building and maintaining calluses
beginning guitarists, and especially acoustic guitarists, are plagued by
eternally sore fingertips (at least it seems that way). it even happens
to us veterans; after not playing for a day, my fingers hurt from playing
only a short time. this page is designed to make the learning process as painless
as possible. i hope it is helpful!
calluses are the goal of most guitarists. they protect the fingertip
from the action of guitar strings, and actually make it easier to fret notes.
in case you don't know what a callus is, it is a thick, tough, dead layer
of skin which covers and protects the layers underneath from repeated stress.
eric clapton said that the best method he finds to build calluses is to
swab rubbing alcohol on the fingertips two or three times a day until the skin
dries out and the calluses are thick enough to protect the
fingertips. after that, the treatment can be repeated
periodically to maintain them. the other, harder way to build calluses is
to simply keep playing, and eventually you will have nice thick calluses.
once you've got 'em, what do you do to keep 'em?
well, this part is easier: just keep playin'. play for about the same
amount of time each day (preferably at least 40 minutes), and your calluses will
stay thick. once in a while a layer will flake off, but this is normal and
you shouldn't worry about it. just keep playing to make sure
you replace what you are losing. also, make sure you limit the amount of time
your hands spend soaking in water. water destroys calluses, so try taking short
showers or wearing rubber gloves when doing dishes. also, after soaking your hands,
don't play until the fingers have completely dried (approximately 1 hour).
what can you do if you can't play for a while? you could use rubbing alcohol as
mentioned above once a week to help maintain the calluses. you could
also try pressing your fretting fingers on the rim of a soda can; this
will simulate the pressure of the strings, but you'll have to
do it for quite a long time if you aren't playing. another idea i've heard is
that rubbing your fretting fingers on rough surfaces will help maintain
dealing with the pain
what if you don't have good calluses or you've just played too much?
i have heard that witch hazel (sold cheaply at any drug store) will help.
just soak your fingertips in it until the pain goes away. i've never tried
this method, but have heard in several places that it helps.
i hope this discussion has helped and that your calluses are
much more manageable now. if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions,
feel free to e-mail me. now that you have
great calluses, make sure you keep playin'!
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© 1997 daniel e. smith. last updated 10-30-97