dansm's guide to hand care

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!

building calluses
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.

maintaining 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 your calluses.

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