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I have been playing the guitar since 2006, so I'm not new to the activity, and I have caluses. I started playing Flamenco on a nylon strings and in 2013 moved to play Surf on a stratocaster.

A couple of years ago, I began playing Blues and Rock (some Eric Clapton and mainly Mark Knopfler stuff), which required a technique I never used before - string bending. I have been doing it for some years now, but the pain at my fingertips still isn't going away (I'm using the right technique - bending with all 3 fingers, use rotating motion, etc, etc).

Currently I'm playting on a Les Paul, a short scaled guitar, with 9 gauge strings (the lightest set available in my area), with a low action and wrap arround tail (some claim it makes the strings more slinky. . . ) - this should be the easiest setup for string bending, but not in my case.

I watched many tutorials how to bend strigns the right way. It looks to be a casual and effortless act, but it doesn't come effortless to me. In fact, after about a dozen of bends, I can't play any longer, for my fingertips heart much. I feel as if my flash is moving away from the bone, and the sore feeling keeps for hours after - I feel like I'm playing a cheese grater rathar than a guitar

Again, I'm not a new player to experience such pain, and it hasn't improved with the years. I wonder if the issues is with the way my fingers are.

Have anyone encountered such a thing before? I found none in the common guitar forums.

I do a bit of dish washing on a daily bases as well as using hand moisturizer. Obviously not going to stop doing both.

(By the way, when playing Surf, which doesn't require bending, I used 11 and 12 gauge strings on a Stratocastr, without any issues)

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  • Use a whammy bar? I realize it doesn't provide the same expressiveness as bending on the neck, but it does have the virtue of saving your hands. – Robert Harvey May 21 '20 at 21:18
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No idea which videos you've seen, but if you're using one finger for a bend, it's going to be hard work. Whenever possible, use as many as you can - obviously those behind the fretted note are the extras!

Consider whether you're going to bend the string towards your head, or towards the floor. Both work, but on top string, it's more common to bend upwards.

You should be using the rotation movement of your whole hand to bend, not fingers. fret a note, and rotate your hand either way, depending on up or down movement. The rotation comes from the elbow! Your hand cannot rotate from your wrist.

Another consideration - with a good action and thin strings would be to drop the tuning. It's what used to happen back in the day when there was only one set of strings available - heavy(ish).

Go down a semitone or a tone, or try to get some thinner strings - I use .008, .010, .012 for my top three, but my guitars aren't as short scale as LPs. By going down exact semitones, you'll still be able to play along to backing tracks, albeit in a different key.

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  • Yes! The bend starts at the elbow. Another thing the OP might consider is putting their thumb above the neck to get more leverage. – Max May 21 '20 at 7:35
  • @Max - or consider not putting the thumb on at all... – Tim May 21 '20 at 7:43
  • Please leave a comment with your downvote - we need to know what your problem is! – Tim May 21 '20 at 7:45
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    @Riddle-Master Laborious, but is there any chance you could post a short gif or video of your current technique? Unfortunately, there are just too many variables in play to know exactly what's going wrong without seeing it. It could have to do with your sitting/standing posture, strap height, neck size, scale length.... – Max May 21 '20 at 7:47
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    What's lowered tuning to do with heavy metal?! It's very difficult to help you without knowing what you actually do. No info. in the question! Your best bet, if possible is to see a teacher for at least one lesson. – Tim May 21 '20 at 7:48
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My personal experience is that when my hands stay in the water for some time, the fingertips are definitely affected when it comes to playing.

And so I would definitely try a couple of things. For at least one week:

  1. Always wear rubber gloves when washing stuff, avoid soaking your hands as much as possible.

  2. Use moisturizer on the hands, but not on the fingertips, try to keep the last inch of your fingers completely dry.

If you can do this for at least a week, it's quite possible that you may start to notice significant changes. The bigger the changes you'll notice, the more you can draw the conclusion that the root of the problem is too much contact with water, rather than anything else.

