Working Around a Nickel Allergy
The thought of not being able to pick up a guitar due to pain is quite a chilling thought for most of us, however for some this is a harsh reality. For a percentage of guitar players their playing can be plagued by an allergic reaction to nickel wound guitar strings. This ‘seemingly’ harmless metal can trigger an allergic reaction in the skin and be the source of great discomfort. The reaction usually manifests itself in the form of blistering or a rash, but other symptoms can also be muscular discomfort in the fingers even spreading further up the arm.
This may seem like an issue worlds away for any guitar player, however, it’s a conversation we’ve had with some of our customers on several occasions.
The best form of prevention is to avoid any contact with nickel as much as possible. That sounds all well-and-good, but with the majority of the world’s most popular strings on the market being made with a pure nickel or nickel plated steel wrap, what are the options available?
Well fortunately there are a few choices out there. Many of the world’s guitar string manufacturers produce strings with different wrap wire allowing players to enjoy playing guitar without the worry of breakout or allergic reaction.
The most popular comes in the form of Stainless Steel Strings.
It is worth noting that some common forms of stainless steel can have the addition of nickel. However, when nickel is added to stainless steel it alters its molecular structure and in turn causes it to become non-magnetic. The stainless steel needed for the manufacture of electric guitar strings needs to be magnetic (also known as ferritic) and therefore shouldn’t contain any nickel. Bingo! So what’s available?
What string sets are available for a nickel allergy?
Ernie Ball Stainless Steel Slinky strings are completely nickel and cobalt free. According to Ernie Ball, their plain strings are made of “specially tempered tin plated high carbon steel” making them safe for players with nickel allergies.
Tonally stainless steel strings typically offer a distinct bright tone and longer sustain so will certainly produce a different tone to nickel wound strings. Many Flatwound sets available today are stainless steel wound and give a warmer more mellow tone, so again another tonal option you can consider if you needed to opt for stainless steel strings.
If you’re looking for something a bit different, Optima Gold Strings are coated with real 24 Karat gold… Bling Bling!! The gold coating enhances their durability and gives a bright tone but also makes them suitable for players allergic to nickel too.
What if you can't live without nickel?
But what if you just can’t live without your nickel strings? Another option could be to try coated strings.
The logic behind coated strings is that they create a barrier between the strings and the acidic sweat produced in the fingers, thus preventing any kind of corrosion to the string that may otherwise be affecting their tone and life span.
Many of the world’s most popular coated strings will often be nickel plated wound and treated with a coating over the wrap wire. Whilst this will create a barrier between the fingers and the raw surface of the string, the string underneath is essentially still nickel wound so depending on the severity of the allergy they may or may not offer a viable solution. It’s also worth noting that the coating on some strings can flake off too after time so could expose the string underneath. Not all strings are coated in the same way though. The method of coating the string and the coating ‘recipe’ will differ from string brand to string brand, so if you did want to explore the possibility of coated strings to help alleviate a nickel allergy, it’s highly recommended to try different sets. Many of the major brands make coated strings nowadays so there’s plenty to choose from.
Another good practice would be to wash your hands immediately after playing. This would eliminate the likelihood of any nickel dust or microscopic nasties staying on your hands for a prolonged period of time after playing. It may also be an idea to wipe your strings down after playing too with a clean cloth. Alternatively something like GHS Fast-Fret or the Planet Waves XLR8 String Cleaner and Lubricant would do the trick.
It may also be worth checking the material of your hardware or frets. Most guitars come fitted with Nickel-Silver frets. Stainless Steel frets are now available so it could be worth checking these out too if you wanted to eliminate any other factors that could cause an allergic flare up.
We hope this blog has helped offer some options for players who have experienced this issue, or perhaps even raised awareness to something people didn’t even realise was applicable to guitar players.
These are only suggestions based on our findings and dealings with customers in the past. We would always recommend consulting a medical professional for advice if you have or suspect you may have a nickel allergy. Of course, if you need further guidance with stainless strings or anything guitar related, please feel free to contact us and we’d happily offer any advice where possible.
If you have tried any of the above solutions or come across any other options to help prevent this issue, we’d love to hear from you!