Do your fingertips hurt right from playing guitar?
Don't worry, it's part of the learning process. Be comforted by the fact that all beginners go through this, and the pain will go away with time once your calluses develop.
Actually, after a while, you'll get to like the feeling of soreness in your fingertip, since it'll mean you had a good practice session.
Your newly built calluses won't look yukky or weird at all.
Keep on reading, I'll show you what they will eventually look like and how to get them to form quickly, so you can play guitar 24 hours a day 🙂
What are guitar calluses?
They are areas of hardened skin on your fingertips that develop as a result of skin irritation, ie. your skin being put out to constant friction and pressure due to contact with guitar strings.
The most common callused skin people have is on their feet from walking, but guitar calluses form on your fingertips.
Are guitar calluses good for you?
Before you form calluses as a newbie guitar player, your practice time will be very limited because of the pain in your fingertips. With time, practice, and callus care, your calluses will act as shields protecting you from the pain of fretting strings.
You can see what you can expect your guitar calluses to look like below. Nothing special.
But until then, here are a few things you can do to quicken the buildup of calluses on your fingertips.
How to build finger calluses for guitar playing
We, as guitarists, develop calluses on our fingertips, from fretting the strings on the guitar. Here are a few tips on how to develop finger calluses faster:
- Play a lot! Ok, this is obvious, but it's the best way to quickly build calluses. If your fingertips really hurt, that's when you know that your calluses are developing.
- The more it hurts, the faster calluses form. If you are feeling extra masochistic, practice on heavy gauge guitars, and do lots of bends and vibratos.
BUT know that not all pain is equal! It's OK if your skin hurts, that'll form the callus. But if you feel a very sharp, stinging pain, almost as if it's coming from the bone, stop playing. That is a nerve being irritated. Give it a day of rest and it'll pass.
- Acoustic guitars with steel strings will develop calluses faster, since these strings are much harder and firmer than electric guitar strings or nylon strings. However, playing on a steel-stringed acoustic will hurt more initially. There is a trade-off with everything I guess.
- Use Eric Clapton's secret elixir. His secret to developing calluses is dipping his fingers in rubbing alcohol. Does it work? Yes, since it dries your skin, and dry skin hardens.
- Build your calluses while not playing guitar as well. If you're super eager to build your calluses, there is an exercise you can do on the bus, in traffic, at work, or anywhere to build them. Get your credit card, or anything with a hard, thin, solid edge, and press it against your fingertips. There are actually products for this, do a search for guitar callus builder.
Almost as important as the above, there are also a few things you should stay clear of if you want to develop calluses quickly:
- Don't immerse your hands in water for long. Water softens up your skin, so this means no more dishwashing without latex gloves. This also applies to washing your hair, taking showers, etc 😉
- Don't play after your hands are softened from water. If you get out of the tub/pool, and your fingertips are soft, the strings will shave your existing calluses right off, setting you back weeks. Don't play your guitar until your skin has dried and has toughened up again, this usually takes about an hour.
- Don't use hand moisturizers. Or if your hands are really dry, don't get the moisturizer on your calluses.
- Don't put superglue on your fingers. This is recommended by some websites, but you won't get any benefit in terms of callus development. You will, however, smear your guitar with glue flakes and residue.
Stick to the above recommendations, and you'll be on your way to hardening your fingertips and building those guitar calluses as quickly as possible.
How long before your guitar calluses develop?
The amount of time it takes to develop calluses on your fingers, and in turn, not have sore fingertips anymore, depends a lot on whether you do things right.
If you stick with my recommendations above, and practice at least 30 minutes per day, lengthening that as you can, you should see results pretty quickly:
- First few days of playing: Your fingers will hurt, there's nothing you can do about it. In the first few days, you might only be able to play for 10-15 minutes, but you'll need to increase your practice time as your fingers allow it.
- After 10 days: The very sharp pain you felt in the beginning is totally gone, and you can feel your fingertips getting harder. You still feel pressure on your fingertips when practicing, but it's totally bearable.
