Why Do Guitar Strings Turn Black?

Strings are not eternal. 

I’m sorry for being so harsh in my statement, but it is true. 

Guitar and bass strings wear out. They get rusty, lose their luster, get out of tune, break all of a sudden, and turn a grayish ghost-like color. 

But what’s the reason behind that? Why do guitar strings turn black or gray? 

Strings turn black because of finger dirt and moisture. It’s simply a result of using them. The more you play with them, the more prone they are to turning black. However, there are steps you can take to prevent it, such as cleaning strings after playing. 

But of course, you can’t have enough with just the basic information. There is a lot more waiting to be discovered. 

Keep reading and see whether your strings are still fine or need to be replaced immediately. 

What causes guitar strings to turn black?

Do you know that expression that says “use it or lose it”? 

Well, in this case, it is “use it and lose it”. 

I’m painfully sorry, but guitar strings are not eternal. 

The more you play with them, the more they get wasted. That is, in part, the reason why strings turn black. 

See, nickel and/or steel strings lose their sheen simply because of dirt, moisture, or sweat coming from your fingers. 

Think about it. You pass your dirty fingers all over the strings. 

You may not notice it, but fingers have lots of dirt. Even if you wash your hand prior to playing, you are prone to sweat. 

Sure, maybe washing your hands expands the lifetime of your strings. However, oxidation and that dull gray color are bound to occur in the long run. 

Are black guitar strings still playable?

You might worry whenever you notice your strings lack their luster. 

Truth is, this means both good and bad news. 

The good news is, you still can play with them

The bad news is, well… many! 

First of all, the more you keep black strings, the sooner they’ll start sounding dull and lifeless. 

One thing is playing with them for a couple of days. Another is to keep them for months. 

The tone you’ll get will most probably not be satisfactory. 

Additionally, intonation issues will arise because of irregular vibrations. 

This happens because the fret wire wastes the strings. In the long run, the way in which the string touches the fret changes, thus, modifying the sound and the intonation. 

Will black guitar strings damage your guitar?

If the guitar string has lost its shine a bit, the guitar won’t be damaged. 

It takes some time until the strings do hurt the instrument. 

More specifically, it will occur when guitar strings get rusty. 

Rusty strings will likely damage the fret, producing dents.

The dents produced in the fret happen because you press the rusty string down against it. 

Slowly, tatters start to occur. 

Those tatters cause intonation issues, buzz, and sometimes even repeated notes along in the same string. 

You want to avoid this issue because it affects not only sound but also the way you play. 

If the problem has already arisen, then I recommend you a guitar refret. 

If you don’t know what refretting a guitar means, then read the following article. 

We explain the process and the reasons in a more detailed form. 

Can black guitar strings hurt you in any way?

Rarely do guitar strings cause any damage at all. 

In the case of regular strings, the worst you can obtain are callouses at your fingertips. 

This is normal, and you should not worry about it. 

On the other hand, a rusty string could hurt you but only if you haven’t developed such hard callouses that toughen your skin. 

Also, it tends to be the case for guitarists that haven’t played their guitars for extended periods of time. 

Luckily, even if you cut your fingers, the wound will not be too deep. 

Lastly, a black string (without any sign of corrosion), will function as any regular string. 

That is to say, it will either produce callouses or nothing. 

Is there a way of stopping guitar strings from decaying?

There is some advice you can follow if you want to preserve the quality of your guitar strings. Here’s the list: 

  • Wash your hands: I know that I mentioned that even washing your hands won’t prevent sweat to come out of your fingers. That is a fact. However, water and soap drastically reduce the amount of grease and dirt that your fingers normally carry. So, even if you do sweat, there are other measures you can take later on. 
  • String cleaners: string lubricants are sold at music stores. Simply clean the strings with it after playing. Bear in mind that you don’t have to do this every single time you finish playing. 
  • Use a dry cloth: Gently pass a dry cloth or towel through the strings to take out the excess sweat. Do it after finishing playing with your guitar. This option is cheaper and simpler than the string cleaner. 
  • Change strings: The simplest option is to get a set of new strings and get rid of the older ones. Of course, you can do it just when the older strings are too worn out. If you believe you still can save them (before purchasing new ones), do any of the steps previously mentioned. 

What to do if only some of your guitar strings turn black?

You may notice how just two or three strings are turning black while the rest keep their shine. 

In those situations, you could tackle the problem by only replacing the decayed strings. 

Leave the rest. They still may serve for a longer period of time. 

Nonetheless, you should be aware of the following. 

It’s advisable to change every string at once. That way, you are starting fresh. 

More specifically, you avoid having certain strings that sound better than others. 

After all, the difference between brand new strings and used strings is rather big. 

Having a hybrid of strings affects the sound and even the feel of your playing. 

But, despite this reality, nothing stops you from doing it. Even if it sounds different, you’ll still be able to play with it. 

Plus, what happens if you need to replace only one string? Will you change them all just for one? 

Maybe you do, and keep the used ones as a backup in case you break the newer ones. 

As always, the decision is up to you. Just consider this information before taking action. 

Some players prefer the tone of old strings

What’s great about the world of music is that possibilities are almost endless. 

There is no one way of doing things. In the case of strings, this logic applies as well. 

What I’m trying to say is that many musicians enjoy the sound of used guitar strings. 

After all, there’s a considerable difference between new and used guitar strings. 

However, that difference doesn’t necessarily mean “bad”. 

Of course, nobody likes playing with damaged strings. But strings with a rather dull tone? 

A dull, lifeless tone could help to achieve a gloomy atmosphere that may serve a specific purpose. Who knows? 

Or maybe bright tones are just too clean for some players. 

Once again, there’s a uniqueness in style and preference that applies to every single guitarist. All you have to do is find the ones that suit you better and stick to them. 

And if you get bored of them, you can always try on new things!