Why Is My Guitar String Breaking? – Top 6 Reasons

Published Categorized as Care and Maintenance

Well, well, well! Suppose you have had your first string-breaking incident? Your high E string could not take the pressure and chose to combust and die in your arms? Or, perhaps broken strings are becoming a far too regular an occurrence and you are wanting to get to the bottom of it?

Whatever your reason for being here today, we will be exploring the plethora of reasons why string breaking occurs and some of the ways that you can go about avoiding it, both in the long term and the short term.

Top 6 Reasons Why Your Guitar Strings Break

Your guitar strings breaking because of one of the following most popular reasons:

  • Old strings
  • Bridge & nut
  • Playing style
  • Rough fret edges
  • Incorrect string fitting
  • Wrong strings

Old Strings

Depending on taste, old acoustic guitar strings or electric guitar strings can either be the bee’s knees or can sound pretty grating, though no matter your preference they are an objective reason for string breaking universally.

The strings will oxidize and rust over time since they are repeatedly exposed to the dirt and oils and dead skin from your fingers, while simultaneously subjected to moisture in the air about them.

Even if you are someone who is into the way that old strings sound, or various overtone-like effects that they can have on the notes being played, the aforementioned deterioration and oxidizing makes them less pliable, more difficult to play, and thus more prone to breaking.

This is easily remedied, both in the short term and the long term. For the former, simply change your strings and they will be rendered fresh and less prone to breaking.

In the long term, you can dedicate yourself to a proper routine of looking after your strings before they get to this point of deterioration. It is most helpful to get into the habit of wiping down the strings with a microfiber towel after playing, removing dirt and grime that will have been transferred during the process of playing that will minimize string failure and lengthen the life of strings.

Investing in slightly higher quality strings, too, will do a world of good, perhaps even strings that are coated with certain chemicals that fortify them against the kind of dirt and grime and sweat that is going to lead to string breaking faster than sooner.

On the last note, you really can’t go wrong with washing your hands before and after you play. Make sure, however, to ensure that your hands are properly dry before proceeding. Worth waiting at least five minutes, as there is moisture that can lurk deep within the skin that can end up encouraging some of the oxidization previously discussed.

Bridge & Nut

If your string breaking keeps occurring in the same place, then this is, without doubt, something to heed, for it could very well be that this is a clue towards the culprit. A common place for this to occur is either towards the bottom of the strings, at the bridge, or closer to the top of the strings, near the nut.

If so, then either of these guitar bridge types is likely to be at least partly the cause of your string breaking, either once or repeatedly.

In the eventuality that the string breaking is occurring at one of these two spots, then it might just be that there is a sharp edge snagging the strings in either one of them.

They are perfectly normal in the evolution of the guitar, developing as a result of general wear and tear through string the movement of the string digging deeper into the slots, either of the bridge or of the nut, over time. This is particularly prevalent for guitarists who use more bends and the like.

This is not so difficult to remedy either, for you can gently use light sandpaper or a file of some sort to wear away and smooth down the rough part of the trench wherein the string lies. Likewise, better quality strings are less likely to do these kinds of damage to the bridge and/or nut in the long run, with a smoother coating that is going to cause less friction.

In some cases, the bridge and/or nut might even need to be replaced, at which point you should take the opportunity to upgrade it to a better one.

Playing Style

It is just as likely that the playing style of the user themselves is the cause of the string breaking as often as it does.

If the guitarist in question tends to get excited whenever they play, to the point that they beat the heck out of the guitar as though they were fragile and emasculated male at the throat of a punter tooting Your Mum jokes, then there is a big chance that such violence is at the root of the string breaking as it does.

The rule simply goes that the harder you play the less life your strings are likely to exude. Those just starting out on the guitar can be far too drawn towards strumming and plucking far harder than necessary, which not only results in a sound that is (at least at first) undesirable but also leads to a faster deterioration of the strings.

The same goes for players further down the line, who likely began playing like this and never got out of the habit of it. Those drawn towards more bends and vibrato, as well as use overuse of the whammy bar (if there were such a thing) will thus be struck with more instances of string breaking than those who do not.

This is easily remedied, though I grant that it can feel difficult, for assessing one’s own technique and working out which parts work best and which do not when they all feel good to play at the moment can be incredibly tough, and I speak from experience.

Some control, however, goes a long way, and you will be rendered a far more versatile musician as a result of being able to use more dynamics and not simply beat the absolute heck out of the guitar at every available opportunity.

Rough Fret Edges

As before, it is extremely useful to assess where exactly the string breaking is occurring. If towards the top of the string or bottom of the string, then it is likely to be an issue regarding the nut or the bridge respectively.

If, however, the string breaking is occurring around the middle, then it might be that the frets themselves are to blame, not that we are looking to point fingers all over the place (because that never did anyone any good).

It is a natural part of the evolution of a guitar, particularly one that has been around for some time and has thus seen a fair thing or two alongside their fair share of beatings and mischief.

Such guitars in the later stages of their lives might just harbor a sharp fret or two, and so it will be useful, if you surmise that this is the cause of your string breaking, to feel around the frets on the surface for any rough edges or dents that might cause the string to break with repeated plays and friction.

