So you have just broken a string (damn!) Pretty annoying? Even more so on a relatively fresh set of strings.
So what should you do? Change all of them or replace the recently decapitated string? What’s the recommended solution?
Luckily, this post offers a helpful guide on the solution to this ‘guitar dilemma.’ Let’s jump right in…
Should I replace all of my strings if one breaks?
When a string breaks, it makes sense to change all of the strings if they have been in use for some time and past their best in terms of brightness and dynamics. However, if you break a string on a fresh set? It makes sense just to replace the individual broken string.
Now we have cleared that up, let’s dive deeper into the solutions.
Breaking a String on a Fresh Set – (Solution)
If the strings currently on your guitar are pretty new. Let’s say less than a few weeks old with minimal use. Then it makes sense to replace the broken string with a new one.
The reason is newish strings have lots of life to give. More specifically, in terms of ‘snappiness,’ ‘brightness,’ and ‘dynamics.’ Also, There’s no reason to waste a relatively fresh set if they are only weeks old.
If you are not playing an important gig or recording in the studio with the guitar. In that case, replacing all of the strings is unnecessary.
However, if your strings are relatively fresh and they break regularly? Then there might be something more serious in terms of your guitar’s set-up (bridge, nut, and other issues.) (I cover these issues later in the post.)
The biggest worry with players when replacing one individual string on a relatively fresh set is that the new string will sound uneven in volume, brightness, dynamics, and intonation.
However, there won’t be any big differences in volume, brightness, and dynamics to speak of. That’s if they are all still pretty fresh. Therefore, you should purchase an individual string online or at a guitar store.
Keep in mind you need to ensure you replace that string position with the same gauge. For example, replace the broken E string (gauge 10) with the matching gauge (gauge 10.)
With that said, you should inspect how well used your current set of strings are. If they are pretty old and past their best? Then keep reading…
Breaking a String on a Worn Set – (Solution)
The solution is much simpler when breaking a string on a well-used set of strings (let’s say around 1 month with regular use).
The solution would be to replace all of them in one go. The reason is your strings require a change anyway. After all, strings break because they corrode away and become old and weakened from regular use.
You can tell when your strings need a change if they…
- Sound lifeless and flat
- Sound dull in terms of dynamics
- Loss in brightness
- A build-up of dirt, grime, and rust
- Sound ‘off’ in terms of intonation
When to replace strings is a ‘hot topic’ online. The general recommendation is to change strings every month if you play that specific guitar daily.
So if you have broken a string on an already well-used set? Then the solution would be to replace the full set.
After all, new strings will breathe new life into a guitar. They sound richer and brighter and boost your guitar tone’s dynamics. Plus, they feel much cleaner and stay in tune much better than a well-used set.
Can You Apply Mismatched Gauged Strings?
Let’s say you break your guitar’s G string (17 gauge). We’ve all been there! Unfortunately, let’s say you don’t have a spare G string. But do you happen to own a spare B string?
Therefore, is it ok to apply mismatched gauge strings?
Technically, you can, and it may be useable in the short term. However, it won’t be optimal in terms of intonation, playability, and tuning. After all, different gauged strings are designed to varying levels of thickness for a reason.
The reason is that specific gauge strings are designed for the optimal tension they were intended for. For example, applying a spare B string to a G string means it will be under the required optimal tension.
Likewise, applying a G string as a stand-in B string means it will be under excessive tension. Meaning that it will likely break and disrupt intonation and be unable to stay in tune.
Not only that, with mismatched gauges, you can encounter other unwanted issues such as ‘fret buzz,’ especially further up the neck.
Knowing this, applying the correct gauged strings is best to avoid tuning, playability, and intonation issues.
How to Prevent Breaking Guitar Strings
Although very annoying (especially during a gig!) Guitar strings break for two reasons…
They corrode after heavy use, causing them to weaken and eventually snap. This is expected and just the norm with guitar strings (nothing to be concerned about here!)
With that said, if you continually break relatively fresh strings, let’s say under a week or two? Then, there may be a set-up issue with your guitar…
Guitar strings break (when moderately fresh) because the string is in contact with a sharp edge. This sharp edge can be in contact with either the bridge, nut, frets or a combination of all three.
Sharp edges typically form (on the bridge and nut), known as burrs.
Burrs are minute holes or imperfections that form over time due to the string rubbing against the transition surface, causing a small sharp point of contact.
I would advise taking your guitar to a trained guitar tech to diagnose and remove any sharp contact points (nut, bridge, frets, or tuning tree.)
Locate Where Your Strings Break
The key is to identify the culprit is ‘where’ your guitar strings are breaking. The reason is that you can correct the string’s point of contact that is compromising the string’s point of transition.
Arguably, the most common position that strings break is the bridge. The bridge serves as a smooth resting point of contact for your strings.
If the bridge’s saddles are old and worn, minute burrs into the point of contact. This can likely cause the strings to break. The solution would be to file the bridge slots to offer a smoother resting point for the strings.
Guitar nuts are commonly made from materials such as bone and metal. Similar to the bridge, they serve as a smooth resting point of contact for strings.
A worn nut can serve as a rough surface for strings that form over time. A worn not can form abrasive edges that can snap and kink a string if it makes essive contact causing it to snap.
The solution is to file the nut’s surface to achieve a smooth resting point for your strings. Removing any rough burs compromising a smooth transition point.
The issue of frets is a less common reason for breaking string breaks, but it does happen. Frets are made from metal but can form minute burrs over time. Filing frets can be a beneficial solution to ensure they are smooth and an abrasive free point of contact for strings.
The String Tree
If you have locking tuners installed. Always ensure you have enough windings of the strings and don’t excessively clamp your strings into position. Excessively clamping the strings into position can form kinks and eventually cause them to break.