Rusted Guitar (this might help)

Rusted Guitar? (this might help)

If we’re being truthful, replacing guitar strings is nothing but a nuisance! We know it has to be done to keep your guitar sounding great and every three months is bad enough right? But how would you feel if you had to change strings every three or four weeks due to rust?

That’s just one of the subjects we’ll cover in this article. Along with why guitar strings rust, and what to do to remove rust from other parts of your guitar. So keep reading as we share our tips and tricks on how to restore your guitar to its former glory.

Can You Play A Guitar With Rusty Strings?

It is possible to play a guitar with rusty strings, and some people say they prefer that weird sound rusty guitar strings have. However, playing rusty strings will sound odd to say the least, and can be dangerous. Rusty guitar strings are far more likely to snap mid song than fresh, clean strings.

If a string snaps it could cut your hand or finger and although it might not cause tetanus issues, that cut will hurt for some time and in some cases prevent you from playing the guitar. Plus those people that say they like the sound, that’s usually the excuse of a lazy (or broke) guitarist.

Why Do Guitar Strings Rust?

Any product made from iron has the potential to rust. If you’re using steel strings they’re likely to rust because steel contains iron. Iron needs moisture and oxygen to tarnish, that orangy-brown stuff we call rust is actually tarnished iron.

The oxygen part we can do little about, it’s all around us and we need it to breathe. But the moisture is far more within our control. 

How To Lower The Chances Of Strings Rusting

We transfer dirt, grease and in this case more importantly, moisture onto our guitar strings every time we play. Humans sweat, it’s a fact of life, whether you’re an 18 stone bodybuilder or an 8 stone ballet dancer, you will produce sweat. That sweat gets transferred to the strings and once it mixes with the air we breathe, can cause the steel strings to rust.

To minimise the chances of the strings rusting, there are a few steps you can take;

  1. Always wash and dry your hands thoroughly before picking up your guitar.
  2. After use, even if you’ve only played for a few minutes, wipe the strings and fretboard down with a soft cloth (an old hand towel works well for this).
  3. Apply Fast Fret (or similar) once a week after wiping the strings down.
  4. Store your guitar in a guitar case and maintain a humidity of between 40 to 50%.
  5. Use better quality strings (try copper or nickel wound strings).
guitar strings

Are The Strings Actually Rusted?

As we just said the only metal capable of producing rust is iron or a metal containing iron like steel. If you’re using copper wound strings it’s probably just copper oxidation which is the same as that green tinge that damp copper pipes have. If you’re using nickel strings, it’s probably just a build up of grime which can be removed by wiping the strings down with a soft cloth and then applying Fast Fret or similar.

What About The Pick-Ups?

If the pick-ups are tarnished it’s often best to leave them alone, because the rust won’t affect the sound and anything you do to clean them could cause damage. If you’re adamant that you want the rust gone, spray some WD40 or similar onto a soft cloth or cotton bud (Q tip) and gently rub all around the rusted area. Take care to not allow any of the WD40 touch the paintwork, and then remove any excess with a dry cloth.

Never use steel wool or anything containing anything metal when working on pick-ups because tiny pieces could get stuck onto the magnetic pick-up and cause more harm than good. If the pick-ups are so bad that they’re flaking rust it might be a better idea to replace the pick-ups with a new set.

Other Rust Removers That Can Be Used On Pick-Ups

If you do not like the idea of using WD40 on your prized guitar, there are a few other rust removers you could try.

Lemon Juice & Salt

Squeeze a half of a lemon into a bowl and add a teaspoon of table salt. Stir until thoroughly mixed and then using a cotton bud (Q tip) gently rub the poles of the pick-ups after masking off all of the rest of the pick-ups and the guitar body to prevent any of the lemon juice from touching anywhere it shouldn’t. You might have to reapply two or three times to remove all of the rust then wipe off any excess using a clean, dry, soft cloth.

3 In 1 Penetrating Oil

We find this isn’t as harsh as WD40 but will do the exact same job if applied in exactly the same way. Be sure not to allow any liquid into the pick-ups or touch the body of the guitar to prevent damage.

Baking Soda & Vinegar

Mix baking soda and vinegar into a paste, and after masking off all parts that are not to be treated, apply to the rusted or tarnished areas. Leave for around 60 minutes then clean off with a soft brush. Wipe any residue away with a soft cloth.

Playing The Guitar

Can Rusty Frets Be Cleaned?

If the frets are rusty, it can cause excessive pain to the tips of your fingers and also cause you to play differently. If the rust is only slight, try gently rubbing with a small piece of wire wool. Be careful to not damage the fretboard and don’t take too much of the fret away. If you’re not confident doing this, take it to an expert and have it done professionally.

What About Rusty Screws?

If the screws that hold all of the hardware onto the body of your guitar are rusty, they can all be replaced relatively cheaply. Ask at your local guitar shop, they will either supply you with the correct screws to replace them yourself, or replace them for you for a nominal fee.

What Can Be Done For Rusty Tuning Screws?

If you notice the tuning screws are showing some signs of rust, you have a couple of choices, you could ignore it and carry on playing. You could try to apply some WD40 or similar by using a soft cloth or better yet a cotton bud (Q tip) taking care to not let any touch any part of the guitar except the tuning screw. Repeat until the rust is gone and then use a clean cloth to remove any residue. Or you could remove the strings, remove the tuning screws and soak in either Coca Cola, vinegar or penetrating oil for 24 hours.

What To Do If The Bridge Is Showing Signs Of Rust

If parts of the bridge are showing signs of rust, it could cause the strings to snap, or at least sound off. The best way to remove the rust is to remove the bridge from the guitar and soak it in vinegar for 24 hours. Once the rust has gone, apply some baking soda to the bridge to neutralise the vinegar, wipe clean and replace the bridge.

Ways To Prevent Guitars From Rusting

Here are a few ways to prevent rust build-up on your guitar.

  • The main cause of guitars rusting is sweat transferred from the players hands. Wash and dry your hands before picking up your guitar.
  • Always rub your guitar down with a soft dry cloth (hand towel) after every use. 
  • Use Fast Fret or similar once a week and replace strings regularly.
  • Store your guitar in a case when not in use.
  • Ensure humidity levels of between 40 to 50%.
  • Use top quality strings.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is rust on a guitar bad?

Depending where the rust is, rust on a guitar isn’t necessarily bad. Rusty strings should be replaced, but a slightly rusty pick-up is not too much of a problem.

What causes a guitar to rust?

Moisture and oxygen causes a guitar to rust. We can’t do much about oxygen, but we can help limit the moisture by keeping our hands dry, rubbing strings down after playing, storing the guitar in a case, and ensuring a humidity of between 40 to 50%.

How often should I change my guitar strings?

Guitar strings should be changed every 3 months or 100 hours of play time.

What happens when guitar strings get old?

When guitar strings get old, they’re more likely to snap while playing, and the sound quality is greatly diminished.

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