Guitar strings can’t be stopped from rusting. Or corroding. Or both? Let’s break down on semantics first. Do guitar strings get rust or do they corrode? Is it right to say that guitar strings get rusty? What’s the difference, anyway?
If you don’t care about right terms, you may just as well jump to the other section to find out how to remove that rust (tarnish, more frequently) from your guitar strings.
Rust And Corrosion Difference
Anyway, rust and corrosion are two similar but slightly different terms. Both rust and corrosion are processes of material deterioration. Corrosion is the broader term which covers for all situations resulting in metal being destroyed or attacked by corrosive environment.
Rust is the narrower term that accounts for deterioration of iron-containing metals. Also, there’s a difference between results of rust and corrosion.
Rust is eating the material on which it develops, while corrosion does not. In fact, corrosion can be often seen as the tarnish developed on a metal surface.
For more information – check out this scientific guide on the subject: A Comparative Study Between Different Corrosion Protection Layers, published by IntechOpen, world’s leading scientific publisher on open books.
Guitar Strings – Rust Or Corrosion?
So, do guitar strings rust or do they corrode? They do both. Why? Guitar strings are mostly made out of the steel. Of course, there are many types of guitar strings. But the core of almost every guitar string is the steel.
Usually, six guitar strings (E, A, D, G, B, E) can be divided in two groups. Wound and plain strings. Wound strings are 6th, 5th and 4th (low E, A and D), sometimes even G. That means that the core of that type of string is wounded.
Usually, wound strings have their steel core wounded with bronze or brass. Those metals contain cooper, so they do not rust. They can only corrode. Their steel core can corrode, since it contains iron.
Still, the corrosion of wound strings happens much less frequently, because of protective wound.
Plain strings, on the other hand, can corrode, if they do not have any coated protection.
Check this great explanation on StringJoy.
How To Remove Rust Or Corrosion From Strings?
If your strings get rust, then it’s over for them. Rust is eating the metal away, so you better put new strings on your guitar if they get rust.
Corrosion, on the other hand, is almost always just a tarnish that needs to be wiped away from the surface of your corroded string. However, although is not so dangerous as rust, it can affect your 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).
Keep in mind that, over time, those processes are unavoidable. You shouldn’t be worried about this. It will inevitably happen.
Still, if you want to know what you can do to make these processes as rare as possible, stay with me.
Here are some tips on how to deal with that.
1. Wash Your Hands
It may sounds too simple to be the tip, but it’s important! 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. Clean Your Guitar Strings Regularly
While clean hands do help, strings also need to get cleaned regularly. Every time, after you’re done playing, make sure to clean your strings. That’s important especially if you play live gigs.
It doesn’t have to take much time to do it. Usually, wiping them with a microfiber cloth is sufficient.
I’m using Mayflower Polishing Cloth. It is made out of pure (100 %) cotton. It is perfect for cleaning jewelry like gold, silver, platinum, but it’s also perfect for restoring metal surfaces, in general.
Every time after I’m done with my playing session, I just wipe the strings with that cloth. It takes no more than few seconds to do so. Yet, it helps in protecting my guitar strings from inner rust and outer tarnish.
Anyway, if you’re interested in more details, check out the Amazon page of the product, above.
Of course, you can use any other cloth, as long as it’s microfiber.
3. Consider Using Coated Strings
Coated strings are strings coated with a thin layer of polymer. That layer can prolong the life of the string significantly.
If you have particularly sweaty hands, than you know how fast your guitar strings can corrode. Coated strings may help in this situation. However, keep in mind that the tone coated strings produce is slightly different.
That’s because coated strings have a bigger mass (due to the coating layer), which is directly affecting the frequency and vibration. I tried these for my acoustic guitar, so check it out.
If you play electric guitar, Ernie Ball has a pretty good deal.
Anyway, you’ll want to check out the article from this page about it. Here it is:
4. Keep Relative Humidity Optimal
Humidity is something we cannot see nor smell. However, it can become your guitar’s greatest enemy if it’s not monitored regularly.
Remember, the optimal relative humidity ranges from 40 % to 50 %. Higher humidity often happens in hot summer months. Especially if you live near the coast.
That higher humidity is causing us to sweat more. Sweat coming from our hands and fingertips is causing tarnish on strings.
It is important to keep your guitar in the room with optimal relative humidity. When it’s summer, place your guitar in the room with the AC.
If you’re interested about humidification of an electric guitar (never humidify your guitar when the outside temperature is hot), check the article from this page about it, here.
5. Keep Your Guitar In The Right Place
The best place where you can keep your guitar is a guitar case. Hard case. Hard cases are best possible places for every guitar, since they protect the guitar from various environmental changes.
Various environmental factors attack a surface of the metal, which can cause the corrosion. The same is with strings.
Not only the humidity can cause corrosion, but the sunlight also. The UV radiation significantly affects the corrosion rate. Make sure you keep your guitar out of the UV radiation.
If you want to know more, check out the study about Photo-Corrosion of Different Metals during Long-Term Exposure to Ultraviolet Light from ReasearchGate.
Anyway, it’s clear that the guitar hard case provides your guitar protection from that.
I found out this nice hard case: Glarry Electric Guitar Hard Case.
It have large interior storage compartment for accessories. That’s practical because you can put additional accessories all in one place.
It weighs 6.98 pounds which makes it lighter than many other rectangular sized hard cases.
6. Use Sweat Bands
Some people have particularly sweaty hands. That’s just the reality. If you’re one of those, sweat bands can help.
A lot of guitar players use those every time they play live. For example, Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones. Or James Hetfield of Metallica.
As it’s been already stated here, sweat affects corrosion rate of the guitar string significantly.
Obviously, it would be of a great help if there’s something that can collect that sweat before it comes on the surface of the guitar string.
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.
I have these. It’s a good deal, you get 6 bands for less than 10 bucks. Definitely worth checking.
Potential Health Issues
Not only that corrosion of guitar strings affects the sound. Not only it looks ugly. It can also be potentially harmful to our health.
To be more precise, corroded strings can influence skin allergies. Be aware of this, especially if you have a sensitive skin.
Anyway, check out this scientific study: Study of microstructure and corrosion kinetic of steel guitar strings in artificial sweat solution, published on Wiley Online Library.
Six strings have been put in an artificial sweat solution. Ions release have been monitored for 28 days (the time strings have been immersed in that solution).
Final Thoughts On Strings Corrosion And Rust
I hope this article gave you some valuable information on how to deal with corrosion and rust on guitar strings.
Remember, corrosion and rust are unavoidable. Your strings will corrode, sooner or later. Still, it’s important to maintain your guitar in such way that it happens rarely.
These 6 tips are essential if you want to keep your strings clean from corrosion and rust.
Don’t forget to check out some other interesting articles I wrote on this site!
Cheers, and rock on!