by Professor String

Poisonous Chromium Contamination Recently Found on Imported Guitar Strings




With all the products coming from China and abroad, the dangers of imported products have taken a spotlight. We have seen contaminated pet food, toothpaste, and children’s toys. The product recalls have cost billions of dollars. Many manufacturers have gone to China to leverage low cost labor and increase profits. Ironically for some companies, the money saved in Chinese labor has now been erased by the cost of having defective products recalled. Solving this problem is not easy. The level of product inspection needed has to be notched up to a much higher degree. Even with inspections, there is no guarantee. If somebody does not know what to look for in the mix, the inspections are useless. It’s a situation that is creating a dangerous product liability risk. Now, let us turn our focus to the contaminated guitar strings.


The title of this article is “Poisonous Chromium Contamination Recently Found on Imported Guitar Strings.” You are probably wondering whose strings? The answer: Nobody’s strings…but this headline could appear at any moment given the conditions in China. Here is the point to be made: There could be Asian imported strings on the market right now with contaminated plating on them. Who would know? How would they know? Most metallurgical inspections at a string factory concentrate on the raw materials coming into the facility. Strings headed out the factory door are also inspected, but not for metal toxicity. The outgoing inspections are more focused on gauge consistency, winding tension, tensile strength…etc.


No EPA. No Protection.

How would poisonous metals such Chromium VI, make their way into a set of guitar strings? It’s very easy. Many strings have chrome plating on them to prevent oxidation. If a string maker in China wants to improve the hardness and tensile strength of the plating, or reduce costs, the temptation of using Chromium VI over Chromium III is plausible. Could they do it without getting caught? You bet! Keep in mind, the regulatory infrastructure that exists in China is no where near effective in monitoring the manufacturing explosion happening in that country. Their version of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is in its infancy. Years ago, in the U.S., a chromic acid bath was used to cleanse strings prior to the final chroming process. The acid cleansing process was virtually banned by the EPA. This is not the case in China. What’s the bottom line here? Consumers/musicians are at risk for virtually anything coming out of China.


In case you are wondering, "How could these metals possibly effect me on set of guitar strings?" The answer again is simple. When we play, we touch the strings for extended periods of time daily. Let's say we have a contaminated set with heavy concentrations of Chromium VI on them. If you like to practice everyday before eating lunch or dinner, and you later have a hamburger and fries, you are now touching the food with your fingers. When you touch the hamburger bun and fries, the Chromium VI is transferred from your fingers to the food. The Chromium VI will be inside you once you eat the food. Chromium VI is very toxic when ingested by the body. Ingested chromium VI is considered carcinogenic. Research indicates that at high levels, orally ingested chromium VI has caused mouth sores, diarrhea and is associated with a higher rate of lung and stomach cancer.


Dangerous Public Relations

With all the product recalls that have occurred with defective Chinese products, one can’t help but wonder, “Are they going to do anything about it?” According to a state media release, and CNN investigation in August 2007, China has stated the following:


“China has launched a four-month ‘war’ on tainted food, drugs and exports, state media reported on Friday, as beleaguered officials embraced time-tested campaign tactics to clean up the country's battered image. The campaign will focus on products that have dented consumers' confidence in the ‘Made in China’ label.”


Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi told officials the campaign, to run to the end of the year, would focus on problem products that have badly dented domestic and foreign consumers' confidence in the "Made in China" label.


According to the government Website, Wu said, "This is a special battle to protect the health and personal interests of the public and to protect the reputation of Chinese goods and the national image." The majority of manufacturing experts out there will tell you that an entire country cannot fix all of it’s manufacturing mistakes in just four months. It can take years to achieve world class quality. Quality is a company culture, and it does not happen overnight. Make no mistake, the focus of China is on its very own brand image in the world economy. They are on their way to becoming the most powerful economic nation in the world. They need the world to buy their products to gain economic power. At this time, China is behaving like a massive marketing and public relations agency. Many top marketers already know, the old saying: Facts tell, but stories sell. In other words, China needs their story (or image) to stay good. It’s not about the end product being safe or good. Made in China is brand name. Think about it for a moment. When you see a guitar with “Made in China” stamped on it, you probably already have an opinion about it before you even pick it up. China wants to make sure that label is “acceptable” with consumers. The Made in China label is merely a perceived story in your head. If everyone perceives their products to be safe, China ends up a winner with the world’s business. What is the most scary part of this perceived safety? The actual product could still be defective…Yikes!


What can be done?

Here is the quickest way to avoid the potential imported string problem:

  1. Made in USA. Enough said.

  2. If you buy a guitar made in Asia, and want to avoid the issues we have discussed, change the strings on it immediately with a set that is not Asian made.

  3. Always take the origin of manufacturing into consideration. You are taking more risk with 3rd world country manufacturing, versus mainstream economy based countries.


When buying strings for your guitar, bass, banjo, violin,...etc., always be sure to know where they are made.


Do you have some thoughts about this article or the subject? Share it with everyone on the Professor's Forum.



About The Author


Professor StringTM is a leading expert in the musical string business. He leads a development group that specializes in guitar and bass string research for musicians. You can visit their site at