by Professor String

Watch it! You could put an eye out with that thing.




Does this sound familiar? Just about everyone has heard that expression at some point in their life. Most responsible parents have pounded this expression, or warning, into their child’s head. No parent wants their son or daughter to lose an eye to a freak accident. When a parent says it to a youngster, they really mean it. If an adult is saying it to another adult, it is usually light hearted and sometimes comical. What an irony!

There are many tutorials on the Web and in books showing folks how to change guitar strings. Yet, very few of these tutorials advise people on how to trim the string. This little step is often glazed over by a basic instruction like, “Step 7: Trim away excess.” Notice that this instruction does not say how to trim the string? Nor does it give warning of how a pair of wire cutters can turn excess string into a little missile. That little missile has no guidance system. Its target is completely unknown.

Don’t stub your eyes
In most cases, you can hold onto the excess piece while you are cutting. This lets you be in total control of were the excess will go once you cut it. If you are meticulous about having the excess trimmed real close to the peg, a second cut might be required to trim the little leftover nub. We are talking about a section of string no longer than a 1/8th or 1/16th of an inch. Trimming this little stub of string presents the most risk for injury to an eye. When this little stub is cut, it turns into a flying projectile.

What makes it fly? In a word, it is large potential energy being converted into kinetic energy. Cutting a 1/16” length section from a thick solid guitar string can have the highest potential energy. It requires the most amount of force to cut. A section of string, that size, has very little mass to slow down its acceleration. A thicker string will require more cutting force. Without going into the details of energy kinetics, the energy from the cutting force is dissipated to the string piece being cut. The section with the least amount of mass and resistance will gather velocity and fly through the air.

The Problem
To date, a basic Internet search does not reveal any records stating how many eye injuries occur each year from a guitar or bass string. After we further investigated some of the local clinics and emergency rooms in the immediate area, we did find past incidents recorded with guitar string eye injuries. So, how big of a problem is this injury? There is only one way to really tell how big the problem is today: Warning labels.

Let’s take a moment to discuss what we mean when we say problem. We live in a litigious society. People file lawsuits to get rich claim damages for their injuries. An eye injury resulting in blindness is a very significant injury. It can be life altering. That is a problem for the person with the eye. A jury will decide if it is a problem for anyone else. If you take a look at your most recent package of guitar strings, odds are likely that you will not see any warnings on the package. Does this mean eye injuries have not been a problem for string manufacturers over the years? No. It just has not received enough airplay. Alas, one victorious lawsuit could change the entire landscape.

Now, to the point…
Lack of a product warning label is simply asking for problems. To dismiss it with the attitude of hey-people-can-file-suits-for-anything is sheer negligence and arrogance. Arrogance will kill a business. Long term, it will be the musician who suffers the most by paying higher prices for a product that will have a “high risk” label placed on it by business insurance companies. These companies will end up charging string manufacturers astronomical rates for liability coverage. In turn, the added expenses will be passed along to the customer. In this case, it will be a young broke street musician needing to buy strings. String manufacturers need to wake up and smell the litigation. A little warning label could be the difference between profitability and bust.


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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