings can pretty easily break and how to prevent guitar strings from breaking in those places. So starting at the ball end of the string and working our way up across the guitar, the first place that strings could break is the tailpiece or trem system or whatever it is on your particular guitar.
If you find that your strings are breaking there and you’re left with just a ball end with a small little bit of twist left, that means you might have a sharp edge there. It’s not super common, but it is something to keep an eye out for. Next up we have one of the biggest culprits of string breakage and that is the bridge. If you have a roller bridge or something like that with more of a smooth angle, you probably don’t get a lot of trouble here, but if you have a sharper angled bridge like the tune-o-matic bridge that you see right here, it can be a big bear.
There’s a lot of reasons for that. Mainly it’s very sharp and it’s a strong break angle that’s happening over that part of the bridge, which can put a lot of pressure on the string and cause it to clip in certain cases. If that’s the case for you, you should be able to see it by how much is left of your string and be able to fix it pretty quickly. One of the easiest things you can do is to take some sandpaper or even a wound string or something and try to file down that bridge just a little bit to get rid of those sharp burrs. If that doesn’t work, it might be worth taking to tech. It’s usually a pretty easy fix and it can do a lot to improve string breakage.
Moving our way up the guitar, the next sort of problem we face sometimes are the frets themselves. Now, frets are nickel silver, which is a pretty soft metal. So I don’t find they break strings too often, but if you do have a sharp edge or a burr on a fret, that can cause some trouble. Again, a little bit of sandpaper can be helpful here or a tech will always be able to take care of it for you.
Then we come to the nut of the guitar itself. Now what’s interesting about nuts is that they’re made of bone or plastic, which isn’t really strong enough to break strings itself, but if they’re dirty or they’re not very well lubricated like with a graphite lubricant or something like that, they can cause a bit of friction and over time can cause some wear.
Again, a simple nut slot lubricant will be able to take care of that for you or a little bit of graphite from a pencil. Finally, we have what I believe to be the second biggest culprit of string breakage behind the bridge itself, which are the tuning pegs. Now, if you’ve ever looked really closely at a tuning peg, you’ll see that the string is taking a really sharp angle once it leaves that peg.
If you have a sharp edge there or you have a burr or anything like that, it gives it a pretty good opportunity to be able to clip that string up there. To fix this, the easiest thing that I think you can do is to take a wound string and just run it through the edges of that tuning peg, try to get it around the sharp edge, and see if you can kind of smooth it out a little bit or polish it off on the peg that seems to be breaking your strings.
So in general with early string breakage, the thing to remember is to look for patterns. If your strings are breaking at the same place over and over and over again, there’s probably something you can do to fix it. A lot of players will tell you that if you’re seeing a lot of recurrent breakage, you should just go a little bit heavier in gauge and that will work to a degree.
A thicker diameter string has a little bit more toughness to it and can more easily deal with the sharp angles we’re talking about, but in general I would say pick the gauge that you’re most comfortable with and just ensure that your guitar is well set up to handle it and you shouldn’t have any problems. As a bit of an aside, I know I am a little bit biased. I run a string company and I deal with a lot of players breaking their strings at different places on their guitar all the time.
And yes, in some cases it can just be the strings fault out of the package. If that is the case though, I wouldn’t blame a particular springs manufacturer for it. Honestly, it’s probably just that particular string and just a little bit of bad luck. Most manufacturers will replace a string for you. We certainly will if anything breaks early. So just reach out to them, try it again, make sure that you’re not encountering anything bad on the guitar there, and you should be a-okay.
Now let’s talk a bit about the second type of string breakage. Meaning string breakage that happens over time due to wear of the strings or corrosion of the strings themselves. The good news is, there are a couple very simple things that you can do that go a long way to ensure that your strings last a lot longer. Now the first thing you can do, and this might seem kind of cheesy or obvious, but you’d be surprised how many players don’t do this, is to simply play your guitar with clean hands.
If you have dirt on your hands or they’re very sweaty and have a lot of acid on them, that’s going to get on the strings. There’s nothing you can really do about that, but simply washing your hands before you play and ensuring that you’re not adding any more gunk to the strings can go a long way. Sure, if you play a three hour gig or something like that, you’re probably going to develop some sweat and some of it’s going to get on there and we’ll talk about what you can do about that in just a second, but simply ensuring that when you start out playing your guitar, you’re not bringing a lot of added dirt or grime to the table can go a long way in keeping your strings fresh for longer.
Now the second thing you can do, and again, you’d be surprised how much of a difference this can make. But simply wiping down your strings when you’re done playing will go a long way. We sell a microfiber cloth, but any microfiber cloth or towel will do. Simply wipe down your strings two or three times when you’re done. If you really wanna get good with it, you can go individual string by individual sting, make sure you’re wiping down all sides.
But even just going over the top a time or two can go a long way to keeping your strings clean for longer. Now the third thing you can do and one of my personal favorite things is to use a simple string conditioner. We sell an all natural string conditioner, but there are a couple others on the market that do a similar thing. All you wanna do is apply it sort of gently to the strings before you wipe it down.
And then wipe them down a little bit. I find that if you keep more of it on so you wipe it down less, your strings will be a little slicker if you like that. If you don’t really like that slickness, simply wipe them down a little bit more to get more of it off there. And these products are great. Ours is made of all natural cranberries and actually prevents corrosion really, really well.
You have to get used to the slickness the strings a little bit. I find that I really love it. Kind of depends on how you are individually, but it can go a long way to making sure that when you’re not playing your guitar and nothing is changing in the guitar, it’s not collecting any more dust, and it’s not corroding any of the strings. The next thing you can do is to keep your guitar in a clean environment or in a clean case when you’re not playing it.
If you’re going from gig to gig and you’re changing climate whether that’s humidity or temperature, one of the easiest things you can do is just keep your guitar in its case, in the new temperature or new humidity environment, for 30 minutes or so. Let it acclimate to that different environment and then take it out and play. If you don’t do this every time, it shouldn’t be a huge deal, but it is yet another simple thing that you can do overtime to ensure that your strings aren’t getting shocked with too much humidity or a different temperature all at once.
I would also definitely recommend ensuring that you’re playing the right strings for your particular style or the tuning that you’re playing in. If you’re putting too much force on particular strings or using way too heavy of strings for a pretty high-pitched tuning or anything like that, it can cause some breakage just ’cause there’s a lot more tension on the strings themselves. So ensure that you’re playing the right set of strings for you and that can go a long way as well.
While these are some of the most common reasons we see strings break and some of the easiest things you can do to ensure that your strings aren’t breaking early, I should say that there are a million factors that can lead to strings breaking. If you’re playing a really, really heavy pick, and you’re very aggressive with your right hand, that can put a lot of added stress on the strings. If you’re trying to do two step bends on 12’s or something like that, that can put a lot of stress on the strings.
So there’s a lot of different factors involved. The trick is to find those things, those patterns that are reoccurring, try to address them where you can, ensure that your guitar is well set up for what you’re playing, and that should go a long way to ensure that your strings aren’t breaking early on you and you’re getting the most bang for your buck out of your set of strings.
So what do you think? Have you ever had strings break on you constantly only to make one small change to your guitar and it fixed the whole thing? Have you got some other tricks for how to prevent guitar strings from breaking that we haven’t mentioned here? Share your story down in the comments so we can all learn together.