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How to harden fingers(guitars)

greg stephens 30 May 07 - 06:29 PM
Big Mick 30 May 07 - 06:34 PM
Jim Lad 30 May 07 - 06:35 PM
bobad 30 May 07 - 06:37 PM
mrmoe 30 May 07 - 07:09 PM
s&r 30 May 07 - 07:30 PM
John Hardly 30 May 07 - 07:37 PM
Midchuck 30 May 07 - 07:53 PM
redsnapper 31 May 07 - 05:19 AM
Allan C. 31 May 07 - 05:40 AM
Marje 31 May 07 - 05:43 AM
GUEST,Capain Colin. 31 May 07 - 06:04 AM
sian, west wales 31 May 07 - 06:07 AM
redsnapper 31 May 07 - 06:24 AM
GUEST,Captain Colin. 31 May 07 - 06:31 AM
nickp 31 May 07 - 06:33 AM
Anne Lister 31 May 07 - 06:48 AM
Grab 31 May 07 - 08:50 AM
Bee 31 May 07 - 10:53 AM
GUEST,van lingle 31 May 07 - 10:56 PM
Marion 31 May 07 - 11:15 PM
GUEST,highlandman 31 May 07 - 11:38 PM
s&r 01 Jun 07 - 03:14 AM
GUEST,Capain Colin. 01 Jun 07 - 07:16 AM
Backwoodsman 01 Jun 07 - 07:37 AM
mrmoe 01 Jun 07 - 08:50 AM
s&r 01 Jun 07 - 09:29 AM
Scoville 01 Jun 07 - 10:23 AM
GUEST 15 Dec 12 - 05:27 PM
alex s 15 Dec 12 - 05:36 PM
pdq 15 Dec 12 - 05:38 PM
Rumncoke 15 Dec 12 - 05:53 PM
McGrath of Harlow 15 Dec 12 - 09:35 PM
JohnInKansas 15 Dec 12 - 10:26 PM
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Subject: How to harden fingers(guitars)
From: greg stephens
Date: 30 May 07 - 06:29 PM

Well my brother's just bought a guitar, steel string, and he's whining that his left hand fretting fingers hurt, which is preventing him practising. Now, this is a problem I last had 50 years ago, and my feeling is "put up with it, it'll pass". The blood is part of the initiation. But are there any shortcuts, exotic unguents to dip your fingers in? Any advice for a new boy?


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Subject: RE: How to harden fingers(guitars)
From: Big Mick
Date: 30 May 07 - 06:34 PM

Greg, I don't know of any. The fact is that anything you put on your fingers to protect them will just delay callous formation. Part of the pain is muscle pain and that comes from time spent practicing.

One other though comes to mind. Did you brother purchase a good quality guitar? Has he had it set up by a pro? Much of the pain can come from a poorly set up instrument. Many times folks buy a "starter" guitar that is very inexpensive. I find that to be faulty logic. A good guitar, set up right, is easier to learn on and hurts less, thus you have a higher probability of sticking with it.

All the best,

Mick


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Subject: RE: How to harden fingers(guitars)
From: Jim Lad
Date: 30 May 07 - 06:35 PM

Sheep's urine is the next best thing to practising, I think.
Straight from the bottle, of course.


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Subject: RE: How to harden fingers(guitars)
From: bobad
Date: 30 May 07 - 06:37 PM

Ewe must be kidding.


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Subject: RE: How to harden fingers(guitars)
From: mrmoe
Date: 30 May 07 - 07:09 PM

bluegrass until it hurts.....I like to maintain finger hardness by several 5 hour sessions a month....this along with regular playing


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Subject: RE: How to harden fingers(guitars)
From: s&r
Date: 30 May 07 - 07:30 PM

Once you get to the wood (or really to the fret)stop pressing. And don't press till you want to play a note/chord. Get the guitar set up properly.

Stu


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Subject: RE: How to harden fingers(guitars)
From: John Hardly
Date: 30 May 07 - 07:37 PM

I play without calluses and without pain -- and for long sessions. Calluses aren't necessary for pain-free playing. If that weren't true, I'd have little hope -- as a potter, I often have my hands in water all day. The only place I ever get a callus is on my one finger that was deformed when it was cut off. I think I develop that callus because I can't fret that finger close enough to the fret, thus, I over-press it.

