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I have a 2 week old Schecter Hellraiser Extreme with Ebony fingerboard. Came with factory Ernie Ball strings.

I noticed the last few times that I've played it (it only has @ 7 total playing hours on it) that my fingertips were black after. It washes off fairly well with soap and water. I have been using GHS Fast-Fret™ string cleaner after every use since I got the guitar.

I figured it was some "stain" from the fretboard being new but them read that ebony boards are untreated! So, I used a white towel and wiped my strings and sure enough it left many black streaks on my towel!

Does anyone know what the heck it is and how I can get it to stop?

--I just now received this rather unhelpful reply from a schecter guitar tech:

"Not all ebony is the same. Some maybe light and require a stain. With that said, every finger board goes through some sort of buffing to clean the fret board, smooth it ou, and make it look glossy. This could simply be a combination of the strings and the fret board."

I'm hoping that I can get a more helpful answer on this board....

  • Note that Fast Fret is (mostly?) mineral oil and might act as a mild solvent for the die. Additionally, some of the color might be e.g. nickel oxidation acting as a pigment suspended in the fast-fret solution. In the first case, try a different oil (or refrain from using a treatment) – horatio Sep 6 '13 at 21:01
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    From the way you described your towel experiment, it sounds like there's some oily residue on the strings themselves... could it be the Fast-Fret reacting to the factory strings (or the fingerboard) somehow? I would try removing both of those factors from the equation by putting on a fresh set of your favorite strings and not applying Fast-Fret. – NReilingh Sep 6 '13 at 21:25
  • Thanks guys for the quick replies. I don't feel comfortable using a strong solvent like lighter fluid on my new guitar (yet) but I will will definetly be discontinuing use of fast fret, and I'm getting stings changed next week too. Will post results if there are any. Thanks again – TheAxxe Sep 6 '13 at 21:42
  • I'd be taking it back to the supplier, and trying out several other similar instruments - if it's a shop, the guys there will /won't have had similar problems. On a brand new instrument this just shouldn't happen. It reminds me of one of the reasons I never buy new.... – Tim Sep 7 '13 at 7:57
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    Well, I'm getting my strings changed today, but not because of the black "smudge"! The black stuff tapered off and eventually went away completely when I stopped using Fast-Fret! Maybe it was coincidence, but I'll never use that product on an ebony fretboard again.... – TheAxxe Sep 13 '13 at 15:42
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It happens all the time, irrespective of whether the strings are new. The 'dirt' is highly likely to be metal oxides rubbing off onto your fingers from the strings. Phosphor-bronze does it; Nickel and chromium content in strings does it. The rare earth metal content in the strings reacts to certain body chemistry (acidity in sweat) or even humid air which contains dissolved carbon dioxide (making weak carbonic acid) which reacts with them. Playing such strings leaves this residue on your fingers - the harder you play the more oxide rubs off. Try wiping the strings down with a microfibre cloth first to remove any residue already on the strings before playing. If it persists - try lightly oiling the strings to create a barrier (stops the reaction between fingers and strings) or even changing strings. If all else fails, I am told changing diet can even help! Eat more alkaline forming food (veggies) and less grains, sugar and processed foods....but that's another story!

  • There might be something to the changing diet theory because the same set of strings can exhibit this finger blackening effect on and off. Like your fingertips can be clean on a certain set of strings for weeks, and then you see black for a few days, and it's gone again. – Kaz Sep 10 at 3:08
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Only the finest and most expensive ebony is perfectly black. Most examples of ebony have pronounced brown stripes. So in almost all cases, guitar manufacturers put dye on their ebony fretboards to hide the imperfections. The dye they use is the same type used for leather. Here is an example from the Stewart MacDonald company.

It appears that you bought a guitar with a poor quality of dye, or an excessive amount of dye that the manufacturer did not clean off and remove beforehand.

Remove the strings and rub down the fretboard with a paper towel and lighter fluid (as in what is used in cigarette lighters). Make sure you have adequate ventilation and that you are not near any flames or source of electrical sparks. The lighter fluid solvent should remove the excess dye onto the paper towels.