- After 1 month: The pain is pretty much gone, and it doesn't bother you anymore. Your calluses are getting harder. Sometimes a layer of skin peels of your fingertip. Don't worry, harder skin is formed beneath. Just keep playing and whatever needs to peel off will come off by itself.
It doesn't take long at all to develop those guitar calluses, so stick with it!
How to reduce finger pain
Everyone who learns to play the guitar has to deal with sore fingers at the beginning. There are things you can do to reduce the pain, but in turn, your calluses will form slower, so you're basically extending the period of lessened pain.
If that's OK with you, then you can do the following to ease your sore fingers:
- Get lighter gauge strings, they are easier to play than medium/heavy gauge strings.
- Practicing is least painful on nylon-stringed classical guitars, a bit more painful on electric guitars, and the most painful on steel-stringed acoustics.
- Decrease your practice session time, but practice more times per day. So let's say you could practice for just 10 minutes at a time, but do it 3x per day until the pain eases.
This article is around 1,000 words long, so if you started reading this article with sore fingers, the pain should have eased by now. It's time to practice for a few minutes again 🙂
Keep in mind that the pain will completely go away with practice and let this be your motto:
The more it hurts today, the less it will hurt tomorrow!
Keep at it, practice a lot, and I'll see you in one of the lessons.
Helpful for me.
Some were suggesting to change strings and use nylon strings …only you said the fact that it will only increase the pain duration. So i am practicing on steel strings only 🙂
Thanks for this article
Wow… Thank you so much for your article! Very helpful. Admittedly, I did consider playing right out of the tub or dishwasher, but I can see that would be self-defeating! Also, considered the crazy glue method. I haven’t played for a long while so have to go through the pain.. my guitar has regular light D’Addario strings brand new, just got it tuned, played for bout 20 min, before having to take a break. I guess callouses can be put in the “how do you get to Carnegie Hall?” frame of mind… Practice!! I was recently inspired by the artist Justin Johnson, to grab my guitar again, and attempt to learn slide blues. He makes it look so easy, I thought maybe I can handle it, and I will!! Just as soon as I get some callouses! :)))
Thanks for the tips. I was wondering how much i should practice for and how often. Currently, my practice schedule is practice for 15 minutes, take at least a 20 minute break then practice again for the same amount of time. Then repeat. I do this almost all day. Oh, also, inbetween practice, i soak my fingers in apple cider vinegar for 30 seconds. I’m 13, left handed and really want to learn 🙂 One more thing, is it ok for only one finger to hurt? I use my index a lot and thats the only one that hurts. Thanks 🙂
Hi, you can start practicing more than 15 minutes at a time, given that your fingers aren’t hurting that much anymore.
Your index finger is used most, followed by the rest of the fingers, which is why it hurts more. This is normal. As you advance, you will learn techniques that require all of your fingers to fret the strings, so they will catch up.
Hi there today was my second day of playing guitar and think I got a bit to excited and went over board hehehe.. On my first day played 3 hours of guitar and 1 hour on my second day and experiencing extreme pain on my finger tips.. Is this pain temporary? Or will forever be there torturing me from now on and forever??… As well as how many days a week should you be practising ((as a beginner)) To prevent FINGER Bleeding from playing , and damaged finger pain?? ❤️❤️
Yeah, you played too much, probably aggravated a nerve ending. It’ll pass in 2-3 days. It’s very painful when you try to fret a string right now, so just let it rest.
Hey, I just started learning guitar and I am really pumped. The pain kind of feels like progress. For calluses, I press my guitar pick against my finger for a minute each after a session and found that it really helps.
I know the feeling, you know you had a good practice session when your calluses are burning afterward 🙂
Hi! I’m studying calluses and like this site’s discussion on the subject! There’s just one thing I want to know: as I read this page, it looks and sounds like it’s all about developing calluses on the fretting (left) hand only? Do you therefore assume that guitarists generally use the nails of the string (right) hand to sound the strings? (Which makes sense.) I know some players who have calluses on the string hand, which to my ear makes the strings sound inconsistently unclear. Maybe you’ve got a page that talks about the string hand, but I did an online search about calluses and came here! Hope you’ll clarify; many thanks!
