by Professor String

A Guitar String Problem You Were Never Told About



So you installed a new set of string onto your guitar, and minutes later one of the strings break. For a brief moment you feel speechless. Then you find the words to describe how you feel, and out they come. Aaaah!!! Has this ever happened to you? Why did this happen? What went wrong? There are a number of issues that can be causing early string breakage. Sometimes a string is just simply defective. If this is the case…How did a defective string end up in your set? Well, you are about to find out. You are about to read about a problem seldom talked about outside the walls of a string manufacturer.

It is common practice to hire employees who are already familiar with your product or market. For example, financial institutions hire people with previous investment or banking experience. Insurance companies hire people with prior exposure to the insurance business world. Musical instrument and string manufacturers like to hire people with a musical background. If you are making guitar strings, then it is best to have people working for you who are musicians familiar with the product. String manufacturers will hire employees to work with string winding equipment, quality control, and packaging. Again, they prefer to hire employees who are musicians familiar with the product.

String winding and processing happens in a factory environment. Given the hiring practices we just mentioned, it is correct to assume musicians are working in the factory. Some of these musicians are still actively playing out on the scene. Their day job is working at the string factory. Their nighttime job is gigging at the local club scene. These particular individuals present a unique challenge to the guitar string manufacturing process. They get off at five o’clock from the string company. It’s Thursday, and they have a gig tonight. They will go on stage at ten o’clock or ten-thirty. They will play the next three hours, or longer. During that time, people might buy the band drinks. The pitchers of beer might be flowing. The air is dense with cigarette smoke. Suddenly it is one-thirty in the morning and the gig is now over. It is time to tear down, pack, and load. Once that is completed, it is a little after two o’clock in the morning. A nice cute little intoxicated groupie with a twinkle approaches and says something like this, “I really liked your playing tonight. So, do you know where there are some parties going on?” As a reader, you might already know where this is headed. Of course, this same musician has to be at work tomorrow bright and early. This same musician will be required to flawlessly make a world class quality product called a “guitar string” tomorrow. They will do it with very little sleep the night before, a possible hangover, a dry mouth tobacco buzz, and shear exhaustion from a one night groupie session gone wild. Here is the question: Assuming they show up for work the next day, will they be able to make a quality product that you would want on you guitar or bass? In all fairness, this can happen at any factory, not just at a musically related factory. The point is that management is asking for trouble when they “target hire” workers for production from the entertainment industry. So why do they do it? There are many reasons. Perhaps the most significant reason is it opens the door to the credibility of the product marketing. The common thinking goes something like this: If musicians are involved in the process, then the product must be made correctly. After all, the musician would have a better trained eye since they use the product. In turn, the customer thinks they are getting a better made product.

Today, most factories have a drug and alcohol policy with random testing done to production workers. This is fairly effective most of the time. However, notice in the scenario we described earlier with the late night musician, this issue of drugs was not mentioned. Was this production worker drunk? No. They were certainly feeling the after effects. So, by all means, this worker has not broken company policy. Yet, look at what can happen to product quality as they try to fight fatigue through the day. I knew of a guitar accessory manufacturer whose production group was struggling with chronic quality issues during certain times of the week in a month. They later found out that three of the main employees in their fabrication group had formed a band and played out on weekends AND weekdays. Management thought it was fantastic to have the band members, as they would also pimp the company brand at their gigs. These guys worked great together and gave management no problems. Unfortunately, these guys were physically in sad shape whenever they played the night before. The quality problems were later traced to these gentlemen’s job performance the day after a gig. How many questionable guitar strings went out the door before this problem was solved? No one will ever know.

It is tough to have complete product traceability on guitar strings. Once the strings are installed, the original string packaging is thrown away. At that juncture, all of the critical information is long gone. This is why it will remain absolutely critical that string makers keep a close eye on quality levels before they leave the factory. This means hiring the right caliber of people to support the company’s quality policy will also be critical.


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About The Author


Professor StringTM is a leading expert in the musical string business. He leads a development group that specializes in guitar and bass string research for musicians. You can visit their site at