Every guitarist wants to know how often do guitar strings break. Preventing your strings from breaking often would make playing more enjoyable and put a couple dollars back in your pocket.
But, why do guitar strings break? How often should you expect guitar string to snap or break? There are a number of things you can do to help make your strings last longer and prevent breaking. However, broken guitar strings are a common and expected occurrence for any guitarist at any level
Why guitar strings break
There might be many reasons for why your guitar strings break, but the most likely and obvious reason is that your strings are either old or over tightened. Strings for both electric and acoustic guitars are typically made out of steel, or another mixture of metals.
Regardless of the type of metal, or the style of string, the metal will degrade over time. Guitar strings are under a lot of tension, constantly. A guitar string is most likely going to break when it is being tuned, or being played. Most anyone who has attending concerts will have seen an impromptu guitar change due to a broken string.
When actually playing, bending the strings will be the most likely way you can break a string. But bending is an integral part of playing guitar, so let’s not blame that, we should ask what’s behind the reason they break.
Guitar strings can break for no rhyme or reason, but there are ways of maintaining and preventing, to get the most out of your strings.
So what causes guitar strings to break and why?
Old guitar strings break
Old guitar strings are the most likely reason your strings will break. As soon as you put a fresh pack of strings onto your guitar, the timer starts ticking. Strings only have a certain amount of time they can survive at the tension the guitar requires them to maintain.
After strings have past their prime they will become more likely to break. How long do strings last? That’s very tough to answer, as there are so many variables, but I’d recommend that if you regularly play you should be going through at least two packs of strings a year, minimum.
Right now some of you are thinking that’s not nearly frequent enough, and some are thinking that’s too often. Working a in a shop showed me some guitarist never change their strings… and that’s kinda gross.
Over time guitar strings pick up grease, oil and moisture from our fingers. It isn’t much but over time it does add up. Factor in humidity and you might be able to see corrosion or discoloration on your strings within 6-8 weeks.
Guitar strings break most often during tuning
The most common time I’ve seen strings break is during tuning. It’s almost certainly going to be the high E string, or at least one of your bottom three strings.
They’re likely old strings that have some corrosion. So when you go to tune them, you’re either going to reduce or increase the tension. This is most often the reason guitar string break. The breaking from a change in tension is more of a symptom than the cause of why your sting broke.
Over tightening strings can cause them to break
If you aren’t careful while tuning or putting fresh string on your guitar you might accidentally over tighten the strings causing them to snap. Even a brand new string cannot withstand tension above what the string is rated for.
Your guitar will always (unless you have a low quality guitar) break a string before any hardware breaks.
When tuning and putting on new strings just be diligent you aren’t over tightening. So long as you’re paying attention you won’t have a problem.
Do some type of guitar strings break less often?
Yes, some heavier gauge of strings are less likely to break. Thinner strings are the most likely to break. For instance I’ve had many strings break over 15+ years of playing. However, I’ve never had a Low E string snap on me. That’s because the Low E and the next four strings usually have a core that is wound. This means the string is simply stronger and able to withstand more tension.
For example, Bass players really don’t have this problem. Their strings are far heavier gauge than guitar strings, therefore less likely to break. Sure bass guitar strings break, but it is rare compared to the frequency guitar strings break.
The High E string is more likely to break because it is a single strand of metal, and it’s core is exposed to the elements.
If you’ve ever tried out different types of guitar strings, you’ll know they range from heavy gauge and go to super lights. Heavy gauge are less likely to break because they’re stronger. Super lights are a thinner gauge and can withstand less tension.
There are many reasons why you would want to change the type and gauge of strings you use, but changing what gauge you buy, for the sole reason of wanting them to last longer, isn’t something I would recommend or do for myself.
Quality between brands of strings do play a role, but if you’re using a big name in the string game, like Fender, Elixer or Ernie Ball, you won’t need to worry.
What can you do to prevent guitar strings from breaking
The first step in helping curb your strings from breaking is understanding why they break. Then we can discuss what you can do to prevent them from breaking.
