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I don’t think there’s a guitar player out there who’s never faced a broken string before. I’ve had strings snap in my face more times than I can count, and while it’s not ideal and it can be scary, it’s part of the process, especially if you’re an intense player.
But what if your guitar strings don’t just break when you’re playing, and they also break when your guitar is just sitting there?
That begs the question, can guitar strings break on their own?
While it’s uncommon for guitar strings to break on their own it’s still possible especially if the strings are old. Rust, dirt, environmental changes like extreme cold and heat, humidity, and sharp edges on your guitar can wear the strings out. Plus being constantly under tension means that they’ll eventually snap even while sitting untouched.
If you want to know all the possible reasons your guitar strings are breaking on their own and how to prevent that from happening then keep on reading!
Can Guitar Strings Break on Their Own?
Guitar strings are capable of withstanding a great deal of tension, so they rarely end up breaking on their own, especially if the guitar is properly stored and the strings maintained.
Of course, all strings have a breaking point and they usually reach that point through the passage of time, in addition to guitarists consistently playing the guitar.
In my experience at least, electric and acoustic guitar strings, are more likely to break while I’m playing, especially if they are at the end of their life, or during an intense session with lots of bending, sliding, and strumming.
That being said, guitar strings can break on their own under certain circumstances. I’ve only experienced this once on my electric, and I’ve heard a few classical guitar players talk about the D string on their guitar breaking more frequently, even when the guitar is just sitting there.
How Can Guitar Strings Break on Their Own?
As I’ve already mentioned, guitar strings can break on their own under certain circumstances, so let’s see what those circumstances might be!
1. Rust and Dirt
Strings are not everlasting, and since most of them are made from some type of alloy, even nylon strings that use metal wrap wire around the nylon core, they are all more or less susceptible to corrosion and rust.
Rust is the oxidation of iron and its alloys, such as steel and this reaction happens when steel comes in contact with oxygen and water. Rust will eat away the metal, and by wearing it down it weakens it to the point of breaking.
While corrosion and rust are natural phenomena that will begin to affect your strings the moment you take them out of the packaging, the outside humidity, temperature changes, and the accumulation of dirt and oils from your hands will accelerate this process.
At this stage, it’s more likely that one or multiple strings will break while you’re playing the guitar, however, if the strings are weak enough then they could also break on their own.
2. Environmental Factors
As I already mentioned, humidity and any type of moisture present around your strings will cause them to corrode and deteriorate much faster, which means that they will inevitably break on their own or under your playing hand.
Moreso, if your strings are exposed to sunlight, or to sudden temperature changes then it’s highly likely that they will snap even when you’re not playing.
This is especially true for nylon strings since they lose their elasticity under such conditions. While metal strings are more tolerant of sudden temperature changes, they are more affected by humidity.
It’s also important to mention that humidity, and the temperature of the environment can affect your guitar, by expanding and contracting the wood. When the wood expands the tension your guitar strings are under increases, and if the strings are already affected by rust then it’s a matter of time until they break.
That’s why storing your guitar in a case and in a room where you can control the humidity and the temperature can keep your guitar safe and your strings from snapping on their own.
3. String Type
If you’ve found out that one or more strings on your guitar have snapped while the instrument was stored away then the strings might be the problem, specifically their age.
After all, old strings are more likely to break as we’ve already discussed, and if they are breaking on their own then consider changing your strings sooner than you usually do. On the other hand, if this is a recurring event then you need to take a closer look at the type of strings you are using.
If your guitar is new and already equipped with stock stings then the quality of the strings could be the real issue here. If however, you are using mass-produced strings of low quality, then you can also expect your strings to snap before their time, on their own or not.
Perhaps you are using the wrong guitar strings for your guitar, or your playing style. Lighter gauge strings are more brittle while thicker strings usually last longer.
For example, if you’re planning on setting up your guitar in Drop D tuning then you will need to switch your strings to a heavier gauge to keep them from breaking when they are and aren’t in use.
As I already mentioned, I’ve heard that nylon strings are more likely to break on their own, specifically the D string. This might have something to do with the fact that the D is a wrapped sting, and it’s more likely to snap compared to a solid string.
Being under the highest tension compared to the other strings, having a thinner wire, and being played more often also means that the D string is going to wear out much sooner and possibly break on its own.
I also know that a lot of acoustic and electric players complain that their high E is the one string that is more likely to break. I actually had a high E break by itself on my electric but in my case, the guitar had seen some serious abuse the day before.
4. Incorrect Stringing
One of the main reasons my strings kept breaking before their time can be blamed on my inexperience. I will admit that it took me some time to understand how to properly install a new set of strings.
Thankfully I had a good teacher, and they showed me how to avoid making any kinks in the strings when winding them around their tuning post.
Overwinding and stringing your guitar incorrectly could be why your string snapped on its own. If you’re not sure whether you’re putting the strings correctly or not then you could use strings with colored ends that will help you identify each string.
