If you’re tuning your guitar and a string snaps, don’t panic! There are a few things you can do to fix the problem.
Old strings are more likely to break when tuning up due to the amount of wear, but sometimes new strings will break when first tuning up your guitar leaving you to wonder why.
Sometimes guitars can develop problems that cause one or more strings to keep breaking while tuning or playing, and this can become frustrating and expensive.
Rather than put up with constantly breaking strings, it’s a good idea to find and fix the issue. Most of the time it is relatively easy to fix by yourself.
How Long Do Strings Last Before They Snap?
For guitars with an old set of strings you shouldn’t be surprised when a string snaps (especially the high ones), as string fatigue eventually makes weak spots.
Acoustic guitar strings are usually higher gauge than electric strings, meaning they can take far more of a beating before they weaken to the point of breaking.
Acoustic strings are also made with bronze which means they don’t rust like electric strings that are made with nickel. Corrosion is the enemy of your strings, and can cause electric guitar strings to prematurely break.
The bridge on an acoustic is also gentler on the strings, preventing knots from forming and causing string breakage.
- The rough rule is that you should get 3 months (or 100 hours of playing) from a set of strings, but honestly most people leave them on longer than that unless they play professionally.
New String Snapped While Tuning – Mixing New & Old Strings
When you have a set of old strings on your guitar and a single string break, the best option is to replace all of them at the same time.
Old strings could be close to breaking, and you’ll only get frustrated if you fit a new string and then another string breaks on you soon after. You will also get a far better sound from your guitar with a set of strings that are all the same age.
Advice for New Guitar Players Snapping Strings When Tuning
As silly as it sounds, when you have a lack of experience with fitting new strings it can be easy to tune a string much higher than the correct pitch.
Guitar strings are about 40% stressed when tuned correctly, and if you’ve tuned an octave too high they will break. Until your ear gets used to the correct sound, I would strongly advise using another guitar to tune to, or an electronic tuner to guide you.
- Tune up slowly to the right pitch, don’t be in a rush, and your chances of breaking a string will be much lower.
Guitar Strings Breaking at the Bridge While Tuning
Breaking strings at the bridge is more likely on an electric guitar as they have more complex bridges than acoustic guitars, and are made from metal.
If you are finding the same string breaks at the bridge constantly, loosen the string off and check the condition of the saddle. You should see a smooth surface, and if there is any roughness or grooves you will need to resurface the saddle.
As you tune up, the string will stretch across the rough surface and can cause constant string snapping when tuning up and also when playing.
- You can clean up the saddle surface with a fine file, followed by some fine emery paper, and then some metal polish to really smooth it out.
For acoustic guitars any notches in the saddle are not so likely to break the string, but if there is dirt and grit in the notches this will cause abrasion leading to strings breaking.
Guitar Strings Breaking At the Nut While Tuning
This can happen on all guitars, and quite often comes down to dirty or dry slots in the nut.
Dirt in the nut slots causes the strings to wear quickly at that point, and could cause an older string to snap there when tuning.
Also, dirt can cause binding of the string in the slot, and when you tune up you will get much greater tension between the nut and tuner than the open section of string up the neck.
This tension can cause brand new strings to break at the nut constantly when tuning, usually when you get close to the correct pitch and the string refuses to tune up further.
- If you have this problem you will hear a pinging sound at the nut as you tune up, and it’s a good sign that you need to clean the slot with fine emery paper, and put some string lubricant in the slot.
Check the Condition of String Trees
If you have an electric guitar with string trees, you will find they can develop rough surfaces underneath over time, and in some cases develop rust as well.
Since this part of the string tree is hidden from view it’s easy to overlook. The strings will rub under this point whenever you tune up, and aside from wearing the string, will place more tension in this area when the string binds on the tree.
- A good way to restore and maintain the surface without needing to remove the string tree is to use a soft cloth and metal polish, and run the cloth back and forth in a sawing motion to polish under the tree.
Guitar Strings Breaking at the Tuners
When a string breaks at the tuner it is usually a sign that there is a sharp edge on the hole through the tuning post. Before you decide on this being your problem though, look first toward the nut problem mentioned above, since this can also cause a string to snap at the tuner.
Tuning post string holes can develop sharp edges around them , and these can cause the string to shear at that point.
- It can be hard to visually see these, and often the best thing is to just use an old ‘A’ wound string, and run it back and forth through the hole, flexing it sideways against the edges to smooth them off.
Guitar Strings Snapping in the Middle
If you’re finding that one or two strings always seem to snap around a certain fret when tuning (strings that have been played), then you should check the condition of frets in that area.
Just like worn bridge saddles, rough sections on frets such as burrs can rub against strings and weaken them at one point.
You may not notice anything until you tune up, sometimes when open-tuning your guitar to a higher pitch like open A, or open E tuning.
Check the surface of your frets, you can even take a photo and blow it up to get a closer look. Also run your fingernail over the surface and you will soon feel any roughness there.
- If there is only minor roughness, you could use some fine emery paper and a fret rubber to smooth it off. For any deeper problems you may need to take your guitar to a shop for repair.
Why Does My E String Keep Breaking While Tuning?
The high E string is the most commonly broken string in the history of guitars!
Being the thinnest string obviously makes it more prone to some of the problems listed earlier in this article.
This string takes a lot of abuse when playing (along with the B string) as almost all chords use them, and melodies almost always use them. Most guitar players are constantly performing string bends on the E string also, which tends to wear it down on the frets, and weaken it at the bridge and nut.
- To help your E string last longer it’s really important to clean out and lubricate the nut slot when changing strings. If your strings are more than 3-4 months old, it’s a good idea to loosen it off a little, and lift it out of the nut slot so you can add some new lubrication under it again.
Don’t forget to do this under the string tree also (if your guitar has them), as the string will rub under it every time you tune up the string.