This can be remedied with a piece of sandpaper that you have lying around the house, though make sure that it is at least somewhat soft – sandpaper too coarse might do more harm than good to the frets, though I can understand why some might feel as though they deserve it after causing so much string breaking. You might even a fret burnishing tool, to politely file away any of the rough edges.

Some of you might even take this as an excuse to buy a whole new guitar, which I will advise you to do so at your own peril and only if you are currently within the financial means to do so.

Burnishing Tool, 1/4

Incorrect String Fitting

The string breaking might even be a more indirect result of your own fault! Fitting your strings on the wrong in the first place is not exactly going to leave you with much of a chance to use your strings without them breaking swiftly.

An all too common mistake, and one that I have fallen prey to once or twice in my time, is winding the string the wrong way when I am trying to tune, or even in the same situation winding up a different tuning peg to the string that I am looking to tune in the first place. Unless you are fortunate, the string that has been subjected to this excess pressure is going to combust and snap before your eyes.

Now, every guitar will want a bit of a different service, though each can be serviced more or less by these rules of thumb. Two or three revolutions will do the lower three strings, no questions asked, if you add the other one or two for the higher three strings of course.

The number of revolutions is not really going to have much if any impact on the tonal quality of the strings after the fact, but is rather going to ensure that the string breaking does not happen so often.

I was taught a trick by my old guitar teacher about restringing Fender guitar that I have never forgotten (easy since I only ever really own Fender guitars), even without how to string a guitar: illustrated step-by-step guide.

As long as the string is cut the length of two tuning pegs away from it, then you are rarely if ever going to have any difficulty. This length means that you can safely bend the string into the hole and into shape, leaving enough room for a good amount of wind.

Wrong Strings

Just as the strings being fitted wrong can cause string breaking, so too can the type of strings fitted have a significant impact on this so ubiquitous an occurrence.

Maybe you’re playing a death metal guitar and you find your strings more fragile than you thought.

If, for example, you are using lighter strings but prefer to drop or lower the tune of the guitar (in double drop d tuning or otherwise), then chances are you are also going to give the guitar a run for its money in terms of violence in thrashing, in which case it should come as no surprise to you when string breaking becomes a more than a regular occurrence.

Along with considering the thickness of the strings, it is important to use strings of high quality, as these are more than likely going to last far longer, simply because they are made with more time and care and with better materials, and thus are made to last.

Similarly, it is important to consider the kind of styles you will be playing in and to choose the right strings accordingly, a feat made less difficult by handy guides such as this one.

Drop tuning in any case is going to open up the possibility of the string breaking, especially if the guitar has not been properly set up or designed to bear the consistent detuning of some or all of its strings, as is protocol in the process of drop tuning.

Lighter strings and drop tuning in tandem can lead not only to a higher likelihood of string breaking, but also potential issues with neck tension, intonation, and action later down the line.

If you intend to keep changing tunings up and down, and if you have more than one guitar, then it might be an idea to keep one of these guitars in the lower tuning and another in standard (or thereabouts).

Final Tones

So, there you have it, folks! Hopefully, you are somewhat wiser about why you might be experiencing string breaking a little too often, or perhaps you knew not much about string breaking in the first place and are feeling enlightened on the topic.

Whatever your experience with the guitar and however many times you have experienced a string breaking, I hope that you feel better equipped to think logically through and deal with any string-breaking incidents that might occur to you in the future!

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

What does it mean when a string breaks?

String breaking is likely the most common issue to occur with the guitar, though it can be worth reading a little more into it when it happens, especially if it seems like a more than regular occurrence. Though string breaking can simply mean that a string has passed its best and is wanting to retire itself, it could be a result of certain faults – with the nut, the saddle, the frets, etc – that are causing the strings to break, something that should be especially taken note of if occurring, as we say, what seems like more than regularly.

How do I stop my string from breaking?

String breaking can never be stopped completely, for, in being stretched over the length of the guitar with tension and then struck by whoever is in charge, they are designed to die. However, there are a number of things you can do to fortify your strings, a key method being to purchase and use higher quality strings that are designed better and with more care and that are inherently going to last longer, making sure to wipe them down as often as possible after you play (as I know this can sometimes feel like too much of an encumbrance).

Is breaking strings normal?

Absolutely, and this is something many, including myself, fail to take into account, at least when they are first starting out. I remember with my first few guitars thinking that once the fabled E string broke that I had to get a new guitar, that the game was up, and these guitars would remain like so for some time. String breaking is, however, a hazard of the trade, though to a limit. For, if the string breaking is happening all too often, it could be a sign of something else wrong on the guitar.

Why does my E string keep breaking?

String breaking is a normal occurrence on the guitar and is in fact one of the hazards of the trade, something that more or less cannot be avoided. The main culprit, and likely the first string that broke on any aspiring guitarist’s instrument, will have been the fabled high E string, and for good reason. Strings are nothing more than wire stretched with tension over the length of a piece of metal, striking particular pitches when struck by a performer. Being the thinnest of the strings, the high E string was always going to be the most likely to break – it was only a matter of time…

By Nate Pallesen

Nate is just your average (above average) guitar player. He's no Joe Satriani, Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page - wait this site is about acoustic guitars (sorry) He's no Django Reinhardt, Chet Atkins, or Michael Hedges, wait? who!? He's no Robert Johnson, Eric Clapton or Ben Harper - more familiar? Anyway you get the point :-)

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *