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Thread: A string breaking...often

  1. #1

    Default A string breaking...often

    I'm new to tenors -- new to guitar in general -- and I'm running into trouble with the A-string breaking. It's been four in under three weeks.

    I'm playing a Martin tenor from the mid-1970s tuned CGDA. It's 23" nut to bridge, and it has 20 frets. I've been using 09 gauge strings, mostly Ernie Ball (because that's what my local store carries).

    The first one broke at the tuning peg. The next three have been at the bridge or, possibly in one case, nearer to the sound hole.

    I'd be grateful for any advice about what to do. Is it possible the bridge needs to be cleaned or lubricated? If so, what would I tell my local guys who are friendly and seem good but who have little specific experience with tenors. Am I using the wrong strings? Would that be wrong gauge or wrong brand?

    I hope I'm not repeating an earlier discussion. I've seen some forums touching on similar topics, but I couldn't find anything that was an exact fit.

  2. #2
    Registered User fox's Avatar
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    Default Re: A string breaking...often

    Yep a very common problem with the A string on 23 tenors, the easy way out is to change the tuning from CGDA to GDAE.
    You would require new strings 12p 20w 30w 45w but you can persevere with the high A by first checking the bridge and nut are correctly sized, smooth and clean.
    It is quite possible to get a .9 or .10 up to pitch but it will always be the weak link as the tension required will put the string near the breaking limit!

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  4. #3

    Default Re: A string breaking...often

    Thank you, Fox. very much. I'd like to keep it CGDA if I can, but maybe GDAE is the way to go if all else fails.

    If I go with a .10 gauge, will that give me a little more strength without sacrificing the same note? And/or are there different manufacturers/models of string that might hold up better than the Ball?

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    Default Re: A string breaking...often

    Quote Originally Posted by Joe K View Post
    Thank you, Fox. very much. I'd like to keep it CGDA if I can, but maybe GDAE is the way to go if all else fails.

    If I go with a .10 gauge, will that give me a little more strength without sacrificing the same note? And/or are there different manufacturers/models of string that might hold up better than the Ball?
    I have a Blueridge 70 t tuned to GDAE, it requires a string change but you wll love the
    tone you get from that tuning. Enjoy and good luck

    Keith

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    Registered User fox's Avatar
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    Default Re: A string breaking...often

    It wont make any difference if the sting is 8-9 -10 -11 the pull weight will be more but the the tension will still be near the breaking stain ….. most folk use .10.
    The only way to reduce the risk of breaking the A string on longer scales is by reducing the scale length.
    So for instance you could tune CGDA on the second fret and use a capo
    However lots of folk do use CGDA on 23” scales, just be carful tuning it up over a few minutes and keep your fingers crossed!

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    Registered User Seonachan's Avatar
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    Default Re: A string breaking...often

    Well you've already gone with 9 gauge strings, which is usually the first thing to try (10 is/was standard, but makes for even more tension at the same pitch). Typically the next thing to look at is the nut slot. If you're taking it in, have them look at that in addition to the bridge. There's nothing about it being a tenor that should cause a 9 gauge to pop, so if they know their stuff they should be able to diagnose it.

    Were the strings all from the same batch? Maybe try a fresh string from another source? Nothing wrong with Ernie Ball strings in general.

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  11. #7

    Default Re: A string breaking...often

    Thanks for the generous advice. I love the guitar, but maybe -- at 23" -- it's just not quite built for the CGDA tuning. I'll keep trying -- carefully, and with a new batch of 9 gauge strings (since I've exhausted the last batch) -- and then maybe I'll make the change to GDAE.

    I appreciate the welcome to your forums. I've been reading and enjoying the archives.

  12. #8
    Paul Wheeler
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    Default Re: A string breaking...often

    I have a 1963 Gibson TG-50 tuned CGDA with 23-inch scale, using D'Addario EJ66 strings 10-14-22-32. Never had any trouble with string breakage. -- Paul
    He joyously felt himself idling, an unreflective mood in which water was water, sky was sky, breeze was breeze. He knew it couldn't last. -- Thomas McGuane, "Nothing but Blue Skies"

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  14. #9

    Default Re: A string breaking...often

    CGDA on a 23" scale tenor has worked for many players over the years, so it's certainly do-able. I have no problem with CGDAE on my 23" tenor banjo.

    However, as others have said, that A string is close to breaking point, so it's a good idea to bring it u to tension gradually. I usually tune mine to around F# or G, then give it 5 minutes or so to get used to being at tension before tweaking it up a semitone or so at a time, again resting it between tweaks.

