If you’re a guitar player, then you’ll surely experience a time when your guitar strings break.
Hopefully, it doesn’t happen while you’re performing live, but it’s inevitable that you’ll break a string at some point.
Nothing is worse than the dreaded sound of a string snapping in half – especially knowing that guitar strings have a tendency of breaking at the worst possible times.
Why do guitar strings break? Guitar strings break due to normal wear with time. If the strings frequently break in the same place, this area of the guitar needs to be carefully inspected. The most common reason guitar strings break is due to abnormal and irregular wear of the strings in certain places due to rough areas, sharp edges, excessive tightening, poor technique, and more.
This is what I wanted to explore here and hopefully help anyone that wants to have their guitar strings last a little longer and break a little less often.
In this post, we’ll discuss 10 of the common reasons for breaking guitar strings. We’ll also discuss how to prevent your guitar strings from breaking.
1. The Number of Times Strings Have Been Retuned
The constant tuning will not damage the guitar, but it can damage the strings.
Frequent tightening and loosening of the guitar strings wear off their tension strength leading to them breaking more easily. This is called the fatigue phenomenon.
For example, that’s why sometimes the constant tuning or retuning of the strings can be more damaging to the strings than leaving them tuned over a period of time.
Have you ever tried bending something back and forth repeatedly? While it may not break the first time you bend it, eventually after enough repetitions, it will snap.
2. Rough or Sharp Fret Edges
If your guitar strings are frequently breaking in the same areas, this is the first place where you need to look for the real cause of the problem.
If the strings always break around the neck or between the neck and the bridge then the reason for that may be due to sharp or rough fret edges, even a small dent in the frets can cause the strings to break.
When your strings break just use the broken edge of the string to see where exactly that is happening before removing them.
Just by examining the frets, the blemishes might not be easily visible, but taking notes on where precisely the string has broken can help you determine the right fret edge that is doing the damage.
In order to fix the rough fret edges use a small file or a piece of sandpaper to smoothen out the edges.
3. Your Guitar Strings Are Old
Guitars are like wine; they get better with time.
Unfortunately, this does not hold true for the guitar strings. With time the tone and intonation of strings change, and it is not in a good way.
This all happens due to the normal wear of the strings through their usage and the accumulated, dirt, dead skin, sweat, and the oils that are found naturally on our hands and fingers.
All this will lead to strings that sound duller and are more difficult to play and, well, them being easily breakable.
The best way to alleviate this problem is by getting yourself a new set of strings. Especially if it has been a while, you will definitely feel the difference and the brighter tone of the new strings – quite literally – music to your ears.
Not to mention new strings stay in tone a lot better and are easier on the fingers.
4. Sharp Bridge
The bridge can probably be considered the most common place where guitar strings tend to break.
In some cases, strings can frequently be breaking around the ball end of the guitar.
This is usually a sign of, a sharp bridge edge, and this can be the case especially with new guitars. A sharp bridge will be really taxing on your guitar strings so what you need to do in order to fix that issue is smoothen a little bit those edges.
Use a bit of fine sandpaper or a small file to do that. Use them to smooth the creases on the bridges where the strings lie. If you don’t have any files or sandpaper lying around another good alternative is to grab an old string and just rub in over the bridge creases. This, of course, is not the best way to do it, but it is a good makeshift option.
5. The Nut is Worn Down or Dirty
Are your guitar strings constantly breaking around or near the nut? Then this is where we need to look for the cause of the problem. The two main reasons why the nut might be breaking your strings are:
- Accumulated dirt or grime.
- Or, a worn down nut.
Dirt does accumulate with time around the creases in the nut. Hence, why it is a good rule of the thumb always to clean the nut when you are restringing. That way, you will keep it clean, and it will be wearing down the strings less.
It is also recommended to use a good lubricant.
On the other hand, the nut can wear down with time, too, especially by the heavier strings. In that case, it is good to smoothen it out with a small file or some very fine sandpaper.
6. Burred Tuning Pegs
If your strings often break at the tuning pegs, then the most probable reason for that is a metal burr.
