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I have been practicing my guitar for over 6 months. I use extra light gauge and also have built calluses. But, strings still hurt my fingertips! What should I do?

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    Which particular situations and parts of the finger are painful? Commented May 17, 2016 at 8:14
  • @topomorto fingertips
    – user28116
    Commented May 17, 2016 at 8:30
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    I depends on how much you are playing. You can play for 3 years but if you practice 1 time per week it is natural for your fingers to hurt.
    – papakias
    Commented May 17, 2016 at 8:38
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    Have you read this? (music.stackexchange.com/a/29842/16897) Commented May 17, 2016 at 23:30

6 Answers 6

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Not knowing what the action is like on your guitar, it's difficult. You need to make the action - the distance between the strings and the fretboard - as low as possible, so the strings don't need pressing far.But not so close that they buzz.

Also, you may well be pressing TOO hard, it shouldn't be necessary to squeeze too much, just enough to stop fret buzz. If this doesn't work, then tune the guitar down a semitone to start with, as this makes the strings looser, so easier to press down. It's a double edged sword, though, as it also makes the strings rattle a bit more.

If things are desperate, you could try nylon strings, which are softer in the fingertips. Or - replace the guitar with a half-decent electric, which will have a better action.

If you need to build up callouses, I believe the action or the way you play are not good. With a well set up guitar, you won't need them.

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  • action is 0'6 cm
    – user28116
    Commented May 17, 2016 at 8:31
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    6mm seems high. But where did you measure? Try 12th fret, and measure from top of fretwire to top and bottom strings. My acoustics are about 2mm on thinnest and 3mm on the bottom string.
    – Tim
    Commented May 17, 2016 at 8:40
  • yeah i measured on 12th .. does it seems high on 12th fret ? btw , most people say low action cause fret buzz sound
    – user28116
    Commented May 17, 2016 at 8:46
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    Absolutely ! ! Yes, a very low action will, but there's a compromise, and I don't think you're anywhere near with 6mm.
    – Tim
    Commented May 17, 2016 at 8:48
  • @Eva It really depends on the guitar type and quality. Commented May 17, 2016 at 12:45
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The three things that are likely to cause you pain at this stage are:

  • string gauge: thick strings will require more pressure to fret them
  • pressing too hard: a common problem when learning is putting far too much pressure on the strings. You only need to touch them to the fret (see people like Ritchie Blackmore using scalloped neck guitars, where the string never comes close to wood)
  • string height: the further you have to push your strings to touch the fretboard, the harder it is on your fingertips. When I first started I had a terrible acoustic that had a string height at the 12th fret of over 1cm. Was very good for building my finger strength, but an awful guitar that couldn't play in tune. Now my guitars are between about 1mm and 4mm at the 12th fret, except for one I use for slide guitar that is around 7mm.

String height is a trade-off, as too low will lead to fret buzz, and the optimum depends on your playing style. Hitting the strings hard is likely to give you more buzz, so you'll need a higher action.

If you do decide to lower your action, be aware that you may need to adjust the truss rod - see other posts here on that topic. As Todd mentioned - this is not a job for a beginner, but your local guitar shop should be able to do this cheaply for you.

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  • Would you recommend someone who is not as experienced have a professional setup done, rather than try to learn to adjust their own action and truss rod at the same time they are still learning the basics of playing? Commented May 17, 2016 at 12:42
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    Absolutely. Most local guitar shops should do it very cheaply.
    – Doktor Mayhem
    Commented May 17, 2016 at 12:43
  • I know most local guitar shops SHOULD do it very cheaply... but most don't! More's the pity!
    – Tim
    Commented May 17, 2016 at 17:12
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1) Switch to nylon ("classical guitar") strings. The tension required to tune nylon is less, and the material is softer than steel strings.

Won't work for electric, but if you like or were playing acoustic, ...

2) Switch to a ukulele: super low-tension strings.

3) Switch to bass. Big fat strings.

4) Acoustic bass strings are stupid thick and soft; they're like rubber bands.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – user28
    Commented May 18, 2016 at 4:46
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While a light gauge requires less pressure, it is also more cutting, especially if the action is too high. I'm thinking, for example of the difference between a thin versus a thicker, blunter blade--the former will slice more easily.

Definitely see about getting a better guitar, as the action sounds high. A better made guitar will have a flatter neck that is less prone to having spots that buzz, and will support a lower action.

But it is a lot cheaper to buy thicker strings, and maybe worth a try as a stopgap. While they may be a bit more work to press down, they should at least be easier on the finger tips. However, with high action you may be trading the tip pain for a muscle-related pain. And high action will always slow you down and be more difficult to barre.

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  • Eva already had thicker strings, and changed them to make it easier to play.
    – Tim
    Commented May 17, 2016 at 17:13
  • But her complaint is about the fingertips. Fingertips do not have muscles, AFAIK. That is why I'm thinking this is about the 'slicing' feeling. I get it too when I switch from nylon to electric. Commented May 17, 2016 at 18:05
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Only fret the string with enough pressure to make the chord. I have had students with this problem and I tell them to lighten up a bit on the strings when making a chord. If you push too hard on the strings, your fingers will hurt, no matter how long you have been playing. Once you get use to the new pressure of your fingers Your fingers will feel a lot over time

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Have someone check the action at the nut. It is common on new factory-made guitars for the action to be fine at the 12th fret but very high at the 1st fret. If the strings are too high at the nut it will make playing in 1st position very difficult.

The height of the string at the nut should be pretty much the same as the height of a fret. Stop a string at the 3rd fret and the string should be very close to or touching the 1st fret - if there's a significant gap then I'd suggest getting your local music shop have a look.