Tell him to learn to target closer to the frets. It's really not a hard technique to learn -- and the pleasure of fretting with no more pressure than is necessary to cleanly sound the string is its own reward.

or wear kevlar gloves. They're available through Uline.


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Subject: RE: How to harden fingers(guitars)
From: Midchuck
Date: 30 May 07 - 07:53 PM

I would echo what several others have said about getting it set up properly - and telling the technician it's for a new player. If it's set up with a low action, it'll buzz if he tries to play it loudly, but you don't want him playing it loudly until he gets good anyway.

Another trick - tune the whole thing a half or whole tone flat. Might lose a little sound quality, but the strings will be under less tension and will be easier to fret. If the action is high at the nut, you can also deal with that by playing it capoed at the first fret.

"..Book said it was easy as ABC,
But oh, my fingers was killin' me.
They got sore on the ends.
Couldn't mash the strings on down.
Got disgusted and wanted to quit..."


- "Talking Guitar Blues" Ernest Tubb, I think.

Peter


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Subject: RE: How to harden fingers(guitars)
From: redsnapper
Date: 31 May 07 - 05:19 AM

Practice, practice , practice is the only real way assuming a correctly set up instrument. Sometimes a little surgical spirit on the fingertips can help.

RS


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Subject: RE: How to harden fingers(guitars)
From: Allan C.
Date: 31 May 07 - 05:40 AM

See these other threads on the subject:

Calloused attitudes (my personal favorite)

Help: Sore Fingers

Instant callouses


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Subject: RE: How to harden fingers(guitars)
From: Marje
Date: 31 May 07 - 05:43 AM

I am not a guitarist (I never got very far with it, partly because of the sore fingers) but my brother, who played a lot at one time, used to apply nail hardener, not just to the nails but to the fingertips.
Official disclaimer: this is at your own risk. If you try it and you develop gangrene, or your fingers stick to the strings and leave you looking a fool, I cannot be held responsible, OK?

Marje


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Subject: RE: How to harden fingers(guitars)
From: GUEST,Capain Colin.
Date: 31 May 07 - 06:04 AM

If he could get hold of a nylon strung guitar for a while that will help till he's got used to it. And yes, detune- even a tone and a half.


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Subject: RE: How to harden fingers(guitars)
From: sian, west wales
Date: 31 May 07 - 06:07 AM

I remember hearing that the Welsh triple harpist, Nancy Richards, would relax sitting by the fire - and she would constantly be running her fingertips along the hot(-tish) fire guard. Apparently this was to harden up the skin. Not everyone has an old-fashioned fireplace these days but maybe there is some other equivalent. Hot radiator? If I was determined to do it, I suppose I'd use my curling iron ... but that's a girlie solution.

sian


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Subject: RE: How to harden fingers(guitars)
From: redsnapper
Date: 31 May 07 - 06:24 AM

I play both nylon and steel strung instruments and doubt that nylon would result in much callous development. Of course, it would be an inducement to carry on and a relief from the initial discomfort of steel strings.

RS


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Subject: RE: How to harden fingers(guitars)
From: GUEST,Captain Colin.
Date: 31 May 07 - 06:31 AM

Quite.


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Subject: RE: How to harden fingers(guitars)
From: nickp
Date: 31 May 07 - 06:33 AM

As mentioned above... surgical spirit. works wonders


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Subject: RE: How to harden fingers(guitars)
From: Anne Lister
Date: 31 May 07 - 06:48 AM

My experience with nylon strings is that they bruise, whereas metal strings have more of a cutting action, so repeated playing will result in different qualities of sore fingers! But then I have notoriously sensitive skin.

I think these days I'd make a reasonable master criminal, as there's very little left of finger prints on the tops of the fingers on my left hand - my skin tends to peel, periodically, when the skin has reached a certain degree of hardness.

Oh, and my guitar has a pretty low action, and I used to always play with it tuned a semi-tone down, so if you're prone to sore fingers I think you just are that way inclined!

Anne


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Subject: RE: How to harden fingers(guitars)
From: Grab
Date: 31 May 07 - 08:50 AM

Nylon string for starting, every time. It doesn't need to get to the stage of callouses, it just needs for the fingertips to harden, and nylon string is just as good for that. If he must have a steel-string, get thinner strings.

