Many beginners in the guitar-playing world are under the impression that handling guitar strings is a very technically demanding challenge, not only when it comes to playing them but also for other tasks such as tuning. Horror flicks at times depict scenes of strings breaking into people's faces (such as in The Haunting, starred by Liam Neeson, in which a woman plucks some piano strings and one of them whips at her face, causing serious injuries). Even though this was a piano string, we could imagine that this scene could realistically happen in the case of guitar strings.
Are guitar strings dangerous? Guitar strings are not dangerous, and it's extremely rare for them to cause significant injury. However, the ends of guitar strings can be sharp enough to break the skin, and a broken string can whip with a decent amount of force—trim strings at the guitar head to reduce the risk of eye-poking.
In this article, we'll discuss how guitar strings could potentially be considered dangerous and go over six tips to improve the safety of the strings on your guitar.
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Are Guitar Strings Dangerous?
They are not dangerous, generally speaking. Although we don't deny that accidents could happen (and even freak accidents like the one linked here), they are usually very rare and should not happen in the vast majority of cases.
Indeed, one should tread carefully when performing certain actions, such as changing or tuning a guitar, but it's not something to be particularly frightful about. Ensure you learn when to stop applying pressure to a string, and you should be okay.
There are also certain damages caused by strings. Some of these “injuries” are beneficial for your guitar playing (like the development of calluses). Still, some may require first aid protocols or even surgery in very extreme (and rare) circumstances.
In any case, let's disclose, in detail, some of the most known hazards associated with guitar strings:
When strings are rusty, there is a good chance that they may snap during playing. The chances of them causing damage are very low, and, at most, you could experience some whips on your hand. If you hold your face too close to your strings, you could experience more serious injuries.
Regardless, if they snap from normal playing, it's very unlikely to reach too far, as a guitar string lacks the elasticity to cause large damage to your skin, hand, or body.
When tuning a string, you can also apply too much tension in too short a timeframe. This can be dangerous if the string is new, as it usually has more elasticity than an old, rusty string and causes a more damaging whipping effect as a result.
The above is also explained by the fact that new strings are more resilient and take more time to adjust to a straightened position after their packaging. They also have more density and have not been stretched beyond their resistance point. The whipping effect will be more intense as the strings return from their “unnatural” straight position to their accustomed resting position.
Of course, one should not neglect the effects of abusing your strings. Certain famous guitarists have a knack for performing antics on stage that could be dangerous for inexperienced guitarists to attempt. Playing the strings with unusual items such as coins, violin bows, or even bottles will put strings at risk of snapping and, consequently, hurting the player.
For guitarists who have not developed hard calluses on their fingers, guitar strings, especially heavier-gauge ones, can produce incisions or soreness on the fingers.
This may also happen to guitarists who have not played their instrument for a long time and pretend to jump back to their usual riffing. The fingertips won't have the necessary resistance to pull those “licks” as smoothly, and they will start to hurt.
Additionally, suppose the strings have rust on them, even though it might not be enough to warrant a tetanus shot. In that case, the fingers will hurt significantly, and you will not be allowed to play or do many other chores for a sizable amount of time.
Whenever you attach strings to a guitar, loose ends will protrude from the tuning pegs. These ends are sharp and could cause damage if the guitar is not handled properly.
If the end is too long, you could involuntarily cause pricking damage to yourself or other people near you. If the end is, on the contrary, too short, you are probably safe from accidental pokes when playing the guitar but may face issues when handling the tuning post, as these ends tend to be pointier and firmer, causing more severe pricking.
Sometimes you may get pricking damage after a guitar string snaps and gets into your eye, or other sensitive parts of your body or face, as stated above.
Another concern some have is with regards to the toxicity pertaining to the strings' build material. Despite the fact that the heavy metals used for the core wire and the winding are generally toxic in a certain state, this metal will not be absorbed by the skin in a significant way.
At most, it might cause a person to develop allergies to materials such as nickel, chromium, or bronze over time. People who are already allergic to these metals could possibly have their allergies triggered upon fretting and plucking one of these strings on acoustic and/or electric guitars.
With that said, some of the actions performed by certain artists, such as “licking” the strings, should not be emulated. Besides, you could get sick with all the pollutants that adhere to strings as they're played and exposed to the environment. Furthermore, the heavy metal comprising the string can be absorbed more effectively through your saliva, notably during the string's corrosion process.
Six Guitar Strings Safety Tips
Even though we've already stated that there are no significant dangers in handling guitar strings, there are always some precautionary methods that are very convenient to observe to avoid potential hazards. We'll be outlining 6 safety tips to follow to prevent any damage resulting from guitar strings:
- Safe Tuning
- Tuck & Clip The Ends
- Check Tuning Pegs, Frets & Truss Rod
- Avoid Attaching Old Strings
- Correct Guitar Position
- Maintain Agreeable Environmental Conditions
Tip 1: Safe Tuning
Don't rush your tuning. Strings, particularly new strings, benefit from slow fastening as they adjust to the tension exerted by both the neck and the bridge. When you turn the tuning peg too fast, you will force the string and cause it to rip.
Strings need to “break in” correctly to adapt to their new position with relation to the guitar. This is necessary to endow new strings with tuning stability. There are ways to accelerate the process, such as manual stretching (which consists of pulling the string up for a while in certain positions).
Whichever method is employed should be done in moderation to not put the strings under excessive force and cause them to break.
Tip 2: Tuck & Clip The Ends
To prevent getting pricked by the sharp ends of an attached guitar string, consider the following actions:
- If the ends are too long, with the potential to hurt yourself at a distance or others around you, you should probably clip the strings using plyers or wire cutters.
- Alternatively, you can tuck the remaining end of the string under the tightened strings in order to avoid the pointy ends to be exposed.
Tip 3: Check Tuning Pegs, Frets & Truss Rod
Sometimes strings can break during tuning, even when one is careful. This might be due to sharp fret edges. Inspect your frets periodically, as they can form dents with frequent use and can potentially break strings while playing or tuning, with the consequences it may generate.
If you notice that strings often break around the head, check the tuning pegs for any sign of metal burr. It's useful to do periodic checks on them as a preventive measure.
Finally, truss rods may be too tightly adjusted. This could create excess tension on the strings. This is solved by slightly adding “relief” to the neck, turning the truss rod nut counter-clockwise.
Tip 4: Avoid Attaching Old Strings
Some guitar players are tempted to save old strings for a rainy day. If you have a spare set of old strings, check for any sign of rust or corrosion. When strings corrode, they lose their solidity or consistency, making them prone to break more easily.
Apart from any danger of string-whipping, rusty strings can produce cuts on the fingertips due to the surface being too rugged and irregular. This normally happens when sliding across the frets.
Tip 5: Correct Guitar Position
Always strive to lay the guitar in a way that doesn't compromise its construction or the strings' integrity. If possible, place the guitar on a stand every time you need to take a break from playing it for short or long periods.
Many dangers may arise due to construction problems, such as a bent neck from laying the guitar the wrong way. When laying a guitar with the strings facing the surface, the friction generated therein can also damage the strings and cause potential breakage.
Related article: What To Do If You Break A Guitar String (Live, Studio & Practice)
Tip 6: Maintain Agreeable Environmental Conditions
Moisture and heat are very bad for guitar strings. Metal strings can degrade very easily in damp storage conditions. To avoid accidental snaps and whips, keep your guitar in cool and dry places, and carefully wipe your guitar with a dry cloth periodically, as well as after a playing session.
Have any thoughts, questions or concerns? I invite you to add them to the comment section below! I'd love to hear your insights and inquiries and will do my best to add to the conversation. Thanks!
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