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I was tuning my guitar to open D, because people had been nagging me about it, saying how it's just better.

Anyway, I was tuning, turning the knobs to what sounded right, so I started playing and then, after the first strum, I heard the sound that is a newbie guitarist's nightmare, that stupid "twang!" noise of a breaking string.

I looked, and just as I suspected, one of my strings was broken (I was unable to determine the exact cause, but I assumed I tuned it too tightly and didn't notice). The string that broke was first metal string on a classical acoustic guitar.

What should I do?

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  • '1st metal string' could actually be one string that didn't need re-tuning. Did you use a good tuner to help?
    – Tim
    Oct 18, 2022 at 17:06
  • @Tim I used the tuner I've has since I started playing. The Green "in-tune" light hasn't worked for weeks. Oct 18, 2022 at 17:08
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    Sounds like you need a better tuner before you do any more experiments! And one which just tunes EADGBe won't hack it.
    – Tim
    Oct 18, 2022 at 17:10
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    I wonder if the OP broke a string by turning the peg the wrong way, and trying to bring the E string UP to a D, not down to a D. That would certainly be a good way to snap a string. Oh well live and learn!
    – nuggethead
    Oct 18, 2022 at 17:26
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    Oh, I remember doing that once. Mixed up two strings on my viola, and tried tuning the D string up to an A. The thing snapped straight into my face! Don't know what hurt the most - my mouth or my pride. (I'd been playing for 10-12 years by that point.)
    – FredrikH-R
    Oct 18, 2022 at 17:37

5 Answers 5

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No strings should increase in tension when going from EADGBe to DADF#AD. If you compare the note on each open string, it drops in pitch when going from standard to open D. This means all the strings should have been less likely to snap. I recommend using a tuner next time if you're new to this, eventually you will be able to use your ear only.
I wouldn't attribute this to the open tuning. It may have just been time for one of your strings to break.

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  • ok. the thing that really sucked about the broken string was it was a brand-new guitar, and I don't know how to sting it, so I had to drive across town to guitar center. Oct 18, 2022 at 17:07
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    @ColonelCornieliusCornwall -- think of that trip across town as an opportunity to meet people who share a common interest with you. Oct 18, 2022 at 18:43
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    I'd also suggest keeping an eye on any future breakages. I once had a guitar with a tuning post hole that had overly-sharp edges, and would keep snapping strings.
    – Dan
    Oct 19, 2022 at 14:44
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    I think this makes sense theoretically, but in practice I have seen a lot of strings snap after dropping the note. Oct 20, 2022 at 17:09
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    @bartcubrich I can certainly think of a few reasons why that might happen, but they all seem pretty unlikely with a new guitar. Then again I'm not a string player so there are probably lots of possibilities that I wouldn't think of.
    – phoog
    Oct 20, 2022 at 17:48
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Standard tuning to open D tuning:

E down whole step to D
B down whole step to A
G down half step to F#
D
A 
E down whole step to D

Four strings get tuned down.

When I change tunings I also make sure to turn the tuners fairly slowly. Don't know if that really helps, but the idea is to not suddenly change the tension and winding which might cause the string to break.

Another popular open tuning is open G:

E down whole step to D
B 
G 
D
A down whole step to G
E down whole step to D

It seems to me a lot of the popular alternate tunings drop the tuning of strings. They tend to have a deeper, more resonant sound. Of course you can change tuning any way you like. If you do change tuning to higher pitches, I think I would avoid raising a string more than a whole step.

If it isn't clear, when changing the tuning, try to find one of the standard tuning open strings to guide your changes. For example, with open D tuning, the E to D changes can be tuned to the open D string, the B to A tuned to open A string, then the G to F# can be tuned to a unison with the D string on fret 4. Do the same thing for open G tuning, but of course the A to G gets tuned to the open G string. From there you could spot check with some two string unisons.

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    Related fact that you probably already know: In the Hawaiian fingerstyle guitar tradition, open tunings are called "slack-key" since they are generally reached by starting with standard tuning and slackening (tuning down) some strings.
    – Theodore
    Oct 18, 2022 at 18:45
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We've all been there, the most likely cause is turning the wrong tuner and/or forgetting tuners turn in the opposite direction for the three higher strings. My guess is while trying to tune down the high E you actually raised the G or the B by twisting the tuning peg in the same direction as the A you just tuned down. This being the case it would be irrelevant whether you had a tuner, it would have just reported no change in the tuning which you could clearly hear.

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There are circumstances in which the string can break from tuning down as well. I am not sure of the physics of this, but it is likely just the deformation of the string. You can be changing the pattern of vibration of the strings when you play in a different tuning as well. regardless of the mechanism, you can see in this forum that the issue is common.

Tuning Down Breaks String

Nonetheless, using a chromatic tuner is a good idea. There are some free apps you can use on your phone where you can specify the tuning type, as well.

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As Tim proposed, clearly, you need a new tuner, but here is a video for classical guitar tuning with some other alternatives you might make use of in case you're stucked again with a non-working tuner, just to prevent the spent time and gasoline on a trip across the town :)

Regarding Awalrod's answer it's true that the intended tuning should not increase tension, so a highly likely possibility is that you have tuned the broken string to a wrong pitch (also mentioned in comments). That should explain the fact that the string did not broke during tuning, but when you first strummed, as you may have applied enought tension to mantain the string intact until you strum it. Once upon a time, in the past, I lived that...

If you are using a chromatic tuner, ensure that you are tinung the right string each time. If you are using a chromatic tuner, bear in mind that you want to get a non-standard tuning. I'm afraid that the changes required to succesfully tune on key depend entirely on the exact tuner model you are using, but for more general knowledge take a look at this post about Open D tuning.

https://guitarspace.org/tips/open-d-guitar-tuning-guide/

Also take a look at these resources (best suitable for electric guitars, but still might be helpful):

https://blog.ernieball.com/interesting/how-to-avoid-breaking-guitar-strings/ https://www.guitaranswerguy.com/breaking-guitar-strings/

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