If worship leaders (who lead from guitar) had to list their number one most-dreaded moment, breaking a guitar string would most likely be at the very top.
One moment you’re happily strumming away, oblivious to the trauma your guitar is about to inflict upon you. The next moment, in the blinking of an eye, the string has snapped, your guitar is out of tune, your face is red, your band is confused, keen-eyed congregation members are snickering, and all of the sudden it feels like you just started playing guitar about eight minutes ago.
What do you do?
Don’t freak out
This is the first and most important step. The fact that your guitar string just broke is the biggest deal in the world to you – but not nearly as important to anyone else in the room. There is nothing you can do about it now. Your string is broken. Take a deep breath and stay focused on helping people encounter God, not share in your wallowing.
You would be surprised at how many people in the room have no idea when you break a string, if your drummer is in 6/8 but you’re in 4/4, if your singer is clapping on beats one and three, if your bass player is playing an A instead of an F#m, etc. Either they’re not sensitive enough to the music to notice such things, or they’re (thankfully) too focused of the greatness of God to be distracted by relatively minor issues. Don’t do anything (like stop singing) to draw people’s attention to your broken string. Play it cool, lead with your voice, and pretend that part of the song’s arrangement was for you to sit out. Most guitarists could play less anyway.
Unwind the broken string while you keep singing
The broken string will dangle and rattle around against the other strings unless you do something about it. You don’t have time to be picky about what to do, so either just yank it out by the bridge or unwind it from the tuners. (Note: don’t unwind it from the tuners by turning the tuning knob. This isn’t necessary because there is no longer any tension on the string. Grab the string near the top of the tuner and unwind it until you can pull it out). Once you’ve done this, just let it fall to the floor. You can pick it up later. Do this carefully so you don’t make a lot of noise!
If the guitar is relatively in tune, keep playing
You’ll be thrown off without all six strings, but you’ll still be able to provide at least some degree of rhythm and instrumental support.
If the guitar is out of tune, stop playing
Either go a cappella or let your other instrumentalists carry the rest of the song. Depending on the strength of your other instrumentalists this could go a number of different ways. But, it’s not a good option for you to keep playing with an out of tune guitar. It will be less distracting for in-tune instrumentalists to play weakly, than out-of-tune instrumentalist to play stubbornly.
Change your string after the singing is over
If I break a string during our opening time of singing, I’ll replace it in the back room during the sermon so that it’s ready to go for the closing song. In order to do this, I’m always sure I have a full set of guitar strings in my case.
Change your strings early and often
I’m always amazed when guitarists are playing on strings that they put on eight months ago. This is not something to brag about. These strings not only sound bad, but they’re hard to play on and they’re at risk of breaking. As a preventative measure, try to avoid playing on beat-up, corroded, or old strings in a service.
Have a back-up guitar close by
Whenever I lead from the guitar, I have a back-up guitar set up, tuned, and within close reach. Yes, it’s a bit of a hassle to carry two guitars around before and after the service. It takes some extra time to get them both tuned. I only end up needing it about once every two months, at most. But when I do need it – it’s worth every bit of the hassle and more. Both guitars sit on a double guitar stand, reducing the amount of space they take up. Setting up two guitars has become part of my routine and it doesn’t seem like too much work anymore. When my string does break, I am incredibly grateful for the back-up.
Don’t think you’ve ruined the service
If you handle this awkward moment with patience and self-control, the likelihood of anyone remembering your broken string by the time Sunday dinner has rolled around is very small. Use this as an opportunity to be humbled and reminded of your total need of God’s grace. Laugh at yourself too.