When you play a guitar for some time, sweating is unavoidable. Especially if you have live gigs regularly. Is sweat bad for your guitar? Does it affect your guitar playing in any way?
The answer to both of these question is – yes. Sweat is bad for your guitar for numerous reasons. It can leave ugly marks on your fretboard when it dries out.
Wood is a material that is like a sponge. It absorbs moisture from the environment.
Sweat is also affecting guitar’s playability since it’s causing a strings to rust. Not only strings can get rust, but other metal parts of your guitar can get rust, too.
Pickups, bridge, whammy bar, and so on.
Rusted strings can affect your electric guitar tone. Corrosion is causing the dissolution of various metal ions, such as nickel, steel, tin and so on.
If you want to know more about it, check out this very interesting scientific study about Corrosion Behaviour of Metals in Artificial Sweat (pdf file).
Anyway, if you have a problem with a sweat coming from your hands to your electric guitar (we all have), check out these 10 tips I’ve found out te be helpful.
The following tips will give you information about how to manage the sweat you’re producing. Also, you’ll find a valuable information about how to keep your guitar clean and sweat-free. I hope it will help you!
1. Wash Your Hands
This is perhaps the most important tip you can take. Wash your hands every time before you start to play. It is extremely important to wash away any excessive sweat coming from your hands.
Did you know that hands are one of our dirtiest body parts? It makes sense. Every day we touch a ton of things with our hands.
Our hands are collecting dirt from everything we touch, every time. Also, our hands excrete oil from our fingertips.
When you mix sweat, dirt and oil all together – you definitely don’t want to touch something you want to keep clean.
I know it’s easier to just take your electric guitar in your hands, without washing them first. But think in the long term – if you don’t wash your hands every time before you play, you’ll end up with your rust strings and ugly fretboard marks in a heartbeat.
If you have particularly sweaty hands, perhaps you may consider using some antiperspirant lotion. Or an alcohol based hand wipes. Or some baby powder, which is ideal for absorbance of all kinds of liquids, including sweat.
Whatever you want to choose, keep in mind that clean, dry hands are the only hands your guitar needs!
2. Use Coated Strings
Regular uncoated strings have fissures through which sweat can break in easily.
Coated strings, on the other hand, are covered with a layer of corrosion resistant material which can prevent sweat from breaking in the strings. Coating acts as an umbrella, protecting strings from getting wet.
The only downside of the coated strings is that they can sound a bit dull, although they last longer. They usually last up to 4 times longer than a regular non coated strings do.
Luckily, as the time progress, along with the technology and science, coated strings sounds better.
Probably the best coated strings out there are Elixir strings. I’ve found these Elixir Electric Strings with nanoweb coating to be just right.
These are great because they sound just as bright and alive as non coated strings.
This nanoweb coating is acting like a teflon frying pan. Of course, there will always be sweat and fingerprint oil all over the strings, but it won’t sink in. It will stay on a surface, which is practical because you can easily wipe it all of them.
Anyway, if you’re interested about those strings in more details, check out the Amazon page of the product – here.
3. Watch Out For A Humidity Level In Your Room
Humidity can become your electric guitar’s enemy if it’s not monitored regularly.
Not only does high humidity cause excessive sweating, but it’s also bad for the guitar itself.
Maintain the humidity level in your room, where your guitar is. Optimal relative humidity ranges from 40 % to 50 %.
Do not humidify your electric guitar when the environment temperature is too hot, like in the summer.
If you have an AC, use it for humidity optimization. Put your guitar in the room with the AC when the weather is just too hot and humid.
It really depends on what the humidity of the area you live in is. To find out more about how to deal with humidity and how to humidify your electric guitar (if necessary), check out the article from this page about that subject.
4. Sweat Bands
Sweat bands are great for collecting sweat from your hands. In this particular case, when we talk about sweat on a guitar, sweat bands can help in reducing a sweat coming from your wrist onto the guitar body.
Sweat coming from the joint to the top of your elbow can be responsible for the corrosion of your pickups. That’s important to keep in mind, since pickups rust can sometimes affect the tone of your guitar.
Sweat bands can be of help in this situation. Find some good sweat band for yourself. If you play outside, or in a club, the temperature may rise and the air can often get very warm.
Having a sweat band while performing will protect your pickups and strings from unnecessary sweat coming from your right hand. Just look at the James Hetfield on the stage. If he’s using it, then it certainly helps!
5. Clean Your Strings And Neck Regularly
We talked about coated strings earlier in this article. Coating certainly helps in a way that the strings are much easier to wipe.
Whichever strings you use, do not forget to clean them regularly. For that purpose, you can use a regular microfiber cloth. Just wipe them with it every time after you’re done playing. Wipe the fretboard and neck in general, too. It’s important to prevent your fretboard from dried sweat stains and gunk.
It shouldn’t take more than a few seconds to do it.
On the other hand, you may consider applying some string cleaners to your strings. Not only will they keep your strings clean, but they’ll also maintain the fresh tone.
