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Guitar string are the very essence of the guitar. They are the core of every note a guitarist plays. Taking care of them and understanding the impact of things like environmental factors, will only help to preserve the life of your strings and your sound as a result.  

Strings can be made dirty by a number of things, but tarnish and rust are two of the biggest, and are commonly confused. Are both tarnish and rust unavoidable or is there something you can do to prevent or, at the very least, stave off rust and tarnish to give your strings a longer life?

In this article, we’ll explain what tarnish and rust are, and how to deal with them effectively:

Tarnished

Guitar strings are likely to tarnish first before they rust. This is especially true for metal strings like the ones used primarily in electric guitars. Strings like steel-core wires, which are then wrapped with a nickel or copper plated wire, do not rust right away but will tarnish first. 

In fact, many people tend to use tarnish and rust interchangeably when describing the corrosion on strings. Most of the time, discarding the strings and getting new ones is much cheaper than buying the products needed to prevent tarnishing (NOT ANYMORE). It’s always better to prevent tarnishing from the start rather than trying to find a way to deal with it once it has begun.

If left on their own though, tarnished strings will affect the sound produced by the strings and diminish the clarity of their tone. It will make them more susceptible to breaking and will eventually lead to rust. 

Causes

The main and most common culprit that causes tarnishing is moisture. Either through the humidity in the room that your guitar is in or because of the sweat and oils naturally occurring in the skin of your fingers, the strings come into contact with moisture. 

This moisture then gets trapped in the nickel or copper wiring that wraps the core of the string. Over time, they begin to form crusts of stains, moisture, and locked-in dirt. 

How To Prevent It 

There are several ways you can safeguard your guitar strings from tarnish. Doing them will make sure your guitar strings last longer and produce the best sound possible.

  • Use string conditioner. Whether online or in the guitar shop, you can purchase a bottle of string conditioner and apply it to your stings every once and a while. Some users, though, believe that string conditioners are just a waste of money and don’t actually protect your strings from tarnish or rust. WE AGREE
  • Control the humidity in the room. Getting a humidifier for the room you practice in, or one specifically made for instruments can be a great way to ensure the conditions around your guitar strings are not conducive to tarnishing. THIS IS COSTLY AND SO UNNECESSARY
  • Wash your hands. By washing your hands regularly, you prevent dirt and sweat from coming into contact with the strings.
  • Always wipe your guitar strings. Give your guitar strings a good wiping with a clean and dry paper towel or cloth after every use.
  • Purchase new strings. Once tarnishing happens it might be easier to just invest in better strings. Some strings are made with additional compounds or possess chrome coating which is designed to repel degradation and make your strings last longer. Though it should be noted that these strings are more expensive.
  • OR JUST GET A STRING SLING – THIS IS WHAT IT’S MADE FOR. SURE YOU CAN USE IT TO WIPE DOWN YOUR GUITAR, BUT IT NATURALLY CONTOURS THE STRINGS TO PROVIDE THE SAME PROTECTION FROM HUMIDITY, AS IT DOES FROM THE SWEAT AND DIRT IT ABSORBS.

Rust

Rust simply occurs when the tarnishing is left untreated. Guitar strings corrode when exposed to moisture. Even in small amounts, moisture triggers a chemical reaction, known as oxidation, in the iron compounds of the guitar strings. Once the strings are rusted, even only partially, you’re going to need to replace them.

Causes

The same things that cause tarnishing are the same things that eventually lead to rusting. Moisture and humidity from the environment and your fingers, trigger the chemical reaction that leads to tarnishing, that then leads to rusting, if left untreated (or without a String Sling). 

How To Prevent It 

The ways to prevent rusting usually entail trying to control the moisture that comes into contact with the guitar. To ensure your strings last longer, you need to:

  • Prevent tarnishing. Do the suggestions above on how to prevent tarnishing and you’d be preventing rusting too. 
  • Purchase anti-rust strings. Some strings are made with additional compounds or possess chrome coating which is designed to repel degradation and make your strings last longer. Though it should be noted that these strings are more expensive. 
  • OR, DO NONE OF THE ABOVE, AND SIMPLY GET YOURSELF A STRING SLING. EVERY STRING SLING IS DESIGNED TO PREVENT THE EFFECTS OF RUST AND TARNISH.

Bottom Line

It goes without saying that there’s no such thing as guitar strings that will last forever. Not sure guitarists would even want something like that but in the end, all of what’s now available is subject to corrosion over time. BUT, by investing in a String Sling, you can put most of these worries behind. 

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