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Breaking phosphor bronze HD strings


We use phosphor bronze strings for some of the lower notes on our dulcimers because of the tone they produce. In certain spots, phosphor bronze provides a slightly clearer and richer tone than steel does. However, it is a softer material and more prone to work-hardening, which means that phosphor bronze strings break more often than steel strings.

It can be really frustrating to experience a spate of string breakages, especially if it gets to the point where you can barely get a new string on before it breaks! There’s nothing less fun than putting on your fourth string in a row and cringing in anticipation of the BANG and the flailing string end. There’s not a great answer to why this happens sometimes but not all the time, and to some people but not others, but there is hope!

It is totally fine to replace your problem PB string with the equivalent diameter in steel. The tone will be slightly different, but the steel string will be much less likely to break. Depending on your ear and your priorities, it might be the best decision you ever made, or you might realize the more frequent breakage was actually a worthwhile tradeoff for the tone.

If you’ve tried this solution, what did you think? Did you stick with it or did you go back to PB?


Hi Christy, I just sent an email through the contact page to ask where to find PB strings in Europe or how much will it cost to ship them here. But I’m happy to find out through this topic that PB strings are less solid than steel strings (it explains why I broke a lot of them since I have my PD40).

I think I will try to put a steel strings on my bass notes but could you be more specific on the type of steel string I should/could use?

Here I miss two .44 gauge PBW strings. Could you send me a link with an example of string that could work? Whatever the brand I just try to figure out might work…

I would be happy to have a .54 gauge spare string as well.

Thanks a lot !



That’s a good question! I should explain that my post above was referring to the plain phosphor bronze strings (no wrap), which are a softer material than steel and can get work-hardened and brittle, which is why they tend to break more often. But our phosphor bronze wound strings (PBW) actually have a steel core with a bronze wrap, and it’s the core that determines how much tension the string can take. So the .044" PBW and .054" PBW strings are basically steel strings for strength purposes, with a wrap of phosphor bronze to add mass. Unfortunately there aren’t any string substitutes I know of that will be any stronger than the steel core.

How many of the PBW strings have you broken so far?


Oh sorry about the misunderstanding between PB and PBW !

I broke around 6 or 7 PBW strings in a bit less than a year…

Exclusively the .044" and the .054" from the 3 lowest notes on the PD40 (G, G# and A if i’m not mistaking).

Also I should precise that they broke while I was playing !
I broke other strings from the upper register but never while playing, usually while tuning the strings.


That does seem strange. Strings often break unpredictably and you can’t find a reason for it, but it is unusual to break that many steel-core strings so close together. Have you been using strings you got from us? Do the strings break in the same place each time? (Like in the middle, at the loop end or at the tuning pin end?) I hope we can help to figure this out!


Yes the strings where from a replacing and spare kit that I receive when I bought the instrument in 2nd hand (+ the strings that where the original strings). The hammers that I use are yours too.

The original strings probably broke due to the lack of utilisation and condition of conservation of the instrument. I bought it from a guy who bought it from you something like 4 years ago and he told me that he played the instrument for a few month and then let it unused in the transport bag for something like 2 years and a half. Although, the instrument was nearly in a perfect state except for the strings that were a bit rusty.

Also you should know that I had no previous knowledge of stringed instruments and I know I made a few mistake while I was retuning the instrument or replacing some of the strings at the beginning.
But it’s clear that I broke a lot of .044" strings compared to the amount of strings on the instrument…

From the broken strings that I found back I can tell that at least 3 strings broke near the loop end, probably very close to the tension point near the loop end. (I don’t know if it’s clear? my english is not absolutely perfect :slight_smile: )

Another one that I found broke kinda in the middle, more or less where you can still hit the string but near the hit zone of the upper octave strings. For the others I can’t tell…

Thanks for your help !


I’ve consulted with the others here, and we’re just not sure what to tell you! I don’t think it could have been a bad batch of strings, or we would have noticed problems with string breakage here too. (Although if anyone else is suddenly having problems with their PBW strings, feel free to chime in!)

It’s possible you’ve just had a spate of bad luck and there isn’t really a reason for it. If this keeps happening, maybe it would be useful to keep a chart of when you put on a new string and how long it lasted before breaking. Sometimes that’s the only way to figure out a pattern. Is it a single string that breaks every couple of months, or is it a different string each time?

I’m sorry we’re not more help!


Look for any tiny imperfections in that area, if the string runs over something that isn’t entirely smooth it could be enough to break the string.


All right thanks Christy !

It’s the 3 lowest notes on the PD40 that broke the most. The .044" and the .054", with a special mention for the two .044" strings.

See ya ! I’ll keep you in touch if a found any other clue to this issue.