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When I began my guitar journey, I was mostly afraid of failure. Like most of us, I was thinking about the end goal not the journey of exploration.
My best friend however had a different fear, one that I wasn’t even aware existed and that was the fear of guitar strings. He was especially scared of tuning his guitar in case he broke a string and it ended up hurting him.
That really made me wonder, can a broken guitar string hurt you?
It’s rare for a broken string to cause serious injuries, however, if a guitar string snaps, then it could whip you and the impact might hurt or sting. Depending on the force a broken string could also cut you and the sharp end of a broken string could accidentally poke you.
While there’s a small chance of you getting hurt, we’re going to explore the ways guitar strings can be dangerous and go over 8 tips to keep you safe.
Do Guitar Strings Break Easily?
Good quality guitar strings are manufactured to hold up to a lot of tension, and it’s normal for guitar strings to break if their life cycle is coming to an end. However, a broken string could be your first clue that there’s something wrong, especially if this happens frequently.
If your guitar strings are breaking easily then there could be a few factors at play. String tension could be such a factor and whether you’re playing fingerstyle guitar or simply strumming if you’re applying too much pressure on the wrong strings then they might snap as a result.
As a beginner, you may also face the tragedy of new strings breaking easily because of incorrect string placement. Unfortunately, that’s part of the journey of learning how to play the guitar.
That being said, you might not be the main reason your guitar strings snap so easily, instead, it could be a problem with your guitar.
Dirt, oil, and grime accumulation in the slot of the nut or the nut itself being worn down with time by heavier strings might cause your new strings to erode and break.
Additionally, the fret edges on the fretboard might be rough and cause your strings to break while you’re playing, or similarly, the bridge might be too sharp at the saddle and as your strings rub against it, they might snap.
Some strings are also easier to break than others, like the D which is a wrapped string. This string has a thinner wire than the other two bass strings, it faces higher tension than the three bass strings and gets more wear. E strings are also easier to break, especially the high E string compared to the low E.
Of course, any string can easily break, and if you’re using the wrong strings, let’s say for example light strings for drop tuning or thrashing then they are more likely to snap.
Can A Broken Guitar String Hurt You?
I understand that when strings break for the first time your first instinct would be to cover yourself.
I myself might be used to this phenomenon by now, but when one of my strings does snap, I always flinch or jump up in surprise. Especially if I’m just relaxing after a hard day’s work playing a tune on my acoustic guitar to unwind.
While I’m happy to develop calluses on my fingers, I always want to protect myself from the guitar strings when they snap, but are they really that dangerous?
I want to start by saying that the chances of a broken string causing serious damage are quite low, but this doesn’t mean accidents can’t happen.
The most common “injury” I’ve experienced from a broken string is the stinging sensation when it whips your hand.
I imagine if your face happens to be positioned close to the strings the chance of getting whipped across the face is much higher that’s why I keep my distance when tuning.
The whipping effect might actually be more intense when tuning a new string. Compared to old strings, new strings have more elasticity and if they snap while you’re tuning, they will return to their original form much faster with more force.
If you’re playing and your strings snap you are more likely to get an intense whipping on your hand that is closest, but that will also depend on whether the strings are new or old.
As an inexperienced guitarist, or someone who likes to play aggressively or incorporate bending in your solo sections, breaking strings more often means that you’re most likely increasing your chances of getting hurt.
Keeping your face away from your strings is a great first step to protecting that area from friction burns that whipping steel or even nylon string can cause.
While this has never happened to me, I can imagine that under very unlucky circumstances and with enough force a broken string could cut you. This will most likely result in a superficial wound that might not even live a mark.
If that does happen it will definitely sting but to be honest, I have cats, so a few superficial cuts won’t scare me from grabbing my beloved acoustic.
In reality, a finger cut is more likely to happen during the first few months of playing the guitar, and even this is a rare thing to happen. You will most likely get some redness on your fingertips but after that, you will build up enough calluses and won’t feel much.
While I’ve never been cut by a broken string, I have been whipped by it, but there’s one type of injury that really grinds my gears and I have a feeling that most of you will agree with me.
You know how when you cut your strings, they end up with the sharpest end known to humankind?
Well, whenever I attach new strings to my guitar the loose ends that protrude from the tuning pegs will always find a way to pickle my fingers and it can get quite bloody and messy.
If I end up leaving the tips a bit too long, or too short or I don’t properly tuck them then I’m suddenly transformed into the sleeping beauty and my guitar into the infamous spinning wheel.
As you can imagine it’s also possible to get a scratch or even a puncture wound when a string snaps and the sharp needle-like tip ends up poking you with force. Unfortunately, there’s a possibility that the sharp end might cause pricking damage to your face or even your eyes.
Aside from the broken string turning into a sharp needle, I have another bone to pick with string tips. If you cut down your string, there’s always one tiny piece that will end up falling on the floor and you better believe that you will step on this little sharp metal particle!
