There is never a good time to break a guitar string, especially when you're in the middle of a gig, so you can almost expect it to occur at this worst possible moment. More than just a common annoyance, string breakage can be a confidence buster when you're on stage. Everyone has their own way of dealing with the problem, but what exactly is the cause of string breakage? In order to solve this issue, we look to science for an explanation of why guitar strings break.
Metal guitar strings experience metal fatigue, which is the repeated stress loading and unloading of the metal in a cyclic fashion. When metals are subject to repetitive loading (stress) in this fashion, they will ultimately fail. As a guitar string cycles (vibrates) back and forth hundreds of times per second, it stresses the metal at a localized point on the string where it leaves the saddle (the witness point). This cycle of loading and unloading leads to the formation and propagation of microscopic fatigue cracks as the metal at the witness point becomes increasingly brittle. (Fig. 1)
Over time and repeated cycles, the crack grows, and eventually the string breaks. Imagine taking a wire coat hanger and bending it back and forth over and over again, eventually the wire will break at the localized point of stress. Fatigue is a function of both stress and cycles and metal fatigue can occur at stress levels that are well below the ultimate strength of the metal.
Metal fatigue is the result of a change in the metal at a molecular level precipitated by cyclic stresses. An important characteristic of metal, and the one with which the guitarist is most concerned, is its ability to bend. How easily a metal bends, how hard a metal is, and how far a metal can be stretched before it breaks are all related to the atomic structure of the metal. The atoms in metal are arranged in tightly packed crystal lattices, a uniform arrangement of atoms in a specific order that repeats itself many times. (Fig.2)
There are many imperfections within each crystal, and these flaws produce weak points in the bonds between atoms. It is at these points, called slip planes, that layers of atoms are prone to move relative to adjacent layers if an outside force is applied. (Fig. 3)
The bonds that hold the atoms in place also allow them to move, which lends metal the ability to be hammered into sheets (malleability) and drawn into wire (ductility). When small loads (stresses) are applied to metals they deform, and return to their original shape when the load is released. The bonds between the atoms are stretched but the atoms do not slide past each other. Gently plucking a string is an example where atomic bonds are bent or stretched by a small percentage. This is called elastic deformation and involves temporary stretching or bending of the bonds between atoms. (Fig 4)
When a stress is applied that is beyond the elastic limit or yield point of the metal, permanent plastic deformation occurs. The object does not return to its original dimensions once the stress is released.
The metal atoms slide past each other along the slip planes between layers of atoms when the metal is deformed (instead of fracturing like a brittle material) and new bonds are formed. The movement creates vacancies (atoms missing) and dislocations (lines of defective bonding) in the lattice and the crystals become smaller.
The material becomes more difficult to bend due to the tendency of the dislocations to snag and become tangled with each other or “pinned”. An increased stress is required for each deformation as the dislocations pile up. Eventually the dislocations become so tangled that they are unable to move, so the metal breaks instead.
Why String Saver Saddles Dramatically Reduce String Breakage
There are a number of common methods for trying to reduce string breakage, and they range from inserting pencil lead to using lubricant, which can be messy, require frequent applications and have mixed results. A simple and effective method to virtually eliminate string breakage is to change your saddles to String Saver saddles. String Saver saddles actually reduce string breakage and they do so dramatically. Each String Saver saddle is impregnated with Teflon, the slipperiest substance on earth. The Teflon in String Saver saddles reduces the friction between the saddle and string, easing the grip and spreading the stress over a greater portion of the string just enough to drastically reduce string breakage. Teflon is 500% more slippery than graphite and is impregnated throughout the String Saver material, so its lubricating properties will never wear out. The reduction in string breakage is dramatic because strings last and last, no matter how hard you play.
At Graph Tech, we couldn't just stop at solving this common annoyance, we had to improve playability and enhance the user experience. String Saver saddles not only stop your strings from breaking, they are also specifically formulated to deliver the right frequencies with the optimum transfer rate to the top of your guitar, creating rich tones and harmonic content.
Who Uses String Saver Saddles?
We're not the only ones that think String Saver saddles are awesome. Check out the artists that love them to:
"I like String Saver saddles because they save my strings from breaking... I've been using them now for at least 10 years, if not longer, and I've noticed a significant decrease in string breakage...I hardly ever break strings anymore. I'm so much a fan of the Graph Tech product that I'm actually going to be including them on my Signature Series Stratocaster that's coming out very soon. That's a good testament to the quality of the product".
Randy Bachman, Bachman Turner Overdrive, The Guess Who
"Thanks so much for the string saver saddles. I have them on my stage guitars and this past summer while touring with The Guess Who, I never broke one string!"
Dick Dale, guitar legend
“I don’t have time for wussy string saddles! I need saddles that can take it! Not get cut up and heat up strings. I wouldn’t think of playing “The Beast” without String Saver saddles and you can take that to the bank!”
If you experience the annoyance of string breakage, you owe it to yourself to get your confidence back and play passionately without regard to whether your instrument will perform. You can purchase String Saver saddles from your music store. You can also purchase directly from Graph Tech by calling 604-940-5353 ext. 30 or online.
We'll change the way you play!