Hands-up anybody who’s been tuning their guitar then all of a sudden you hear that heart stopping ‘twang’ as a string breaks?
The absolute pits isn’t it?
All guitar players fall victim to guitar strings breaking. But if you're scratching your head wondering why your strings seem to be breaking far too often, in order to quickly fix the issue you need to ask yourself these two key questions:
Q1. Did the string break when restringing or while tuning?
Q2. Have you noticed your guitar strings always seem to break at the bridge, nut, fretboard, or tuning peg most?
Either way, snapping guitar strings are a royal pain in the behind. Don't sweat it though, because we have the solution.
So acoustic or electric guitar, we’ve compiled the ultimate guide detailing the 8 main reasons why your guitar strings are breaking (and the fixes).
Anyone with a half decent ear can tell you old guitar strings sound terrible. This is because strings oxidise (rust) over time mainly due to exposure to moisture in the air and the build up of dirt, oils and dead skin from your fingers. Lovely.
The downside of keeping old strings on your guitar isn't just that they make it sound dull and lacklustre - the deterioration makes them less pliable, difficult to play, and therefore more prone to breakage.
So, If you’re tearing your hair out confused as to why you're going through strings quicker than a speed metal drum solo, it might be time to get your finger out and try one of the fixes coming up.
The Fix: Easy one this - put new strings on your guitar. It's crucial you also know when to change your guitar strings. Once you get new strings on your guitar, there are quite a few measures you can take to get more life out of them too:
1) Get into the good habit of wiping down you guitar strings with a microfibre towel after you play. From fingerboard and string cleaning tools to complete guitar care kits, removing grime and dirt from your guitar strings and fretboard is a simple yet crucial step you can take to minimise string failure.
2) Ditch those cheapo strings and get some better quality coated guitar strings. Thanks to a thin liquid polymer coating on the outer layer, coated strings have a much longer lifespan than regular non-coated because sweat and oils from your fingers are prevented from penetrating and corroding them.
Elixir Bronze Nanoweb Coating Acoustic Guitar Strings
D'Addario 80/20 12-53 Coated Acoustic Guitar Strings
D'Addario EXP110 Coated Nickel-Plated Electric Guitar
Elixir Nanoweb Coated Electric Guitar Strings
Dunlop Complete Guitar Care Kit
Bridge: If you’re string is repeatedly breaking near the bridge, you can bet your bottom dollar the saddle may have a 'burr'(sharp edge) snagging your strings. The sharp edges can be caused by general wear and tear such as string movement over time digging into the bridge slots. This inevitably leads to string breakage.
3) Replace your old saddle with a superior one. Many electric guitar players swear by swapping out their original saddles with a Graphtech saddle. Perfect for many style electrics including Strats and Gibson.
Nut: If you find your string is snapping at the nut, the cause can be a poorly fitted nut, dirt build up in the string grooves, or gradual wear. Wear on a nut can be caused by few different factors like heavy gauge strings moving back and forth in the grooves.
Moreover, If your guitar has been used to heavier gauge strings and you switch to very light strings, the strings sliding around in a groove too large for them over time will lead to breakage.
If you happen to hear your nut creaking like an old floorboard when you tune, it's too tight. Use a pencil and rub into the nut slot, or use some guitar lubricant.
The Fix: 1) Gently use some light sandpaper, a file or an old thick guitar string to file the the nut groove. 2) Get better quality acoustic guitar coated strings or electric guitar coated strings, the smooth coating causes less friction than non-coated strings. 3) Fit a new nut such as this electric guitar Graphtech nut, or for an acoustic, try these quality nuts.
Tuning Peg: If you notice your string is breaking at the tuning peg (machine heads), a burr or sharp edge may be the culprit. Fortunately, there are a few easy quick fixes for this.
The Fix: 1) If you have any old thick low strings kicking about, file away the rough edges by rubbing the string gently in a circular motion through the peg string hole.
If there is no burr and your machine heads are smoothe, you could be incorrectly fitting the strings with too much, or not enough string wind causing excessive tension (see point 6).
Do you tend to get over excited and batter the living day-lights out of your guitar when you play? The deal is - if you tend to play guitar hard, you'll break more guitar strings.
Your poor strings won’t be able to go the distance half as much as if you played lighter, and with more control.
Some younger beginners (specifically teen males) I’ve taught over the years tend to strum and pick far too hard. This doesn’t only result in a bad sound, but it makes your strings more prone to breakage.
In the same vein, if you play lots of lead guitar and/or use a whammy bar, those bends and vibrato take their toll on your strings. And having a string snap on you mid epic bend during a gig isn't for the faint hearted, I can tell you.
The Fix: 1) Assess your playing technique and refine. Work on mastering control and feel so that you don’t strike the strings too hard. Add dynamics to your playing and don't just pound away at the strings like a sledge-hammer.
2) Ask yourself if you need to try a different string brand and/or heavier gauge. Recommended electric guitar string gauge would be no lighter than 0.010-0.048 like these GHS Boomers, or for your acoustic 0.012-0.053, like these Elixir Bronze Nanoweb Coating strings.
