Every guitarist will break a string at some point. If it happens repeatedly, is it the guitar, the technique, or the string? Is there a string that will break more frequently?
The guitar string most likely to break on an electric or acoustic guitar is the E. However, classical guitar players note that the D string is most likely to break. If strings break repeatedly, isolate where they fail to eliminate the source of the breaks.
There’s nothing worse than having a string break while you’re playing, and if you’re at home, you’ve got to stop what you’re doing, find another string, and put it on. But if you’re playing a gig, you need to transpose so you can finish the song. In this guide, you will learn why strings break and what you can do about it.
Which Guitar String Breaks the Most?
Electric and acoustic guitar players usually complain about the high E string breaking the most, but many classical guitarists find they need to replace the D string. And finger pickers and jazz guitarists wonder what the fuss is all about. However, the answer to this question depends on who you talk to.
Electric and Acoustic Guitarists
The thin E string is the most likely to break. This is because strings usually break under normal circumstances when they’re old or have been tuned up and down too often (here’s why drop d tuning can help and some drop d acoustic songs). And if you do a lot of bending, the E string will need to be tuned frequently.
Some guitar repair experts claim that the E string shouldn’t break any more frequently than other strings. They also argue that since the G string is under more tension than the E, it should break more often.
Or they say that the problem is cheap strings.
Although cheap strings and repeated tuning could contribute to the problem, the breakage could be caused by the guitar, your fingers, or the environment.
The D string breaks more frequently on a classical guitar because of the “Gough-Joule effect.” James Joule was the first to notice that polymers like nylon contract when heated. So as the temperature of the guitar rises, the strings tighten, increasing strain and causing the pitch to climb.
This is especially true with the thick A and D strings. Since the D string is the thickest, it is most likely to break. The other strings don’t suffer from this effect because they are wound with metal.
Players commenting on the classical guitar strings discussion forum overwhelmingly say the D string breaks most frequently. One person even tells a story of going into a guitar store to ask if he could buy an individual string.
And the salesman said, “You want a D string, right?”
Jazz guitarists have historically used heavier strings and don’t do a lot of bending. Anything above ½ step is difficult on thick strings, so jazz guitarists prefer to slide into a note. Even jazz guitarists that use thinner strings don’t bend much–it isn’t a significant part of jazz guitar vocabulary.
The harmonic sophistication of jazz guitar allows jazz guitarists to focus on altered or extended chords. Jazz guitarists favor harmonic complexity over the emotional style of popular music.
What It Means If the Guitar Strings Break After a Few Days
If a string frequently breaks in the first few days, it’s usually your guitar, not the string. Most likely the string is encountering a sharp edge. So you need to find the edge and eliminate it.
At the Bridge
The most common place where strings break is the bridge. This is because new bridges can be too sharp, or a bridge saddle has a burr.
If the bridge is too sharp, use sandpaper or a small file to smooth out where the strings come in contact with the bridge.
Afterward, use a lubricant like the MusicNomad Tune-It Lubricant (available on Amazon) is ideal for the bridge, nut slots, and moving parts. Use it as a preventative measure to prevent wear on strings at those locations.
The string takes a sharp angle once it leaves the tuning peg. If the edge is too sharp or has a burr, it can clip the string near the pegs. Try smoothing out the tuning peg with a thick and old wound string.
Work it into the string hole and use a circular motion until the hole is smooth and burrs have been whittled away.
A Dirty or Worn Nut
Even though the nut on most guitars is made of plastic or bone, the friction from dirt in the nut’s slots can wear down a string. Likewise, heavier strings can wear down the nuts.
When restringing, it’s usually a good idea to clean the nut to eliminate any accumulated dirt or grime. Also, use a nut lubricant during string changes, such as the MusicNomad, since it improves tuning stability by removing the possibility of your strings catching on to something in the nut.
If you think the nut is causing your guitar strings to break, you should file it down a little to eliminate any sharp edges that may have formed because of changing string sizes (Relevant question: Why are my guitar strings turning black?). The ideal tools for the process are extremely fine sandpaper or a small file.
Rough Fret Edges
If strings break on the neck, the culprit could be a rough fret edge.
First, stretch out the broken string from the bridge to see where the break happened. Rough fret edges can cause more than one string to break, especially if you bend frequently or the rough spot on the fret is several strings wide.
Use sandpaper or file to smooth out the rough edges on the fret.
Tuning Up Strings Too Quickly
When you first put a set of strings on your guitar, don’t speed through the process. Instead, tune a string slowly to give it a chance to stretch out. Don’t immediately blame the strings if strings don’t break in one place but instead break when you tune.
What if a Guitar String Breaks After Several Weeks of Playing?
A string that breaks after you have been playing for several weeks or months is due to corrosion. The outer wrap of strings is made from nickel or bronze, which don’t rust, but the core, which is made of metal, can corrode or rust.
Two different properties cause this corrosion. The first is the acidity that is in your hands or sweat, as some seep into the string over time, weakening it. Humidity and moisture in the air are the second cause of string corrosion.
The combination of acidity and humidity causes the most damage.
The good news is that there are a few simple things you can do to ensure that your strings last longer. One thing you can do is to play your guitar with clean hands, as sweaty or dirty hands have a lot of acid on them that will get on the strings.
So washing your hands before you play will cut down on that source of corrosion and go a long way to keeping the strings fresh for longer.
Another habit to get into is wiping down your strings after you finish playing.
Use a microfiber or other cloth to clean the strings. Even a quick wipe down over the top is better than nothing. But wiping each string individually, making sure you get the sides, will get even dirtier and oil.
You can use a string conditioner, like the MusicNomad Premium String Care (available on Amazon), to quickly clean and lubricate the strings. String conditioners help your strings last longer and help reduce finger noise.
You will notice some slickness after using a conditioner, but you’ll get used to it. Slide players often enjoy the extra slickness.
Even if you keep your guitar clean, environmental conditions can play a role in the life of your strings is to keep it in a clean environment.
Of course, the easiest way to do that is to keep it in a guitar case.
If you take your guitar from gig to gig or over to your friend’s house, keep your guitar in the case for half an hour to let it acclimate to the environment. If you don’t do this every time, it’s not a big deal. But it is a simple thing you can do to ensure that your strings aren’t getting shocked with changes in temperature or too much humidity at once.
Are You Using the Right Guitar Strings?
You need to use the right guitar strings for your tuning or the way you play. For example, if you’re putting too much force on certain guitar strings or use a high pitch tuning, the strings are more likely to break if they aren’t appropriate for your playing style.
Choosing strings is both complicated and personal.
You need to consider the guitar type, the gauge, and the material of the strings. In addition, how long you’ve been playing makes a difference. Thinner gauge strings are easier to learn on but tend to break more.
Thicker gauge strings are more durable but not ideal for learning to play.
Most stores sell string sets as well as individual ones. If your E string keeps breaking, perhaps you should buy a thicker gauge E.
The trick for finding and fixing guitar string breaks is to look for the patterns that are reoccurring with string breakage so that you can address them. The best strings can’t take the abuse of a sharp edge, and acid will corrode steel.
Often one small change can cut down on common string breakage.