What causes a string to snap?

January 4, 2019, 5:33 PM · Today I was playing a particularly shreddy piece, and my E string snapped in my face. The break was near the scroll.

I was probably due for a change in the next couple of weeks, but this has never happened before regardless of how long I've had them on. Also, I'm now quite paranoid about this happening during a performance in the future!

What causes this to happen and is there any way to prevent it?

Replies (18)

January 4, 2019, 5:41 PM · Lots of things can cause a string to snap. Can you provide more details?
Edited: January 4, 2019, 5:52 PM · Not sure what details you are asking for, but: It's summer here; I was placing more pressure than usual on the string; the strings have been on since November (longer than usual)...

No idea if any of these things caused it to happen, just stabbing in the dark here.

January 4, 2019, 6:48 PM · I have had a few E strings break while playing and quite a few have snapped somehow in my case when it wasn't being played and there was no problem with my nut or fine tuner. Never had any of the other lower strings break though.
January 4, 2019, 7:12 PM · If the E string broke near the scroll, it probably wasn't because you hooked the ferrule of your bow on the string during aggressive playing, or due to a sharp edge on the fine tuner at the tailpiece end. So what you have told us so far enables us to narrow it down a little bit.

Where exactly did the string break? Describing in terms of the note name where a finger would press down would be OK.

January 4, 2019, 9:43 PM · I'm not sure exactly since it wasn't stretched out anymore, but I'd say 1st finger, if that.
January 4, 2019, 9:51 PM · Your fingernail could have compromised the string in that spot over time. I always have the shortest possible fingernails, but I can notice in the string where my nail has dug in some places.
January 5, 2019, 6:01 AM · I've been meaning to ask about fingernails. Some guitarists recommend enough LH nail to act as a stabiliser for your fingertip on the fingerboard, but I've been doubting that on violin.
January 5, 2019, 7:10 AM · Andrew F.,

For Classical guitar or Electric?

I've played the latter for 14 years, and I was taught to keep the nails as minimal as possible and not touch the fingerboard at all, but that depends on how tall the frets are.

I remember one lesson my teacher just handed me the clippers "-- ok, now we are good to record, no compromise."

January 5, 2019, 7:50 AM · When I say guitar, I always mean classical.
Edited: January 5, 2019, 10:38 PM · In 80 years of playing I have had strings break for a number of different reasons: wear, contact with rough or sharp edges and corners, inherent flaws in the string, weakness from aging, poor installation on the instrument.

Strings can also be damaged within the pegbox by rubbing against the sides of the box or by rubbing the strings wound on another peg - such as a D string rubbing on a poorly wound G.

E strings have broken on my violins because of
a. sharp edges on a fine tuner,
b. sharp corners on tuning pegs
c. on the bridge
d. on the nut

Sihon metal-wire mutes on the string afterlength - can wear any string,

After these breaks I would check my instruments for sharp corners/edges and file them down where I thought it necessary.

In my youth I pretty much played on my strings until they broke - I never questioned why - they just did.

As a teen after I started cello lessons with gut and gut-core strings I pretty much wore out a gut A string every week - just wore it down until it was too rough to shift on - or until it broke

When I was using Pirastro Obligato cello strings I broke 2 of the A strings just putting them on - got them a bit too tight and they oulc not take the tension. (These are the only strings I ever broke at their first tightening.) Obligato cello A strings are all steel although the rest of the set is polyamide core (like most violin string brands these days).

Except for personal practicing I stopped playing most of my grad school years while I was also working full time - but after finishing my thesis I joined the Montgomery County MD symphony and back in the 2nd violin section my Eudoxa gut A string popped during my first concert with them - so I slipped out through the curtain and went home. Moved to California 5 months later and have played in orchestras and other ensembles ever since - that was 56 years ago.

January 5, 2019, 8:13 AM · Maybe I'll get an acoustic again, always relaxing to play some classical.

But back on topic, I find I often use too much pressure for violin, the endurance is useful though. I guess playing Paganini 5 and 24 on guitar wasn't for nothing after all!

January 5, 2019, 10:04 AM · Kate, if it broke at the upper nut, that suggests a possibility that it was binding at the upper nut for some reason, possibly a groove which wasn't shaped or lubricated properly.

Of course, it could have also deteriorated due to corrosion, or even been defective to begin with.

Edited: January 5, 2019, 12:54 PM · Wouldn't we be more puzzled if strings never failed?

Fingernail should not be damaging a steel wire string.

Possibly there is some finite number of physical imperfections in the material along the length of the string, and each type of imperfection has its own mean-time-between-failures. In other words the cause of the failure is a congenital defect.

Our safety boss would probably suggest that you wear ANSI Z87 compliant eye protection from now on...

Edited: January 5, 2019, 10:26 PM · My fingernails are very short.

Honestly I'm prepared to believe the string just wore down over time. I had left it on too long (I'm stingy) and was practising more than usual.

The reason I'm asking this question is to hopefully avoid it happening in a future performance or audition.

January 5, 2019, 10:36 PM · Wore down? Do you have any idea how many people have rubbed Lincoln's nose? And that's bronze which is much softer than steel.
January 6, 2019, 2:29 PM · In no particular order:

1. Old age (either long use on the instrument, or very old in the store—gut strings can suffer from this, as they are organic product).
2. Binding at the nut or bridge
3. Cutting the loop end of an E string by the tuner
4. Over tightening the string. Experienced players seldom do this, but students can when they are inexperienced in changing strings.
5. Defective from the factory. I think this is very rare. In many years of playing it has happened to me once only—an expensive name-brand synthetic string that snapped before I even brought it up to pitch.).

January 7, 2019, 12:27 AM · I am a (jazz-rock) guitarist playing electric guitar, and whole my life (24 years of playing), I keep my nails shortest as possible. My wife has shimmers from it how far are cut :D. For the years I taught my fingers to less sensitivity under the nail and I am cutting them very deeply and I hate when they are a little bit longer. I am extreme with it.

I have a few string breaks with violin (also with guitar). But Just a few. Two of them was due to change of the climate and I think the string did not react to change of humidity and temperature at the pegbox quickly, but over fingerboard does, so there is a reason for breaking little wear-off string.

I am using graphite as a lubricant, but after 3 months is very questionable the amount of it under the string.

January 7, 2019, 6:47 AM · "Defective from the factory. I think this is very rare."

I suggest you ask a metallurgist whether they have ever seen a sample of drawn metal wire that is free of defects.

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