what's this crap on my fingers?
March 24, 2006 9:30 PM   Subscribe

Sometimes, but not always, when I play my acoustic guitar, I get this dark "dirt" on my fingertips...

I do not use a pick, instead I strum or pick or hammer at the strings with my fingertips (not fingernails). Sometimes I'll play for five minutes and my fingertips will be blackened with this stuff which rubs off easily onto paper, etc. Other times I'll play an hour and my fingers will be totally clean at the end. My left hand (fretboard) does not get dirty.

I use steel/bronze-wound strings, I do not use any kind of lubricant on the strings, graphite or otherwise. I don't change the strings very often.

What's on my fingers, and why isn't it on there every time I play?
posted by stupidsexyFlanders to Media & Arts (12 answers total)
 
Sometimes my calloused fingers turn green/blue if I'm using copper strings. If I use expensive strings (like Elixirs) this doesn't happen. I'm pretty sure there's a chemical reaction going on that leaves some residue on your fingers if you use uncoated strings. No big deal.

Someone else can probably explain this better.
posted by adamk at 9:38 PM on March 24, 2006


This is likely a combination of bronze oxidation and dead skin cells rubbed off onto the strings. Why you get it sometimes and not others ... dunno, perhaps you're rubbing it off and it's taking time to re-oxidize. It's nothing to worry about, but some guitarists will tell you that oxidized strings don't sound as crisp as new strings.
posted by frogan at 9:52 PM on March 24, 2006


just to clarify, this is happening/not happening with the same set of strings, unchanged, uncleaned, unmodified in any way. Sometimes they put gunk on my fingers and sometimes they don't. It's definitely not a discoloration but some kind of deposit.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 9:54 PM on March 24, 2006


I have a similar problem -- my guitar teacher thinks I have some kind of superhero sweat that corrodes metal. If I'm using cheap strings, my fingers turn green and the two steel strings start rusting during my first practice session on. However, I get it on my fretting hand and not on my picking hand (I too usually play without a plectrum). I'm not sure what causes it, but everyone I've asked about it thinks it's oxidization.
posted by danb at 10:09 PM on March 24, 2006


I am a professional upright bass player and I have a masters degree in physics and umm... what they said. Oxidation.

I get it all over my fingers with certain strings and I just ignore it. It's hard because there is so much finger food at gigs I often play, but I just stay focused, keep my head down, pick up a cracker, and dip it in the artichoke dip as if my fingers are perfectly clean.

If I ignore it, I pretend, others will too.

Good luck.
posted by nonmyopicdave at 10:39 PM on March 24, 2006


I always get a little of it too. Using better strings does cut down on it some.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:22 AM on March 25, 2006


it's oil from your fingers interacting with the strings as you play ... put your hand on a window and notice the smudge mark ... that stuff on the window goes on every thing you touch

there are probably times when your hands are less oily than others
posted by pyramid termite at 7:06 AM on March 25, 2006


I'm a violinist and I've been rehearsing all day today. The fingertips on my left hand are a pleasant shade of grey, although it seems to rub off fairly quickly.
posted by Lotto at 9:23 AM on March 25, 2006


People's fingers have different amounts and compsitions of skin oil. Some people have very acid skin oil; they can touch a clean steel surface and two hours later, a rusty fingerprint is there. Other people can handle the same surface without making any rust.

My guess is that pyramid termite is correct - maybe you've washed your hands more recently when there's no deposit. It's also possible that not playing for a longer period allows more corrosion to form.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:34 AM on March 25, 2006


Maybe you should try Elixir strings, they are made with Goretex coating, so the oxidation shouldn't happen. Also, be sure to wipe down your strings after you are done playing.
posted by webtom at 12:33 PM on March 25, 2006


People's fingers have different amounts and compsitions of skin oil. Some people have very acid skin oil; they can touch a clean steel surface and two hours later, a rusty fingerprint is there. Other people can handle the same surface without making any rust.

Thanks for that, KG. That explains my metal-destroying superpowers...

Maybe you should try Elixir strings, they are made with Goretex coating, so the oxidation shouldn't happen. Also, be sure to wipe down your strings after you are done playing.

These are good suggestions. Wiping the strings is key, and putting your guitar back in the case (as opposed to leaving it out, exposed to the air) is important also. Elixirs last a lot longer than normal strings, although of course they'll start to go once you wear through the slipperytastic coating.
posted by danb at 4:23 PM on March 25, 2006


I second danb's comment about Elixir strings. I do get the problem with bronze wound strings, but hardly at all with the Elixirs. Be forewarned; they are big bucks to purchase, but they do sound good for up to six months.

My son also has the aforementioned super hero sweat that can chew thru electric strings in under 3 weeks (I once played his guitar and the E, B, and G were pitted) and had resorted to boiling them to clean them up. He moved to the Elixirs and has had great success with them. He has also had good success with GHS strings and Ernie Balls. (he plays bass and guitar)

If you don't switch to Elixirs, please at least wipe the strings down when you are done playing. Oh, and make sure you wash your hands before playing.

When changing your strings, also wipe down the fretboard especially in the regions of the frets. You will be amazed at the gunk that builds up there.
posted by fox_terrier_guy at 8:31 AM on March 27, 2006


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