Probably the most famous string cleaner is GHS Fast Fret. It’s cheap and it does the work. It’s easy to use. Check out this short video showing how to use it.
If you’re interested about it in more details, visit the Amazon site of the product, here.
6. Keep Your Pickups Clean From Corrosion
Over time, there’s a high chance your pickups will rust due to sweat coming from your hands.
Is it bad for your guitar? Well, rusty pickups won’t change the tone of your guitar. Also, it’s not dangerous.
If you love rusty pickups, that’s perfectly fine. A lot of famous guitarists have had their guitar pickups rusted. And they were perfectly fine with it.
If you want to keep your pickups as shiny as new, that’s perfectly fine, too. Whatever you want.
Now, when you want to clean your guitar pickups from rust, you have to be careful. Those are electronic parts of the guitar.
The poles of the guitar pickups will get rust, so make sure you cover the rest of the area with some tape.
Make a solution of lemon and salt. Squeeze one lemon and then add a teaspoon of salt. Mix the solution. Take one screwdriver and dip it in the solution. Now gently scrub over the rusty surface of each pole.
After a few seconds of scrubbing, pole should get free from rust.
Find out more about it, here.
7. Keep Your Guitar Out Of The Strong Sunlight
Do not expose your electric guitar to the strong sunlight. On a sunlight, sweat will get dry fast and you’ll end up wit a neck full of ugly sweat marks.
Not only that, but the sunlight can discolor your guitar, de-tune your strings, and loose up frets.
Why is that happening? First of all, there’s a UV radiation coming from the Sun. It’s causing a process of photodegradation which can cause your guitar body to loose overall strength.
If you want to know more about that process in details, check out the scientific study by H. Derbyshire and E. R. Miller, The photodegradation of wood during solar irradiation: Part I: Effects on the structural integrity of thin wood strips. Link leads to Springer page.
Also, excessive warmth from sunlight will definitely de-tune your strings. Why? It’s physics. When materials starts to rise in temperature, they expand. When a guitar string gets expanded, the tone will went down. So there’s another reason for not leaving a guitar in the sunlight.
Sweat marks can easily dry up on the sun. That means that the neck absorbed the sweat. You’ll know that happened when you see those sweat marks on the neck of your guitar.
Apart from aesthetic consequences, there’s one more. Guitar neck is, obviously, made of wood. When wood absorb something, it expands. Add a sunlight contribution to that, and then you’ll get a mish-mash of physical changes happening at the same time.
All of that may destabilize your guitar. Anything that’s changing the shape of your electric guitar is not desirable.
I assume that so far there are enough reasons not to expose your guitar to the strong sunlight.
Let’s move on.
8. Wipe The Bridge Regularly
Guitar bridge can get rusty if you don’t wipe it from sweat and dirt regularly. In fact, it can get so rusty to the point where you’ll need to replace it.
Barrels on your bridge especially get rusty. That can become a problem for the strings, as the rust can cause a string to snap.
The level of corrosion also depends on the material of which the bridge is made of. Brass and nickel are heavily affected by corrosion.
Again, just like you need to wipe the strings and neck each time you stop playing, the same time you should do with your bridge.
9. If You Play Live – Care More!
As it’s been already stated at the beginning – if you have live gigs, you’ll sweat a lot more. Heavy packed clubs, or any indoor space with a lot of people in it, get very warm. The humidity rises rapidly at live indoor events.
That’s why it’s crucial to wipe your guitar more thoroughly after the show, as it will almost certainly collect a ton of sweat.
Strings, fretboard, pickups, bridge – everything should be wiped off the sweat fast.
It may be tedious to do so, but in the long run your guitar will be grateful for doing that!
10. Choose The Right Pick
If your hands are particularly sweaty, choosing a right guitar pick can help to some extent. It is often harder to handle the pick with sweaty fingers.
You don’t have that much of control, and often a pick can slip through your fingers easily.
What you can do is this: apply a little cigarette ash on the fingers with which you hold your pick. Thumb and the point finger.
That can prevent slipping. This is the trick Danny Gatton used when he played.
On the other hand, if you have sweaty fingers, use a picks with a grip.
Get yourself a pack of Jim Dunlop Max Grip Nylon (link to Amazon) picks. You get 12 of them, available in .60, .73, .88, 1.0, 1.14 and 1.5mm gauges.
Those have a nonslip texture molded into the entire gripping surface.
Final Thoughts About Sweat & Electric Guitar
I hope these 10 tips helped you. Sweat is definitely something every guitar player should watch for. There are many reasons for that, described above.
If you’re a player who just have a ridiculously sweaty hands, don’t give up on playing. Try every one of the previously described tips and I’m sure you’re going to handle a sweat easier.
Keeping your hands dry is one thing, but keeping your guitar dry and sweat-free is something different. Maintain your guitar regularly, and maintain your hands regularly.
Only that way you’ll keep your guitar clean from sweat. Anyway, if this article gave you some valuable information about this subject, I’m more than happy.
Don’t forget to check out some other interesting articles I wrote on this site!
Cheers, and rock on!