Are you allergic to your nickel guitar strings?
Guitar players are used to pain! Building callouses on tender fingertips takes time, and even for established guitarists long hours of practicing and gigging can leave fingers sore and raw. "Played until my fingers bled" is a cool line, but not much fun in real life. But other than the basic mechanical effect of the guitar strings on your fingers, have you considered that you might be allergic to your strings?! Regular electric guitar strings are most often made of steel plated with nickel... and nickel allergy is surprisingly common. In fact it is one of the most common causes of allergic contact dermatitis. Nickel is used in many modern objects, because it keeps them shiny, and in guitar strings it also has positive magnetic properties that give a good reaction from your electric guitar's pickups.
Are you allergic to nickel?Allergy to nickel shows up as a type of of allergic contact dermatitis, so if you're allergic to nickel you can get an itchy rash when you come into direct contact with nickel. It is unlikely that you would notice any symptoms immediately, but if you get out an itchy red rash or your skin gets dry patches between a few hours and a few days after coming into contact, then you might be allergic to your nickel strings!
What can I do if I'm allergic to nickel strings?If the symptoms of your nickel allergy are severe and causing you problems, then you can treat the allergy rash with a "topical corticosteroid cream" until it goes away (ask your pharmacist). But then you need to stop it happening again - you need to get some non-nickel guitar strings. Even if you haven't yet experienced a reaction to your strings, if you get the symptoms when wearing nickel jewellery then it would be well worth changing to non-nickel strings to avoid a possible allergic reaction in the future.
Best non-nickel strings: Stainless SteelStainless Steel strings are a good choice even for players who do not suffer from nickel allergy. They give a bright loud sound, with great sustain and the typically last a long time without tarnishing or breaking. Here's what British string maker Rotosound say about their British Steel strings: "Rotosound British Steels electric guitar strings, designed to give a brilliant tone, excellent sustain and great volume are also nickel free making them great for guitar players who suffer allergic reactions to this metal. As only we make our strings we have complete control over the environment they are manufactured in and the quality of the raw materials used, giving us and all guitar players complete confidence in the product. Our British Steels offer an alternative that means those with nickel sensitivity can still enjoy the pleasure of playing the guitar without compromising on brilliant tone, great sustain, a positive grip or superior length of life."
Ernie Ball Stainless Steel Strings are available in most of their usual Slinky range are are said to "provide brighter tone and longer string life", and Fender say that their Stainless 350's strings give "... the high output and aggressive tone that's ideal for heavier styles, such as hard rock and heavy metal. The stainless steel construction also creates a string with an increased lifespan." The list goes on... you won't have any problem finding stainless steel strings!
In Summary - are you allergic to nickel strings?
- Most 'regular' electric guitar strings are nickel-plated
- Nickel allergy is very common
- If you get red rash or dry patches after prolonged contact you might be allergic to nickel
- You can treat the symptoms of nickel allergy by using a "topical corticosteroid cream" from your pharmacist
- You can avoid the allergic symptoms by using non-nickel strings
- Many brands of stainless steel strings are available and give great tone and long life
Now go and play until your fingers bleed... ;)