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Too little information to really answer. Several things can cause finger tip pain in an experienced player. As someone else said, having them in water for a long time then playing. A couple other issues to consider are...

  1. Does the pain or tenderness (I am assuming this is what you mean and not for example joint pain) ever get better? Do you have some periods of time where it seems fine then it flares up? I ask because this could correlate to periods of over practicing, learning a new song, etc.

  2. Are you bending more than a whole step? The greater the interval the more stress you will put on the finger. It should adjust but if you stop for a while and start again you won't be used to it.

  3. Is it the finger tip or under the nail? I used to get this a lot when I was younger. Things would be going fine then for some reason (usually right after clipping my left hand nails) the skin would tear from under the nail and that would burn for quite a while.

  4. Could it be the brand of string? 9s are not that heavy. I bend up to a major 3rd, sometimes a 4th on 11s and I DON'T use 3 or 4 fingers. I do not like that technique as it takes freedom away from playing harmonies while bending. For many years (decades) I used GHS boomers because it just seemed like what everyone had and there didn't seem to be a lot of variety. More recently a tech who sets up my guitars recommended another brand, even said that GHS was not great for bending. I don't recall if he put on D'Adario, or Ernie Ball. Whatever it was it just felt loose and had both more "spring" to it and was easier to bend. It could be the material too.

  5. High action might contribute to this. Make sure you have your guitar well adjusted. If the action is too high that will affect both the feel of just playing notes and bending.

  6. Does the amount of pain or tenderness depend on where you are playing. It might be easier to play at the 12th fret than the 3rd or 5th.

Ironically, even though people say don't play right after you bath, I prefer to play when my hands are still soft right out of the shower. Perhaps this helps keep the callus developing. I find that my hand goes through phases and no surprise these depend on what I'm practicing and playing. If I keep up with the Zep, and Blues in general I don't suffer the problem you are having. But if I move on to other styles that don't use bending a lot and neglect to play a little blues every day I will notice when I do it again that I experience a little tenderness as part of the adjustment. These are perishable skills and your hand will acclimate to whatever input you give it. If you take a break for too long I'd expect that you will feel pain again as you get used to it. For mr this does not last long (and rarely happens).

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  • I wondered when callouses were going to get mentioned! Surprised no-one's said OP needs to develop them... – Tim May 21 '20 at 15:14
  • Tim, I wonder if you actually read my question. I have been playing guitar since 2006, and have caluses for almost a decade and a half to the level that I have no feeling at all in my left hand fingertips, even when I haven't played for long periods. – Riddle-Master May 21 '20 at 15:43
  • ggcg, 1. My pain lasts for about 4 to 6 hours 2. No, whole step at most 3. Fingertip. I don't touch that part of the skin anyhow. 4. I use D'addario. The usual type, no coating 5. The action is low. I had a luthier done the set up 6. I usually bend the 7th and 8th fret. – Riddle-Master May 21 '20 at 15:49
  • @Riddle-Masterm I really don't know what to say. What about the bridge? Did you say it was a fender strat? Sometimes spring tension in the bridge can make it feel harder to bend. I play a Gibson 335 and have never gone lower than 11s on it, used to play 13 flat wounds. Perhaps you are pinching a nerve, and the callus can make that worse if it develops incorrectly. – ggcg May 21 '20 at 16:36
  • No, I play a les paul with 9s. I used to have a strat with 11 when I played Surf. I switched to gibson to have a shorter scale, but that didn't help. I guess the problem is in me then. – Riddle-Master May 21 '20 at 17:16
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I recall it being painful when I first started. Eventually the tip of every (non-thumb) finger developed a callus and maybe even some nerves got damaged too, as I don't have as much sensation in them as I do in the fingertips on my other hand. Currently I can't feel much of anything when I bend strings, even beyond a full step. I can't remember how long it took for it to be this way. It might have been a few years.

