The Best Solutions For Acidic Hands When Playing Guitar

When researching for a recent post about why fingers turn black when playing the guitar I also learnt about acidity in fingers and hands.

It turns out that many of us have an unusually high level of acidity in their sweat and that this can deteriorate strings quickly, damage fretboards and leave fingers black, gray or green.

Some of these players, also known as ‘String Killers’ or ‘Acid Fingers’ to their friends, have reported having gone through two packs of strings a week. Some even notice the ‘rust’ on the strings overnight or after a few hours of playing.

What is clear is that It can detract from the enjoyment of playing and damage a guitar so I did some research to see if there were any solutions and how effective they were.

Are there solutions for acidic fingers when playing guitar?

Performance In Reducing Acidic Finger Damage On Guitar Strings
Solution Average Good Excellent
Finger & Hand Applications o
Wash Hands & Wipe Strings o o
String Applications o o
Coated Strings & Stainless Steel Strings o
Diet o o

A combination of the above would prove a lot more effective at controlling the corrosion caused by acidity. Below we go through the options and what combinations can work best.

By far the best way to control the acidity from your fingers is with diet. However to do this isnt easy at all, in fact it can be extremely hard to do, there is also conflicting information about what foods reduce acidity, and how do you go about establishing whether you do have high acid levels?

What Are The Best Solutions For Acidic Hands When Playing guitar?

Finger And Hand Applications

Cornstarch – Jeff Beck and Ray Flacke are known to have used powder mainly to deal with sweaty hands and can help acidic fret hands to a degree also.

They may have used been talcum powder which some people are happy to use and many claim doesn’t gunk up as much,  but with some talc having links to cancer we have omitted it here and recommended corn starch. Corn starch can be purchased in most drug stores or personal hygiene isles in most supermarkets.

This can help absorb the dampness on the fingers but some claim that the combination of sweat and powder on the strings can build up on the strings. So use it sparingly.

The other issue is that if you get your hand wet after applying talc, like for example a cold water bottle that has condensation on it, then your hands will become gunky.

All this being said, if you are disciplined whilst you play, and don’t mind cleaning your strings with a string cleaner or rubbing alcohol after each session then this could work for you.

Chops PrePlay is a pH balancer and moisturiser for hands made specifically for musicians. It is hypoallergenic and is absorbed in seconds, each tube has about 200 applications.

You rub a small bead of it on your fingertips and it creates an invisible film over them to stop contact with the strings.

From the reviews available it has mixed responses, and after an hour or so can become sticky to the touch whilst others rave about it. It would be one to try and a matter of personal preference.

Guitar Hands is a product created by a Clinical Dermatologist – Randy Jacobs MD, FAAD and  was created by him to help balance the pH of the skin thus preventing corrosion of the strings.

It has 4 attributes:

  1. Cleans your hands
  2. Balances the pH in your skin
  3. Moisturiser with lipids so you hands are silky smooth.
  4. Decrease friction on the strings, neck and between fingers

Washing Your Hands And Wiping Strings

Keeping your hands clean is always important before playing guitar, not only does it remove sweat but also the grime from everyday life.

The coils of ‘wound strings’ on a guitar catch sweat, dirt and grime in between them, so each time you play with dirty hands you are adding to the build up. This will naturally corrode the strings over time but can be increased with acidic hands.

Keep a microfiber cloth with a low pile in your guitar case and when you finish playing wipe down the strings, this will take off some of the build-up that is generated during each session.

If you really want to make this method alone work for you then you will need to be disciplined. You will need to wash your hands before playing, wipe them off between every song, and wipe the strings down when done playing.

It is not required to use soap every time however as this can cause an imbalance in the skin and lead to irritation.

You are trying to stop the reaction before the damage has a chance to accumulate.

String Applications

Mineral oil itself is non-toxic and very cheap and one of the best methods. You can purchase it in a small pump spray bottle. Apply a small amount to a lint-free cloth and run this up and down the strings to coat them. Other people also use baby oil which is mineral oil with added scent.

Alternatively products like Fastfret (string cleaner and lubricant) which is mainly a mineral oil comes in stick form and is very easy to apply to the strings with little to no mess.

Any excess can easily be wiped off and it protects your strings from your acidic fingers.

How long it lasts however really depends on the individual.

Kyser Dr Stringfellow is a string cleaner and claims to extend the life of the strings. It is used after playing to wipe down the strings and leaves a thin protective layer.

To use it, slide a lint free cloth under the strings and then spray and rub the strings with the cloth to coat all sides.

Wipe down your strings and apply it after every time you play.

Fast-Fret by GHS – as previously mentioned is mainly a mineral oil and acts as a string cleaner and lubricant. It comes in a stick form and is easier to apply than a pump with no overspray. It can also be used on the fretboard and neck.

Some claim that it can build up on the fretboard and get a little gunky over time. However, this is a popular product and is highly rated, many swear by it.

Fingerease – Is a guitar string lubricant with added benefits. Not only does it lubricate the strings and allow for quick movement but the coating application, according to some, also turns your strings into Elixir coated strings but you don’t get the flaking.

Some people report that you can ‘feel’ it on your hands and initially it may feel a little strange when playing. It has been reported that Fingerease has silicone within it which may affect the finish on your guitar.