Graham.


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Subject: RE: How to harden fingers(guitars)
From: Bee
Date: 31 May 07 - 10:53 AM

I've been playing for a bit over a year. The action on my steel string is a wee bit high (played an expensive low action Gibson a few weeks ago, and it felt fantastic) and I've thick callouses which peel periodically because I also have my fingers in water a lot, grinding glass. Alcohol helps a little, more for post-dishwashing or house cleaning. Gardening helps, dries out and hardens the fingertips fast!

When I started I found practicing in short bursts worked best, fifteen, twenty minutes, stop for a half hour, pick it up again. Now I can play for hours.


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Subject: RE: How to harden fingers(guitars)
From: GUEST,van lingle
Date: 31 May 07 - 10:56 PM

Pickle brine. When you finish a jar of Claussens soak your left hand fingers in the juice 5 to 10 minutes and it will toughen up the tips. Downside- greenish tint on epidermis.


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Subject: RE: How to harden fingers(guitars)
From: Marion
Date: 31 May 07 - 11:15 PM

Greg, I agree with you about "put up with it and it'll pass"... but when you said "the blood", did you mean that literally? I wouldn't expect actual bleeding to be part of the guitar learning process. Unless maybe he's scratched himself with the snipped strings at the head.

Marion


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Subject: RE: How to harden fingers(guitars)
From: GUEST,highlandman
Date: 31 May 07 - 11:38 PM

I think that whether a large mass of calluses form or not depends more on the person's genetics than on the amount of playing. I build up thick calluses even with a relatively small amount of playing, and when I've laid off for a short while they disappear rather quickly. Colleagues who have played for similar periods have lighter calluses for no apparent reason.
I also notice that even when my calluses have been light and soft, I still have a more-or-less permanent thickening in the finger pads. I've been playing since there were only four elements on the periodic table.

I could suggest trying to play an electric bass for a couple of weeks; then the steel six-string will be a relief.

Oh, and for us colonials, just what is "surgical spirit"?


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Subject: RE: How to harden fingers(guitars)
From: s&r
Date: 01 Jun 07 - 03:14 AM

Used as a wipe for antiseptic cleaning.

Methyl salicylate 0.5 ml, diethyl phthalate 2 % castor oil 2.5 % in industrial methlated spirit (19 parts absolute alcohol with 1 part wood naphthalene).


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Subject: RE: How to harden fingers(guitars)
From: GUEST,Capain Colin.
Date: 01 Jun 07 - 07:16 AM

Ha!- echoes of the past. I remember Eric Clapton in an interview with an American magazine saying many years ago that he used surgical spirit. It almost caused a state of national emergency to be declared in the USA when all the chemists- sorry, drug stores- were inundated with demands for this mysterious substance. Apologies, off-topic I know but it made me smile. Vive la difference!


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Subject: RE: How to harden fingers(guitars)
From: Backwoodsman
Date: 01 Jun 07 - 07:37 AM

"Once you get to the wood"

That's exactly where you DON'T want to get to. When the strings contact the frets, DON'T PRESS ANY HARDER! The pitch of the note comes from the contact with the fret, not the fingerboard, so pressing down any further than the fret is pointless.


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Subject: RE: How to harden fingers(guitars)
From: mrmoe
Date: 01 Jun 07 - 08:50 AM

I'm afraid that I have to dissagree with those who say that "proper" set-up will keep your guitar from hurting your fingertips or that there is no need to depress a string firmly....to an extent, action height equals volume.....get that action too low and you lose volume!....now, to those who will now argue that volume doesn't equal tone, all I have to say is horse shit....maximum (or near maximum) volume from your instrument will insure maximum tone....without maximum volume, there little way to emphasize a softer passage...I will even add that firm depression of a guitar string is essential to maximum volume and tone....build up your finger strength and build your calouses.....this will make you a better sounding guitarist.....and this newly acquired strength and hardening of your fingertips will allow you to play with little discomfort....


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Subject: RE: How to harden fingers(guitars)
From: s&r
Date: 01 Jun 07 - 09:29 AM

Dead right Backwoodsman - the point I'm making is that extra pressure does nothing but hurt the fingers.

