Hi there, fellow UG's!
So a couple of years ago I posted this thread for discussing how my very aggressive nickel and cobalt allergies could be treated so I could play my electric guitar. I thought I'd share my findings with all of you, since I haven't found a comprehensive guide for guitarists suffering from this terrible allergy problem.
First of all, I'll just briefly explain the allergies:
There are many kinds of allergies, but they are not all the same. Some are treatable, some are just there, and you'll need to arrange your life to better your condition. My allergies are so severe that even foods like veggies and nuts can start a reaction.
Now, some might say that holistic treatments of different sorts are helpful. I'll say, if it works: Good for you! But I had no help from alternative treatments, though I managed to spend a fair amount of money on stuff that did nothing at best, in some cases even worsened my allergic reactions.
So how does one get out of this mess? Read on!
How to lessen your allergic reactions?As I mentioned above, you'll have to arrange your life according to your condition. For me this means specifically avoiding the materials I react to. Cobalt isn't that much of a problem, but nickel is basically the go-to material for alloys of any kind, be it for the frets on your guitar or the buttons in your jeans. What I did was to buy a nickel tester and make sure to minimize the amount of nickel in my home. Even the cutlery!
Up next: How to get a nickel free guitar!
The nickel free guitar
I play both western and electric guitars. The vast majority of guitars are made with nickel alloys for any hardware, so no matter what guitar you're standing with, it is highly improbable that it'll be allergy friendly. Of course you could bring a nickel tester with you, but I doubt that you'll get to use it on a guitar in store. So what to do? Well, you'll have to get serious about it and modify your guitar like so:
For western guitars:
1) New, nickel free frets
2) Nickel free strings
For electric guitars:
1) New, nickel free frets
2) New, nickel free bridge
3) Nickel free strings
The frets are the real bastards here, since you cannot rely on stainless steel to be nickel free. Your only 100 % guaranteed nickel free solution are brass frets, since brass and nickel do not mix. Brass frets are a bit more expensive, since brass is more work, and the material being inherently more expensive.
You can re-fret your favorite guitar or have a custom build. I chose to do the latter and designed my electric guitar at Warmoth's website.
For acoustics there's also the option of having someone custom build it for you, but it's way cheaper to have your guitar re-fretted in any circumstance.
The stringsNickel free strings are less complicated, not that expensive, but they can be hard to obtain. I've had to ask several dealers for them, and I've only found one store in Copenhagen, Denmark (Where I live) that had them as stock. Remember this: Stainless steel is NOT nickel free by definition! You may need to go online and order them. Here are the strings I found that are, as far as I know, completely nickel free:
Electric guitar strings:
- Rotosound British Steels (even advertised as nickel free!)
- DR Dragon Skins
- Thomastik Plectrum
ConclusionWhile nickel allergy is a vicious, often incurable condition, it's not impossible to at least treat it and minimize your exposure to the metal. Though it can be quite difficult, arranging your surroundings to minimize nickel in your everyday life, it's paramount to getting on playing your beloved guitar. Holistic treatments can probably help some people, but let me make this clear: There's NO evidence for the effectiveness of these alternative treatments, and they can result in escalating the allergic reactions and an empty wallet. Accept you have a condition that may well be a life long companion and do what you can to avoid nickel.
Though solutions are still somewhat sparse, they're out there. Re-fretting your guitar with brass frets and using nickel free strings brings you a long way towards playing without your skin being ruined.
I hope someone will get something out of this article. Good luck to all of you allergy suffering guitarists and bass players out there.
- Jakob Moller-Jensen