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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Why the hell do my strings break so frequently?!


Please note this is an archived topic, so it is locked and unable to be replied to. You may, however, start a new topic and refer to this topic with a link: http://www.banjohangout.org/archive/378433

Bebrbanjo - Posted - 10/17/2021:  08:09:55


Hey, I am traditional banjo player and I play in big variety of tunings - and I have to change string every week or so (especially high E string) - they break during retuning to different tuning. Is it normal? I don't have money to buy new strings every week. Thanks


Edited by - Bebrbanjo on 10/17/2021 08:10:35

Bill H - Posted - 10/17/2021:  08:16:20


I almost never break strings. The key thing when cranking strings up is to use a tuner so you don't over tighten. If using a tuner and still breaking strings often, consider examining everything from tuners to the tail piece for sharp edges or pinched strings at nut or bridge.

BeeEnvironment - Posted - 10/17/2021:  08:19:43


quote:

Originally posted by Bill H

I almost never break strings. The key thing when cranking strings up is to use a tuner so you don't over tighten. If using a tuner and still breaking strings often, consider examining everything from tuners to the tail piece for sharp edges or pinched strings at nut or bridge.






I agree. Check everywhere on your banjo. Also note that the short 5th string, normally tuned to G, cannot tune higher than a note above it, a A. Otherwise, if you tune any higher, it would break. Same thing for the 1st string, if you tune higher than the normal D, make sure to turn no higher than F. It will break once it reaches G.



-Russ

Bebrbanjo - Posted - 10/17/2021:  08:22:47


I am three half steps lower than standard pitch, I can't overtighten it.


Edited by - Bebrbanjo on 10/17/2021 08:23:02

BeeEnvironment - Posted - 10/17/2021:  08:26:00


What gauge do you use? Highe string gauges can break more often on old-time banjos.

davidppp - Posted - 10/17/2021:  08:32:35


Bebrbanjo, you didn't mention your banjo's scale length or your string's material. Those can also be totally relevant.

Bebrbanjo - Posted - 10/17/2021:  08:56:02


quote:

Originally posted by BeeEnvironment

What gauge do you use? Highe string gauges can break more often on old-ti



I use the hardest gauge. Otherwise I can't tune that low - lighter strings are buzzing


Bebrbanjo - Posted - 10/17/2021:  08:57:38


quote:

Originally posted by davidppp

Bebrbanjo, you didn't mention your banjo's scale length or your string's material. Those can also be totally relevant.






I don't know my banjo scale length. It says phosphor bronze on the strings' cover

mbanza - Posted - 10/17/2021:  09:01:59


You don't say how often you re-tune, but presumably quite often. If using steel strings metal fatigue will cause breakage even when tuned down and tuning to a lower note.

Alex Z - Posted - 10/17/2021:  09:11:22


This can be figured out systematically.  Can save money on strings!  But we have to go one step at a time.  smiley



 - First, when you say "high E string," and that you tune 3 steps low, does high E string mean the 5th string?



 - Second, since you have the string packages, what are the 5 gauges that are listed on the package?  This information will be important.



 - Third, do you have a long neck, Pete Seeger style banjo, or a regular length neck?



 



The answers here will give us a sense of the tensions on the strings.



We'll go from there.  A couple more questions later.  And, we'll eventually get to the right answer.

Lew H - Posted - 10/17/2021:  09:51:21


Scale length- distance from nut to the 12 fret, which equals the distance from the bridge to the 12th fret, if your bridge is positioned correctly. That's what people want to know. Whether you have a long neck, Seeger style banjo is irrelevant. The strings have the same tension as a regular scale banjo. However, "regular scale" varies, from around 25 to 27 inches. Measure and let us know.

The other questions that needs to be emphasized is: where do your strings (or that 5th string) break? Is it where the string comes across the tailpiece? At the tuning peg? If it breaks in the same spot over and over, look on the banjo to see if there is a sharp edge, a metal bur, etc that might cut into or pull on the string.

Bebrbanjo - Posted - 10/17/2021:  10:25:53


quote:

Originally posted by Alex Z

This can be figured out systematically.  Can save money on strings!  But we have to go one step at a time.  smiley



 - First, when you say "high E string," and that you tune 3 steps low, does high E string mean the 5th string?



 - Second, since you have the string packages, what are the 5 gauges that are listed on the package?  This information will be important.