Mrmoe - excess pressure will produce a sharpened note if behind the fret. Proper set-up takes account of string gauge, player preferences etc. It isn't the lowest softest action possible.

Stu


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Subject: RE: How to harden fingers(guitars)
From: Scoville
Date: 01 Jun 07 - 10:23 AM

I had a friend who used to paint his fingertips with clear nail polish, but I've never tried that so I can't swear it works. The skin on the ends of my left-hand fingertips is so thick they're virtually insensible.

They're all right when they say that squeezing the life out of the guitar neck accomplishes nothing, but the sad fact is that it's just going to hurt for awhile. It'll pass.

(Does he have a touchy ego? Tell him some girl online said to stop whining and take it like a man. That won't make it hurt less but it might make him complain less.)


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Subject: RE: How to harden fingers(guitars)
From: GUEST
Date: 15 Dec 12 - 05:27 PM

Lemon juice hoss dip em in lemon juice after you play


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Subject: RE: How to harden fingers(guitars)
From: alex s
Date: 15 Dec 12 - 05:36 PM

Surgical spirit did it for me and I play ceilidh 3-4 hours at a time, 6 and 12 string.

There was a mention of set-up - too right! My Tak 12 is easier than most 6's. How many musicians have we lost due to cheap, crap set-ups??


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Subject: RE: How to harden fingers(guitars)
From: pdq
Date: 15 Dec 12 - 05:38 PM

Play (or practice) on a regular basis.

Eventually, it will not be an issue.


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Subject: RE: How to harden fingers(guitars)
From: Rumncoke
Date: 15 Dec 12 - 05:53 PM

If actual tissue damage has occurred then it needs time to heal, so he needs to stop playing. Really.

During the time out, he should ensure that the guitar is set up correctly with nice new, or at least clean strings. When changing strings clean the surface of the fingerboard and check that there is nothing hurtful on it.

Then he should start slowly and work up to whatever length of practise time he needs, so his fingers become accustomed gradually.

Pain is your body's way of persuading you to stop doing what it doesn't like, and it is unlikely to do anything but get worse if not heeded.


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Subject: RE: How to harden fingers(guitars)
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 15 Dec 12 - 09:35 PM

If a thing's worth doing it's worth putting up with a little suffering.


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Subject: RE: How to harden fingers(guitars)
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 15 Dec 12 - 10:26 PM

As a "once a year" mandolin player for a couple of decades, the "wisdom" I discovered is that if it HURTS you need to stop playing.

For quite a while, other interests prevented more than extremely rare practice sessions, so I invariably arrived at the annual festival with completely "virgin" fingers. Of course I tried the "tough it out and be macho" approach, along with chemical and other abuses and a variety of "protective armor plates" with the usual scant success.

I eventually learned that if I pick up the instrument and:

a. play a couple of familiar tunes, beginning with 10 or 20 minutes, and STOP AT THE FIRST SIGN OF PAIN

b. wait about an hour before picking it up again and repeat playing for (perhaps) 15 to 30 minutes, and STOP AT THE FIRST SIGN OF PAIN.

c. by third or rarely by the fourth repetition of this cycle, I was generally ready to play for up to a couple of hours WITH NO PAIN

d. by the second or third day I could safely insert slides, hammerdowns, pulloffs, and any other unnecesary gimmicks, ALL DAY AND ALL NIGHT (with NO PAIN). [and with only a little brew toward the end to keep things limber ...]

If you've already injured yourself, the best course is just to put it away for a week or two, and then start over and do it right, exercising but not abusing your tender tips, resting long enough for some recovery, and then repeating until your fingers are ready to go. Properly done, with uninjured body parts it takes perhaps 5 or 6 hours, including no more than a couple of hours of actual playing. It might take a little longer (more repetitions) for a beginner with undeveloped fretting technique, but in any case it will ultimately be quicker than any "blood and guts" methods or "armor plating."

Once toughened, a lapse of more than a couple of days when you don't play at all might want a short repeat to get back to speed, but unless you've "lost it all" a single short cycle stopping at the first sign of pain, should make you ready to stand up and play.

Toughing it through the pain can take at least a couple of weeks of continued painful abuse to injured flesh before you really quite hurting and can resume progress with the lesson plan or enjoying the sessions.

It has worked for me.

YMMV

John


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