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Guitar options for nickel allergy sufferers


Having a nickel allergy absolutely sucks. If you have one, you're already well aware of it. But thankfully you have options.

Nickel is unfortunately everywhere, and it's not just with nickel plated steel strings but also in stainless steel. Those who have a nickel allergy usually have a really difficult time finding something that works.

These are some nickel-free options that are available.

Nickel-Free Tuning Machine Head Buttons

Acquisition difficulty: Easy

You rarely touch the tuning machine itself, it's the button you're touching. There are vintage-style tuning machines with plastic or pearloid buttons and they are readily available.

Nickel-Free Fret Wire

Acquisition difficulty: Hard

I label this as difficult because the only way to really get it is to custom order a neck.

Warmoth does offer necks that uses gold fret wire in GD6150 (standard Fender) size or GD6100 (standard Ibanez) size. It is absolutely nickel-free.

The option to use the fret wire adds in an additional $30 dollar cost. With everything put together not including tuners, the neck will cost about $300 before shipping for a modern Strat replacement neck.

Your other option is to fret a neck yourself using Jescar Gold EVO fret wire, which is nickel-free.

Nickel-Free Guitar Strings

Acquisition difficulty: Easy

There are several options here, but these are the two are that generally the most available.

The first is coated strings. Elixir is the go-to string for that. However the coating will wear off.

The second is Ernie Ball Cobalt strings. No nickel in those. This is usually the preferred choice since there's no coating you have to worry about flaking off.

[Update] Here are two more guitar string options. I was emailed by a reader (thank you, Ricco) who has a nickel allergy and he stated that D'Angelico ElectroZinc, a zinc-coated string, works out great for him. And in my own research, there is also the Optima gold-plated guitar strings, which of course are gold-plated.

Nickel-Free Control Knobs

Acquisition difficulty: Very easy

Plastic replacement knobs for guitars are widely available and cheap. Very easy to acquire.

Aluminum knobs are also very easy to get.

Nickel-Free String Saddles, Bridges and Tailpieces

Acquisition difficulty: Easy

For Stratocasters and Telecasters, you go brass. For Les Pauls, you go aluminum.

Note before continuing: Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc, so if you're allergic to either of those in addition to nickel, you can't use this.

Strat and Tele brass saddles are easily acquired. For modern versions of either guitar, the bridges are flat, so it's unlikely you would be touching it. The only bridge that would cause for concern is the vintage style Telecaster "ashtray" bridge with raised sides.

For Les Paul guitars, aluminum bridges and tailpieces are readily available, as are Bigsby systems. In fact, you may already have a bridge and tailpiece made of that material on your Les Paul now.

Quick note on brass vs. aluminum:

If going the brass route, it will tarnish. Just be aware of that. It usually requires more polishing than aluminum just to keep it looking nice.

Another thing to watch out for... jewelry.

Rings, necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and so on. Heck, even that cheap Casio F-91W wristwatch has a stainless steel plate on the back (better put a NATO on that!)

Published 2019 Sep 12

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