The odds of a guitar string breaking while performing are largely dependent on your instrument, playing style, and the quality/age of the strings. Breaking a string is a real possibility in live, studio and practice environments, and it’s important to know how to handle these kinds of situations.
What should I do if I break a guitar string? If you break a guitar string, stay calm and replace the string or swap the guitar out for a secondary guitar as soon as possible. In live performance and studio recording, do your best to finish the song. If you have time, consider replacing the entire set of strings.
There are various workarounds to these kinds of situations, but, admittedly, it also depends on how skillful you are with the guitar. In this article, we’ll discuss what to do if you break a guitar string, why guitar strings break, and strategies to avoid breaking strings.
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What To Do If You Break A Guitar String (Live, Studio & Practice)
Breaking a string can be frustrating and anxiety-provoking, especially during important performances. Let’s consider strategies for what to do when a guitar string breaks during live gigs, studio recordings, and practice/rehearsal times.
Breaking A Guitar String During A Live Performance
During live performances, you have practically no choice but to play until the song ends. Live performances give players the ability to improvise and to play with the gaps. However, it also depends on the context and the music genre. Strummers have it much easier than fingerstyle players (most of the time) because they can make inversions to the chords and cope with a missing note.
One of the first things you should always avoid is to make people notice the problem. This is the reason why it’s always useful to practise scales in every position of the guitar or to know all the possible inversions to a chord. You can find the right notes in each of the remaining strings to follow the melodic and harmonic patterns of a song or theme until it reaches its end.
After the song, consider swapping guitars if possible. If that’s not possible, you need to decide whether it’s possible to continue without a string or if you need to restring the instrument. Usually, the show must go on, and you’ll have to continue with a broken string if you don’t have a replacement.
It’s typically advisable, if possible, to only replace the broken string to save time. It’s also the case that new strings tend to fall out of tune as they’re broken in, so changing the entire set of strings would take more time to accomplish and take up additional time for tuning between songs.
For more information on why new strings tend to fall out tune, check out my article Why New Guitar Strings Go Out Of Tune Faster Than Old Strings.
Breaking A Guitar String During A Studio Recording Session
You can always request time off to change the string in studio recordings, but you need to keep in mind that a minute of recording may cost a lot of money if it’s a rented studio. If you are playing with an ensemble, you could apply the same tricks as when in the middle of a live performance: aim for lower notes, change positioning or find inversions.
Know your role in the project and use your discretion about asking the producer or director to stop the recording could be risky here. This may greatly upset the other members but could save time if you can no longer play your parts.
Breaking A Guitar String During A Practice Session Or Rehearsal
When practicing, there is virtually no rush, and you may even try to test your reflexes on these types of situations to determine how good you are at keeping up with the theme’s flow.
However, if you are in the middle of a band rehearsal, time can be a bit more pressing since you are basically dragging down the rest of the musicians. In this case, you may be able to sit out for a bit of time to fix the issue, or you may be required to play on with the broken string.
Why Do Guitar Strings Break?
Several factors contribute to a string’s breakage:
1. The string is too old:
The first one is age. Experts recommend changing your guitar strings at least once every 3 months or 100 playing hours (whichever comes first). Usually, they can last longer without snapping, but eventually, it will happen, and sometimes without warning.
One of the first signs of potential breakage is rust. When a string gets rusty, change it as soon as possible since rusty stings have higher brittleness. Corrosion eventually turns the string’s solid metal into oxide and other stable chemicals, producing a very peculiar brownish-orange colouration on it and causing the core to weaken.
The second sign is constant detuning. When strings detune, they lose tension because they stretch beyond their optimal point. They will need to be fastened more tightly to retain their pitch until they eventually snap.
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2. The string is over-tuned
When strings are over-tuned, you risk tensioning the strings too much, often leading to premature breaking. Long strings need to be fastened more to find the right note, and, in turn, they are under a lot more stress than short strings.
3. You’re playing too hard
In certain musical scenes, musicians may get too carried away and put their instruments under a lot of stress until they reach a breaking point. Certain techniques may sound and look flashy on stage, but when they’re overdone, you won’t be able to yield as much playing time from your strings.
Beyond the flashiness, playing the strings too hard (picking, bending, whammy bar, etc.) can lead to string breakage. If you find your playing style too rough for your strings, consider holding back a bit. Alternatively, or opt for thicker strings or another guitar more capable of handling the playing style.
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4. The instrument needs attention
Lastly, check your guitar, as it may have an over-tightened truss rod, which can put undue tension on the strings. Also, the nut and/or bridge slots might be damaged, which can cut into the string and cause it to snap or cause the string to lose its place on the fretboard and move into dangerous positions.
Some Additional Tips
1. Change your strings often
As said before, strings should be changed after the first three months or 100 playing hours. Following this rule of thumb can save you from the stressful situation of a broken string during a show.
Many professionals change their strings (or have a technician change their strings) before every show to avoid breaking them due to ageing/wear.
2. Have spare string sets handy
It’s very useful to carry a spare set of new strings with you (or old ones that could withstand some additional uses). This is often overlooked, can save a live gig or studio performance and help you get back to practicing faster during rehearsals or solo practice time.
3. Have a spare guitar
If practical, it may be a good idea to bring a second guitar with you, especially for important gigs on-stage or in-studio.
Then, if you break a string, quickly swap guitars when it makes sense. If you have a technician or a friend who knows how to change strings, have them help you by changing the broken string or the entire set while you continue with little to no downtime.
4. Consider thicker gauge strings
Thicker strings may be harder to play but tend to withstand more abuse and are more durable than thinner strings. Heavier gauge strings may even have the side-effect of improving your tone!
To learn more about string gauge, check out the following My New Microphone articles:
• Should I Use Light, Medium Or Heavy Gauge Guitar Strings?
• Should I Use Light Or Heavy Gauge Bass Guitar Strings?
• Are Lighter/Thinner Gauge Guitar Strings Easier To Play?
• How Do Guitar Strings Affect Tone? (Acoustic, Electric, Bass)
• Do Heavier/Thicker Gauge Guitar Strings Stay In Tune Better?
5. Rehearse with different frettings
Try to find as many ways to play a tune as possible to acquire more versatility and flexibility when handicapped with broken strings.
Guitars give players the ability to find the most comfortable ways to play the same notes. Understandably, tonal quality will be compromised as the notes don’t sound exactly the same on different strings (different gauge, different winding, different fretting, etc.). However, it’s very useful when you are in the middle of a gig.
This article has been approved in accordance with the My New Microphone Editorial Policy.