The Wrap-Over Method: How To Avoid Breaking Electric Guitar Strings
If you’ve played guitar for any length of time, you’ve undoubtedly come across one of the most annoying aspects of playing the instrument: broken strings. Unfortunately, there is no across-the-board solution for eliminating this situation completely. What I will describe in this article, however, is a method for stringing any guitar equipped with a stopbar tailpiece bridge setup that will vastly reduce the frequency with which you break strings. This is especially true if you find that your strings are usually snapping at the bridge. If your guitar has a floating bridge or some other type of tremolo setup, there are still many things you can do to universally prolong string life, though these have been covered elsewhere countless times.
I play a Gibson SG Standard which has a Tune-o-matic bridge and a stopbar tailpiece. Shortly after I bought the guitar and had it professionally set up, I started breaking strings on an average of 1-2 per week. Without exception, they'd break at the point where the strings come into contact with the bridge. At first I thought there must be inconsistencies, or “burrs” in the string saddles of the bridge – the sharp edges of which were wearing into the strings and causing them to break. I've had this happen before with other guitars, and have dealt with it by taking a very narrow metal file to each saddle in order to smooth them out. After doing this to my Gibson, the problem didn't seem to improve at all.
I did some research and discovered that not only have other people experienced this problem, but there are also famous guitar players throughout history who have modified the way they string their guitars to account for it. Though there are likely many others, two of the more famous guitarists who do this are Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin) and Zakk Wylde (Ozzy Osbourne and Black Label Society). For lack of a better/official term, I call it the Wrap-Over Method.
The Wrap-Over Method
It all comes down to string tension. When a guitar's bridge has been adjusted to cater to a guitarist's action preference (the distance between the strings and the fretboard) there is bound to be a significant difference in height between the bridge and the tailpiece. Because of that difference, the strings bend at a sharp angle over the bridge's string saddles, which puts a lot of tension on the string. This tension, combined with the string's movement leading right up to the bridge leads to excessive stress on a single point on the string which weakens it over time. With this in mind, it's easy to see why that spot ends up being a common point of failure.
Common sense begs the question “Well, why don't you just raise the tailpiece so that it's closer to level with the bridge?” Unfortunately, as is the case with my guitar, the posts that anchor the tailpiece in place aren't tall enough to effectively pull this off. Even if they were, this puts the tailpiece in an awkward position when I have my hand rested on the bridge for a playing palm-muted notes. Also (and I'm sure this is highly debatable), I've heard the case made on numerous occasions that the higher the bridge is from the body of the guitar, the less sustain you'll get while holding notes.
So what is the wrap-over method? Instead of threading each string through the back of the tailpiece and directly over the bridge's string saddles, thread them through the front of the tailpiece so that the loose ends point towards the base of the guitar and then wrap them back over the top of the tailpiece and onto the string saddles. In doing this, your strings rest on the bridge at less of an angle and are under less stress while you're playing.
Is it impossible to break a string while using this method? Of course not. I can tell you though, that in the two months or so I've been doing this, I've yet to break a single string. I still change them every two to three weeks, since they start getting dull on me at that point. That, however is a personal choice and I'd much rather have it be my decision than one of necessity.
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