My Fingers Hurt Playing Guitar! – You’re Not Alone!

fingers hurt playing guitar - playing acoustic guitar

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Congratulations, you’ve started playing guitar! If you’ve had more than one or two practices, though, you may have noticed that your fingers hurt while playing guitar. Unfortunately, that’s common for guitar players, but luckily, there is some good news! You can use a few tips to help you out while playing, and you can also numb the pain before or after you play using ice or topical pain cream.

Will My Fingers Always Hurt?

The good news is that, no, your fingers won’t hurt forever! Over time, you’ll start to build up callouses on your fingertips, meaning they’ll start getting harder. Those callouses will protect your fingertips while you playing, reducing finger pain. As long as you practice regularly, you’ll keep your callouses in place, and you won’t have as much pain while playing. Plus, you can show them off to your friends, as those hardened fingertips are the mark of a guitar player! In fact, some guitarists even keep an old gym card in their pocket so they can press their fingers along the edge during the day, which helps build them faster. Also, make sure you don’t pick or peel off the hardened skin as it starts to build up. Leave it in place to protect your fingers.

What Can I Do Right Now While Playing?

Keep Your Fingernails Trimmed

To play properly, you need to play on your fingertips. While that can be painful, the more you play on the tips, the faster you’ll get your callouses. To make sure you’re playing on the tips of your fingers, trim your fingernails short on your fretboard hand. Long fingernails get in the way of playing and pressing properly, anyway.

Press Down Only As Hard As You Need To

When you first start playing, you may want to clamp your fingers down on the strings. Generally, though, you don’t need to press as hard as you think you do. To see how hard you need to press, get your fingers in position for a single chord. Pluck each string to see if they all sound properly. Then, loosen your pressure a little and play the strings again. Keep lightening the pressure and checking the chord. Find the right pressure to get still a good sound, but where you don’t have to press as hard.

Choose the Best Strings

When you’re first starting out, you may want to choose lighter strings for playing. Classic guitars have the lightest strings, made out of nylon. However, if you play acoustic or electric guitar, you can also pick lighter strings. All guitar strings come in weights from heavy to extra light. Opt for the lighter strings to help get your fingers used to playing the guitar, as they don’t take as much pressure as heavier strings. Later, you can move up to thicker strings. If you don’t know how to re-string your guitar, ask at your local guitar shop. It’s a fairly simple process, and most of the time, they’ll be happy to show you how to do it. You can also look up videos online or read here about when and how to change your strings.

Fake Callouses with Super Glue

While this tip isn’t for everyone, it might help if you’re having trouble playing without callouses. Apply super glue to the tips of your fingers and let it dry completely. Then, when you play, it will be like you have callouses on your fingers already, as the layer of glue will protect your fingers from the strings. Just make sure the glue is dry before you play, and be sure not to touch your fingertips to anything while they’re drying. You may find yourself stuck to whatever you touch! Incidentally, if that does happen, acetone will help dissolve super glue. However, you don’t want to apply that to your guitar because it can damage the finish.

Talk to an Expert about the Action

In some cases, the issue might be your strings are too far off the fretboard. In many cases, your strings can be adjusted to bring them closer to the board. Visit a nearby music shop, and someone there should be able to help you, as long as they work on guitars. Keep in mind, the distance of the strings away from the fretboard is called the “action.” Also, you want a balance, as the strings too close to the board may lead to frets making noise while you play.

How Can I Numb the Pain?

Use Ice

Ice can help numb the pain before or after you play. Place a towel or washcloth between your fingertips and the ice and hold it on for a few minutes. Never put ice directly on your skin as it can lead to damage. Also, make sure not to play with wet fingertips as that can make the pain worse and can slough of callouses you’ve already built up.

Try a Pain Cream

Over-the-counter topical pain creams may also help with the pain of playing. You can apply the cream lightly before playing, though always let it sink in for a few minutes, so you don’t get it all over your strings. You can also apply a little after playing to dull the pain. Only use enough to cover your fingertips.

When Should I Be Worried?

While everyone’s fingertips will hurt when they first start playing, other pain isn’t quite so natural. For instance, if your wrist is hurting, you are likely not holding the guitar correctly. Try to position your hand, so your wrist is mostly straight while playing to see if that helps. If the pain persists, talk to a guitar tutor or your doctor to see if they can help.

Everyone goes through the pain of building callouses when they first start the guitar. You’re definitely not the only one whose fingers hurt playing guitar! Take heart, though, as if you practice consistently, you can build up callouses to protect your fingertips. Don’t be afraid to take a few steps to lessen the pain, such as using topical pain creams. It will help, and you can keep up your steady practices.

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Rick is the founder of All Stringed. He started playing with a classical guitar when he was 10, but changed soon to electric guitar and later also to an acoustic. You can find more about him here.