If you have read the article entitled How Christmas Lights Work then you understand why the strands are so sensitive to bulb failure. If any of the bulbs in the strand is loose, the entire strand will not light - read the article to learn why.

The picture below shows a typical tester that is able to detect which bulb is the source of the problem:

A tester like this costs about $4 at a discount store and they work pretty well. You plug a strand of lights that is not working into a wall socket and point the left end of the tester at a bulb. If the bulb is getting power (even if it is not lit), then the LED on the tester will light when you push the button. If the bulb is not getting power - because a bulb upstream is loose - then the LED on the tester will not light.

These testers are handy for other things as well. For example, you can point the tester at any wall outlet and it will tell you whether the outlet has power or not. It has a range or 3 or 4 inches, so you can sometimes use the tester to find where wires are running through the walls as well.

These testers detect the alternating electromagnetic waves given off by any wire carrying power. If you have read the article entitled How Electromagnets Work, then you have seen that current running through a wire generates a field that can affect a compass. In the case of household power, the current is alternating at 50 (European standard) or 60 (U.S. standard) oscillations per second. These oscillations set up a field near the wire that is fairly strong. The bulb tester picks up this field and a simple amplifier amplifies it. The amplified signal is either strong enough to light the LED in the tester or it is not. The level of amplification is set so that only a strong electromagnetic field very near a wire will light the LED. All other sources of electromagnetic radiation are not strong enough to light the light.

Here are two interesting links: