When playing guitar, my fingers often touch other strings on the guitar. I found that my fingertips are too broad for the strings. When I press one string by my middle finger, the meat of the fingertip usually touches the next string. How can I avoid this?

Also, my fingernails are very special ( inherited from my mom, the shape of the fingernails are curve, unlike some other people's fingernails which are flat. ). The fingernail of my index and middle finger is having the same length to my meat of the fingertip. When I tried to press the string perpendicular to the board, my fingernail is limited my press become it hit the board.

Your may think I am crazy, but if you have any suggestion, please tell me and I am willing to listen.

I've already cut my fingernail, any deeper my finger hurts.

To illustrate:

enter image description here When I place my finger perpendicular to the board, my fingernail meet my flesh of my finger in the same horizontal line. If I press the string like this, I can't press the string firmly.

enter image description here

enter image description here

If I can play like this, there would be no problem but the flesh of my finger will touch the later string.

Here is the C chord I am having problem with: enter image description here When my middle finger is pressing the 4th string, it often touches the 3rd string. As I've said in the above, if I press it perpendicular to the board, I can't press it firmly.

Here are the demos(I already cut the fingernails): enter image description here Perpendicular, I put the string inbetween my fingernail and the flesh of my finger -> The string is not pressed firmly and sound weird.

enter image description here Same, but I place the string right below the flesh of my finger -> just can't press it because my fingernail hit the board.

enter image description here This time I make my finger a little slant so I can press the string firmly. But the 4th string was block by my finger when it was bouncing.

enter image description here enter image description here This time I made a weird position to tackle this problem....this is actually not a solution. I tried to make my finger slant and press the string with the edge of my fingernail so the string was locked between my fingernail and the flesh. The problem is the weird angle of my finger and extra force to make this position.

  • 7
    I know you say that you've cut your nail as short as it will go. But the photos seem to show that it could go shorter.
    – slim
    Commented Nov 20, 2011 at 18:18
  • 1
    You need to cut the fingernails in to the point where the nail touch the flesh.
    – awe
    Commented Mar 6, 2012 at 12:18
  • 2
    Cutting your nails straight across will help. It also helps prevent ingrown nails.
    – user28
    Commented May 28, 2012 at 5:04
  • I have the same issue. My fingernails are just like yours. How I solved this for playing chords is fretting each note separately, and not all at once. I also created a bad habit of playing flat fingered which probably stumbled my chances of ever being a lead guitarist.
    – user6474
    Commented Jun 16, 2013 at 22:46
  • 2
    "my fingernails are very special (...the shape of the fingernails are curve, unlike some other people's fingernails which are flat)" - That's not unusual. My nails are curved similar to what you show in your pictures, but I have no trouble cutting them more than short enough to play guitar. I agree with the others that in those pictures it looks like you could cut and file your nails shorter.
    – nnnnnn
    Commented Jan 3, 2015 at 3:47

13 Answers 13


Shorten your nails as much by possible, but not by cutting. The problem with cutting them very short is that the tool compresses the fingernail and pulls it away from the skin. That causes the separation and pain. You should cut your nails only to a comfortable point, and then from there continue to shorten them by filing with a diamond file.

The nails on your fretting hand will get shorter over years as you cut and file them back regularly. That is to say, the line where your nail departs from the skin will recede somewhat.

Look at a side by side comparison of my left and right pinky, which I assure you started life being identical twins. You can see that the left pinky (shown on the right) has more padding at the tip, and the nail is shorter. The changes are from playing guitar and only took a few years.

The right and left pinkies of a guitarist

Another thing: get a guitar with a scalloped fingerboard. Or perform scalloping (or have someone do it) on an inexpensive instrument: get a $50 guitar from Craigslist, some half-round files in a couple of sizes and whittle away the fretboard.

