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As a bass player I have run into situations where my fingers feel dry or sweaty and it ends up affecting my playing. When the fingers are dry, I end up getting a lot more friction, which has caused blisters in the past but now with better callouses, usually just irritation. When the fingers are sweaty, I don't get enough friction and need to apply more force, which causes similar issues of irritation. Does anyone have any suggestions for some sort of lubricant that can be used for dry fingers? I'm also curious about a powder or other substance that might be good to dry out the sweaty hands/fingers. Ideally I would like something that could dry out the sweat but still allow whatever sort of lubricant to be applied, so not too much leftover powder that will continue to dry out the hands or decrease the effectiveness of the lubricant.

A bass playing friend of mine passed on a useful tip that he had been given a while back but it doesn't work in all situations. The suggestion was to use the natural grease from your nose/forehead/ears/etc. as a lubricant. This has been great other than when I am recently out of the shower (no grease) or at all sweaty, since the sweat will just have the same effect as sweaty hands.

I've also tried Fast-Fret, which seemed good at first but the more I used it the less it seemed to work for me. It basically ended up feeling the same as sweaty hands, that I would need to dig in harder. This seems to be more designed for the fretting hand than the plucking hand.

I have not yet tried out any sort of powder to dry out the sweat but the thing that comes to mind is whatever rock climbers and/or baseball pitchers use.

I would greatly appreciate some suggestions and they definitely don't have to be music products, they could be horse lube for all I care... I just don't want to deal with this anymore and none of my colleagues have any helpful suggestions at this point.

I should also mention that I have a rather aggressive playing style with lots of slapping and dig in pretty hard when playing fingerstyle.

  • Common talcum powder, maybe? – user16935 Feb 17 '15 at 23:39
  • I actually haven't tried any powders yet, so I'll add that to the question. So talcum powder might work but I've yet to try. – Basstickler Feb 17 '15 at 23:58
  • Yeah. I'm not advancing it as an answer because my own bass had finger holes, not strings, but if it can keep a baby's bum from being chafed... Gymnasts use magnesium oxide chalk to keep the hands dry for a good grip, but preventing friction isn't really part of the deal. Talc does have some properties as a dry lubricant as well as absorbency, so maybe worth trying. – user16935 Feb 18 '15 at 0:31
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    Yeah, you need the Goldilocks zone. – user16935 Feb 18 '15 at 1:16
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    When I was a teenager, I used to keep a clear plastic bag of talcum powder in my guitar case, to stop my hands getting sweaty. Being the innocent lad I was then, I had no idea why so many people found this hilarious... – Bob Broadley Feb 21 '15 at 20:51
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Let me point out a common misconception about your hands. It is moisture/sweat that leads to blisters and irritation.

As an experienced rock climber, I have witnessed many new climbers come into the gym and use lotion before a climbing workout. The result - tons of blisters and zero durability. Your hands work best when they are dry, not lubricated.

Playing bass is just as tough on the hands - the same rules apply. You want to remove moisture and potential sweat build up.

Try out some climbing chalk before you play. Apply rigorously to your hands, outside since it is going to make a mess in doors. Play. When done, you can simply use a rag to wipe the chalk off of your instrument. Chalk isn't bad for your instrument either.

Loads of famous guitars do this before playing: Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton.

Also, Flea

  • Thank you for that additional information. Always helpful to understand a little more about the actually issue and not just a solution. There are a couple rock climbing gyms near me, so I will definitely look into that. – Basstickler Feb 18 '15 at 18:25
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I have a few product suggestions. Some are quite unexpected but I have found them effective!

  1. Talcum/magnesium/baby powder works fine to keep my hands dry but I naturally have very dry skin so sometimes it's too much and makes my hands feel uncomfortable. It's cheap so you can always try this first. It can used for other body parts as well (against chafing on a warm day for example).

