How to make old guitar strings sound like new.

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Märk
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How to make old guitar strings sound like new.

Post by Märk »

Fill a small saucepan with water, add about 1/4 cup of vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, bring it to a boil, and throw those crusty, nasty old suckers in there. Let it boil for about 5 minutes. Your house will smell like vinegar, but your strings will be sparkly looking (and sounding) and you just saved yourself 10 bucks. (DUH)

For all the doubting BLTs out there, I wrote this post about 5 minutes after I tried this on my acoustic guitar strings. They went from completely dead (I haven't changed them in like 2 years) to being almost *too* bright and sparkly. The worst part of this ordeal is taking the strings off and putting them back on, but if you're going to put new strings on, YOU HAVE TO DO THIS ANYWAY. Except, this way IS FREE.
Last edited by Märk on Sat Apr 04, 2009 1:28 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: How to make old guitar strings sound ike new.

Post by Billy's Little Trip »

An acid and a base? I guess that ratio "could" be still acidic enough to clean tarnish. But hey, I'm just a pool man. But I can't help but wonder what the salt will do to the copper if not rinsed really well. But Patina is all the rage. :wink:
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Re: How to make old guitar strings sound ike new.

Post by Märk »

Do a little experiment for me, would ya? Take an old, tarnished up penny. The dirtier and blacker the better. Put a few drops of vinegar on it. Watch closely. It doesn't do anything. Now, with the vinegar still coating it, sprinkle some salt on it. Tell me what you observe :)
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Re: How to make old guitar strings sound like new.

Post by Billy's Little Trip »

Crap, you didn't tell me there was going to be a fucking test for responding to your Canadian thread. Ok, fine, but can I do this tomorrow? Like say, around noon?
Right now I'd probably break stuff and knock over boxes of pancake mix just trying to find my vinegar.
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Re: How to make old guitar strings sound like new.

Post by Märk »

NO. DO IT NOW.
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Re: How to make old guitar strings sound like new.

Post by Billy's Little Trip »

I'm out of salt. Can I use sand, or something about the same size?
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Re: How to make old guitar strings sound like new.

Post by Märk »

:roll:

Here, just watch this. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CpJ2H9QqzHs

Ralphy, get off the stage, sweetheart.
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Re: How to make old guitar strings sound like new.

Post by roymond »

Billy's Little Trip wrote:I'm out of salt. Can I use sand, or something about the same size?
Out of salt???? How is anyone out of salt?

Ok, now I have to do this. After my run...
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Re: How to make old guitar strings sound like new.

Post by Eric Y. »

Märk wrote:Fill a small saucepan with water, add about 1/4 cup of vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, bring it to a boil, and throw those crusty, nasty old suckers in there.
Billy's Little Trip wrote:An acid and a base?
I must have misread the ingredient list because I didn't see any base. Unless your water has an abnormally high pH?




p.s. remind me never to go to a guitar string store in "Not the USA" because I've never spent ten bucks on a set of guitar strings.
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Re: How to make old guitar strings sound like new.

Post by JonPorobil »

If by "abnormally high" you mean ANYTHING above 7.00000....

Most I've ever spent on a set of six guitar strings was about $8. Usually I get away with spending about $6.

Mandolin strings, though. Fer chrissakes. Last time I bought mandolin strings, I paid $15 plus tax on 'em, and then one broke while I was trying to tune it.

I'll have to remember not to clip my guitar strings so close to the peg next time; my current strings will be nearly impossible to put back on once I take them off.
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Re: How to make old guitar strings sound like new.

Post by Märk »

This is the perils of living in a country that doesn't suck, I guess. Expensive imported guitar strings. :)

If and when I go to the local music store, I'm looking at 10 bucks for a new set, unless they're on special. Boomers are okay, I prefer D'Adarrios for the electric, or Martins for the acoustic. But truth be told, I'll buy anything that's on sale. THAT IS UNTIL NOW. Unless I actually break a string, which I rarely do, it's acetic acid and sodium iodide bath. Im'a see if I can get 5 years out of a set from now on.
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Re: How to make old guitar strings sound like new.

