GUEST POST: Reducing String Breakage

joe C tele bridge exit holes post ramped smoothOkay, so we are all guitar players here, bass players, stage techs, play a bit of drums, FOH etc. Well I am (at best) below average at most of the above. Fortunately, I’m pretty handy at repairing – so I’ll try to give hints and tips through this blog, to get you through ‘the battle’ of the gig and on to fight another ‘war.’ Today’s subject is maybe one for a day off, or pre-tour if you get the chance. It’s really easy and often overlooked, and will make a huge difference to tuning and string breakage issues. If you want the straight up fix – scroll down direct to THE SOLUTION.
Now, most guitar techs don’t attempt much in the way of ‘finessing’ or conditioning of a guitar. They’re flat out too busy re-stringing and stretching in strings, strobe tuning, checking the temperature drop (outdoors) or temperature rise (indoors) as well as load-in and load-out.
But take a moment. Let’s have a look at the bridge – here is where the beginnings of string breakage are occurring 99% of the time. Really? Yup, check it out: Basically, where the string exits the body of the guitar on a Strat or Tele the hole is usually un-radiused. This results in putting a kink in the string, as tension is applied to the new string, roughly when you are two tones away from concert pitch.

strat back angle picWhy? Well, the break angle (which means the angle the string makes towards the bridge away from the saddle) is approximately 35-60 degrees, and the higher the break angle the more compounded this problem is. We need this break angle for tone reasons – it affects tone in a very distinct way, but that is another posting. Ok, so we have an average break angle of approximately 45 degrees, and the string is now being “cut” into by this nasty sharp un-radiused hole. When you finally get the string up to pitch, the ‘weakened’ portion of it is sitting right over the saddle. At which point our lovely star likes to bend his treble strings up a minor third! The string ‘rocks’ backwards and forward over this point until it breaks – just like if you rock the ring pull off a soda can backwards and forwards – eventually the soft metal gives out and it comes off.

To be direct, the string’s ‘newness’ is not much defence against this happening. You end up standing side stage dreading when the guy/girl will break a string, knowing it’s a definite, just not sure how many songs into the set they will need their spare guitar.

THE SOLUTION? Take a Dremel with a small bit and grind the hole where the string exits the trem/bridge plate smooth just at that front edge – which is all the string will contact – it ends up looking like a teardrop shape.

tearrop ramped tele string exit holesAngle this teardrop to be a similar break angle to the string itself going into the block (Strat) or through the bridge into the body (Tele). Then take a polishing bit and make it shiny. This will maximise the strings support and help avoid any tendency for the string to be gripped in its spot for any reason. No Dremel? Bummer dude, but hey no worries – get a small round needle file – go to the hardware store, or at a push buy a pack of super cheap files from a random dollar shop. Do the same by hand as described above, get the file in the hole good and proper! When your tendonitis is inflamed and you have had enough, wrap wet and dry paper (the black stuff) – 400gr around your file and repeat. If you are a geek like me follow up the grades to 1000gr. Then relax – you just saved yourself and artist a ton of grief: string breakage should be drastically reduced if not eliminated.

Gibson tune-o-matic? Even easier – use nut files and very carefully shape the saddle slots to be adding support with no rough edges. Follow up with wet and dry paper all the way to 1000gr. While you’re there, take the edge off of the low E string saddle’s corner with files. It will feel smoother to the artist and cut their hand less. The reason Gibsons break less strings is they have a shorter scale length, combined with the break angle to the tailpiece is much less acute than a Fender! Average is 20-35 degrees. In short, the string is under less tension over the saddle, so is less prone to breakage.

Hope this helps,

Joseph ‘Soxy’ Price has Toured as a guitar tech with Soundgarden, Sugar Ray and Nina, and repaired/built guitars for Ian Moss, Brett Kingman, Phil Cebrano, Pete Robinson, Glenn Proudfoot, Joe Camilleri and many others.

LINKS: Soxytubes, Soxy Music, Soxy Guitar Setup Course