On the other hand, the angle of the string hole might be too sharp as well causing any heavier strings to break at that spot.
In order to get rid of the burrs, use a small and round needle file very diligently to smoothen the pegs and follow that with very fine sandpaper.
David Wilcox has been recommending adding multiple wraps as this creates less stress on the strings and can improve their life expectancy.
7. Tightening the Strings too Much
One common reason players break their strings is because they over-tighten them when they are tuning.
When you tighten the tuning pegs on your guitar, it puts more tension on the strings, resulting in a higher pitch.
One common mistake that new players make when tuning their guitar is tightening the tuning pegs too much, particularly on the higher strings.
I often see new players initially tune past the note that they want to reach.
But rather than tuning back down to reach their desired note, they continue tuning up.
This results in another full wrap around the tuning peg, which puts too much tension on the string.
8. You’re Bending The Strings Too Much or With Bad Technique
Bending is one of these techniques that are really cool until you start breaking your strings because of it.
This can happen when you are bending your strings too much or using a bad technique.
Also, if it keeps breaking at the same place every time there could be a burr, a sharp edge, or a blemish that leaves a weak spot on the string. If you’re bending the string right at the weak spot, then there’s a good chance you will break the guitar string.
Inspect the place the strings break; the bridge, the fret, and the nuts are the usual suspects here.
Usually, breaking your guitar strings from bending is only an issue with the high E string or the B string since they are the thinnest strings on your guitar.
If you consistently break these strings when you bend, then you should consider switching to a thicker string gauge. Thicker strings are much less likely to break since they can withstand higher tension.
9. You’re Using a Thick Guitar Pick
There are two main aspects of a guitar pick that might lead to the guitar string wearing out faster and eventually breaking.
The first is the thickness of the guitar pick, and the second is its sharpness.
Sharp and heavy picks can reduce the lifespan of the guitar strings a lot faster in some cases.
Some guitarists like the heavier picks as they can allow them to kind of force the strings a little more and get more tone out of them, but this can be really hard on the strings.
Thicker guitar picks tend to wear out the strings more easily and can cause nicks and dents in them. Over time, the constant wear on the strings will leave weak spots where the strings are more prone to breaking.
If you’re someone who prefers thicker guitar picks, then there’s really no way around it.
You’ll just have to deal with changing your guitar strings more often than someone who uses thinner guitar picks.
10. Using the Wrong Strings
When you first get into playing the guitar you will be very confused as to how exactly string gauges work and what to expect from them.
I’ll admit it I’ve had my fair share of awkward moments when first buying strings for my guitar, but that is a story for a different time.
I will not be turning this into a story time about string gauges as this is a topic that deserves its own in-depth article. However, strings have different gauges, and using them improperly can lead to some broker strings.
Strings can easily snap if the wrong gauge is being used for the particular pitch that the string is being set for. This will be creating unnatural stress to the string, possibly breaking it a lot easier.
How to Prevent Your Guitar Strings From Breaking
This is the bane of any guitar player.
Of course, strings can break due to the natural wear and tear, but if that is happening way too often, there might be underlying reasons that are causing them to break.
Keep an eye out and make sure you track where they break.
Are they breaking frequently in the same place?
Then right there might be the culprit that is ruining the guitar strings for you.
When we take a more in-depth look into what strings are – we will see that they are not that incredibly complex. They are mostly made of steel, nylon, gut, or some alloy, and have a specific purpose and use.
Types of Guitar Strings
There are five main types of guitar strings, and there can also be several different subcategories depending on the alloys being used. They are:
Steel and Nickel are the most common materials used for electric guitars.
For acoustic guitars the materials used usually are Brass/Bronze, and Silk and Steel.
And for the classical guitars, the materials strings are typically made of are gut, nylon, and silver or gold strings.
Hence why the first thing we need to focus on is understanding the properties of the materials strings are made of. That way we can find out what we can do to increase the lifespan of our guitar strings and avoid the infamous snapping sound of a breaking string.
How You Wind the Strings Is Important
Believe it or not, how you wind your guitar strings around the tuning peg can affect how easily your guitar strings break.