If your guitar has a ‘nitro’ finish (nitrocellulose lacquer), mainly found on vintage guitars, then it can dull the finish and it wont come back. Alternatively if you have a guitar with a  ‘poly’ finish (polyurethane) like the majority of more modern guitars then it will be safe to use.

100% Denatured Alcohol – After a session playing guitar, apply a small amount of denatured alcohol (often known as methalated spirits or ethanol) to a lint free cloth so that is just damp.

Then using this, wipe down the strings all the way from nut to saddle.

You have to be extremely careful with this method, taking care not to get any on the finish of the guitar as it can ruin it. Also do not have exposed flames around it when first applying it as it is extremely flammable, after a short period it evaporates.

Coated Strings and Stainless Steel Strings

Coated strings are strings that have been coated with a polymer coating to prevent string corrosion.

There are different brands but from the research done it is clear that Elixir coated strings and D’Addario are the best.

Elixir Acoustic Polyweb strings or Elixir Electric Polyweb strings  come in different gauges to suit all and are recommended for those with acidic fingers as they have a thick coating on them like a sleeve (the nano web strings that Elixir also offer, have a coating in the ‘grooves’ of the string so they are more prone to corrosion).

The downside of these strings are that when they start to deteriorate they start to flake, particularly if you rub them down to hard after finishing a session, so can end up on and inside your guitar (unless on an electric). Also the tone of the strings and feel are not to everyone’s liking.

For classical guitar the D’Addario EXP45 or EXP46 coated strings are recommended.

To maintain longevity you will still need to clean them with a microfiber after every session but do not press too hard as you may remove the coating.

Stainless steel strings are an alternative to coated strings that some people choose to play with and these come with a proprietary anti-rust coating and last longer than uncoated strings.

Diet

Diet is by far the best way to control your body’s acid levels but is the hardest to get right and sometimes we can’t control it all. This is the frustration that many people have when trying to deal with levels of acidity in their bodies.

If you want to actually deal with the problem then you will need to look at your diet and consult a doctor or dietician.

The fact that you have acidic hands and fingers could be the symptom of something else not yet discovered but equally could be nothing at all. It could be that you are taking other medication that causes the acidity and there aren’t any real effective alternatives. However it could also be as simple as, we are consuming too much coffee and processed meats which are high in acidity.

All the other methods we have looked at above are just dealing with this symptom and not the actual problem. Diet will deal with the problem but restoring your body’s acidic / alkaline levels in most cases is not easy.

How Can You Test If Your Sweat Is Acidic

You can test the acidity levels in your urine and saliva easily (note this won’t test the acidity in your blood), at home. Head to you local drugstore and you will be able to purchase some pH test strips which you can test with saliva or urine.

According to Dr Sara Gottfied MD, testing of saliva should be done in the morning as this is when acidity levels are highest but it should be two hours after eating to ensure an accurate result. She advises ‘fill your mouth with saliva and then swallow it. Repeat this step again to ensure your spit is clean, and then place some saliva on the pH strip’.

If you have regular times that you play guitar, then try to test then also as pH testing can be done often during the day. Do this over a period of at least a week, keeping a food diary every day, to ensure an accurate result based on your diet and eating habits.

If you have low pH then it is acidic and if you have high pH results then it is alkali.

Should I Change My Diet?

There are a subset of people who are proponents of an Alkali diet in order to reduce acidity in their bodies and create a ‘healthier’ way of living.

However, the word ‘healthier’ isn’t entirely true as this article in healthline confirms. The alkali diets recommend a lot of fruit, vegetables, whole, and unprocessed foods. These foods in themselves are part of a healthy diet but the claims that alkali are the reason are unfounded and the benefits of its diet are not related to pH.

Before seeing a doctor or dietician it is worth taking some basic steps in your diet to see if you can reduce the acidity in your sweat. Many guitar players have reduced the abilities of their ‘acid killing’ fingers by simply cutting their caffeine and nicotine intake.

Simple steps like this have proved successful for many so its is worth discovering they will work for you also.

For Some tips on how to reduce acidity in your diet it is worth reading this.

Best Combined Non-Diet Related Solutions For Guitar String Longevity

If changing your diet sounds like too much work and you don’t want to cut out all those delicious foods then the only way to really control acidity in your hands is with a combined solution.

If you take any one of the combinations below and then store your guitar in a hard case with a humidifier / dehumidifier this will be the best solution.

Cheapest Non Diet Combination & Safest For Your Guitar:

Washing Your Hands And Wiping Strings + Mineral Oil String Application

Most Effective Non Diet Combination:

Washing Your Hands And Wiping Strings + Coated Strings + Fast Fret

Related Questions:

What Microfiber Cloths For Wiping Down Your Guitar Strings?

We would recommend using a low pile untreated microfiber cloth like this one , it is excellent on guitars and other instruments.

I Have Heard WD40 Can Also Be Used On Guitar Strings?

WD40 is not good for guitar strings or guitars in general. It has solvents within it which can break down the finish and may cause a negative reaction to skin over a period of time.

I Play Blues Guitar, Are There Slides That Are Anti Corrosive For Acidic Hands?

If you play guitar with a slide, make sure you get a stainless steel one or a tungsten carbide slide.

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