Scalloping refers to valleys that are filed in the fingerboard between the frets. The extra clearance might do the trick of allowing your nails to clear the fingerboard. Nail clearance isn't what scalloping is specifically for, but for some people, it can be one of the benefits. The purpose is so that no part of the finger comes into contact with the fingerboard. This means that all the pressure is on the string, which improves fingering, and there is no fingerboard friction, which improves bending and vibrato. Also, scalloping lets you achieve a more ideal angle against the string during a bend or vibrato.

This is a picture of what a bend looks like on a scalloped fingerboard:

Scalloped Fingerboard Bend

This shows how a nail can clear the fingerboard. For this shot, I used my right hand, of course, whose nails are long for classical playing.

Scalloped Fingerboard Nail Clearance


Try putting your thumb in the middle of the back of the neck. This will bring your wrist out forwards and your finger ends can then come down almost perpendicular to the fretboard. Sure this isn't as comfortable as wrapping your thumb around the neck but it's a good starting position to practice, and you can slacken off when you've got the hang of it.

  • 5
    Yes, your fingers should be coming down perpendicular to the fretboard. This can involve holding the guitar higher than some people expect to. Lots of rock guitarists hold their guitar too low.
    – slim
    Commented Oct 31, 2011 at 15:26

What you are experiencing now is exactly what happened to me when I first learned acoustic guitar 9 years ago. I was unable to progress because I couldn't fret the strings at all. I accepted the fact that it was impossible for me to learn guitar and gave up after a few weeks. I stopped for about 2 months before deciding to do another last attempt.

I haven't looked back since then!

What did I do? After I softened the nails through bathing, I cut my lefty nails to the shortest they could be. I filed them twice everyday, always 1% or 2% lower than before, together with doing some callus-building exercises. In no time I noticed the pink flesh getting shorter and tip flesh slowly taking over. The first week might be painful but it's worthwhile. So now my left fingernail's pink flesh is only half the length of my right fingernails.



My suggestion is actually to try and not be concerned about your finger touching other strings other than the one you're sounding. Instead use this as an advantage as a string dampener when you play. This at least helps you focus on accurate picking or finger picking.

In terms of moving away from the string and causing accidental pull-off noises, the secret is to use more of your picking / rhythm hand. You know where I'm going with this! The palm of the picking hand should stop extraneous string sounds. It's about control.

I know this, because I suffer from the same plight - but not because my hands are too big - it's the way I fret the strings. I ALWAYS catch other strings

But you won't hear other strings in my playing because of the way I control the sound with my right hand, and muffle surrounding strings with my left.

In lead work, you will often see players bend up with their middle finger, and use an index finger behind to mute the surrounding strings. If your fretting hand is already doing this, I would use your perceived weakness and turn it to an advantage to muffle surrounding strings.

In rhythm work, perhaps adapt this to your style. Perhaps even expand on it and freet two strings with one finger! (if that is at all possible you would be unique!)

There is no rule that says your fingers cant touch other strings when aiming for one string one note.

Edit: Hi Gunbuster, thanks for the extra edit and photos.

I suspected that this was your problem. Because you have extra flesh under your nail and it is also a more elongated shape, you cannot use a perpendicular pressing stance on your finger - it is impossible for you.

You will have to try an approach other guitarists will find unconventional - mainly because they don't have your physiology. You will have to try and place your fingers at an angle not at a perpendicular.

Your problem on the C chord is that you are trying to go for a T shape perpendicular against the fretboard when you have nothing to press the string with thus muting the G string.

I think you should be attempting to press the E note with as much of your flesh but at the same time so that you clear the G string. That is, the fleshiest part of your finger is not under your nails but at at position as if you are playing piano.

This will mean that the tip of your 2nd finger would probably overlaps the E note (D string ) and the next string above - the A string... but this doesn't matter since you will be playing the C note in front of your problem finger with your ring or 3rd finger.

I know this problem as I have tried to coach women with fingernails who don't want them cut.... not exactly the same thing as yours but I've managed to get them sounding the C chord by tweaking their hand position.