5. High String Tension
Strings can break even when they are under regular tension of the standard tuning, but if you’re tuning your guitar too tightly then the tension can cause the strings to snap even if the guitar is not being used.
If you are someone who wants to experiment with alternate tunings, then you need to be prepared that you’ll be putting your strings under a lot more stress.
This means that they are more likely to break when you’re playing, but they could also eventually break on their own as the tension slowly deforms the string, the weakest point in the string will possibly thin out, eventually reducing the strength in this area until it snaps.
6. Rough Fret Edges
It’s easy to blame the string itself when it breaks on its own, but sometimes the guitar is the problem. That’s why if your strings keep breaking you need to inspect your guitar and look at the point of breakage.
If your string snapped over the fretboard area between the nut and bridge, then the rough edge on some of the frets might be causing the problem.
It’s a common enough issue with older guitars, but even brand-new guitars might have sharp frets that need to be filed a bit with some sandpaper.
7. Sharp Edges on Tuning Posts
It’s important to take note of where your strings are breaking because if it’s near the tuning posts then there might be burred edges that are causing the breakage.
Burred edges on tuning posts can occur on new guitars but it’s more common to find them on older guitars because they develop over time and you always need to keep an eye on them in case they need to be smoothed out.
8. Sharp Bridge and Nuts
Similarly, the sharp surface of the bridge or nuts could be causing your strings to break even when the guitar is not in use.
The bridge and the nut might simply need some cleaning from the accumulation of dirt, dust, and oils, or it might require some filing with gentle sandpaper or both.
If you feel like the nut on your guitar is causing the problem then you can check this video for some useful filing instructions!
It’s also important to notice if the bridge is too high, this means that you will either need to lower the action on your guitar by adjusting the truss rod, or you will have to file down the bridge saddle.
How to Prevent Guitar Strings From Breaking When You’re Not Playing?
Knowing the reason why your strings keep breaking when the guitar is just sitting there can help you deal with this issue and prevent it from happening again.
So, here are some tips to keep your strings from snapping when you’re not playing!
Storing the Guitar
I think storing your guitar in a case is one of the most important pieces of advice I can give you and it might be a super obvious one but you will be surprised by the number of people in my life who simply don’t use guitar cases or don’t store their guitar properly.
So, if you want to prolong the life of your strings and stop them from breaking on their own, you need to buy a hard guitar case. This way you can control the temperature and humidity levels your guitar is exposed to.
A hard case will also support the guitar’s neck and body, and keep the wood from expanding or contracting when it’s too cold, hot, or humid. You also need to make sure that the case is stored in a room with a regulated temperature.
Before you put your guitar away you also need to remember to keep the strings clean. Take a microfiber cloth and wipe your strings after each session, especially before storing the guitar away.
Choosing the Right Strings
If you are someone who is always on top of their guitar and string maintenance then perhaps the real problem is the types of strings you are using.
It could be that the technique you are using is not actually suitable for that particular set. For example, if you are an intense player, and you’re using a very light gauge then by the end of your session your strings will be so worn out that they’ll likely end up breaking on their own.
A heavier gauge could solve this issue unless, of course, it’s the quality of your strings that’s truly responsible. If that’s the case then try switching to a different brand, and get a set that not only suits your playing style but can also hold up to the tension!
Detuning the Guitar
If you’re tuning your guitar too tightly then you can easily expect at least one of the strings to snap eventually, either mid-play or on its own.
That’s why you need to make sure that your guitar is tuned at the standard tuning. If however you still feel that the strings are too tight then you could detune your guitar slightly and loosen the strings.
Before you do that, I personally would recommend you take your guitar to a mechanic, perhaps the issue here lies in the guitar’s high action, or there might be a completely different issue that only a professional can detect.
Additionally, If you’re planning on storing your guitar away then there’s no real reason to detune your guitar, cause you are more likely to cause damage to the neck.
Inspect Your Guitar
If you notice your strings breaking more often than normal, especially if you’re not even playing then you need to inspect your instrument for any sharp edges.
You can smooth away these sharp edges, or any rough parts whether that’s at the bridge or nut with light sandpaper. You can also file away the rough edges of your tuning pegs, by rubbing an old string gently in a circular motion through the peg string hole.
It’s also possible that some of these parts might need complete changing, something you could do yourself if you have the experience or you can take your guitar to a luthier for a professional fix.
Hearing a string suddenly snap while your guitar is peacefully sitting in its rightful place, can feel a bit spooky.
However, I don’t believe in ghosts and I definitely don’t think your guitar is haunted.
As we’ve discussed above, strings can break on their own for multiple reasons. The biggest enemy would be time itself since old strings are more likely to snap.
So, changing your strings in time, storing your guitar properly, and inspecting your guitar for sharp edges should keep your strings from snapping on their own.
Plus by taking good care of your guitar you’re quite possibly keeping the rock and roll ghosts at bay, in the off chance they do exist!