It’s true. When you first start playing the guitar, it isn’t a very pleasant experience.
This is because you’re training your fingers to do things they’ve never done before.
It’s important to keep that in mind when you’re just starting to learn. Of course it feels unnatural!
But if you play for long enough, your comfort level will grow, and what used to seem difficult will eventually become second nature.
But what about those guitar calluses you’ve heard so much about? How do you replace the soft skin on your fingertips with tough skin that stands up to abuse?
Here are several tips on how to build your guitar calluses.
Start A Regular Practice Routine
Just start doing it. Don’t worry too much about how long you’re practicing for – just play a little bit every single day.
When you’re just beginning, you are at greater risk for injury and picking up bad habits, because you don’t know right from wrong.
“Is this supposed to hurt?” you may say.
Well no, not unless you’ve been overdoing it!
Playing the guitar isn’t supposed to give you an unusual level of discomfort. But like I was saying earlier, it will feel a little weird at first because you’re getting your fingers, wrists, and arms to do things they’ve never done before.
So go easy at it at first. Just put in 15 to 30 minutes a day. Your calluses will start to develop little by little.
Experiment With Different Gauges Of Strings
This is something I did a lot early on. I’d heard that players like Stevie Ray Vaughan played on 13 gauge strings, so I would also experiment with different gauges (but I never tried 13s – that would be insane on an electric!).
Once you get used to playing with nines, you can exchange them for 10s (although it is a good idea to get your guitar set up at this point), which are heavier and will give you more resistance. You’d be surprised.
I have some great guitar calluses now, but when I was playing with 10s and even with 11s for a while, I remember that my fingers got cut up pretty good.
Keep in mind that – and I know I’m repeating myself – you don’t want to overdo it. If you play until your fingers bleed, like in that song “Summer of ’69”, you probably aren’t going to be able to play for a few days!
This is a guitar hack if there ever was one, but it won’t be of much use to you if you take it to excess.
Experiment With Different Guitars
A classical guitar is usually equipped with nylon strings. These are very easy on the fingers, which means you can practice for longer periods of time without feeling too worn out.
Electric guitars typically have nickel strings – either nines or 10s. These bite into your fingers a little more than nylon strings and do provide a little more resistance. Harder to practice on for longer periods of time, especially if you do a lot of string bending.
Acoustic guitars often come with 12 gauge bronze strings (and 12 is considered pretty light for acoustic!). The crappier the guitar, the harder you will have to press down to get a decent sound out of it. Not a pleasant experience, but it can toughen up those fingers pretty quick.
Experimenting with different types of guitars can help your fingers get used to a variety of different string types – and it can also provide a healthy distraction while you’re still building up those calluses.
Play Your Butt Off
Once you’ve covered the basics, and your teacher has given you the go-ahead to practice for one hour or more per day, it’s time to play and play and play until there’s no longer any major discomfort with your fingers.
This is the most reliable way to build up your guitar calluses – gradually. If you keep practicing, before long, you won’t even notice that your fingers hurt. You’ll be able to play hours on end without ever taking a break.
Just remember to be patient with yourself. This isn’t going to happen overnight. If you don’t have calluses yet, it means that you haven’t done a lot of real playing yet (not trying to hurt your feelings). You’re going to have to put in some serious time.
No, you won’t need to play for 10,000 hours to get your calluses. But it doesn’t just happen in a couple of weeks either.
That’s all there is to it. I’ve heard of people doing some pretty strange things to get their calluses, but there’s no need. Don’t try to hack a hack!
Just play guitar – that’s the key!
Any thoughts? I would love to hear them. Make sure to leave a comment below!
Author: David Andrew Wiebe
David Andrew Wiebe has built an extensive career in songwriting, live performance, recording, session playing, production work, investing, and music instruction. In addition to helping musicians unlock their full potential, he also continues to maintain a touring schedule with multiple bands.