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I have trouble with some chords because of the lack of reach. I'm wondering, when shopping for a guitar, what aspects of it should I look for that would make it more playable for me? Scale and neck width? Neck radius? And what should those numbers be?

My middle finger is about 3" long, the height of my palm is roughly 3 + 5/8" (down to where my hand meets my wrist), and my palm is 3 + 1/4" across.

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Several factors come into play here.

Fingerboard radius.

Scale length.

Nut width.

Neck profile.

Action.

String gauge.

The last two are adjustable, and can be custom made to a degree for any electric guitar. On some acoustics, and a lot of classicals, it's possible, but more involved.

You may think small hands = small measurements for the others. It's not always so. Fingerboard radius starts at 0 with a flat 'board, which actually may suit your hands. The scale length will obviously mean each fret is smaller on a shorter scale length, although once into the dusty area, there's not a lot of difference - except things can get too tight. The neck profile is one factor that is important, but that changes as the neck gets towards the body of the guitar. And the width of the nut, where the strings are at their lowest notes, is probably the most important. For small hands, the thinner the better, usually.

But all the factors tend to blend, as each manufacturer has their own recipe for each model. Your best bet is to try out many guitars, and at some point, one will say 'I'm yours'. Other factors need considering, too. Body profile, balance, sound, weight. Whilst it may be possible to go in armed with your perfect formula, there's always going to be a compromise. Bit like finding a husband or wife...

I've had hands about the same size as yours for all of my adult life (so far), and I play most kinds of guitars. Didn't get on with Les Pauls or early Strats, and small hands probably had something to do with that. Along with small hands comes a small body sometimes. Certainly in my case. This makes some guitars harder to play, for example Gibson 335 (or deeper bodied jazz guitars) while sitting down. Standing is fine.

  • Thanks for the great reply! I've got a Yamaha FS800 as my starter acoustic, and it's pretty good. I was reading that larger neck radiuses (flatter fretboard) are good for fast lead playing, and smaller neck radiuses are easier for chords and barre chords due to the roundness. For a starter electric, on paper I'm looking at the Squier Strat Affinity vs the Yamaha Pacifica 112J, but you're right about trying them out in person being the best way. – ffxsam Jul 24 '18 at 13:07
  • A flat board does not have radius zero, it has infinite radius - the exact opposite of zero. – Todd Wilcox Jul 24 '18 at 14:26
  • @ToddWilcox - thank you for the finer points of mathematics. Radius zero must be for very tiny hands. – Tim Jul 24 '18 at 16:40
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Don't be greedy. Practice and training is necessary for all of us.

First of all, are you measuring finger length from the palm side or the back. I ask because I'm about 6'3" and my middle finger is only 3" measured from the palm side. So, I don't think you fingers are small. But from the back knuckle its about 4.25". My palm on the other hand (not literally the other hand) is about 4.5". This has always been an issue and I always wanted spidery Steve Via or Paul Gilbert fingers but I have what I have.

You may be fine with a traditional guitar. You will learn to do what you can, you'll practice what you cannot do until it gets better, and you'll adapt. As other answers suggest, you can get a 3/4 size guitar. Realize that the guitar is a family of instruments like the violin. You have about 7 size guitars in that family and the one we think of as "The Guitar" is a baritone (maybe tenor, low on the frequency spectrum) instrument. So getting a small guitar doesn't mean you're getting a kids guitar.

I have a student who is quite small, barely 5 feet tall with very small fingers. She plays a jumbo acoustic and manages to play what she wants and what I throw at her (even an F barre chord). I've recommended a smaller scale guitar but she persisted and get there.

Other factors to consider are (1) learn to play correctly, get lessons from a good (qualified) instructor, and (2) get the guitar set up correctly. It the action is high and hard to play small fingers will be the least of your problems.

  • Another point is always if you can only play one guitar, it comes over as lame when someone thrusts a 'standard' guitar at you. – Tim Jul 24 '18 at 16:43
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you can get 3/4 size versions, which may be easier. Some are quite good looking. Don't give up.

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