What’s scarier than having your string slip out of tune in the middle of your jam sesh?
Question: What’s scarier than having your string slip out of tune in the middle of your jam sesh?
Answer: Having that string snap in your face while you’re tuning it.
We’ve all been there. In fact, some of us have legitimate phobias of accidentally over-twisting a machine head and snapping a string - and that’s ok. It’s time to find out how to prevent your nightmares from recurring.
THE SCIENCE BEHIND STRING BREAKAGE
Strings break because of metal fatigue. What’s that, you ask?
Metal fatigue happens as a result of change in the metal at the molecular level. Bear with us - we have to get a bit nitty-gritty here.
One of the most relevant characteristics of a specific metal - especially to a guitarist - is the metal’s ability to bend. The level of a metal’s bendability is related to the way in which its atoms are structured. (Science throwback: remember, atoms make up molecules).
The atoms of a metal are arranged in organized molecular structures called lattices.
Because metals are natural materials, there are many imperfections within the structures. These imperfections cause weak points between the atoms.
These weak points, or slip planes, actually allow the layers of atoms (and the bonds between them) to stretch, letting the metal “bend”.
Plucking a string is an example of where a small force is placed on the metal for an instant and then removed, returning the string to its normal shape. The string bends, but doesn’t break. This means the atoms in the string’s metal undergo elastic deformation.
However, when the amount of force (or stress) applied to the metal is really strong, the atoms will actually slide past each other (instead of just stretching their existing bonds) and form new bonds with atoms on other layers.
Just think of it this way: It’s like when best friends fight and then move away to make new friends with other people.
This is called plastic deformation and it actually makes metal stronger because the atoms get tangled and can’t slide past each other as easily anymore.
Stringer sounds good right? What’s the downside?
This process of “cold working” a metal is actually worse for a guitarist because the metal strings become more stiff, more brittle, and more likely to break over time.
Sometimes, strength isn’t what we need; flexibility is the coveted characteristic here.
WHAT DO REGULAR SADDLES DO?
A regular metal guitar saddle, the counterpart of the nut, helps fix the strings in place on your guitar. It’s there for support and crisp intonation.
Now, remember: when a metal string is plucked in its natural state, it undergoes elastic deformation, returning to its original form. The string vibrates like a wave until all the energy from your pluck has dissipated.
However, when that string is locked rigidly into place with a metal saddle, the stress from the vibration becomes concentrated on a particular spot on the string instead of being spread through its entire length. Just think: if a lot of force was put on just one part of our body (like our arm), it’ll eventually result in an injury, right? Similarly, in a string’s world, concentrated stress reduces the number of stress cycles it can handle until it fails.
Even worse, strings can also bind to the saddle because of molecular adhesion (i.e., they start sticking to each other on a microscopic level).
Why is that bad?
It prevents the string from gliding over the surface of the saddle because it sticks instead. The bonds between the metal atoms, unable to stretch, break - usually under the force when playing your guitar.
Conventional guitar wisdom says polishing your saddles will decrease this adhesion, since smoother means less grip, right? Unfortunately, the strange physics of friction says otherwise.
The challenge is to find the ideal “smoothness” of the two surfaces: smooth enough so that irregularities don’t make them bind together, but irregular enough to decrease the molecular attraction between them.
INTRODUCING: THE STRING SAVER SADDLE
Based of what we’ve learned so far, it’s safe to say the stress on a guitar string can be decreased by spreading the stress over a larger portion of it.
But, how do we achieve that?
The Graph Tech String Saver Saddle is created using a carefully engineered resonant material that’s been infused with Teflon. The Teflon acts as a repellent barrier, pushing the molecules of the string away from the saddle and preventing metal-metal adhesion.
When the molecules don’t stick together, the stress from playing gets passed along a greater portion of the string. The overall level of brittleness and metal fatigue decreases.
Higher string endurance and string sustain.
For the mathematically inclined, here are some numbers:
Start Saving Your Guitar Strings
Since their introduction, Graph Tech’s String Saver Saddles have been adopted as an industry standard for professional musicians and luthiers around the world.
"I don't have time for wussy saddles! I need string saddles that can take it! Not get caught 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!" - Dick Dale, King of Surf Guitar String Saver Saddles are available for acoustic, electric, and bass guitars.
Thinking of your special axe? They’re also available for Stratocasters, Telecasters, and Floyd Rose guitars.