Strings are an essential part of any guitar. Without them, there will be no sound. But somehow they just seem to break at the exact moment when you needed them the most.
So why do strings break and how can you prevent it?
The two main causes of guitar string breakage are aging strings that are oxidized and will break easily under tension. The other reason is you have sharp edges on your tuning pegs, nut, or saddle, which can cause breakage at each contact point under stress.
These are the most common reasons for string breakage and today we’ll be taking a closer look at how to troubleshoot for the different causes of string breakage and their corresponding preventive measures.
1. How to Prevent Guitar Strings from Breaking of Oxidation
In this instance, we‘re really talking about a common wear and tear situation. Throughout the lifespan of a guitar string, it constantly comes in contact with moisture from your fingers and hand.
Moisture may also be a result of your environment, where humidity is quite high and the moisture in the air comes in contact with the strings. This would in turn cause the surface of the guitar strings to oxidize. If left untreated, it can progress into rusting and ruin your strings.
When strings are oxidized, and form of tension from playing or tuning may cause your strings to snap. So make sure you make it a habit to clean your guitar on a regular basis.
The best way to prevent excessive moisture from remaining on your guitar strings is to give it a good wipe-down after each play. Use a non-fray cloth, and slip it between the fretboard and the strings. Wrap the cloth over the strings and gently move up and down the fretboard.
There are also dedicated string cleaning tools on the market, but personally, I feel clean cloth will do the trick just fine.
The other preventive measure is to keep your guitar in a dry environment as much as possible. Keeping your guitar in its gigbag or case can help prevent moisture from directly contacting your strings.
You may also throw in some silica packs into your gigbags or case to help absorb moisture.
Why Do New Guitar Strings Break
If you’re experiencing breakage from a new set of strings, this could be caused by the inferior quality on the part of the manufacturer. But more often than not, this could also be due to several factors.
2. Strings Breaking at the Tuning Pegs
If you notice that your strings are always breaking at the tuning peg, it’s reasonable to assume the edges around the hole in which the strings go through may be burred.
And in this instance, your strings are typically bent at an angle when entering the hole, so when there is tension from you tuning up, the strings will break at these stress points.
To prevent this from happening, first check for which tuning pegs are affected and inspect the edges around the hole. Use a cotton swab or string (the one that just broke) and run it through the hole to clean up any dirt or debris.
3. Strings Breaking at the Nut
If your strings are constantly breaking at the nut, the cause is pretty much the same as in the case of the tuning pegs. There is probably an excessive build-up of dirt and debris which produced a rough edge that acts as a stress point for the strings.
In this instance, inspect the nut carefully for any rough surface within the grooves where the strings rest and clean it out with a cotton swab.
But in some cases where it is too big of an indent caused by the strings cutting into the nut, you’ll have to take this into the shop and have someone replace the nut.
4. Strings Breaking at the Saddle
If your string tends to break at the saddle, then you might be experiencing the same rough surface issue with your saddle. Inspect your saddle and look for rough edges as you would with what’s mentioned above for the nut.
Clean, and smooth out any dirt or rough surface before putting on new strings.
5. Strings Breaking Due to Rough Frets
This is not a common cause, but it can happen. Especially if you’re one that does a lot of bending in your playing.
In such instances, inspect your frets to determine if your strings did break due to rough frets. If so, I suggest taking it to a professional because you most likely need a fret replacement.
But if it’s just minor scratches, and you just want to give the frets a polish, you can do it with some high grid sandpaper (1000 and above), steel wool, no residue masking tapes, and fretboard oil.
After removing the strings, cover the fretboard with no residue masking tape, leaving the frets exposed. Then polish each fret using high grid sandpaper (1000 and above) to remove any oxidation and scratches on the frets.
Then remove the masking tapes and start cleaning the gaps between the frets and the fretboard with steel wool and finish off with a cotton swab to remove any dirt or debris.
Be gentle when polishing the fretboard because you don’t want to cause unevenness. Gently and carefully remove any surface dirt or stains from the fretboard.
Finish off by applying some fretboard oil, rubbing it over the frets and fretboard, and wipe off any excessive amount of oil with a clean cloth.
6. Strings Breaking Due to Over Tightening
In some cases, your strings are breaking due to over-tightening. Especially when it's a brand new set of strings. A good practice for putting on a set of new strings is to tighten it over time.
Notice how new strings lose their pitch the next day after you’ve tuned them correctly. This is because there’s tension in the strings and they will stretch out over time. Hence if you wind them up to tight, too quickly, without proper stretch time, they may reach their breaking point.
A recommended way is to tighten them enough and let them sit for a few hours before you continue tuning up again.
7. Strings Breaking Due to Wrong String Specifications
With so many different types of strings, you can get confused sometimes. In this instance, the most probable cause for string breakage is mixing up the gauges when stringing.
For example, if you accidentally took the high E string for a B string and start tightening, the higher tension for it to be tuned to the right pitch can cause the string to snap.
So be sure to lay out your new strings orderly in their individual packaging, and string them one at a time.
8. Winding Your Strings the Right Way
This may not be a big issue, but it’s certainly worth mentioning. And that’s how you wind your strings around the tuning post.
You may think that it makes no difference as to how you wrap your strings around the tuning post. But apart from just aesthetic reasons, it actually does make a slight difference when it comes to standing in tune and avoiding fewer movements in the strings.
Strings should be wound around the post in an orderly manner from top to bottom. If the string is wrapped on top of each other, the overlapping creates a space that can cause the strings to move around and produce friction, which may lead to string breakage.
Another reason for winding from top to bottom is the post is structured in a way where it starts off narrower and gets broader when it reaches the base. This way you can ensure that your strings are tightening properly and firmly without room to move.
And since the strings are wound towards the bottom, the tension from the strings is also at the bottom, and this helps to relieve unneeded tension from the tuning post.
In conclusion, a good set of guitar strings can go a long way if you take care of it. Though wear and tear is an inevitable process, proper cleaning after each use and good storage habits can definitely prolong the lifespan of your strings.
Different types of strings are subjected to different forms of usage and tension. Hence, requires different types of maintenance.
If you wish to learn more about guitar strings, hop over to our article on “It’s vital to choose the right guitar strings: Changing guitar stings is the lowest cost way to improve your tone”.
RESTRING: WITH GARY BRAWER – LES PAUL STYLE GUITAR
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