Post by Billy's Little Trip »

Märk wrote::roll:

Here, just watch this. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CpJ2H9QqzHs

Ralphy, get off the stage, sweetheart.
I'm sold. :P
Eric Y. wrote:I must have misread the ingredient list because I didn't see any base. Unless your water has an abnormally high pH?.
Yeah, I know, salt isn't an acid nor a base. But it is a sodium and will raise the pH when added to water. Isn't that a reaction of a base? Adding salt to vinegar, isn't it going to neutralize the acid at some point and raise the pH? I don't know, I'm just asking. :wink:
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Re: How to make old guitar strings sound like new.

Post by PlainSongs »

The metal strings of my classical guitar are old and crusty, so why not experiment. I didn't take them off and cook them, but I rubbed them with a "sandwich" where the bread is cardboard and the filling is a cloth soaked in salty vinegar. Result: I think they sound a bit better, they look cleaner but they also look vaguely pig-coloured.

Märk, did your strings change colour at all? Or is to do with the country? Because I discovered the following. Here's Chemistry Fun with Pennies kitchen science, and BLT, here and here is some more stuff on the chemistry.

So as for pennies, these are my results:
DSC00836_1.jpg
DSC00836_1.jpg (50.88 KiB) Viewed 2598 times
Top row, L to R (2 pence with the Queen Of It All):
untreated, smart & shiny
untreated, cruddy
untreated, dog-mauled
soaked then H2O-washed -> bright but dull pig-pink
soaked then nothing -> verdigris

Bottom row, all partially soaked then H2O-rinsed:
1p UK, 1c US, 2c € -> the cents get shinier, the penny just goes dull pig-pink
5p UK plated with pink copper stuff
1c Can -> super shiny (ok it wasn't very cruddy to start with, but still; in contrast, an initially shiny UK coin soaked and rinsed will piggify and lose some of its luster)

CONCLUSIONS
  • Vinegar-salt soak surely cleans up some oxidation, but it doesn't quite restore as before. Unless your metal has something to do with Canada.
  • For green strings, soak and don't rinse.
  • For sterling matte pink strings, ask the Royal Mint of the United Kingdom.
  • No idea about the effect of boiling (maybe it just speeds things up? maybe not).
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Re: How to make old guitar strings sound like new.

Post by Märk »

@Plainsongs: You definitely have to take them off to do this, what you did would take off the surface tarnish, which is what the salt/vinegar solution is for, but the boiling gets the embedded oils and dead skin/etc out of the windings (and hot acid works better, too). Also, yes, definitely rinse the solution off. I guess I forgot to mention that :oops:

My acoustics wound strings are bronze alloy, and they came out pretty shiny, although I did rinse well and wipe them with a clean cloth.
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Re: How to make old guitar strings sound like new.

Post by Märk »

Billy's Little Trip wrote:Adding salt to vinegar, isn't it going to neutralize the acid at some point and raise the pH? I don't know, I'm just asking. :wink:
No. Table salt is sodium chloride, which combines with acetic acid (vinegar) to form sodium acetate and hydrogen chloride, which is a strong acid.
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Re: How to make old guitar strings sound like new.

Post by jast »

My friendly neighbourhood chemist says that adding the vinegar and salt is pretty much a waste of time. Acetic acid isn't strong enough to give you any hydrochloric acid, you'd need something like sulfuric acid.
What's actually happening, perhaps, is that either the boiling cleans it up or, if the metal in the strings is more noble than that of the pot you're boiling the strings in (or vice versa, whatever) you build a very weak battery and the current does something like electrolysis. Or something like that... that part went way over my head. ;)

If you want something that actually has a direct effect, try combining baking soda and vinegar (warning: foams like mad).
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Re: How to make old guitar strings sound like new.

Post by Billy's Little Trip »

jast wrote:If you want something that actually has a direct effect, try combining baking soda and vinegar (warning: foams like mad).
Doesn't that make a form of salt?
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Re: How to make old guitar strings sound like new.

Post by PlainSongs »

I may try the full boiling treatment at a later point. Any ideas to rejuvenate nylon strings?

