black fingertips

August 30, 2007 at 11:48 PM · i keep getting black stuff getting on to my left-hand fingers. it looks like it is coming from the strings (and not the fingerboard), even though i have brand new evah strings. i don't recall it happening before i switched to evah (same thing happened on the last set of evahs).

should this be happening?

Replies (35)

August 31, 2007 at 12:18 AM · Your perspiration is likely reacting with the materials the string is made of, a form of corrosion. Try washing your hands well before you play, and consider putting an antiperspirant on them and letting it dry thoroughly, and see if that makes any difference. Sue

August 31, 2007 at 01:29 AM · I get that all the time, and it hasn't just stopped happening. There's nothing wearing off my strings that'll eventually go away and make my fingertips stop turning black.

It's most likely what Sue said. Sometimes our sweat just reacts with certain metals (especially nickel and silver) to create some funky little oxidized something-or-other. However, it wipes off very easily. Don't, er, sweat it. ;)

August 31, 2007 at 01:32 AM · when was the last time you cleaned your fingerboard? maybe you are pressing too hard on the string?

August 31, 2007 at 03:28 AM · I get this same problem sometimes and have always wondered about it . . .

August 31, 2007 at 03:33 AM · It is from the string + sweat.

August 31, 2007 at 04:15 AM · This usually happens just before they decide to amputate.

August 31, 2007 at 06:07 AM · thanks sue and everyone else too.

my son pointed out that the evahs are silver wound (except for the A which i think is aluminum) so they would be more tarnish-prone as compared to the dominant strings i used to use which are steel i believe which might explain why i didn't see the streaks before.

(i wondered about the fingerboard too, but if that were the problem i don't think i'd get a mark that was a narrow line? however, i'll try cleaning it.)

i was concerned that i had something like the demidas touch (though that amputation comment encouraged me to contemplate the pumice stone).

September 2, 2007 at 04:51 AM · I just consider it that I practiced a bunch that day ;)

I agree... Keep your hands clean, and wipe off your strings with a soft cloth.

September 2, 2007 at 06:01 AM · "This usually happens just before they decide to amputate"


Hopefully the tips of fingers are hard to amputate.

September 2, 2007 at 01:18 PM · it is not unusual for fingers to get black on them. It is usually due to the silver content in some of the strings. ESP on the G string.....some sets also have a wound D string that is silver.

IT also means that you have been putting in a good couple of hours....practice makes perfect!

September 2, 2007 at 01:34 PM · I get this a lot, more in the summer, and more from viola than violin, which fits in with the sweat-reacting-with-thick-strings theory. What's annoying is if you also get a callous there, sometimes the black mark can get stuck in the calloused skin--in fact, I have this now on my left index finger and it's hard to get off . . .

November 14, 2007 at 06:52 AM · Ahh... that's why my fingertips started turning black all of a sudden... Before, I was not playing with a silver G string and now I am... interesting.

November 14, 2007 at 05:14 PM · >What's annoying is if you also get a callous there, sometimes the black mark can get stuck in the calloused skin--in fact, I have this now on my left index finger and it's hard to get off.

Ha ha, Karen, I just looked down at my own index finger and I see that I've got that faint embedded black mark within the callous as well. I have a habit of pressing down too hard with the index finger, I know.

For me, some of the black comes from my fingerboard, which, while ebony, looks like it was still darkened/dyed to make for a more uniform, richly black color. Then again, it's nothing like the problem I had with my first student violin, which was so obviously painted/dyed that within a year, my fingertips had created their own fret marks, so to speak. (Next best thing to fingerboard tapes!)

November 14, 2007 at 05:57 PM · "Hopefully the tips of fingers are hard to amputate."

Not so, Yixi. Just ask Terez!

Especially if you have the sharpest ever self-sharpening knives! (and I have ... ooer!)

Methinks my hands are going to be doing a lot more sweating in the next few days - I've got a big meal coming up! So my fingers should be blacker than black!

As Ward says, "IT also means that you have been putting in a good couple of hours....practice makes perfect!"

Just as well I don't mind the black marks. In fact I'm proud of them! I wish they'd STAY! But I do too much washing up, so they vanish.

Once a geek, always a geek.

November 16, 2007 at 04:08 AM · black string markings upon the fingertips serve to be a rememberance of a great session;so does rosin on the fingerboard and strings.

be proud of your fingertip markings and callouses---after all,you are a musician----------not only can you 'read'---you 'comprehend' the music you play----most cannot comprehend,hence they have troubles playing.

there is a difference between 'reading' and 'comprehension'----------your first grade teacher teaches you how to 'read'---up to you to 'comprehend' what you play and give it your own personal meaning or comprehension thereof.

can comprehension or passion be taught ?

What do you think ?

November 16, 2007 at 04:24 AM · no, it can only be self-learned.

November 16, 2007 at 05:50 AM · You said you just put on new strings. Did you try wiping down with a cloth before putting them on? You'd be surprised what comes off (at least I was).

I definitely sympathize with everyone with the black embedded within the skin of the callouses. I feel like my fingertips will never be clean :(

February 16, 2008 at 07:26 AM · Hello,

I'm using the Thomastik Dominant strings and recently have found they are turning the hairs on my bow black. Prior to me noticing the bow hair I noticed the cloth I used to wipe the strings was turning black. This has only begun in the past few weeks.