 - Third, do you have a long neck, Pete Seeger style banjo, or a regular length neck?



 



The answers here will give us a sense of the tensions on the strings.



We'll go from there.  A couple more questions later.  And, we'll eventually get to the right answer.






Thank y'all for the responses.  Sorry, I misclicked - I've meant high D string - first string.      String gauges are: From D to G   L11, L13, L16, LB26, L10



I have got a reular length neck.


Edited by - Bebrbanjo on 10/17/2021 10:26:31

Bebrbanjo - Posted - 10/17/2021:  11:11:16


quote:

Originally posted by Lew H

Scale length- distance from nut to the 12 fret, which equals the distance from the bridge to the 12th fret, if your bridge is positioned correctly. That's what people want to know. Whether you have a long neck, Seeger style banjo is irrelevant. The strings have the same tension as a regular scale banjo. However, "regular scale" varies, from around 25 to 27 inches. Measure and let us know.



The other questions that needs to be emphasized is: where do your strings (or that 5th string) break? Is it where the string comes across the tailpiece? At the tuning peg? If it breaks in the same spot over and over, look on the banjo to see if there is a sharp edge, a metal bur, etc that might cut into or pull on the string.






It always breaks at the tuning peg. Scale length is 26 1/4 inches



 

Half Barbaric Twanger - Posted - 10/17/2021:  12:06:24


Full Disclosure: I have never had this problem so this is merely speculation.

If you look at where the break in the string occurs that will give you an idea of the location of the burr/ sharp edge.

You may have some trouble getting a file narrow enough to go into the hole, if that is necessary. Perhaps a (cut-down) nail file would work, or some sandpaper on a thin stick or rod.

If the burr appears to be at the edge of the hole, turning the tuner 180 degrees. before inserting the string may take the pressure off the burr.

Finally, you may have to install a new tuner

restreet - Posted - 10/17/2021:  12:41:22


How many times do you wind the strings around the tuner posts?
Check to see if the slots in the bridge and nut allow the strings to move freely.

Bill H - Posted - 10/17/2021:  13:16:41


quote:

Originally posted by restreet

How many times do you wind the strings around the tuner posts?

Check to see if the slots in the bridge and nut allow the strings to move freely.






Yes, I would check the nut slots. especially with heavy gauge strings.

Bebrbanjo - Posted - 10/17/2021:  13:26:25


quote:

Originally posted by restreet

How many times do you wind the strings around the tuner posts?

Check to see if the slots in the bridge and nut allow the strings to move freely.






just a two times or so. Could that be the problem?

restreet - Posted - 10/17/2021:  13:28:20


That should be fine.

m06 - Posted - 10/17/2021:  13:32:01


quote:

Originally posted by mbanza

You don't say how often you re-tune, but presumably quite often. If using steel strings metal fatigue will cause breakage even when tuned down and tuning to a lower note.






^ What Verne said.



Also the method used to secure the strings at the peg can cause frequent breakage. I stopped using the fast change out and back over technique for that reason.

Alex Z - Posted - 10/17/2021:  14:26:35


OK.  Good information.  Thanks.



Now, next questions:



 - Do any of the strings break except the 1st string?



 - Does the string break at about the same spot each time -- for example,  in the middle, or at the nut, or at the tuning post?  Or is there no consistent break point?



 



(And the length of the neck -- long Seeger or regular -- is certainly relevant because the poster said he tunes down to E.  Now, tuning down to E on the Seeger length gives the same "normal" tension as tuning to G on the regular neck.  But if tuning down to E on the regular neck, then the string tension is much less -- about 29% less.)



One step at a time.  smiley   Eliminating what is not causing the problem is helpful too.



"How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?"



    -- Sherlock Holmes, "The Sign of Four."


Edited by - Alex Z on 10/17/2021 14:33:15

banjered - Posted - 10/17/2021:  18:00:34


For burrs at the entrance/exit holes of the tuners, I take a wound string and use it like a string saw through the holes to ground down the burrs. Check things out with a magnifying glass. banjered

Banner Blue - Posted - 10/17/2021:  21:11:46


Tom got it right. You probably have a sharp edge on the opening to the tuner. I process lots of low end instruments for resale. Part of my routine is using Mitchell Abrasive Cord on each hole in the tuning pegs just as a precaution. Tom's technique with the wound string probably works just as well and costs less. I may be able to quit buying abrasive cord!

