Guitar strings don’t last forever, and eventually, they will break. I’ve been playing guitar for many years and have a good idea about how long my strings last. But, I wanted to know what other guitarists found so I did a survey, and here are the results.
On average, guitar strings should break every 6 months. A survey of 137 guitarists found that 70.80% of people said that their guitar string last 6 months or more. More than half 50.36% said that their guitar strings last a year or more.
Only, 10.95% of people said that their guitar strings last less than a month, and 18.25% said their guitar strings last 3 months. In this article, I will explain the reasons why guitar strings break sooner rather than later. That way you can see how to best string your guitar so that your strings last as long as possible.
Is Breaking Guitar Strings Common?
Guitar strings can break early, particularly if an error was made when stringing them. It’s also possible that you happened to be unlucky and get some strings that had a manufacturer’s defect. But, I thought I’d provide some data to show how common it is for guitar strings to break, here’s what I found.
Guitar strings breaking is not common. On average, guitar strings will last 6 months or more before breaking. A survey of guitarists found that 70.80% said their guitar strings last 6 months or more. Over half said their guitar strings last more than a year.
Therefore, it’s very uncommon for guitar strings to break. Here’s a table I put together that shows the results of the survey:
|How long do guitar strings last before breaking?||Votes||Percentage of votes|
|1 year or more||69||50.36%|
As you can see more than half said that their guitar strings last 1 year or more. This is quite surprising for me. In my experience, I generally swap out guitar strings after 6 months or so. I find that guitar strings start to lose their tone. And new guitar strings produce a much brighter tone.
But, this may be because I would also purchase low-end guitar strings. I also for the most part played nylon string/classical guitar. Therefore, it’s possible the data may be a bit skewed towards steel-string guitar strings.
Difference in how long nylon string and steel string guitar strings last
The interior of the top 3 nylon strings on a guitar is very weak. Once, the wire becomes a little bit damaged and begins to open, the string will break soon after.
I explain how a string begins to break in the section below about whether it hurts when a guitar string breaks. But, due to this fact nylon strings tend to not last as long as steel strings.
After the thin and weak nylon fibers on the interior of the string are exposed they are easily broken as they’re pressed against the frets. This creates a kind of fluff that can be seen on the string before it breaks.
Steel strings, by comparison, have a very strong wire on the inside. Therefore, they can last much longer when they become a bit damaged as they wear against the frets. With that said as steel strings begin to wear they develop a buzz. This is where the string makes a buzzing noise when you hold it against the fret.
This buzz can also be caused by not holding the fret hard enough as you play. Which every beginner and experienced guitarist is familiar with. However, this buzz persists even if you are holding the fret correctly.
As you may know, there are 2 main types of guitar strings 1) steel guitar strings, and 2) nylon guitar strings. Nylon guitar strings have nylon fibers with wire wrapped around them. Whereas, steel guitar strings have steel on the inside.
Here’s a table that shows the difference in how the strings are made between steel string and nylon string guitars:
|String (top of guitar to bottom)||Steel string guitar||Nylon string guitar|
|1. Thickest string||Wire wound around wire||Wire wound around nylon fibers|
|2||Wire wound around wire||Wire wound around nylon fibers|
|3||Wire wound around wire||Wire wound around nylon fibers|
|4||Wire only||Nylon only|
|5.||Wire only||Nylon only|
|6. Thinnest string||Wire only||Nylon only|
In the table where it says that the bottom 3 strings are nylon only. This is different from the nylon found inside the thicker nylon strings. It’s instead a nylon composite that in appearance looks like plastic.
These strings are generally partially see-through, but you can also buy ones where the bottom 3 strings are black in color.
You may have also learned already that a nylon string guitar is also called a classical guitar, a Spanish guitar, or a flamenco guitar. Interestingly, a flamenco guitar has a few differences from a classical guitar.
Though subtle they are quite major differences that affect how it feels to play, and the sound it produces. I explained these differences in this article about the differences between a classical guitar and a Spanish guitar.
When guitarists speak you may have noticed that they sometimes mix up the order of the string. They can say the top string to mean the thinnest string on the bottom of the guitar. Instead of calling it the 6th string.
Also, in guitar tabs – which are the easiest way to read and write guitar music the string on the first line is the bottom string. This is a bit confusing at first until you get used to it.
Guitar strings need to be changed because of a dull tone first
As guitar strings played, their tone gets worse and they don’t sound as bright. The sound of the strings doesn’t ring out for as long. And as a result, the guitar doesn’t sound as good. Because guitar strings are fairly cheap, most guitarists will swap out strings that have developed a dull tone.
