Breaking a String on Stage


Everyone is happy, the band sounds great, you’re playing fly lick after fly lick, your band-mates are amped up about the impending chorus, the crowd is digging your style—then, all-of-a-sudden…


Oh no! One of your strings has broken, and now you’ve got to deal with it.

Most string-break stories go something like this:

“Dude, it was terrible. Not only did I hold up my band’s set—and every other band’s set on the bill—I also made the audience watch me deliver a special performance of “The Fumbler,” which is a one-act tragedy about hand wounds.”

Sound familiar?

Come on guys, we can do better than this.

Handling It

First off, you should have a backup guitar with you. Having one literally solves every problem of the string break variety. But even if you don’t, some preparation will help you power through this situation. Here’s what to do:

Just keep smiling, your goal is to recover with minimum impact on the audience. If possible, play through the rest of the song. If it’s a high string, than palm mute along with the bass line, if it’s a low string, than play high-register mini chords.

Usually, though, it’s not possible to continue. Your guitar may be totally whacked out of tune and only capable of making terrible sounds. In these cases, as long as your band is soldiering on without you, you can fix the problem while maintaining some sense of dignity. First, don’t make faces and sweeping gestures of disappointment, it’s not the end of the world. Just stay calm, cool, and collected and do these things:

(1) engage your tuner to silence your signal, (2) remove the remains of the offending string, (3) fetch the replacement, (4) return to your place on stage so you can sing harmonies if need be, (5) put the string on quickly and workmanlike, (6) tune silently with your stage tuner, (7) trickle back in with your band tactfully.

At no point through any of this should you take your guitar off.

Some people in the audience may not even realize what happened. As long as you play in a band that can get along without you, everything should be fine.

Objections Answered

“Dude, I’m the lead singer in my band, if I have to stop and fix my string than the band has to stop, too.”

Well, depending on who you’ve decided to form a band with, they should be able to do, at least, one number without you–even if it’s an instrumental. Avoiding a long pause in the music will improve the flow of your concert; let them play something while you fix your problem.

“Dude, I’m a solo singer songwriter, If I break a string it’s all over.”

Okay, you win. When you die, then–that’s when you die. The best bet here is to employ the backup guitar maneuver. The other option, I guess, is to slink off stage and get to the bar STAT.

“Dude, I never learned to change my strings ‘quickly and workman-like’ so I could never put one on in a reasonable time frame”

Shame on you. It’s time to stop being an a-hole and learn how to put strings on your guitar.

Nuts and Bolts

Although the hands-only approach to string changing is possible, it’s kind of annoying. You might do well to have these things: needle-nose pliers (the kind that feature on-board wire cutters) and a string winder.

Here’s my kit:

photo (1)

Okay, well, that’s all I have on this subject. Let me know your thoughts on this matter in the comments and stay tuned for my next blog about how to polish tuning pegs with massage oil.

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