I started playing on 8 gauge sets, then eventually moved to 9 gauge once my fingers were stronger and the tips didn't hurt anymore. After many years of continuous playing, I tried a 10 gauge set but it was just too thick, just too hard to bend. I tried a mixed set too: 9 gauge set for the first three strings (E, B, G), 10 gauge set for the last three strings (D, A, E). The difference in thickness between the first and last three strings was just too awkward for me. And I like bending the D and A strings (4th and 5th) so I went back to 9 gauge sets. I don't plan on going any thicker, ever. For me, 9 gauge sets are the most fun. Also I didn't think there was a significant (or at least likable) difference in sound between 9 gauge sets and 10 gauge sets.

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  • Neither did you, @Tim. – billiam May 24 '20 at 14:54
  • @Riddle-master literally asked if anyone can relate to his particular problem—a physical problem with one's fingertips. You didn't answer his question. I basically did, though not explicitly; I implied that I can't relate. And in the manner that he phrased his question, I assumed that he expected us to share our personal experience with bending strings and pain from doing so. Which is what I did. – billiam May 24 '20 at 15:14
  • Also, Tim, we don't know how much Riddle-master has been bending strings. We don't have enough data. He says his condition "hasn't improved with the years" but there is ambiguity in this statement. How many years is he talking about? How much does he play per year and how often is he bending strings? A lot? Occasionally? I was bending strings very, very often for years before I got to the point where I didn't experience much pain. What I implied to him, on the basis of my personal experience (see previous comment), was that maybe he hasn't been doing it frequently enough and long enough. – billiam May 24 '20 at 15:20
  • Also, Riddle-master, I just can't remember when I stopped experiencing significant pain in my fingertips — it was several years ago. But as I'm jogging my memory now, I do recall having experienced pain so severe in my fingertips — from bending strings — that I was forced to put the guitar down for at least 12 hours until the pain subsided. This scenario would occur several times a month. The frequency of it gradually decreased over a period of 5 years (I think; it's hard to recall the finite details) to the point where I would rarely feel severe pain. Maybe you aren't doing it enough. Idk. – billiam May 24 '20 at 15:38
  • Riddle-master, I now recall times where I had to put the guitar down for 24 hours before the pain subsided enough to bend again. I never gave much thought to these events and it never crossed my mind to question the normalcy of my fingers, so I never made a comparison to other people. I assumed my experience was normal. – billiam May 24 '20 at 15:56
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I found my problem. It consisted of 2 things:

  1. The Guitar in question had its frets leveled but not crowned (for they became too low for that - old guitar). While it never bothered my playing, apparently it affects bending, for I compared it with the exact same guitar but newer which belongs to a friend of mine. He also said that string bending is painful on my guitar.

  2. Unlike what is told in all the string bending tutorials - put 2 to 3 fingers in each fret and bend together, I starte bending only with 2 fingers, but always on the same fret. Even on the 10th fret and beyong. To me, that is a way more easy bending, and the strings doesn't move much under my finger as it did when deviding fingers to each fret.

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think of your fingers as you do about any muscle; you need to properly stretch it before and after you use them, bendings are one of the most demanding movements fingers do when playing guitar. You should alse be properly warmed up.

on the other hand, you can use finger combinations to acomplish bendings; like using two fingers to lower the stress put into individual member.

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  • What hurts are my fingertips - it has nothing to do with stretching or muscle strength. – Riddle-Master May 21 '20 at 18:44
  • Yeah, it sounds like bruising rather than muscle pain. – ggcg May 21 '20 at 19:05
  • Well, there are no muscles in the fingers other than your thumb, all the finger movements are actuated by tendons from muscles located in your forearm - so if there's pain caused by tired, overexerted or rapidly stretched muscles, then it won't be felt in fingers (as the OP describes) but in the forearm. – Peteris May 21 '20 at 23:51
  • Fingers don't have muscles! – Tim May 24 '20 at 6:47

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