If your strings seem to snap over the fretboard area between the nut and bridge, rough edges on your frets could be to blame. If you’ve ticked off all the other possible causes for your strings breaking frequently, this is a good one to consider.
This issue is more likely to happen on older guitars that have been around the block a few times. So check your metal frets for any rough edges or dents as these can cause your string to break with repeated playing friction.
The Fix: Use a soft piece of sandpaper, or better still a fret burnishing tool to lightly file out any rough edges. At the end of the day, If your guitar is particularity old and battered and you were looking for the perfect excuse, it may just be time to consider getting a new guitar.
Notice how it always seems to be the high strings (particularity the top E) that snap? If your top E string keeps breaking, the first common culprit is you may be putting your strings on wrong.
Culprit No 2 is winding the string the wrong way, or winding completely the wrong string wondering, “why is this sucker not changing pitch?”…twang!
Don’t you feel a right idiot when that happens?
Moreover, if you notice your strings aren’t snapping but they’re coming off by the tuning peg post, you're winding the string incorrectly. Stick around, because we've got the best string changing method for you to follow that'll turn you into a string changing ninja.
Go by this rule: 2-3 winds for the low three strings, and 3-5 winds for the top three strings. If you end up with one or two more winds, don't have a hernia. You're good to go.
Now, you'll stumble across no end of nerdy debates about how string wind number affects tone and tuning. You want to know the truth?
It doesn't really matter.
If someone is trying to convince you they can hear a tone difference when they have 7 winds as opposed to 3 on their B string, trust me - they're telling porky pies.
Fix: Learn how to restring your guitar the right way (see below) and for your electric guitar, consider getting yourself some locking tuners - the tuning process will be considerably quicker, and potentially your aggravating tuning issues will be solved.
Locking tuners can solve your electric guitar tuning headaches
Follow this tried and tested method: For the 3 bass strings: Hold the new string at slight tension, and cut it a distance of 1 tuning posts past the one you're re-stringing. Make sure the winds are going down and not over the top of the peg. This way you'll nicely end up with around 2-3 winds.
For the 3 top strings: Hold the new string at slight tension, and cut it a distance of 1.5 tuning posts past the one you're re-stringing. The extra distance keeps the string below the tuner post hole. Make sure the winds are going down and not over the top of the peg. You'll end up with around 3-5 winds.
If you want to know the best way to change you acoustic guitar strings and are wondering if it is easy or hard, watch the video below that shows you the best method that make acoustic guitar string changing a cinch.
Watch the best method for changing electric guitar strings below care of the guys over at Fender. Changing strings is easy and straightforward - once you know how...
What a boring job changing guitar strings is.
If you've got more than one guitar in your collection, or even if you just have one but value your time and sanity, treat yourself to one of our recommended string changing tools below.
Who fancies taking 20 minutes to change their strings when you can do it in just 2 minutes? Avoid the hard work, and make life easier. Go on. You know you want another guitar gadget.
If you’re using very light strings but you like drop tuning your guitar and giving it a thrashing, it’s likely you’ll break strings like they’re going out of fashion (see No 7) .008 gauge strings will break easier than .010’s, it's a no-brainer this one.
The Fix: Along with trying a different thickness string, it’s important you use good quality strings. Get a set of correct gauge strings that suit your playing style that can also hold up to the tension.
Whether you’re playing in drop D or drop C#, you need to get correct gauge strings with a balanced tension to suit your low tuning. Strings that are too light lead to tuning nightmares, higher probability of string breaks, and potential neck issues down the line.
Because the average set of guitar strings are designed with a guitar in standard tuning in mind, it's wise you get clued up on what thickness strings you should be choosing to suit your preferred tuning.
Drop tuning string gauge examples:
Drop D Tuning - .010 - .054
Drop D Tuning - 0.11. - 0.56
Drop C Tuning - 0.12 - 0.60
Drop C# Tuning - 0.13 - 0.68
Try different options over your next few string changes. You'll find the perfect thickness for you in no time.
The Fix: 1) Get the appropriate gauge strings. 2) If you have more than one guitar, keep one always drop tuned (Drop Drop C, etc).
If you live in an especially humid part of the world or keep your guitar in a damp humid environment, you'll be accelerating the deterioration of your strings. Not to mention potentially causing other issues to the neck and body of the guitar.
The factors that cause humidity are the perfect storm for making strings oxidise and feel pretty old in a short space of time. Afterall, what do you get when you combine metal and moisture? Rust.
Now before you freak out and rush to buy a humidity chamber that wouldn't look out of place in NASA, we're talking about extreme humidity and prolonged exposure to humidity here. 45-50% humidity is the ideal range for a guitar, anything 75% or higher and you'll need to take action to prevent damage.
Follow this common sense ethos - don't leave your guitar anywhere you wouldn't want to be for long. Think, the trunk of your car overnight, or in a cold damp basement.
The Fix: 1) In wet environments, use a room dehumidifier wherever your guitar is kept, and in very low humidity dry areas use a humidifier. 2) Put silica gel in your guitar case in high humidity areas. 3) Use coated strings that protect the inner metal core from corrosion.
Now it's over to you.
Follow the tips you've just learned and make snapping strings as rare as rocking horse teeth. Which fix worked for you?
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