For everyone else reading this, the points made previously by everyone about being perpendicular to the fretboard is correct - but you must all take into account everyone else's unique physiology and adapt it.

  • +1 for this. I actively mute with both hands - partially as it works well with a high gain, high compression, high distortion setup, where unwanted noises can be quite loud.
    – Doktor Mayhem
    Commented Nov 1, 2011 at 11:59
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    I have to disagree with this. While touching other strings with your fretting hand usually isn't that big of a deal, the guitarist wants to be able to choose whether or not this happens or it can lead to sloppy fretting. Commented Nov 1, 2011 at 13:59
  • yes, but if his physicality gives him no choice it stops becoming a question of accuracy or sloppy fretting. He will always sound other strings unless he modifies his entire fretting technique which I don't think is what he was asking. I made the assumption, however that he is doing everything else correctly and is still finding this a problem. Commented Nov 1, 2011 at 14:06
  • Oh, I forget to say I am practicing chord. The irrelevant string is actually relevant, but just I don't need to press it. Commented Nov 3, 2011 at 14:44
  • Gunbuster, thanks for more info. I think you should also try and put a picture of the chord you are trying to play and demonstrate what extra strings you are fretting so we can see exactly what you mean. Your pictures show your index finger? Are you trying to play a C chord in the 1st position and your finger touches the adjacent open strings G and E? Commented Nov 4, 2011 at 9:44

Play around with the position of your finger on the string. The tip of your finger should be pressing down and you should be as close to the fret line as possible, without actually being on the fretline.

As you keep playing, your finger will learn the best place for to be and automatically go to where it needs to be.

Hope this helps.


If you also play electric guitar I would suggest trying heavier gauge strings on that one. Thicker strings will be more "in place" and are less prone to getting bent while you position your fingers on the neck before stroking (which might lead to that you slipper into some other string with your finger.


I have a few ideas:

  • Try using a nail-file instead of clippers (or after clippers). You should be able to file away some of the excess flesh along with the nail (surface layers of skin are dead cells) without the pain that comes with clipping.

  • Prosthetic tips? Rock God Toni Iommi from Black Sabbath lost his middle- and ring- fingertips in an industrial accident and eventually used artificial tips. Until then, he had to play with only the index and pinky.

Edit: Looking at the pictures again much later.

I think it may help if you try pressing more with the face of the finger rather than the tip. Your fingers appear very bent, when they should appear to curve more gracefully. If you're not elevating your knee, you should consider a small cushion or rolled-up towel to raise the neck higher, giving your left hand easier access generally to the fretboard.

  • 1
    Er, nail scissors?
    – slim
    Commented Nov 22, 2011 at 7:44
  • @slim I never use scissors because I can't get the nail symmetrical with them. I clip, then file for smoothness. Commented Nov 22, 2011 at 19:08

I'm a bit surprised nobody's mentioned this, but try cutting your nails. Really cut them. I don't have any nails that extend as far as yours (forgive the beaten up hand -- it gets used for other things than just playing guitar):


It's possible that once you aren't dealing with the nail against the fretboard, you will have less of an issue with the other strings.


I know this thread is a bit old, but it was showing up in my list as recently updated.

Playing more also helps, because the calluses on your fretting hand can make you finger a bit "pointier", bit that will only go so far.

I've been in the same situation for years: I've got thick, blunt fingers -- Not wide across the nail, but thick through the finger. I've tried thinner strings (to give more space between the strings), but I didn't like the looser strings tone-wise or playing-wise (it also didn't work too well). I also tried thicker strings, down-tunning a full step and then placing a capo at the 2nd fret. Out of curiosity, I measured the width of the neck at the 3rd fret of the steel-string I had at the time. It was right about 1-7/8"

So, after a lot of frustration over "it's not the equipment, it's the player", and down-tuning and using a capo, and re-arranging songs that use double-stops in the first two positions, I looked into wider necked guitars. Most Classicals are ~2" at the nut, and they make Finger-Style Steel-string Acoustics which are 1-15/16" - 1-13/16" at the nut. The former can be found "cheap", while the latter are expensive. Either way, they won't work if you really want to play electric guitar.

