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It’s pretty normal to experience some soreness after a prolonged session, but it might seem strange to see your fingers stained black after coming in contact with your guitar strings.
It could be just the fingers on your fretting hand, or both of your hands might look like you’ve been digging for coal.
While it’s easy to wipe your hands and move on, I’m sure you’re probably wondering, why do guitar strings make my fingers black?
The alloy your guitar strings are made of can react with your sweat or the air humidity and the oxidization that occurs, as a result, can turn your fingers black. Strings containing black dye or guitars with an ebony fretboard can also stain your fingers black.
Whether your fingers have turned black, green, or red after playing the guitar knowing the possible reasons behind this occurrence can help you prevent it from happening again.
Why Do Guitar Strings Make My Fingers Black?
Wiping your hands and fingers during a session to get rid of sweat is part of the guitar playing process, but seeing the cloth covered in black stains only to then realize that the black is coming from your fingers can be alarming.
So, let’s see what is causing this strange phenomenon!
It can come as a surprise to see your fingers turn black after playing the guitar especially if you’ve strung your guitar with a fresh set of strings.
In this case, the first thing you would want to do is make sure that you didn’t order black-colored strings like the Black Beauties from DR. While plenty of players, especially bass players, love these strings the coating usually becomes gunky as it mixes with your sweat, and it can rub off, especially if you’re fingerstyling or strumming for the gods!
If however, your brand new strings have no coating, then the reason might be that they are fresh out of the pack.
This has actually happened to me with a couple of brands and my take is that the manufacturing process might leave the metal stained, perhaps with graphite or some other substance that will take a couple of sessions to rub off completely.
This can stain your fingers and make them look dirty while your strings will look lighter where your fingers have touched them.
When it comes to older strings the built-up of dirt, and oils in the grooves of the strings that come from our own hands will cause them to corrode.
That’s basically inevitable and in a sense that’s the circle of life of any guitar string. More so, if you’re not cleaning your hands before and during each play and you don’t wipe the strings and fretboard then the accumulation of dirt will make the strings appear darker and it can transmit back to your fingers.
If you bought a second-hand guitar that is still equipped with old strings you might also see a dark brown residue come off them, that’s most likely dirt and rust which can easily stain your skin.
Oxidation Of Guitar Strings
While new and old strings can stain your fingers, there’s another more common process that can turn the fingers black, and that usually happens when your skin comes in contact with certain metals.
Guitar strings whether they are steel or nylon are manufactured from different types of alloy. Let’s take bronze, or phosphor-bronze strings, while they might help you produce a warm sound, they can also stain your fingers black.
Aluminum alloys like nickel and silver alloys can also produce dark material that can stain your fingers.
This oxidization occurs when these materials come in contact with your fingers specifically with the acidity in your sweat and the oils from your hands, the humidity in the air, and the debris that your strings have accumulated over time.
This chemical reaction happens to most guitarists more or less, and there are plenty of guitarists that don’t experience any reaction and don’t get any dark tinge on their hands.
I personally do get some light darkness on my fingertips when playing on nickel strings for a prolonged time on a hot day. It’s most likely the sweat or the humidity in the air reacting with the tin, nickel, and chromium.
This reaction depends on your PH, and how clean your strings are. I’ve known fellow guitarists who would end up with blackened fingers if they’ve been wearing certain moisturizing hand creams, especially during the winter.
I do want to mention that if you experience any itchiness or redness when playing nickel strings then it could be a nickel allergy. A study actually found that “nickel sulfate has the highest sensitization rate and affects approximately 15% of the population.”
Ebony or Rosewood Fretboard
There’s also the possibility that instead of your strings the fretboard is responsible for your black fingers specifically on your fretting hand.
That’s because high-quality and perfectly black ebony wood is quite expensive and when it comes to more affordable guitars some manufacturers actually dye the ebony fretboard to hide the brown stripes and imperfections and make it look more uniform.
Even brown dyed fretboards can stain your fingers since the moisture and oils from your hands and the constant rubbing will lift the dye and transfer it to your fingers. Additionally, if you use string lubricants, then the oil from that staff can lift some of the dye and stain you.