The lighter fluid will evaporate in seconds and you can then put on new strings. If it is real ebony, there is no need to apply an oil dressing to the fingerboard, although some people do this (more on that below).

Sometimes rosewood is dyed to make it look like ebony. But you can tell the difference because rosewood has some visible open pores in the grain, whereas ebony is a very tightly-grained wood without pores.

With rosewood, you can clean it off with lighter fluid, dye it if you wish, and then apply an oil finish like this one from Stewart MacDonald, according to the directions on the bottle. You need to use rubber gloves, have good ventilation, and be careful with the rosewood finishing oil, which is flammable and somewhat toxic. The rosewood finish has to dry and cure for more than 24 hours (during which time it gives off harmful vapors) before you buff it off and replace the strings. It provides a smoother, harder and more glassy finish to the otherwise porous rosewood, and helps prevent the rosewood from drying out and cracking.

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I've owned over 300 guitars and have played for 27 years. I buy and sell. I also repair. I do set ups and finish repair. I will tell you that brand new strings can make a maple neck look old and give you "coal miner's fingers". I think that some graphite is put on the strings as they are being made. Perhaps so as to not rust in the package.

Stain can come off of both ebony and rosewood-I've played them 'till the rosewood had white marks. Mature rosewood has become an endangered species. Manufacturers are increasingly using more immature woods, and dying them.

You can seal your fretbord with a minwax stain. It will also enrich its color and enhance the grain. It will rub off over time. You'll have to clean the board very well and then apply the minwax with a rag. It won't discolor your fret markers, or binding. Wipe off the residue. Let sit overnight. The first time you play after this you'll rub some off-maybe. After that you wont notice it.

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Relax. New black or brown (dyed or whatever) fretboards always do that. I'm sure the FastFret is making it even messier. Why does anyone like that oily stuff on their fretboards and strings?

Just wipe it off with an old sock or t-shirt, then "wear it off" by playing, and make sure you don't touch your clothes, furniture, etc. before you wash it off afterward.

That's all. Then be proud of the lightened streaks and how they were earned by you personally.

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There are some good answers here. I have to believe it's the strings. I was playing Ernie Ball Regular slinky rather lightly at first for the first 20hours. It's when I started playing rather aggressive and fast my fingertips turned really black. After about 40 hours of playing time I changed strings using Super Slinky M-Steels. After only a few hours though my fingertips were blackened and I could visibly see the wear on the new strings. I am disappointed but I really like the tone and I don't want to use coated strings. I don't know what to do...

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I know I'm late to the party here, but I am fairly certain what you're getting is the nickel plating coming off the strings. I used to get this whenever I changed strings until I tried some non-plated strings and noticed it no longer made my fingers black. I think it depends on the pH of your hands whether or not you're fingers react with the strings, so try some stainless steel or pure nickel strings and see if it still happens to you.

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When I play mandolin at a household Celtic session, I happen to drink a lot of hot apple juice that is provided there, and as a result my right palm turns greenish-black where it contacts the strings near the bridge. Frequently a string breaks just behind the bridge because of the acidic interaction. So I agree with the answers above that refer to pH and metal strings.

Of course the ebony fretboard may also be doing that. Quick test: remove some or all strings and "play" on the empty fretboard to see if dye affects your fingers. Also, try playing a different instrument to see if it's a finger/string interaction, and monitor whether you drink acidic stuff like apple juice ;)

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It's either because of the dirt in the strings which normally even when the guitar is brand new there is still a lot of dirt or dust in them otherwise it is from the cleaner that you are using , try not using the cleaner for a while and cleaning the strings without it just with a cloth for a few weeks and see how that goes if it's no where near as bad then it's probably the cleaner if it's the same then I suggest getting some new strings and getting them without the cleaner so you know if you should discontinue use with it. Or just playing until your fingers pull most of the dirt and then they should be fine .

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Ernie Ball strings have been a problem for me. They’ve always developed a crud on the strings. None other of the syringe brands I’ve used had the issue.

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