Alex Z - Posted - 10/18/2021:  06:31:52


The string goes through the hole once, and there is pressure only on one side of the hole.  Then the string wraps around the post a couple of times and heads toward the nut.



If a burr at the hole is causing a break, where would you expect the break to occur?  Where the string exits the hole?



Then we can compare to where the breaks are actually occurring.

banjoak - Posted - 10/18/2021:  22:31:11


I tune up and down a lot, and don't experience broken strings very often.



My experience is that strings that break on the post, it's usually not from the hole, or burr in the post hole, but rather where the string leaves the post. Often involves an aspect of the string binding at that spot; can cause a weak or fatigue spot. How the string  winds around post can contribute.



I didn't see mentioned, a common observation - might not be the instrument... rather some players simply break strings a lot...  probably due to technique, heavy hand, attacking way harder than they need to. Even if not immediate, can stretch and fatigue the string on it's anchor points. Some guitar players are notorious that the break a string almost every gig. Again, it's not the instrument, as can be any string, but most often one.. but will likely happen if they play most any other guitar/banjo (caution letting that person play your instrument)frown



edit to add:  you don't have to buy whole sets... can buy just  the string you break. Plain single 11s are really not that expensive. Buy in bulk to have on hand.



 


Edited by - banjoak on 10/18/2021 22:46:36

banjoak - Posted - 10/18/2021:  22:58:13


One other thought to point to... as other s mentioned...is the nut; making sure the string can glide smoothly.



If the string binds in the nut, when you tune up it initially overstretches the short amount of string above the nut more.


Edited by - banjoak on 10/18/2021 23:05:23

Alex Z - Posted - 10/19/2021:  09:30:03


"My experience is that strings that break on the post, it's usually not from the hole, or burr in the post hole, but rather where the string leaves the post."



Yes, because this is exactly where the string flexes as it is lengthened or shortened when retuning.  If I'm adjusting an instrument and have loosened and tightened the strings several times, if a string is going to break, this is where it will break.  



(If as string breaks where it leaves the hole (not the post), you'd see all the windings still on the broken end of the string.  I don't recall ever seeing this.)



The poster said, "It always breaks at the tuning peg."  So I think we have the answer.  As the poster thought, it's from the continual retuning, flexing the string at the post and causing metal fatigue at that point.



 



Since the strings are tuned down to E, there is about 29% less tension than if tuned to normal G, so I don't think it's excessive tension that is causing the breaks.   



Since the break is at the peg, not the nut, it ain't the nut itself.  But too much friction in the nut slot could be contributing to more tension at the tuner post when retuning, acting on a weakened string.



Since there are no windings at the end of the broken string, it ain't a rough edge at the hole in the post.



Player's technique may be contributing -- we don't know -- but as mentioned, some players seem to break more strings than most others.



 



So, Bebrbanjo, there are a few things that might help, some already suggested:



  -- When you're practicing, not performing, play all the tunes in a specific tuning in a row, reducing the number of retunes.



  -- Put a little pencil lead (graphite) in the nut slots to reduce friction.



  -- Buy single strings for the ones you break most.  For example, Elderly sells loop-end .011 strings for 79 cents.



  -- Check your technique.  Maybe lighten up the down strokes a bit.



Hope this helps.



 



 



 

geoB - Posted - 10/19/2021:  10:32:10


quote:

Originally posted by Bebrbanjo

Hey, I am traditional banjo player and I play in big variety of tunings - and I have to change string every week or so (especially high E string)...








Are they breaking in the same spot on the string repeatedly? 



Another trick that I found is when you are on a high pitched string and you are going higher to turn the capstan back and forth back and forth raising a little every time... It's an old Mariner trick with Hawsers during  the load up on the capstan... give them a little slack and then bring them bring them up and then give him a little slack and bring them up... pack it in tightly on that capstan. 

Mtngoat - Posted - 10/19/2021:  10:34:11


This has been an interesting and informative thread. I never use a capo and tune up or down as needed. I'm on the rhythmic side of the spectrum and tend to bang it hard at times so I break the first and fifth occasionally but I have never broken any of the inside strings. The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th strings on my banjo are probably five years old while the 1st and 5th typically last only a couple of months.

But I may try some of the techniques mentioned here just to see if I can extend the life of the outsiders a bit longer.

banjoak - Posted - 10/19/2021:  14:57:30


Also check the angle of the slot nut.

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