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Every mandolin player will have to battle broken strings from time to time. There are several reasons a string may break, but when everything is done correctly, this is an issue that should not be occurring that often. If you are struggling with mandolin strings that keep breaking repeatedly, there might be an issue that requires your attention.
Mandolin strings keep breaking because something is causing unusual and uneven wear on the strings as you play. Possible irregularities include excessive tuning, rough spots and sharp edges on your instrument, or using strings that are not appropriate for your technique.
Suppose you struggle with your mandolin strings continually breaking. In that case, this article will give you all the information you need to properly diagnose your string problem, as well as offer some tips on how to keep it from occurring as frequently in the future.
4 Possibilities Why Your Mandolin Strings Keep Breaking
Reason 1: Tension and Tuning Troubles
Many novice players often find out the hard way that tuning a mandolin is a serious business that, if done improperly, can go wrong in a snap…or with a snap, more appropriately. There are two important things every musician should know when it comes to tuning strings.
Take Your Time
Properly tuning a string instrument can require some patience at times, especially if you are working with an entirely new set of strings or adjusting to a drastic change in the environment. Tuning is not something that you get much faster if you are good at it. Even well-seasoned players who rush through tuning can quickly end up snapping a string.
The trick is to tune your strings gradually. You should give around 20-30 seconds between adjustments so that the string tension is allowed to acclimate. If you impose quick, drastic changes in tension by rapid tuning, you will put stress–and essentially fatigue–upon the string, which can cause it to snap.
Avoid Excessive Tuning
Even when you take your time tuning, if you tune too often, you can also risk strings breaking. But, as this is a natural occurrence anyhow, simply a matter of how quickly you accumulate the number of re-tunings your strings go through. It works under the same principles as quick tuning, as mentioned above; The frequent change in tension from being loosened and tightened repeatedly causes strings to weaken.
Now, if you have strings snapping at the tuning post (the knob) itself, you may have a defect in it that is causing the string to break, which falls into the next possible reason your strings keep breaking.
Reason 2: Instrument Imperfections
If the strings on your mandolin are breaking in the same spots, odds are it may have nothing to do with the string itself. Instead, your instrument may be to blame. Take a thorough look over your instrument and inspect it for any rough spots/burrs, sharp edges, or parts that may be starting to corrode or weaken.
Strings Breaking at the Bridge or Tailpiece
These parts on your mandolin may have sharp corners or edges that the strings are rubbing up against as they vibrate, causing them to weaken. A sharp corner can act like a knife on your strings, slowly cutting away at the string’s integrity over time. Any imperfections in the bridge, tailpiece, or even the hooks may cause troubles, so put a keen eye to these details.
If you notice some issues, you can most likely take care of them using some very fine sandpaper. Gently smooth the surface over to eliminate the flaw.
Strings Breaking at the Neck or Nut
Inspect the frets on your mandolin’s neck for any rough spots on the edge of the frets that may be agitating the strings. If you are dealing with a new break, stretch the string back up the neck to see the spot where it snapped to pinpoint where the problem might be. Just as with the bridge, corrections can most likely be made with some light sanding.
If the break is occurring up at the nut, check for any signs of wear or imperfections of any kind there as well. Commonly, a dirty nut will be the culprit, so you need to clear it of any dirt and grime that has accumulated. It’s also a possibility the nut is binding too tightly, pinching the string. If a nut is broken or worn, you may require a trip to the local luthier.
Breaking at the Tuning Post
As we just discussed, the defect may exist in the tuning mechanisms themselves, which can be a common flaw in some manufacturing processes. Typically, the drilled hole you put your string through will have a sharp edge cutting at the string. A rounded jewelers file or another facsimile usually works nicely to smooth these out, or a music shop will help you (probably for free) with this problem.
Reason 3: Bent, Snagged, or Badly Strung Strings
While you do put bends into your strings at the hooks and around the tuners, you don’t want the string bent anywhere in between those two places. It’s possible at some point for a string to become bent or snagged if it was handled inappropriately. This could have been something that happened during manufacturing or in merchandising at the music shop; It could’ve been anything. Just make sure to inspect each new string carefully before you put it on.
However, there is no roaring outcry against quality control in the world of string manufacturing, and this is most likely not the reason for a chronic string-breaking problem. (Though if you have noticed an excessive amount of issues in a particular brand of strings you are using, you may want to consider another option.) Instead, these issues occur more frequently due to improper stringing.
Here are the tips for Stringing Your Mandolin:
- Take steps to combat against bending and snagging strings on your mandolin by carefully walking through each step of the restringing process every time. Right from the start, work to avoid excessive bending when placing a loop end onto a hook. Make sure you situate the string properly in both the bridge and the nut.
- It can help use a capo to hold tension and keep the string from coming off the tailpiece while you wind it around the tuning peg. A proper winding will be anywhere from 2 to 5 rotations depending on your mandolin and work to prevent the string from getting jammed up against the pegbox.
- When changing a complete set of strings, change one at a time to keep the neck from fully relaxing while you work. This is a best-practice for most stringed instruments. Some mandolins have bridges or tailpieces that are held on by the pressure of the strings, so replacing one string at a time will also help keep these things in place throughout the process.
Here’s a great video covering all the basics in stringing your mandolin. If you struggle with stringing in any way, you may wish to view it and compare what you are doing with what is shown here.
Reason 4: Using the Wrong Strings for Your Style
Naturally, strings become worn the more you play, so if you are a frequent player, you can expect strings to break more frequently.
But if you find yourself on stage and snapping strings twice a night before you even reach your solo in the second set, then it’s a good possibility that the strings you are using aren’t able to keep up with your style of music or playing technique. Typically, this will be an issue of using a tension that is too light for your needs.
The E-String Conundrum
Due to their small gauge (for example, how thin the strings are), E-strings are the most common strings to break and break frequently. Natural wear occurs on the strings when playing any instrument, so it is practically inevitable that they are the first to go. They are easily affected by burrs and other imperfections, and it is common to over-tighten them accidentally in tuning.
If this string is your biggest problem, and you’ve determined there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the rest of the mandolin, the solution to this, generally, is to buy E-strings with a higher gauge. By increasing the thickness of the string you should, at the very least, be able to decrease the frequency of breakage.
Mandolin strings will naturally wear out and break over time. Still, strings that keep breaking may be enduring unnecessary agitation due to flaws in the instrument itself, especially if your strings break in the same place every time. If strings are breaking while you play with no real pattern, suggest why it could be that you need higher gauge strings to appropriately support your playing technique.