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It may sound like a beginner's question but I've been playing guitar for more than 25 years now. But recently, I had to take an eight-month break from playing partly because of COVID related travel restrictions. I never had such a long break before. Anyway, after finally rejoining my guitars yesterday, I played for a couple of hours and I was pleasantly surprised that, after a short warmup, my playing was alright. But now, as expected, I got blisters and pain on my fingertips.

What's the correct way to rebuild those callouses? Should I ignore the pain and keep playing? I know joint pain is potentially dangerous and shouldn't be ignored but I have none of that. Or should I rest for a couple of days until my fingers recover a little?

Also, out of curiosity, would the answer be different if I was a complete beginner?

  • When that happens to me, I take it slow and try to play short sessions until the callouses return. It does not take long actually. It can be painful until they do however, particularly if you choose to spend more time playing. If you want to play longer sessions prior to building your calluses while minimizing the pain, you could refer to the answers to this question (music.stackexchange.com/q/29841/16897) – Rockin Cowboy Jul 29 at 18:00
  • As a side note, Covid had the opposite effect on me: after years of very rarely playing the guitar, my wife and I organized group singing from our balconies every evening when the restrictions were at their most stringent here in Vienna, I did accompaniment on guitar, and my calluses came back. But we've quit now, and I just have my usual workshop calluses. – Scott Wallace Jul 30 at 9:33
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I had a somewhat similar problem a couple of years ago when I was just too lazy to practice up to the point that the callouses went away, and my solution was just to play until they appeared again.

What I would recommend is playing only a little bit but many times a day. It's something that helps me when I need to practice some tiring passages, for instance. I pick up the guitar, spend 1-2 minutes just on that passage until the hand is really tired, then put the guitar away and do something different for a while. Rinse and repeat. I think that you just need to spend some time gritting your teeth to get your callouses back, but in this way, it should be quite bearable.

I don't think that the answer is fundamentally different from what a beginner should do, but I do think (with zero evidence for that!!) that you will get your callouses back in much shorter time than a beginner would need to develop them. At least in my case, when I found that my callouses are gone, I thought "oh no, now I will have to suffer for months," and in a couple of weeks it was OK. (Can't remember how fast I developed them when I started, though.)


However, be sure to wait for other answers, particularly from people who teach guitar (I don't). They will have much more experience with this.

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If you read some other of my answers, you'll know I don't believe in callouses. I had them for a year or two, when I first played, and the reason for that was mainly a rubbish guitar. Having played and taught for over 50 yrs, I can't remember any students having them- or needing them. I still play regularly - .oo8s on guitars and up to .135s on bass, so it isn't the gauge of strings that produces them.

With a well set up instrument, and realising that you don't need to press as hard as maybe you are doing, and playing for sensible periods of time, they shouldn't be part of guitar playing. In fact, for better control over bends, pull-offs etc., nice smooth skin works well.

But if you're determined to have them, play harder and for longer than is realistic, make sure you have heavy strings which necessitate them being tight, have a high action, and soak your hands just before you play, so the skin is more susceptible!

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    I've had the same experience. I vaguely remember having them for the first couple years but they eventually went away and haven't come back for 20+ years. One exception is the side of my middle finger on my picking hand from it brushing against the edge of the pick while hybrid picking. And I think that started when I switched picks at one point. But I barely notice it and certainly wouldn't go out of my way to build callouses. It reminds me of those "finger strengtheners" they sell. The way to strengthen your fingers—which don't need to be very strong— is just to play. – user66401 Jul 29 at 15:42
  • Tim I admire your ability to play with such a perfect light touch that you get no calluses. And I must commend you on teaching your students to do the same. One of the worst bad habits I developed from being a self taught guitarist is a heavy fretting hand. I am sure the fact that I learned on an acoustic that was not properly set up contributed to that problem. Most guitarist I know have calluses. But you are living proof that it does not have to be that way! – Rockin Cowboy Jul 29 at 18:07
  • You say you play on 8's and up to 135 on bass but do you play every gauge in between? Some of your comments are contradictory, You say gauge does not produce them then recommend a higher gauge for producing them. You must not play much. I've never met a guitarist without them anywhere in the world. And none self taught but students of world class masters. But I guess there's room for everything. – ggcg Jul 29 at 22:59
  • I’ve never met a guitar player without calluses, either, and would be interested to see a demo of how to play without developing them. I particularly don’t know how one could incorporate much vibrato or glissando into their guitar playing without developing calluses, but then I’ve been clueless about a lot of things. Seriously, @Tim, can you share a video of your callus-less playing? – wabisabied Jul 29 at 23:59
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If I'm off the guitar for a while, I like to start with a few minutes of position scales up & down the neck to warm up, then I'll play some of my own simpler songs, mostly just chords, trying to have some fun while I do it. Not using any effects. Sometimes I'll record myself so I can make sure it sounds OK. Gradually adding more complex stuff. The last time I picked it back up, it took about 3 months until I felt back to normal. I've been playing for 50 years but haven't played out for a long long time (sniff).

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There is no "correct way" to develop them. More playing will produce them. At this point you will have to follow the signals from your fingers. Bruised finger tips are not a serious issue. When I string bend (and I go up a 4th) I would get the skin pulling away from the nail and that is very painful. Not dangerous but painful. In that case I'd have to take a break. That has not happened since childhood.

It depends on technique. It is not true in any way that calluses "shouldn't be part of guitar playing". This is a relative statement and depends on a lot of factors, including the techniques you wish to ignore, and effects you wish to employ.

But you will have to ramp up to a serious practice time. It's like exercising after not being at the gym for months. You lift weights and think you're in great shape then wake up the next day and can't move. Do you jump into it again or wait? I'd say don't skip practicing but be careful of overdoing it with techniques that force the issue, like extreme string bending etc, until the toughen up.

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I feel you! I lost all my calluses just from not playing over a year. Then Covid happened and made me realize how long it actually was since the last time I played.

First off, if you're blistering, stop lol. Don't over do it. That will take it longer to build the thick skin. Less is more right now.

To keep it simple, I just started playing simple songs everyday. 5 minutes was all it took for my fingers to hurt. But I figured that was better than nothing. But playing simple songs I liked made me want to try again the next day, then the next day. Scales and and practice is great, but didn't make me want to play the next day. Took the fun out of it.

Do you and what makes you want to keep playing. It won't take along to bring them calluses back. Just dont hurt yourself lol. Good luck!

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