A fairly cheap experiment would be to get a cheap 7-strting Electric guitar and replace the nut with a 1-7/8" 6-String Nut (GraphTech has them). The strings won't line-up super well over the pick-ups, but if that works, then you can invest a bit more and replace the bridge and (maybe) the pick-ups. I've gone this route an I'm pretty happy.

You could do something similar with a 12-String Acoustic. I haven't gone this route yet, because of the work to re-shape the headstock and replace the bridge.

Another option would be to buy a replacement "Super Wide" neck from Warmoth. They're drop-in replacements for "Fender" neck pockets. USA Custom Guitars also makes standard 1-7/8" wide necks, but they scale-up the heel also, so an existing guitar would likely need some modification to fit.

There's also one production builder (that I know of) that sells electric guitars with 1-7/8" necks: Big Lou Guitars. I haven't seen one of these in the flesh, but they seem pretty nice and sell pretty quickly when I see them on eBay.

For anybody else in a similar situation, first make sure it truly isn't poor technique, and then go with equipment that fits your physiology. Don't give-up.


best advice is to shorten your fingernails.

scalloping is irreversible, some people like it, some don't. getting used to playing with the flat part of your finger over your pad will more than likely make certain techniques later more difficult. in particular large bends, and descending across strings where you use the flat of your finger to strike the higher note, and roll onto the pad of your finger on the lower string for the next. You may also end up over bending at your first knuckle.

  • You mention scalloping, but you haven't explained what it is or how it relates to the question.
    – Dan Hulme
    Commented Jun 18, 2013 at 10:49
  • that was covered in the first reply (with pictures!). Its basically removing wood between the frets to allow for more distance between the string and the fret board when the string is depressed.
    – Matt D
    Commented Jun 19, 2013 at 2:04
  • 1
    In Stack Exchange, there isn't a "first" answer. The highest-rated answer, not the earliest, is the one that shows up first in the list, so it's important to make each answer self-contained. If you bear this in mind in future, we'll all be able to appreciate your answers better :-)
    – Dan Hulme
    Commented Jun 19, 2013 at 8:12

I notice that your fingers end up perpendicular to the neck - ie pointing virtually straight upwards, and into the string.

When i'm playing, my fingers point a combination of up but with nails facing the bridge a little, meaning the pad of my finger is on the string and the nail is generally nowhere near. This helps with avoiding muting adjacent strings by accident and means the fingernails generally play no part, even if they have got quite long.

Like this : Fingers from this page : Guitar posture

This hints at some difference in how you're holding your hand to mine. I won't claim to have excellent technique but it has worked for me for many years.

I tend to hold the bridge of skin between my forefinger and thumb fairly close to, but not against, the neck, meaning my fingers end up pointing a little towards the bridge.

Given your fingernail situation, perhaps the problem you're having is made more by the vertical-ness of your fingers ?


There is a video of a Spanish flamenco guitarist shaping his plucking nails for rapid notes and he folds sandpaper around the string and then does the plucking movement. That makes his nails quite square across the fingertip . For fretting the strings you seem to cut your nails for appearance away from the guitar.That curved shape will never allow you to fret the strings cleanly .You are in denial about your nail shape. You have to change the shape or carry on suffering twangs and buzzes . The nails and guitar are not compatible .


This is a common issue that may take some time to correct. Part of the problem is not just the nail length but the thickness of the fingertip. In time a callus will develop and that will assist in meeting your clearance requirements.

Based on the photo it would seem that your nails are still too long. I would not clip them more as that could lead to you cutting the skin which is painful and could get infected. But you could try a file to gently push the edge back further. You can also try and gently push the skin under the nail back. Very gently and slowly so that over time you are able to clip the nails a little more each time.

I've attached a couple pics of my left hand nails and finger pads for comparison.

enter image description here

enter image description here

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