Like ebony, rosewood fretboards are also dark although the wood is slightly less dark. Depending on the quality of the guitar and the rosewood used you might once again end up with a dyed fretboard.
Since most manufacturers will not use waterproof dye you can imagine that regular friction will stain your fingers. With time the dye will rub off leaving the wood beneath exposed and the discoloration will be quite evident in the areas where your fingers came in contact with the fretboard.
Why My Fingers Turn Green After Playing The Guitar?
Have you ever worn cheap rings or a necklace that had a chain made out of the cheapest metal? If you have then chances are you’ve seen your ring finger or the part of your neck that came in contact with the chain turn green.
The tinge you get on your fingers after playing the guitar could be the same reaction you once had with certain jewelry. It’s not an unusual thing to happen and it isn’t harmful, it’s simple chemistry.
Metals, usually copper and copper alloy can react with the acidity in your skin, and depending on the PH of your skin and how much you sweat this reaction can happen much quicker.
When copper comes in contact with your skin it begins to corrode, and it forms a copper salt compound, and those salts are blue-green. As you keep coming in contact with the strings the skin on your fingers begins to absorb these particles and turns green.
In some cases, the green color may appear quite intense and it’s easy to confuse the dark green with black.
As I said this green tinge is safe and it can be washed away with warm and soapy water, however, if you notice redness or itchiness then you might also be experiencing an allergic reaction to copper guitar strings.
Why My Fingers Turn Purple When Playing The Guitar?
Another thing you may notice after an intense session is purplish marks on your fingertips, this is most likely bruising.
If you’re just at the beginning of your guitar journey, chances are you’re not as adept at knowing how much pressure you should apply on your strings. The fact that your fingertips haven’t developed calluses is another factor and the sensitive skin is simply under too much pressure.
The pooling of blood in your fingertips can also happen if you’re an experienced guitarist who’s been spending too much time at their home studio, or you’ve been practicing intensely for the upcoming gig without giving your fingers enough time to rest.
There’s nothing wrong with that, and I’ve experienced my fair share of finger bruises, some days I still do. That being said, while it could be the result of bad technique it could also be a circulatory problem, caused by certain medications like aspirin, ibuprofen, some antibiotics, steroids, and blood thinners.
As you age your skin becomes less flexible and if you’re a seasoned guitarist then you might be bruising more easily because of your age.
While this might be a stretch, I also want to mention Achenbach’s syndrome which might be responsible for your oversensitive fingers, according to research this is “a rare and benign condition characterized by recurrent episodes of sudden pain, bruising and swelling of one or more fingers.”
On the other hand, the redness you see on your fingertips could be compared to eczema more so than bruising. if there’s itching and red marks on the skin around your hand then it could be a metal hypersensitivity.
Coming in contact with guitar strings on a regular basis that are manufactured from metals like nickel, cobalt, brass, and copper can trigger your immune system. In some cases, it can be simple skin irritation, but it could also be life-threatening.
If your fingers keep bruising, or you are covered in red marks after coming in contact with the strings after each session you might want to visit a specialist and see if there’s a medical issue or an allergy behind it.
However, if there’s no health issue to blame then you might want to talk to your guitar teacher and ask them to help you improve on your technique, which, trust me, we’ve all had to do at some point!
How To Stop Your Fretboard And Strings From Staining Your Fingers Black?
As I’m sure most of you would agree, blackened fingers are not something that could ever stop me from playing the guitar but I think it’s not a sacrifice we actually have to make, and thankfully we can do something about it.
Keep Your Hands Clean
Whether you are someone who buys affordable strings or not keeping them alive for longer will only benefit you and your wallet.
One way of maintaining your strings while also keeping your fingers clean after each session is to actually play your guitar with clean hands.
I always make sure to wash my hands thoroughly before I start playing, and I also wipe them dry as much as possible because I don’t want to be touching my strings with dirty or wet hands.