While it may not be the most exciting thing to pay attention to how neatly you’re winding your strings, properly re-stringing your guitar in the first place can help increase their lifespan.
Still, this is like a soldier cleaning his rifle before getting into a fight. Of course, he can choose not to clean the rifle, but he shouldn’t be surprised when it fails on him later on.
A bad winding of the strings is often the reason for strings breaking, and every guitar player should do a diligent job when doing it.
Lubrication Can Prevent Strings From Breaking
Another important aspect is the lubrication of some guitar parts.
A good and quality lubricant can make the strings move with less resistance and a lot more smoothly.
The lubricant can be applied to any part like the nut, bridge, or the string trees leading to less wearing off of the strings in these areas.
Using Coated Guitar Strings
One way to help prevent your guitar strings from breaking is by using coated guitar strings.
What is meant by coating is the plastic polymer that is used to coat the strings. Coated strings have a significantly longer lifespan than a standard non-coated guitar string.
The coating protects your guitar strings from oils, dirt, and sweat from your fingers. This makes them less prone to corrosion, which can significantly increase the lifespan of the strings.
Once guitar strings start to corrode, it is much easier to break them.
One thing to mention is that coated guitar strings are expensive. I personally use Elixer Guitar Strings. They cost about 3 times as much as a regular pair of guitar strings but last me for months without a change.
If you’re someone who hates regularly changing your strings, then these are your best bet. If you don’t mind changing your strings often and prefer the fresh feel of new strings, then you’re better off buy 3 packs of regular strings.
Cleaning Your Hands and Strings
It is something that we are so used to that we barely pay any attention to it, however, making sure we wash our hands prior to playing the guitar can reduce the oxidization and the adverse effect of the accumulation of the natural oils and acids that we have on our hands.
Interestingly enough, ever since I started doing this (especially during the summer) the times I have a string break on me have drastically reduced. Nowadays I do that prior to using my PC, and even a mobile phone.
Occasionally wipe down the strings, too, as this will prevent any moisture from building up as well as it will keep the dirt off.
A good string cleaner can make a whole world of a difference as some of these products are able to even protect the strings from corrosion.
How Frequently Should Strings Be Changed?
Guitar strings will naturally rust and wear down over time. When this happens, the chances of your guitar strings breaking significantly increase.
If you want to prevent your breaking your guitar strings from breaking on you right when you need them for a show, then the best thing you can do is change them frequently.
There is nothing quite like hearing that distinct fresh sound of new strings on your guitar.
Yet, I am sure you’ve stumbled upon lots of people that seem to be constantly changing their strings, while on the other hand, there are also guitar players that never seem to change them.
So, how often should you actually change them?
How often you should be changing your strings will depend on your personal guitar playing habits.
Here are a couple of things to keep in mind:
- Do you play your guitar frequently and for extended periods of time? Do you play very aggressively? This might wear off the strings very fast, and you might end up changing them very fast – after every few gigs, or so.
- For those of you who sweat a lot, you might need to change the strings a lot more often.
- If you play with lots of bends and use lighter string gauges, this might increase the chances of a string breaking.
- If you have left your guitar in storage somewhere, strings can oxidize and deteriorate a lot. Even though you haven’t been using your guitar, the strings will probably need a change.
- Even the place you live can affect the lifespan of your guitar strings. Humid and tropical climates will increase oxidation, leading to the guitar strings breaking more often.
Overall, the right time to change a string will depend on a lot of factors. Sometimes even on your personal taste. Strings do deteriorate with time, and this changes the way they sound and there are guitarists that prefer how old strings sound.
However, keep in mind that new guitar strings are less likely to break. So, if you’re concerned about breaking your guitar strings, then changing your strings every couple of weeks will help.
Strings are the heart of our guitars. Sometimes they can seem to have a mind on their own breaking seemingly at random times.
There is always an underlying reason for that, and we need to make sure we take good care of them and use them properly in order to get the most out of them.
Taking some of the steps, we have gone through here will make sure you enjoy your strings for a lot longer before having to worry about changing them.