++ sciency bit ++

As for the dull pink I got, this helpful page says that "copper which is clean but microscopically rough tends to be less shiny and more pinkish." That would be it... This page suggest rubbing baking soda paste over it to shine it up. OK - I can't see exactly why that would work though.

++ extra science on top ++

And now let's get carried away. The chemistry here is confusing me! And the Web doesn't quite clear it up. For now I have this (and it's a guess) (acids are green, salts blue, bases red):

clean copper & vinegar (which is 95% water and 5% acetic acid, CH_3COOH):
Cu + CH_3COOH + H_2O --> CuCH_3COO- (copper acetate) + H_2 + H_2O
... if the copper is oxydised (CuO) it will be the same except you get more H_2O and less H_2 ??

vinegar & salt
CH_3COOH + H_2O + NaCl <--> HCl + H_2O (weak hydrocloric acid) + NaCH_3COO-
[An acid and a salt on each side, no bases involved... is there some equilibrium reached here then? that's why I put a bidirectional arrow... not sure]
then add CuO
CuO + HCl --> CuCl_2 + H_2O

vinegar & baking soda
CH_3COOH + H_2O + NaHCO_3 --> H_2CO_3 (carbonic acid, which quickly falls apart in H_2O and CO_2, the latter causing foam) + NaCH_3COO-
[so yeah BLT, you get a dissolved salt!]
then add CuO
... ?? No idea. You don't have an acid here to act on the CuO, since the carbonic acid fell apart... but maybe it acts on the CuO before it falls apart? Or maybe what happens is just the vinegar + CuO reaction except the agitation of the foaming speeds it up? ?

@Jast & The Chemist (band name? ;-): the above v+s equation has hydrochloric acid but I'm not sure about it - this thread also calls it into question. Then again, if that's not what happens, then why does adding NaCl speed things up? Secondly, perhaps something electrical happens if you use a metal pan and NaCl (salt water being a good conductor), but I cleaned the coins in cold salty vinegar in a ceramic bowl, so it could only be part of the story.
Last edited by PlainSongs on Mon Apr 06, 2009 9:52 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: How to make old guitar strings sound like new.

Post by Eric Y. »

I believe your formulas are faulty from the very beginning:
PlainSongs wrote:Cu
-- Pennies (can't speak for all countries, though) are not pure copper, and neither are the guitar strings which were originally being discussed.
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Re: How to make old guitar strings sound like new.

Post by PlainSongs »

Eric, true, but most of the 'penny cleaning' action is about the outer coating, which like your link says is or has a lot of copper. There could be interference but perhaps it's small? (And I wonder if other common coin materials like Ni and Zn would behave similarly since they are chemically close?)

The differences in alloy or plating may account for the results with the various coins I tried.

When talking about guitar strings it seems even more complicated - you get the physical structure of the winding etc. in addition to chemical matters. EDIT: As the winding is typically bronze, which is mostly copper, the copper equations may be quite relevant. The core would be steel and that's a different matter...
Last edited by PlainSongs on Mon Apr 06, 2009 10:13 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: How to make old guitar strings sound like new.

Post by Ross »

I have not spent much time on this, but II suspect that the presence of the salt has to do with providing ions to bond with the dissociated Copper Oxide. So the vinegar dissolves it- but you need something else to grab bits of it to settle it out of solution
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Re: How to make old guitar strings sound like new.

Post by jb »

Here is the inevitable luddite post.

This is very interesting and I appreciate the spirit in which the discussion is occuring.

However, do yourselves a favor: skip a hamburger and buy some new freakin' strings. Give yourself as many opportunities to sound good as you can. This is a pretty easy one, in my opinion.

String players routinely change their strings when they start to sound "dead". I have bought literally dozens of A strings for my 'cello, at $22 a pop, and the only ones I ever regretted were the times I tried to get away with a cheap generic. And as you go down to the D, G, and C strings they get progressively thicker and more expensive. Luckily, you can get decent machine-wound G and C strings, and they'll last a couple years and never break.

A full set of good strings for a 'cello can easily run you $100. Violin, quite a bit less, but still more than $30. But even if I was poor (again) I'd save up for new good strings before I'd try some chemical tomfoolery.

Now back to your regular discussion.

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