It’s every guitarist’s pet peeve whenever a string snaps and breaks. Whether it happens while tuning the guitar, playing a song, or during practice hours, a broken string forces you to stop what you’re doing to restring your guitar. It also makes you want to do everything in your power to mitigate the prospect of strings breaking again.
Electric guitar strings break every other week if they’re not durable and made of low quality, forcing regular string changes. Get high-quality strings to ensure they don’t break easily, especially while you’re performing. If your strings are old or heavily used, change them before they break.
Taking on each of these factors is the best way to ensure that your guitar strings remain durable for as long as possible and will prevent the strings from snapping on you at the worst possible times.
How Durable Are Guitar Strings?
Before delving into all the things that can increase the chances of your guitar strings breaking, let’s look at the durability of the guitar string itself. Some strings on electric guitars seem like they can be played forever, while other times, it seems as though they break every other week (here’s how to play guitar cleaner).
Guitar strings are durable on their own. Whenever they start to show their age, they typically show it by not being as responsive to tuning and taking longer to get into tune. Still, even very old guitar strings won’t often break on their own unless their environment doesn’t support them.
In some cases, your guitar strings can become tarnished, where a thin layer of gunk gets onto them and dulls out the guitar’s sound, but that doesn’t really impact the durability of the strings. Plus, you can just take a cloth and wipe it off without much trouble or effort.
Guitar strings only ‘go bad’ whenever they don’t sound good and refuse to get in tune (here’s how to keep guitar strings from slipping on tuning pegs). If you aren’t following a strict schedule on when to change your strings, then this is a signal that you’ll need to change them as soon as possible, and then get yourself on some type of string changing schedule.
Your Environment Influences the Durability of Your Strings
Humidity plays a significant role in the durability of your strings. For example, the wood in your guitar will expand or contract based on how much water is in the air. When this happens, the tension on the guitar string will increase because the expanded wood is pulling on it.
So if you play your guitar in a new environment with a new humidity level, your strings will snap a bit more. To counter this issue, you can place items in your guitar case that absorb excess moisture, keep your guitar in a dry environment, and remove the strings before changing environments.
Doing this won’t prevent snapping strings, but it’ll drastically lower the chances of the humidity of your environment being the culprit for excessive string snapping.
Human Error Makes Guitar Strings Break Quicker
So if your guitar strings don’t break on their own without extenuating circumstances, then most of the breaking comes from human error! Guitar strings often break due to these circumstances.
The first mistake, and the easiest mistake to make when working with your guitar, is excessive tuning. Yes, you should tune your guitar regularly, but some people tune and retune their guitar every day. When this happens, and you start twisting and winding the strings, tension is added.
Imagine it like you’re pulling a rubber band back because eventually, the rubber band will break. It’s the same with your strings. So while you want to keep your guitar in tune and make sure that it sounds great, maybe leave the serious tuning for the shows and performances and play slightly out of tune when you’re playing at home.
Look at Where the Strings Are Breaking
Guitar strings often don’t just break on a whim, and by analyzing where your strings are breaking, you can look at what could be causing them. Sometimes the frets of your guitar, the nut of the guitar, or even the bridge stop being as smooth as it was when you first pulled the guitar out of the box.
These rougher edges can dig into your guitar string whenever you play guitar and eventually can cut through enough of the string where it snaps (Question: Can a Guitar String Snap and Hurt You?). If you notice that your electric guitar strings are snapping at specific points, you might need to inspect that area of your guitar for some problems.
If sharp edges cause your string breaking woes, make sure to clean the affected area in question and then inspect how sharp it is. Often a raised ‘bump’ or ‘edge’ is the reason why the guitar string snaps, and you’ll need to file it down (Relevant article: how to prevent guitar strings from rusting). It’s often done by removing the strings and using sandpaper or a small file to file the area down and make it smooth again.
Watch Out When Bending Strings
Bending strings can be an excellent way to add some ‘oomph’ to whatever song you’re playing. It also causes you to bend strings, pushing a string up or down on the fretboard to improve the pitch. While it’s an exciting technique, not bending the right way can cause more pressure to pull on the string and cause your strings to break.
Most of the time, the B and E strings, the two strings that are the lowest on the guitar and also are the thinnest strings on an electric guitar, are the ones that break the most from bending. If you’ve learned how to bend your guitar strings and are still breaking (here are some reasons why guitar strings are hard to bend), you might want to switch to thicker strings for those two culprits.
Change Out Your Pick
Finally, the last cause of guitar strings losing their durability is whenever you play with too heavy a guitar pick. Guitar picks can be very helpful when playing, but only if you use the right ones.
Heavier picks allow you to get a bit more out of the string, but they also put more pressure on it. If your pick is sharp, it digs into the string just like a sharp fret edge would, which will also cause breakage. Heavier picks can dig little rivets into the string as well, causing weak points that all but guarantee a snap at some point in time for you.
Sadly, picks are a matter of preference for most guitar players. If you find yourself using a heavier guitar pick and unable to switch to a lighter one due to comfort or a lack of the same sound, that’s perfectly fine. Just know that you’ll need to change your strings more often with a heavier pick.
When Should You Change Strings To Ensure They Don’t Break?
If you want to change your strings to keep them from being worn down, then there are a few questions you need to ask yourself. How long are you playing, or when are you playing? Also, ask yourself how much you care about learning the guitar.
You should change strings every 90 days or three months if you only play a few times a week and have an hour or two sessions. Generally, the more you play, the more you’ll need to change your guitar strings.
If you’re playing every day for 3 to 5 hours, you’ll need to keep a closer eye on your strings. Doing maintenance like wiping your strings down after every session and ensuring that they aren’t tuned too tightly will extend the time it takes for them to break.
Still, changing your strings about once a month is pretty standard for daily players. Now, if you’re a professional guitarist who plays for several hours and does shows every week, changing your strings should be done weekly to make up for the wear and tear on your strings (Related: do guitarists read sheet music).
The time you spend playing will directly affect how long you can go without changing your strings. If you’re playing a few times a month or only playing for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, then you can go even longer without changing your strings. These rules aren’t set in stone, but they’re helpful guidelines if you don’t want your strings to break.
Best Electric Guitar Strings
To avoid changing your strings too often, you should buy guitar strings from good brands. High-quality strings are more expensive than average ones, but they’ll be worth spending on, especially if they can save you time and the hassle of having to change your strings too frequently.
The best electric guitar strings (available on Amazon.com) are:
They’re durable and offer good sounds. The Ernie ball Slinky electric guitar strings, for example, are nickel-plated strings that sound good and are hard-wearing.
There isn’t much of a definitive answer for how often a guitar string breaks. Instead, it’s reliant on your playing habits, the environment the guitar is in, the durability of the strings, and the durability of the guitar itself. Still, once you’ve eliminated factors that you can control, you’ll get an idea of when your guitar strings break and how often (Related article: do classical guitars have all nylon strings).
Then just restring your guitar, keep it maintained, and don’t let one broken string stop you from continuing to play!