Why Your Guitar Strings Turn Black (Your Questions Answered)

Replacing guitar strings regularly is a must if you want your guitar to sound right, and one of the ways you can tell if they need to be changed is by their color.

Simply put, guitar strings can turn black or other colors for numerous reasons, and while not all of them necessarily mean you need to replace the strings immediately, it is still good to know why they turn colors in the first place and what can be done about it.

Why Do Guitar Strings Turn Black?

Every time you play your guitar, the oils from your fingers get onto the strings, and this oil can build up the more you play.

The strings are more likely to corrode at some point because of these oils, which is often what happens right before they break. If they corrode, they’ll change colors, depending on what the strings are made of.

Nickel and steel strings, for example, can lose their luster and turn a shade of dull gray. The bronze acoustic strings will lose their copper color and turn a dark brown.

Regardless of the type of strings you have on your guitar, it’s time to change them once they turn a different color.

How Do I Know If My Guitar Strings Are Bad?

There are numerous ways you can tell if your guitar strings are bad and need to be replaced, and they include the following:

  • Your guitar won’t stay in tune. Regardless of how good you are at playing the guitar, the fact is that you can’t keep a guitar in tune if the strings have gone bad. If you try to tune your guitar but aren’t successful no matter how hard you try, it could very well be that your strings are bad.
  • The guitar has a dull or flat sound. When you play the guitar, you expect a crisp, bright sound, but when all you get is a flat, dull sound, it might be your guitar strings. Sometimes, it might even sound like you’re playing softly even when you’re not.
  • The strings look dirty all the time. Guitarists usually clean their guitar regularly, but when you do this and your strings still have a dirty or dull look, it’s likely that you need new guitar strings. A dirty look is not good for guitar strings and can even affect how you sound when you play
  • Your strings feel stiff when you play. Even steel strings shouldn’t feel too stiff, and when you play your guitar yet it feels like a challenge to pluck or strum the strings, this is usually a sign that the strings have gone bad and need to be replaced.

Any time you’re playing your guitar and you know you’ve done everything correctly but your sound is somehow “off” or unpleasant, you could definitely need a brand-new pair of strings.

How Do I Stop My Guitar Strings From Oxidizing?

The oxidation process can be slowed down and there are things you can do to make the strings better after they rust, such as boiling them, but many experts recommend that you simply buy another set of strings instead.

As far as slowing down the oxidation/rust process, you can:

  • Make sure you always store your guitar in a low-humidity area
  • Never play with sweaty hands
  • Consider playing with coated strings
  • Always play with high-quality strings
  • Wash your hands before each playing session

Do Guitar Strings Tarnish?

Unfortunately, guitar strings will eventually tarnish regardless of how well you treat them.

While it’s impossible to stop the tarnishing process, you can slow it down by washing your hands before you play, using a string conditioner and/or a humidifier, playing with only high-quality guitar strings, and cleaning your strings regularly – preferably daily.

Why Do Guitar Strings Turn Your Fingers Black?

Guitarists’ fingers turn black from guitar strings because the strings have begun to oxidize.

If your fingers turn black or green while you’re playing your guitar, the strings have already begun the oxidation process, which means you’ll need to slow it down by wiping the strings with a microfiber cloth.

This gets rid of excess moisture, which is the main cause of oxidation, and you don’t have to press hard on the strings with the cloth because all you’re doing is removing some moisture. If it continues even after you keep the strings dry, you might simply need a new pair of strings.

Should You Use Rubbing Alcohol To Clean Your Guitar Strings?

Using rubbing alcohol to clean your guitar strings is not really a good idea. Although rubbing alcohol does work to remove dirt from the strings, there is the potential for more harm than good that comes from using it.

First, cleaning with alcohol has a tendency to cause your strings to produce a high pitch squeaking sound during cleaning and for some time after the cleaning. For obvious reasons, most guitarists don’t find this sound to be pleasant.

The squeaking sound is annoying for sure but the more significant issue with using alcohol as a cleaning agent for your strings is that it has the potential to harm the components on your guitar. Using alcohol on a regular basis can dry out the wood on the guitar’s fretboard which is not good for the longevity of the guitar.

It is better to use a cleaner designed specifically for cleaning guitar strings.

How To Easily Clean Your Guitar Strings [Video]

Here are a few key tips found in this video:

  1. Clean the strings by applying a guitar string cleaner to a paper towel or cloth. Do not apply the cleaner directly onto the strings.
  2. Make sure you wipe down both sides of each string; not just the top of the strings.
  3. Continue to wipe the strings until you no longer see dirt accumulating on the cloth you’re cleaning with.

Final Thoughts

When you play guitar, you need to be aware of the string’s condition. When your strings turn black, it’s because the strings have been exposed to too much humidity or moisture. And, once the strings have been damaged by water, they won’t recover and they’ll eventually need to be replaced.

You can fix the problem by cleaning the strings regularly as shown in the video above. If you’re going to play more often, you can consider changing to a new set of strings. Changing the strings will give you a better sound and make your guitar play better.