The truth is, even the highest quality strings might break as you’re putting them on your guitar. Performance guitarists might have their guitar technician put fresh strings on all their guitars before every show, and they still might break.
So we know that broken strings is a part of playing guitar, it just is.
What can we do to help strings live up to their potential and increase their lifespan?
Maintain your guitar and strings
Maintenance is key! Storing your guitar in a mild, climate controlled room is simply good ownership. It will help the longevity of the strings but also the guitar as a whole.
washing your hands before playing can also help, but the truth is your fingers have oil and sweat on them, and those digits of yours will spread it onto the strings.
There are guitar string cleaning kits or solutions out on the market today. If you want to use them, sure go ahead, but here’s my take.
The cost of the cleaning solution or the tools is almost equal to the coast of a fresh pack of strings. The time it takes you to clean the strings will likely be about the same amount of time it takes to change the strings entirely. See where I’m going with this?
Yes I’m sure you can get a nice big string cleaner kit that will last you years, but I’m just not into it. I’d rather have a fresh pack of strings. Everytime I change my strings I get something new and different. If I cleaned them I’d just be using the same type of string longer.
I’m sure if you did the math you might save money in the long run by cleaning your strings, it just isn’t for this guitar player.
Change your Guitar strings regularly
If you want to reduce the chances of your strings breaking, change them regularly. I’m not saying every month or every year, just regularly. How regularly you change your strings depends on how much you play and the type of strings you use.
Personally, I change out my strings every 2-3 months OR when I see any corrosion or discoloration on the strings. doing this works for me and has served me well over the year. Even four packs of guitar strings won’t cost you more than $80 for a years supply.
If you play regularly treat yourself and change your strings when they appear worn or corroded.
Types of strings that break less
there are no wrong strings to use. Reducing string breakage is largely up to the person playing. Choosing heavier strings and paying attention to string gauge can help prevent your string breaking, but not everyone wants heavier gauge strings.
Acoustic guitar strings tend to break less. This is because acoustic strings are typically higher gauge than electric guitar strings. Further, less people are soloing and bending on an acoustic guitar, relative to an electric.
Some brands also coat their strings. Elixer coated strings are known for having a polymer (or Polyweb) coating applied to the wound string. I’ve noticed these types of electric guitar strings tend to last longer. I’d assume this is because they are less prone to corrosion, but I’m not a scientist.
Check all points of contact between strings and guitar
Perhaps you’re having a problem with new strings breaking all the time. You’re not over tightening, and you’re careful when putting new strings on, what could be causing this?
You might have a point of contact on the guitar that has a sharper edge than it is intended to have. This is most likely to occur on brand new guitars that haven’t been “broken in” yet, or older, heavily played guitars that have worn parts.
There are 5 points of contact on most guitars, where the string meets the guitar, some guitar may have more, but 5 is pretty standard.
The bridge wis where the base of the string sits and holds the string in place. Usually the way the bridge is shaped it will hold the string with a bend in it. If the string is bent too much or if a sharp edge has form it could cause the string to break more often.
The saddle is part of the bridge yes, but we need to give it special attention as over years of playing they can wear down. If a saddle is worn down it can cause the strings to veer from ideal placement and cause further problems from there.
Just like the saddle, the nut holds the strings in a certain placement at the top of the neck. If worn it will cause the strings to sit lower than Ideal placement would want them.
The tuning posts, or “Tuners” are where the end of the string is wound. The string makes many wraps around this post, so any jagged edge pose a problem.
The frets are often very overlooked. Over time they can become worn down, get dips or pits in areas of heavy play and cause problems from buzzing to strings breaking. If your frets have sharp or jagged edges a high grit (1,000+) can be used to smooth them down.
Should you need to replace worn frets, you’re in store for a much larger project, good luck.
Understand why strings break as often as they do
Guitar strings break, that’s just part of rocking and/or rolling. You can take steps to help ensure guitar string break less often, but sometimes it seems it’s just upto the wind.
If you’re new to playing guitar, I recommend learning how to change your own strings properly, and have extra strings on standby for when they do break. It’s an annoying and pesky when a string breaks, but that’s just part of the experience!