To be fair, all these little cuts and pokes from your broken strings will most likely be forgotten in a day or two, however, you should be more careful when playing on old guitars with old rusty and dirty strings, even if it’s a vintage archtop!
I doubt you will get a tetanus infection from a broken rusty guitar string, but a cut from such a string could cause an infection.
You might also be allergic to certain metals or particles that are used in certain guitar strings.
Perhaps you have noticed that you get a rash, bumps, and redness on your fingers when playing on nickel strings. It’s easy to think that this is the result of weak fingers that are not used to playing the guitar, or it could be a nickel allergy.
You might further trigger this allergy if the nickel string snaps and cuts or pokes you. But once again this isn’t something common and if you notice an infection or bad reaction to a string cut on you or your child, then make sure to get checked by your doctor.
How To Avoid Getting Hurt By The Guitar Strings?
As I already explained, the chances of sustaining a serious injury from a snapped string are minimal, but even a small cut can hurt and sting.
So, if you want to keep your guitar interactions as safe as possible here are a few steps you could take.
Get The Right Tools For Stringing Your Guitar
Since you’re worried about a broken string hurting you it’s important to make sure that they won’t break when you’re changing them and tuning them. To do both properly you need the right tools.
Pliers are one such tool, and I personally prefer them to wire cutters because pliers have multiple functions, they help you reach, grab, hold, bend, cut, and loop a wire.
A string winder is another tool, while you can change strings without it, this tool will help you spend less time on this chore in half if not more.
Basically, a string winder helps you rotate a tuning head more times making it easier on your hand and wrist. By winding the end of the string around the tuning knob multiple times you then can cut the tips of the string off with a plier to avoid getting pricked.
Locking tuners are a great alternative that will help you change strings faster and improve your tuning stability and this tool has a special mechanism that clamps the strings in place.
So, you won’t have to use a string winder to wrap the string multiple times around the post, but you also won’t have to be afraid that the wrap will move or that the strings will slip when you’re playing and end up hurting you.
I don’t always use locking tuners, so I make sure that I have a string winder nearby and my go-to is from D’Addario.
They have built-in clippers, a bridge pin puller, and a peg winder all in one tool, this way you don’t have to go looking for multiple tools. You can see it on Amazon to see what I’m talking about by clicking here.
The needle-nose plier is another tool that you can use once the strings are all set up. Unlike other pliers, these will help you reach into tight spots and make sure that the ends of the strings are very short, no more than a centimeter or two long.
So, you can basically avoid poking your fingers as you play.
Tune and Wind The Strings Properly
Tuning stability is really important and to achieve that you need to properly stretch your new string set.
Stretching your strings will help them settle into their nut and saddle properly, basically adapt to their new position, as a result, there’s less chance of your strings breaking due to friction or a sharp edge.
Breaking in your strings should be a slow process to help them adjust to the tension exerted by the neck and bridge of your guitar. The last thing you want is to rush and turn the tuning peg too fast which will most likely cause the string to snap.
If you’re in a hurry you can use manual stretching, by pulling the strings, but you need to be careful because excessive force can cause them to break, and you might end up hurting yourself.
Since there’s a bit of controversy or confusion on whether strings actually stretch or not you can learn more about stretching from the video below.
If you feel like your strings keep breaking at record time, then there might be something wrong with your guitar, If that’s the case, then you should bring your guitar to a professional guitar technician.
They’ll be able to check why the strings keep breaking, as well as the alignment of your guitar neck, they will also check for any loose or lifting frets and they’ll adjust the action.
In my opinion, an annual checkup is mandatory and will prolong the life of your guitar. Think of it as taking your car to the mechanic for your yearly check-up!
Inspect the Frets, Tuning Pegs and Truss Rods
A broken string isn’t always the result of improper stringing or bad tuning, but they might snap, nonetheless. If that keeps happening to you perhaps it’s time to inspect your guitar.
There could be various possible culprits to blame, like the sharp fret edges that can form dents if you’re vigorously playing your guitar on a regular basis.
If your strings keep breaking around the head then the tuning pegs could be responsible instead, or the truss rods may need readjusting because they create too much tension.
It’s important to check our guitar regularly because as we keep playing it all these parts get worn out. Small bumps, dents, and sharper edges that are barely visible to the eye can be enough to break our strings before their time.
Clip And Tuck The Ends
You might find it difficult to avoid the sharp tip of a broken string, but you can definitely avoid getting your fingers pricked on the sharp ends of an attached string.
You can do that by clipping the ends using pliers, or my favorite method is actually tucking the remaining end under the string itself once you’re finished winding it around the tuning peg.
This way your fingers will not be exposed to the sharp ends!
Change Your Strings In Time
Guitar strings are usually made from steel and nickel, brass or bronze, or nylon. Most strings are meant to be flexible so you can easily play them for a long period of time. But at some point, you’ll hear a sudden sharp drop in pitch when pressing on one, some, or all strings.
