Guitar String Discoloration

Over time, guitar strings can become discolored and even corrode. This can cause several issues, including a change in the sound of your instrument and potential danger to your fingers.

Once guitar strings begin to turn colors, oxidize, or rust, they should be replaced as soon as possible.

It’s not uncommon for players to wait until their strings are so bad that they begin to feel rough or smell. But what causes guitar string discoloration, and how can you prevent it? Let’s check it out!

Guitar string discoloration

Guitar Strings Turning Brown

If you haven’t changed your strings for some time and are beginning to see heavy brown or black spots, it is probably time to replace them.

The cause of strings turning brown, corroding, or rusting is oxidation. This happens when the metal in the strings, like copper, nickel, or silver, reacts with the oxygen in the air.

When you play your guitar, tiny bits of skin and sweat get on the strings. This skin and sweat contain oils that can speed up the oxidation process if not removed regularly.

If you live in an area with high humidity, this oxidation process happens quicker, especially if the strings are not cleaned after each use. If you do not wash your hands before each guitar use, the acids and salts from food and drinks can also contribute to string rust.

Oxidized Guitar Strings

If your guitar strings are badly oxidized, they will not only sound bad, but they can also be harmful.

The black or brown spots on the strings can contain a lot of rust, which can come off on your fingers as you play. This rust can cause skin irritations and even infections.

In extreme cases, the strings can disintegrate and begin to come apart. Windings will begin to separate and become sharp. As you play, there is a good chance that the windings can get into your skin like a splinter.

So, if you see any signs of rust or oxidation on your guitar strings, it is best to replace them as soon as possible. If it is just starting to form and the strings are still smooth, a good cleaning might fix the issue.

Are Rusty Guitar Strings Dangerous?

Yes, rusty guitar strings can be dangerous, especially if a piece gets into one of your fingers. As metal disintegrates due to rust, it can turn into sharp pieces that can enter your skin.

This is a pretty drastic breakdown, most players don’t let their strings go this far. But if you are new and not quite sure, then it is important to be aware of the dangers of rusty strings. If you notice that they are becoming more than simply discolored, don’t use them.

However, if you see a few small black or brown spots, but the strings are still smooth, you should be ok. Just inspect them to make sure there are no sharp prices or broken windings. If they look and feel good, just wait until the sound begins to change before replacing them.

Guitar Strings Feel Rough

If your guitar strings feel rough, it is another sign that they need to be replaced. Strings should be smooth when you run your fingers on them. If they are starting to feel rough, then it is possible that rust is beginning to form and is breaking down the strings.

This can begin on the metal underneath the windings. The oxidization begins to push the windings away from the metal string, making them feel rough. Black or brown spots should be pretty evident if this begins to happen.

But once they start to feel rough, you should change them right away, as the windings could start to fall apart and become sharp.

How to Prevent Guitar String Oxidation

The best way to prevent oxidation is to keep your strings clean.

After each session, use a soft microfiber cloth to wipe down the strings. This will remove any skin oils, sweat, and other residues that can cause corrosion. Another option is to use string cleaners to get the grime that won’t come off with the cloth.

String cleaners are designed to remove dirt and oils from the strings that are harder to get at. They can also add a bit more life to your strings and improve the articulation of the tone.

Never use household cleaners or dish soaps on your stings. Some of them contain acids and have a higher water content that will help oxidize your stings.

If you live in a high humidity area, you may want to consider storing your guitar in a hard case or a room that is conditioned. Not only is this better for your strings, but it might also be great for the guitar too. Considering coated strings might also be a good idea.

Washing your hands before each use is also a great way at preventing dirt and grime from being transferred to your strings. Doing this and wiping them down after each use will prolong the life of your strings a great deal.

By following these simple tips, you can help keep your strings in good condition and prevent them from oxidizing. If they have expired, make sure to recycle them.

Guitar String Discoloration FAQs

Here you will find some frequently asked questions about guitar string discoloration.

Do Guitar Strings Tarnish?

Yes, guitar strings tarnish over time. Because they are made of different metals like silver, copper and steel, the way a string oxidizes can be different from others. Tarnish will normally form as a black, brown, or gray stain in the metal. While rust is reddish and is much worse of a condition.

How Do You Remove Tarnish From Guitar Strings?

The best way to remove tarnish is to use a string cleaner made to remove heavy dirt or grime. Some players use isopropyl alcohol, but this can be harmful to your guitar and leave residue on the strings.

How Do I Know If My Guitar Strings are Rusted?

Rust appears as a reddish color on the metal, and it will eat away at the string until it disintegrates. It will also make the strings feel rough, smell, and is very hard to miss. If any of these signs have appeared, it is best to put on a fresh set of strings.

Do Guitar Strings Need to be Replaced If They Are Just Discolored?

If your strings are only discolored and not rusty, they can usually be cleaned and will last a while longer. If they begin to feel rough or small metallic, then there is a chance that rust has begun to set in.

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Don East

My name is Don East, I'm the editor for Killer Rig. I've been playing guitar for over 20 years and have designed and manufactured products like guitar amps, effects pedals, and more. Over the years I have played in many bands and have a deep love for quality gear.I am an electrical engineer and have a passion for music gear, and now want to share what I know with the community!