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My husband likes very much to learn playing guitar. But he has a scar on two fingertips of his left hand. This causes problems in pushing the strings hard enough to the neck of the guitar. (It is not painful in general, but the tissue of the scared fingertip is not as firm as this of the other fingers)

He tried so far:

  • tape the fingers with sticky tape
  • change the hands and use a plectrum to avoid fingertip-string contact

But both was not working over time. The sticky tapes start loosing and then disturb, and the hands change is against his natural handing, so learning is quite difficult.

Does someone have experience or a work around for this problem?

Edit: Thank you for the variety of answers! I will encourage him to try finger-protection supply and then report the success.!

I know, it is not the picture you are looking for... But to describe the scar, it is better than nothing. Like I wrote in the comments: But a picture of the fingers would not real help I assume, because there is no visible scar. The skin of the fingertips was cut of by a planer. The skin grow again with no visible unevenness, but the skin itself is more soft and maybe thinner than the "normal" skin. In effect the string cuts more into the skin than on the healthy fingertips, which makes it tricky to push it onto the wood.

Scratch of the scar's location

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  • What kind of guitar is he playing? Classic should be more gentle to the left hand!
    – Tom
    Nov 19 '20 at 8:29
  • @Tom Because his fingers are quite big, he chose a western guitar for its bigger gaps between the strings. The strings are actual part of nylon and part of copper I assume, but I remember he was trying with steel too at some point. Nov 19 '20 at 8:32
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    When the action of a guitar is low, the strings don't fight back so much. Make sure it's as low as possible. Thicker strings may help, but that's balanced against them having to be tighter. Not good. So maybe thicker strings, tuned down.
    – Tim
    Nov 19 '20 at 8:44
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    Action is how far away the strings are from the fretboard. High action means pressing harder to sound notes. Too low, and the strings rattle, or bind on the frets.
    – Tim
    Nov 19 '20 at 8:48
  • He can try a dab of super glue on the tips of the fingers in question for an extra layer of protection. Always helps when one is playing on a busted callus... you don't have to reapply as often as tape but, the super glue will rub off onto the strings and more quickly decrease their life span. Nov 19 '20 at 10:59
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Lefty playing righty speaking. Playing the other is a matter of habit that you only have to commit yourself to do at the beginning, however, I would not recommend a righty playing the other way around, at least for the fact that left-handed guitars are not that common… That being said a few things could be attempted:

  • move to a classic guitar (with wide neck and nylon strings). You said he was playing western guitar which, from what I remembered would normally have steel strings but I am probably mistaken…

  • lower the gauges of the strings so that the pressure to apply is lower

  • maybe (not sure about that) let the nails on the left hand to grow just a little bit, not further than the fingertips, in order to have them assisting the fingertip,

  • try with thin fingertip protections, probably not ideal but might help for the meantime before the skin on the fingertips naturally hardens.

Note that, it is normal as a beginner to have a bit of pain in the fingertips as your fingertips are not used to press hard these thin steel or metal strings.

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  • I know he was changing the strings of the western guitar. If it is common with steel strings, then this could be the cause I remember discussions about steel strings. But now the western guitar has nylon and copper strings. Is there an additional reason to change from western to classic guitar? And how would such a fingertip protection would look like? Nov 19 '20 at 8:53
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    Classic guitars will be more adapted to fit nylon strings and the neck is wider which makes it easier to play with big fingers or to have more room to place the finger in order for the scars not to touching. This is what I was thinking about, I remembered buying some a pharmacy once when cutting myself while cooking (the mandolin slicer is a dangerous instrument…)
    – Tom
    Nov 19 '20 at 8:59
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Something that could easen the pressure on the fingertips, is to use lighter gauge strings, which could be a good place to start in this scenario.

Western guitars usually utilizes quite heavy steel strings (commonly referred to as > .11).

He could try and go for a set of gauge .08 strings and see how that feels. It should give him some relief on the pressure needed to make the strings "sound".

What @Tom suggests using nylon strings is also an option, but if he's going for more of a country sound, I bet he won't be satisfied with that. My 2 cents.

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  • "if he's going for more of a country sound..." -- Willie Nelson has played nylon strings as long as anyone can remember ;)
    – ex nihilo
    Nov 25 '20 at 3:02
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I think a pic would help. Usually, in my experience, scar tissue is tougher than regular tissue so it's hard for me to understand your post.

Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath lost two of his fingers in a machine shop accident. He fashioned prosthetics out of wood and put leather on the ends for grip. I'm not suggesting that for your husband but the fact remains that some type of covering would help. It sounds like that is what you were trying with the tape. The problem is tape is going to wear down and the sticky adhesive will mess up the finger board. You don't want that.

A few options are:

  1. Switch sides. If he's a righty, play lefty.

  2. Try a different material on the finger tips. I recall something in the 80s called new skin liquid bandage. I had a friend who played guitar and if he over played to the point of causing a tear in the skin on the finger tip or pulling it away from the nail he'd hit it with new skin and that would last for a while. I have never tried it so I' can't say if it is better than tape. Point is, get creative.

  3. If it doesn't hurt just keep practicing and eventually a callus will form and that may fix the problem naturally. Even if the callus wears down or softens over time his skin may eventually transform to accommodate his needs.

  4. Depending on where the scar is on the finger attacking at a different angle might fix it. For example if the scar is on the pad then fret with the finger tip (which is the "proper" classical way to fret). If the scar is on the tip then try fretting with a flatter finger. This is not great for open string chords as the flat finger will dampen some strings but a lot of shredders who play electric play on the pad instead of the tip and it works for them.

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  • I try to get a picture. But a picture of the fingers would not real help I assume, because there is no visible scar. The skin of the fingertips was cut of by a planer. The skin grow again with no visible unevenness, but the skin itself is more soft and maybe thinner than the "normal" skin. In effect the string cuts more into the skin than on the healthy fingertips, which makes it tricky to push it onto the wood. Nov 23 '20 at 16:29
  • This is helpful. How long ago were the fingers cut? It could just be too fresh. I would suspect that calluses would help and you just need to take time. My father plays classical guitar and builds guitars. He has had similar things happen, not very deep but just the surface layer. It will be soft and pink for months but eventually toughen up again.
    – user50691
    Nov 23 '20 at 16:35
  • It happened minimum 20 years ago. So no, i is not fresh. It it was not only the surface, but the whole skin layer, but the bone not visible. Nov 24 '20 at 6:00
  • On the tip or on the pad?
    – user50691
    Nov 24 '20 at 12:09
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    I have added a scratch of the location. To get a picture of my husband is not easy -.- Nov 25 '20 at 6:27
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I recently took up guitar again after many years of not playing. My brain and fingers remembered what to do but the skin on the tips of my fingers was as sensitive as those of a beginner. I had to work through several weeks of pain before getting the calluses back on my fingers.

To be honest, I just ignored the pain even though it was quite bad. I knew that I would get over it eventually.

All beginners experience sore fingers although I'm not sure how the scar tissue affects this. As long as the scars don't actually break open, I would simply endure the pain until it goes away. Maybe get some topical anaesthetic.

Keep an eye on the scars. You don't want them to actually bleed but, short of this, I say just tough it out. Consult a medic if there's any doubt about long-term effects.

As others have said, nylon strings (as used on a classical guitar) are softer and the space between strings on a classical guitar is wider than with an electric or steel string guitar.

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  • I am not sure, if "you must welcome the pain" will help my husband ^^ But the visit by a medic may be an option, even mention it when the next visit is dated. Nov 24 '20 at 6:02

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