    Two possibilities to check out:

    1. Kinks in the string are weak points, so the kink where it enters the tuner is a danger point. Make that one gently (I let the tuner gradually pull it into shape rather than making a 90 degree bend with pliers or my fingers). Gently sanding the edges of the tuner hole to remove any sharp edge is also good.

    You say that you've had several breaks around the saddle - again, check for sharp edges there. The saddle won't nick the string like a tuner edge can, but it might make the bend too sharp. Also if your saddle is really tall that creates a sharper bend as the string crosses it, but there's no easy fix for that if your action doesn't need lowering.

    2. Try a set with a 10 gauge A string. Your picking technique might be just too vigorous for a 9 gauge.

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    Default Re: A string breaking...often

    Again, thank you all. I'll work on tuning the A-string more slowly -- which I've tried to do -- and I'll ask my local guys to check out the bridge.

    I also have an Ibanez AVT-1 that I haven't been able to get set up in a way that sounds good to me. I was planning to trade it in one of these days, but I think now that I'll try switching it to GDAE. That will give me a taste of the tuning, and it may take care of some of the string-rattle from the Ibanez. If anyone has advice on specific GDAE strings, I'd appreciate it. I found an old thread here that offers some suggestions -- .042, .032, .022, .011 and .042, .032, .022, .o14 -- but it doesn't seem like a consensus.

  17. #11
    Registered User fox's Avatar
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    Default Re: A string breaking...often

    I did already post the string gauges back up the page but for a 23” scale 12p 20w 30w 45w are very well tried and tested.

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  19. #12

    Default Re: A string breaking...often

    I have not had trouble using D'Addario EJ66 (0.010, 0.014, 0.022w, 0.032w)
    for CGDA. I suggest trying the 0.010

    > 2. Try a set with a 10 gauge A string. Your picking technique might be just too vigorous for a 9 gauge.
    I agree with this. The picking force would be a larger fraction of the string
    tension for 0.009 than it is for 0.010
    Thanks,
    sounds_good

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  21. #13
    Harley Marty
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    Default Re: A string breaking...often

    Follow ProfChris’s advice and you shouldn’t have a problem. It is surprising how much more tension a string will withstand when it has been brought up to tension gradually.

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    Default Re: A string breaking...often

    Rather than change out strings or retune to GDAE, you could just down tune the board by one or two semi-tones. BF#C#G# with a capo on the first fret or A#FCG with a capo at the second fret will give you CGDA. This gives you a lower string tension without losing half the board. Sorry if someone already suggested it. Best of luck!

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    Registered User Freddyfingers's Avatar
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    Default Re: A string breaking...often

    Its happened to me as well. I dont break strings often, but if i do, it’s that A on the blue ridge BR40t. Whenever i restring it, there’s that moment of fear and anticipation that the string will snap before pitch, its really tight.

    Over the past few years my wife plays it, and she rarely breaks strings. So i think its the combination of a few things, the tension is high so i made sure there were no issues at the nut or bridge, and a softer hand may help. I dont do Pete Townsend windmills, but i do have a heavy strum/pick attack at times. FWIW, i switched her strings from the DaDario 10’s to some silver plated strings by LaBella. They end in a 9, and over all have a lower tension, which eases her finger fatigue but they also have less out put volume wise.
    Its not a backwards guitar.

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  27. #16

    Default Re: A string breaking...often

    Hi Joe,

    I have played tenor guitar most of my life and owned many Martin tenors. The key to reducing string breakage is making absolutely sure the instrument is set up properly. This includes: bridge pins and pin holes fitting well, properly cut string slots in the bridge, a properly shaped bridge saddle (that smoothly supports the string the entire string contact surface of the saddle - very important!), a properly shaped nut (also very important), good fret work, and making sure the tuner holes don't have any sharp edges. It takes a good repair person to make these things right but well worth it! 'A' strings break more often than the other strings, but when everything is properly set up it shouldn't be a big problem anymore. I use standard tenor guitar tuning (C-G-D-A) and my string gauges are 10-16-24-34 - for lighter tension I go 10-16-22-32 - usually phosphor bronze for the wound strings (I use D'Addario's). IMO, a well set up older Martin is the gold standard in tenor guitars. Good luck Joe!!

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  29. #17
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    Default Re: A string breaking...often

    In 10+ years of standard tenor tuning on 7 (IIRC) guitars and 3 tenor banjos I've had maybe 2 A strings break. Tenor guitars are built for tenor tuning, CGDA.
    I've had strings break on six string guitars, and I've heard that other people have also experienced this.
    Strings break. Yes that A string does more often than others, but as others have noted in their replies, there are other factors at play. Find out what the real problem is. It's not the scale length or the tuning. Changing to a different tuning is not a solution, it's a work around and a compromise.

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