The dirt and oils will corrode your strings faster as well as the water, that’s why playing your guitar in the rain is also not such a great idea. That’s once way to minimize the amount of grime and dirt your strings will accumulate over time.
I also make sure to wipe my hands during breaks especially during long sessions because the constant movement of your fingers will produce sweat that will oxidize the steel strings faster.
If you are someone who has sweaty hands, or the PH of your hands has high acidity then you could apply a coating that will stop the moisture from your fingers coming in direct contact with your guitar strings.
Clean Your Strings
Just like you are keeping your hands clean and dry before and sometimes during gigs you need to remember to clean your strings.
No matter how clean your hands are, your skin will still produce sweat and oils, and as the metal oxidizes it will stain your fingers.
To avoid that or minimize this phenomenon you need to remember to wipe your strings regularly between songs.
I always keep a microfiber cloth nearby, not only does it keep my strings dry, but also prolongs their life, and keeps them sounding fresh for longer.
Remember to also wipe your strings dry when you’re done playing and store your guitar in a case to keep the humidity at the right level to further extend your strings’ life and minimize oxidization that may be turning your fingers black.
Clean Your Fretboard
Since the fretboard can be the primary source of your black fingers, I would suggest taking the strings off and wiping the fretboard with a microfiber cloth to see if any dye comes off.
If your ebony or rosewood fretboard is responsible for staining your fingers you could use a cleaning solution specifically designed for these types of wood.
As you can see this video does a great job explaining how to clean your fretboard because it’s not as simple as it may seem.
As you can see you’re not only supposed to clean it, but you also need to nourish the wood. If this is something you haven’t been doing, you can grab kit to get you started and Dunlop makes one that has everything you need. You can click here to check it out on Amazon.
If the wood of your guitar is cheaper especially if it’s dyed rosewood or ebony then you might see more dye come off, but once the cleaning process is done and the oil dries then you can restring your guitar and you shouldn’t have black fingers next time you’re playing!
String maintenance is really important, but you also need to learn when to let go. All strings will deteriorate over time, even coated once.
Black or brown residue on your fingertips might be a sign that replacing your strings is long overdue.
If the strings are new and they are leaving dark stains on your fingers then make sure to give them a good wipe to remove any residue that the manufacturer didn’t clean off.
For those of you who have green or black tinge on your fingers then perhaps you need to switch to different strings.
Instead of brass or copper that can easily turn your fingers green go for nickel strings. Perhaps you have a nickel allergy and stainless steel wound strings will be a better option for you. In some cases to minimize any oxidation or allergies, you may have to switch to coated strings.
Experiment with different options, check yourself for any possible metal hypersensitivities and make sure you are not abusing your strings and causing unnecessary bruising.
After all, we’re here to have fun, aren’t we?
Why Are My Strings Turning Brown?
I think brown is another important color to mention, and while it might not stain your finger as much, your strings could be covered more or less with it. This brown color is most likely rust.
As you know guitar strings are made from various metals and even nylon strings have a metal wrap wire around the nylon core, which means that they are susceptible to corrosion and rust.
Rust is the oxidation of iron and its alloys, such as steel, and when your strings come in contact with oxygen and the sweat on your fingers this reaction occurs.
Depending on your string maintenance their life expectancy will vary, unfortunately, the only way to get rid of the rust is to replace your strings with a new set.
The last thing you want to do is keep playing on strings that have rust on them, not only will the corrosion affect the quality of the sound you produce, but the strings might snap mid-play and hurt you.
When our skin comes in contact with various metals, and more specifically sweat, oils, and grime, then a reaction is bound to happen.
This reaction can differ, depending on the type of strings your guitar is equipped with, you might end up with black fingers, or fingertips that have a green hue.
In some cases, it could simply be the result of a black dye, perhaps the redness on your fingers could be blamed on your aggressive soloing instead, or it could be an allergic reaction.
No matter what the reason may be getting to the bottom of this can help you make the right decision for your fingers. While you might not be able to get rid of the calluses, dents and bumps at least your fingers won’t be black, green, or red!