  2. I discovered an alternative to normal talcum power: dusting powder by "LUSH" (I guess they have stores in many countries) and use that instead of normal talcum powder. It feels slightly more hydrating because it's not pure talcum powder but has cocoa butter infused in it (pure cocoa butter is good for extreme dry skin). Downside: It does cost more than usual talcum powder ($8) and it has a fragrance (I don't find it overly feminine and the fragrance wears off). Maybe also a downside, most men I know hate that store with passion (because of the over enthusiastic SA's and the many fragrances) though I have to say most products are unisex. So if you're a guy and you want it maybe ordering it is a better idea..

  3. Monistat Chafing Relief Powder-Gel. I believe many runners use this to prevent areas from chafing but is not greasy. It keeps my hands pretty dry but doesn't dry out.

  4. Mattifying make-up primer. Maybe this sounds weird/unexpected but it works a bit the same as the Monistat solution. It must be a mattifying version since that one can handle the sweat better. It's colorless and pretty much weightless by the way so you won't notice it's actually make-up ;).

  5. Furthermore, I know people who use deodorant/antiperspirant (like Odorex) on their hands and apparently it works really well against sweating and keeping moisture away. I haven't tried this myself yet so I cannot attest to this one.

I hope one of these solutions work out for you.

  • Thanks for the answer. Some of those are certainly some products I probably wouldn't have thought of or considered. The Monistat Chafing Gel looks pretty promising. I also appreciate the cost consideration. Concerning that I would be trying a few different things, it would be best that I not spend a large amount of money on something that may not resolve my issue and may not have another use for (especially the makeup products) – Basstickler Mar 5 '15 at 15:11
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Adding to piofusco's comment above, I'll agree that it's sweat which cases the blisters and irritation. An additional option beyond applying something to your hands is to change the strings you're using.

Geezer Butler is a big fan of DR's coated strings specifically because he finds them to be very good at wicking sweat from his fingers, eliminating his blisters. Hearing him talk about it made me realize I got fewer blisters when I used them, and have gotten more since switching to Dunlop strings.

Here is an interview with him about it.

There may also be other strings which offer similar properties (perhaps D'Addario or Elixer strings) but I didn't see much after a quick search.

  • I appreciate the insight but I am not a fan of the coated strings unfortunately. They tend to sound dull to me. I am also rather attached to my Thomastik Infelds... great strings if you're ever looking. I'll check the interview as well. – Basstickler Feb 19 '15 at 20:13
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    No worries. They definitely have their own downsides, but for completeness sake I figured I should mention additional options for you as well as others finding this question. – IronSean Feb 19 '15 at 21:13
  • Agreed. Someone else may benefit from such an answer more than myself and that is ultimately what this site is about. One more thought on the coated strings, I always got concerned when I used them about how the coating breaks apart and wears out/falls off and how that affects the tone. I didn't notice anything substantially different at the time but it certainly made me think the strings needed to be changed a lot sooner. I typically only change out my strings once or twice a year. The benefits of being a bass player! – Basstickler Feb 19 '15 at 21:21
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This comment applies to the fretting hand only . I find that when it gets moist, my thumb and/or palm is more apt to stick to the back of the the neck, which can slow down your playing a great deal. In certain cases, it can lead to missed notes, particularly if you are playing a fast run. This is especially true if your instrument neck has a glossy finish, but it also occurs on necks with a satin finish.

A solution that has worked well for me is to apply a small amount (maybe a dime's worth, or a bit more) of talcum powder to the palm of your fretting hand, then use a tissue to wipe it onto the inside (and maybe the ball) of your fretting hand thumb, then wipe or blow off the excess. They key is NOT to get the powder on your fretting hand fingers, especially the fingertips. This will put crap on and deaden your strings. (For the same reason, I never put powder or anything else on the fingers of my plucking hand.) Just confine the powder (or other drying agent) to the hand surfaces that touch the back of the neck.

An alternative might be to apply a SMALL amount of talcum powder to a rag and wipe the back of your neck with it. However, I have stayed away from this, preferring instead to just keep the back of the neck clean and dry with a rag. (Silver polishing cloths work very well for this.) It's your hand that gets sweaty, not the neck.

Hope this helps.

I've never tried it, but I bet the same solution would work if you used cornstarch or perhaps even baking soda.

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