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Tuesday

Treating New Guitar Strings with WD-40

Is "Pre-treating" Better Than Coated Strings?

Okay, so ya gotta stick with me on this one, cuz I've done my homework! After being told about soaking new strings in WD-40 (wounds only), by someone who's been doing it for years, I decided to check it out for myself.

Bear with me here, and see what you think, ok... (or skip to the bottom for the deals on strings)


First of all, any guitar string, regardless of its alloys, how it's wound, coated, frozen, boiled, oiled, maintained, mojofied or blessed by the pope, will lose its brightness and tonal balance. This is because even if they could be kept squeaky clean, playing gradually alters any string's overall uniformity. Notice how old strings feel when removed. You can feel where they've made fret contact, especially in the areas of your favorite keys, where you tend to bend more, etc. Their diameter and shape becomes uneven across the scale length area.

String quality and tonal life is also affected by sweat, corrosive salts in your sweat, spilled beer and the inevitable crud build up associated with moisture and other environmental factors, i.e. dust, smoke, etc. The wound strings in particular are worst affected since their ridged texture is conducive to absorption and collecting build-up, as well as cleaning difficulty.

Coated strings are supposed to keep their tone longer by inhibiting the absorption of corrosive moisture elements into the windings and core area. Remember this part. However, the texture of a coated string is still ridgy, and thus still conducive to build-up and cleaning difficulty. Also, coated strings are somewhat muted to begin with as the coating dampens a bit of a metal string's natural brightness. Remember that the unwound strings are NOT coated, so this article doesn't deal with them.

I believe more and more guitar makers are shipping their higher end models with coated strings in order to offset time & exposure from many different players in busy music store conditions. Music store staff don't usually wipe down strings and re-tune guitars after people try them out, and merchants aren't interested in string changes for inventory. So, if a manufacturer want's potential buyers testing their instruments to hear them in decent condition, coated strings may help. Though it may seem in a guitar shop's best interest to provide hand wipes to the knuckle draggin', mouth breathin', KFC eatin' Saturday crowd, I've yet to see it implemented.

Perhaps another option besides plain or coated strings is "treated" strings. Finally we arrive at WD-40. Strings treated to resist moisture absorption and corrosive elements. And unlike a coated product, less noticeable to the touch and muted to the ears.

Stick with me here, as I will hopefully address any and all concerns about WD-40 as the treatment substance. Because I share many of these concerns.

"WD-40" literally stands for Water Displacement, 40th Attempt (they nailed it before Formula 409 or Heinz 57). It's available virtually everywhere, and is far less expensive, ounce for ounce, than any product specifically marketed for cleaning strings. But is it as good? Well, keep reading-- and remember we're talking about "treating" new strings, not just cleaning them.

"But won't this greasy, messy stuff only attract more dirt and crud?"

WD-40 is also a penetrant, solvent and cleaner, as well as a lubricant. I soak my wound strings in it then wipe them off before installing. Getting the detergent & moisture displacement elements deep inside the windings is the primary goal. Plus, sufficient lubrication remains to reduce friction in the nut slots. Consider that a coated string of the same gauge is going to sit tighter in a slot than a non-coated, and may require some lube anyway-- possibly even some slot filing. If any coated strings are also self-lubricating at the guitar's binding points, this is news to me.


"Will WD-40 harm my guitar's finish, fretboard or even me?"

Treating your wound strings as previously described does not involve or expose your guitar's finish surfaces to significant amounts of the substance. I'm talking about treating the strings, not cleaning or polishing the instrument, much less spraying down the guitar. In fact, due to its penetrative and solvent properties, I have every reason to believe WD-40 could lift and de-laminate checked finishes, binding, inlays, and maybe even nuts and frets. So just don't spray your guitar with it! And don't use it in salad dressings or as a condiment either-- although this string condiment is better tonally than the condom of coated strings. Sorry...

Below are a few interesting points from the extensive wd40.com FAQ page:  

"WD-40 does not contain silicone, kerosene, water, wax, graphite, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), or any known cancer-causing agents."

"...WD-40 remains effective even after it appears to dry. The corrosion and rust protection ingredients remain adhered to the surface...

WD-40 gets under dirt, grime and grease to clean...

...protects metal surfaces with corrosion-resistant ingredients to shield against moisture and other corrosive elements..." 

These are key benefit factors in terms of saturating this substance within the string windings/core zone. In this condition, the bad stuff is repelled, displaced and even neutralized to some degree.

I place my new wound strings (still coiled from the pack) into a gallon zip lock bag with a little piece of tape at the ends to keep 'em from poking through the bag. Then I spray some WD-40 into the bag, and let them "marinate" for a day or two. When time to re-string, I wipe off the excess with a paper towel, and install the strings.

For maintenance & cleaning of already installed strings, I slide a cloth (dish towel works great) between strings and fretboard, and use a WD-40 saturated cotton ball to clean the strings, one at a time. Then wipe 'em dry with a dry cotton ball. This works well for cleaning all strings, but remember the initial pre-install "treating" is only necessary with the wound strings.

So try TREATING your guitar strings with WD-40 before installing them! It's way cheaper than coated strings & specialty string cleaners, provides active protection inside the windings and doesn't rob brightness. But it tastes terrible! 

Remember that ALL strings degrade no matter what, due to tension and the stresses of playing. So don't waste your money on coated strings! Instead, treat your strings, always wash your hands before playing, and wipe the sweat off your strings when you're done. 

Another thing to note is that dirty, crusty strings accelerate FRET WEAR. Built-up crud acts as an abrasive between the string and fret surfaces. Grist for the mill, if you will.

Best Deals On Strings - Including BULK:

D'Addario EXL110 Bulk 25 Sets @Amazon Merchants

D'Addario Bulk Sets @eBay Stores




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