I practice an average of 1 hour a day and have had these same strings on the violin since buying it nearly a year ago. The strings have had about 350 hours of playing (scratching lol) time. I'm not too concerned about the strings if that's the cause since they are easily replaced if they are getting too old. I am concerned about the bows hair turning black. They are $350.00 & 750.00 bows and are not that easily replaced.

Will strings get to the point, after a certain amount of use, where they will cause this blackening? If not, what other factors could cause this? Note that I am careful not to touch the bow hair or the area of the strings below 3rd position where the bow does its thing.


Don, Toronto

February 16, 2008 at 08:02 AM · Don, you don't buy a new bow, you have it rehaired (getting the hair replaced), ideally once or twice a year, depending on how much you use it ;-)

February 16, 2008 at 11:41 AM · Hi Don,

what I would recommend is:

Get some methylated spirit (alcohol) put a LITTLE amount on a cotton cloth (or kitchen towel). Be sure that the violin is nowhere close when you put the alcohol on the cloth, especially not underneath (!).

Then you can clean the strings and if you like also the fingerboard. (For those who get black fingertips) Make sure you don´t touch the violin varnish with your cleaning cloth, and that should take care of the problem. Rub the strings dry before playing and you should not get any black on your bow hair (which i have not hear yet before to be honest....but there is a first for everything)

Cheers hans

February 16, 2008 at 05:03 PM · Your finger board is dirty. That happens to me all the time. Just wipe it off when you're done playing and really clean it when you change your strings. Hope this helps.

February 18, 2008 at 10:32 AM · Don - if you've had your strings on that long with that kind of practice schedule, you probably need to look at getting new strings. :) In my experience, older strings tarnish at a faster rate than newer ones, so that may help your problem.

February 18, 2008 at 02:09 PM · When I get a new set of strings (usually Evahs), I squeegee them off with a cotton ball and a dab of rubbing alcohol before I install them. I am always amazed at how much black gunk comes off. I don't know if this is the same black gunk that embeds itself in my fingertips, but I know the strings feel notably smoother and more pleasant to play on after a good squeegee.

February 19, 2008 at 12:58 AM · Sometimes when I practice for a long time especially holding chords and taking time to set them for muscle memory, I get black string marks in my finger tips. It could come from pressing into the string and fingerboard a lot, and forming callouses. I find that the black lines go away later after washing my hands and finish practicing. My fingertips usually feel a little more solid later as well.

February 20, 2008 at 05:57 PM · I get that all the time people do, some people don't...

March 6, 2008 at 04:35 AM · Don't worry, it's not harmful. Dorks like me take pictures of things like this and send them to each other on social network websites. "Look how much I practice, I am hard core!" :)

February 21, 2011 at 07:31 PM ·

I was just about to start a topic on this - having played for 3 hrs today and with very black finger tips - and yes Evah E and A here (but not G or D).  Might have guessed there would already be a topic on it!


February 21, 2011 at 07:36 PM ·

The black fingertip problem doesn't arise with plain gut strings.

February 21, 2011 at 08:42 PM ·

I don't count it as a proper practise session unless my fingertips get black. Then again, I've always been moist :-) Strings don't last long for me - their wrapping wears out.


February 21, 2011 at 08:47 PM ·

True Trevor, but lets not think about what you get on your fingertips from fresh gut strings...


[and now I grossed myself out...]

February 21, 2011 at 09:15 PM ·

Hi, I use wound guts mixed with syntethics  and no Evahs and still, my fingers become very black at the tip...

I do wash my hand and I don't have a cheap violin so I don't really know why it happens but it just happens! 

Someone once told to put rubbing alcohol on the strings to avoid that but alcohol DISSOLVES varnish... so I don't know if you want to take the risk...


February 22, 2011 at 04:30 PM ·

My violin has Pirastro Tonicas.  My fingers also get black although that didn't start to happen for the first few weeks that the strings were on

February 22, 2011 at 06:35 PM ·

If you use aluminum wound strings, the black is aluminum oxide.  If you use silver wound strings, the black is silver oxide.  Neither will harm your fingers or penetrate through the skin  The particles, though small, are too big to get through your skin.  Wash your hands.  You don't want to get these chemicals into your mouth. A little is not a problem, but who knows about continued amounts entering your body via the mouth.

If you use gut, there is no oxide - right.

30+ posts and no one has taken chemistry?  What is happening to science education?

February 22, 2011 at 06:50 PM ·

Mike, I wouldn't say that too fast...; )

I have done chemistry... science college.  Now I'm in healthcare but I do remember what is oxydation...   Elise is also a scientist and with advanced university studies.  I'm sure many others too...

It's just that many posters perhaps answered the "what to do about that" question unstead of "what is it". 

I don't know who would want to put that in his mouth...  except very young kids! 


February 22, 2011 at 07:36 PM ·

If you have gold, titanium or platinum plated strings two things will happen – you'll have to be rich, and you won't get any oxide residues from those metals on your skin. Btw, it's worth noting that metallic silver is an excellent anti-bacterial agent, which is one reason why the great and the good (or perhaps not so good) used silverware in the old days. The silver ion in silver oxide (which is the black coloration you get on your fingers from a silver string) is probably sufficiently bio-active to have some anti-bacterial action as well.  

I started off as an industrial chemist before moving over to physics, and later became a patent attorney. I'm now retired.

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