This is the first sign that your string is starting to break, and it’s called phasing. It’s not always easy to notice the change in sound and as a beginner, you might not notice the dropped notes until it’s more severe.
Some of you might actually like how dropped strings sound, but that’s when you need to be extra cautious because they might break at any given moment.
Lastly, I do want to mention that if you have a set of old strings that you saved just in case you end up needing them then you need to check them for any signs of rust or corrosion.
Not only are you in danger of a string whipping you or cutting you but the cut might cause an infection.
Regular String Maintenance
While properly stringing your guitar will go a long way, string maintenance is what will actually help prolong their life and by that, I don’t just mean changing your guitar strings when their time is due.
You need to remember to clean and wipe the strings and fretboard after each playing session, preferably with a microfiber cloth that won’t leave any residue or lint material. This way you will reduce the build-up of dirt, oils, dust, and sweat from your fingers and the environment.
The fretboard should also be cleaned when you change your strings because that’s another place where dirt can accumulate and this will affect your string’s natural oxidation process and of course their sound.
Temperature is another thing that can affect metal strings. If left in a room with high humidity they will degrade much faster. You can slow this process by storing your guitar in its case, which will also protect the guitar itself.
If you live in a dry area then the lack of appropriate moisture can create dips, bends, and even cracks in your guitar that will increase the chances of the strings breaking. Temperature can also affect the alignment of your guitar’s neck which may add unwanted tension to your strings.
For those of you who get multiple packs of strings, make sure that you keep the original packaging sealed or move them to an airtight container to keep them fresh. If you have an open pack of strings sitting for a long time then they will most likely snap and hurt you way sooner than you might have anticipated.
Be Patient and Careful
Mistakes usually happen when we’re in a rush. I tend to get very clumsy if I’m trying to be quick when stringing my guitar, my hands start to tremble and it’s just a mess waiting to happen.
That’s why don’t be like me and take your time when you’re putting new strings on your guitar, especially when you’re breaking them in.
Choose the right moment to do so, preferably when you are alone at the studio or home and you know you won’t be bothered.
It’s important to focus on the process, to be mindful of your strings, your tools, your fingers, and how close your face is to the guitar.
And remember to pick up any string pieces laying on the floor or around you so they don’t end up stabbing you in the feet or anywhere else for that matter.
Position Your Guitar Properly
If the strings snap while you’re performing some elaborate fingerstyle pattern your hands are more likely to get hurt by the sudden force, and it’s highly unlikely that the string will reach for your face and injure you.
However, if you’re stringing your guitar or tuning the strings then you need to be extra careful with how you position your guitar and your proximity to it.
Try to be aware of the distance between your face and the guitar as you change your strings, so if the string does break it won’t lash out at you.
Even when you’re not using your guitar remember to place it on a stand and avoid laying it with the strings face down. You may damage the strings and next time you take the guitar in your hands you’ll end up facing the wrath of a broken string.
Wear Protective Goggles
This is my last safety tip because I know plenty of people will find it excessive. And well…it probably is. But we’re here to explore all the possibilities.
However, when it comes to safety, especially for beginner guitarists that are not aware of how guitars work, this is a great way to keep your eyes from harm’s way during tuning or stringing.
I would also like to add that wearing protective goggles during tuning, or stringing your guitar is a great way to protect the eyes of children that are just getting into guitars.
In the off chance that a broken string does reach your eye, you might get away with a corneal abrasion, meaning a scratch on your eye, that will most likely heal on its own in 1 to 3 days, but if the cut or scratch from a broken string is deeper then you’ll need to go to an eye doctor.
Safety should come first no matter your age!
So, Can A Guitar String Kill you?
I know this sounds like a ridiculous question to ask, mostly because guitar strings are not that dangerous.
Even if you get a cut, it’s never going to be serious enough to actually kill you. When a string snaps it can whip you with a high force and the tips especially can poke you or give you a good scratch, but they are not strong enough to pierce you through and through.
Your eyes are the only thing I would worry about, but even an eye injury isn’t that common because of the distance that under normal circumstances should exist between your guitar and your face while you’re playing.
Some of you might however feel like a guitar string could kill you, and that fear could develop itself into a phobia.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “a specific phobia involves an intense, persistent fear of a specific object or situation that’s out of proportion to the actual risk.”
If you feel that your fear of guitar strings is not just the common anxiety that novice guitarists feel when they have to tune or string their guitar for the first time then you might want to talk to a doctor.
I’ve been playing the guitar for a good while now and cutting my fingers on a broken guitar string is the last thing that worries me.
Even when I was just getting into guitars I was mostly scared of not being good, and if I’m being honest now I’m more worried about not living in the moment when playing the guitar.
However, I do understand how physical pain can stop someone from learning a musical instrument, unfortunately getting calluses, scratches and tiny puncture wounds is part of the game.
What you can do to combat your fear is to be careful, patient, and protect your eyes, but most importantly face your fears by playing the guitar and creating music!