Generally, a dull tone is more of a reason to change guitar strings. Because this develops before the strings eventually break. You may know, that there is a standard tuning for a guitar. This is E, A, D, G, B, E. From the first – thickest string at the top – to the thinnest. But, it’s possible to use an alternate tuning.
One that is very popular, especially for rock music is drop D tuning. This is where the thickest string, is tuned a lot lower to a D. This makes it possible to only use one finger to play power chords. And overall, makes it far easier to play rock-type songs. But, it is also sometimes used in classical guitar songs as well. Though, it’s far less common.
Many very popular bands such as Metallica, and Tool use drop D tuning. The guitarist from Tool Adam Jones also commonly uses a completely different tuning to the standard tuning.
Changing the tuning of a guitar from one to another does speed up how long it takes for guitar strings to develop a dull tone. But, not overly so that you should avoid using alternate tunings to save your strings.
Things that can decrease the life of guitar strings
There are a few factors that can decrease the life of guitar strings that you should be aware of. The first is that the sweat of your hands is slightly acidic. If you leave sweat on your guitar strings it will wear down your strings more than if you wipe them off after playing it.
Depending how fussy you are you can skip wiping your strings down altogether. In all my years of playing, I would never wipe the sweat off my guitar strings. Except if it was a particularly hot day and the sweat was visible on the strings. Apart from doing that, I never had an issue with guitar strings not lasting long enough.
Another factor is heat and humidity. Steel strings are all metal, whereas, only the top 3 strings of nylon strings are metal. If you live somewhere that’s particularly humid, for example, a state like Florida, then your strings won’t last as long as somewhere more temperate.
Again, with the sweat of your hands decreasing how long strings last, this is a relatively minor factor that you shouldn’t really concern yourself with. Other than keeping your guitar in your case at all times when you’re not using it.
This is the recommendation of top guitar manufacturers. I explained this in more detail in this article about whether guitars come with a case. It explains the ideal temperature and humidity that a guitar should be kept at.
Does It Hurt When Guitar Strings Break?
When tightening new guitar strings it can feel a bit scary because you’re not sure if you’re tightening them so tight that they will break. Also, if you’re a bit experienced on the guitar you may do what are called bends which can feel like the strings are going to break.
So, here’s a summary of what I’ve found after having many guitar strings break on me about whether it hurts when guitar strings break.
It doesn’t hurt when a guitar string breaks. When a guitar string breaks all of the tension in the string goes away and the string becomes very loose, then the string hangs loose. Guitar strings don’t whip or in a way that can hurt you when they break.
Using guitar strings a lot causes wear and tear on them. This occurs most where the frets are. You will notice this, especially with nylon strings. The interior of nylon strings contains many very thin white fibers that have an almost fluffy appearance which you can see as nylon string come close to breaking.
Steel strings can also wear down where the frets are but it’s much less noticeable. When you play guitar you press down on the frets. This pushes the string hard against the metal of the fret. Then when you play the string it vibrates causing wear on the string. Over time the wear on the strings makes the area of the string near the fret so thin that the string breaks.
How Tight Should Guitar Strings Be?
I’ve replaced guitars strings on nylon string guitars more times than I can count. I also replaced strings on my steel string guitar a few times. I made a few mistakes the first few times I changed my guitar strings so here’s an explanation of how tight guitar strings should be.
They should be tight enough to be in tune using a guitar tuner. But, never use steel strings on a nylon string guitar. Electric and steel string guitar strings and guitars are designed to be tighter than nylon strings when in tune. Steel strings on a nylon string guitar can break a nylon string guitar.
The general procedure to install guitar strings is to attach them to the end closest to the soundhole. The part that the strings fit into is called the bridge. With ball end strings you thread the string through and then pull it all the way through.
Then attach the other end to the head of the guitar – this is where the knobs are that you turn to tighten the string. I generally just tie them in a double knot and it worked perfectly fine.
But, this was before there were so many good videos on Youtube, which I didn’t have when I was learning guitar. Here’s one from one of the most popular guitar brands – Fender – that shows how to restring a steel-string guitar:
As well as, a video from another very popular guitar brand – Martin – about how to put new strings on a classical/nylon string guitar:
When you attach them the strings will be very loose. And they can take a lot of winding to make them tight enough. For this reason, there are even special tools you can do that make tightening strings faster.
It has one part that sits over the knob that you turn, and then a big handle that you can grip easily with your whole hand. That way you can wind it really fast like you would mix a bowl of ingredients for a cake together.
The first few times you do it, it can be a bit of trial and error to get it right. Steel strings have a ball end which makes them quite easy to replace. The main thing to watch out for is that the string doesn’t slip at the nuts at the top of the guitar that you turn to tighten the strings.
This can be avoided by tying the string in a double knot. Then making sure as the string winds around the part of the nut that it attaches to that it does so evenly.