Thanks for the info, very informative, it’s not a guitar, but a ukulele, 1st instrument I’ve tried to learn, holy cow, I didn’t know about the finger pain.
Hi there is this info therefore only for ukuleles?
What’s the difference between ukuleles and guitar??
Hi there. Thanks for the tips! I agree that fingertips are probably hurting like crazy right now. With my honest, I’m a beginner and learning about guitar, so your tips are very helpful. I have just learned guitar from the school so I’m falling in love with it. There are many guitars I like. Could you please give me suggestion how to choose? Thank you very much for your kindness.
Hi there, I’m glad you found these tips useful.
I’ve written 2 posts on the beginner guitars I recommend to newbie guitarists, one for the acoustic guitar and another for the electric. Here they are:
Here’s a trick I’ve used for years. I’m a right-handed player. To help build and maintain calluses when I was not playing very often, I used to drive the edge of my left thumbnail into the tip of my left index finger until it got a little uncomfortable; then, move on down to the next finger. After a while, it got to be sort of a habit. It’s also a handy way to distract yourself at a funeral or something, when you’re on the verge of tears but don’t want to cry.
Good article and comments! I usually start off on the steel stringed acoustic, then play 12-string for a while, then finish on the Strat, which is a piece of cake after playing the acoustic. I have played for about 50 years but haven’t played much for a while, so am rebuilding my calluses, which led me here. My best advice is to play every day, but don’t overdo it. If you can play at least 30 minutes per day you will have good workable calluses in a week or so. I’m hitting the road for a couple of weeks and can’t bring my guitar along, which brought me here looking for an alternative.
You could get a traveler guitar. Personally I find them odd to play on as there is nowhere to place your picking hand. But if I were on the go for an extended period, I would get one.
Thanks! Just started playing… Fingers in pain soooo much!
Stay strong Sujit, it’ll stop hurting soon!
Interesting about callouses. I’ve played and taught guitar and bass for 50 yrs. Only time I had them was during first year with an awful guitar. Since then, with well set up instruments, and playing 3-4 gigs a week and teaching, I’ve had NONE. There really is no need. I’m sure some people see them as a badge of honour. I prefer ordinary fingertips, which are more responsive to the strings than lumps of gristle!
Hey Tim, so you’re saying your fingertips don’t have calluses at all? I find that interesting. Skin will get harder with the friction from the strings, no matter what you do. Or at least I haven’t seen any guitar player that didn’t have calluses. Of course not the flaking type that peals off, just harder skin on your fingertips.
I’m sorry, but I’m not buying the 50 years and no calluses. I am 62 and been playing guitar since I was 7. I’ve had fingertip calluses all that time, except when I take a several week break at which point they just start to soften and come back within a week or so. I don’t have a single guitar playing friend that doesn’t have them. At least the serious players…
he may not even realize he has them. I know after having returned to playing after over a year’s hiatus, I’m not really seeing the kind of heavy callousing I got when I first started trying to play guitar, but if I press on my fingertips, I can feel that there’s a little “pad” under there. The first time I tried to learn guitar, I literally had string grooves basically embedded in the tips for some little while after I’d stop playing. And it hurt like the devil. Now, returning, I can play chords and barre on the fifth and sixth strings with no real issue. Apparently, once those callouses form the first time, remnants of them must hang around, even after a long break.
I’m 50 and I’ve been playing since I was 17 – I have them, but you can’t tell by looking. Had one old codger call my a liar about being a guitarist once, he kept poking at my fingertips and saying there’s no way. He had a Sears silvertone he’d bought in the 50’s, and it still had the original strings on it – how they stayed on there, I don’t know – they were almost solid rust.
Just picked up my guitar for the first time in a long time im one of those people who gave up very easily however i am much more determined this time and practiced for an hour before looking this up im also a cosmetologist so i know the trouble of water on my hands all the time but i want to build up my fingers and practice with my guitar so i can eventually learn cello but i want to get good practice habits before i put in the money
I’ve been playing acoustic and electric a long [time] and very much disagree with the idea “the more it hurts the better”. Bad idea because if you play past the point where it is painful to fret a string you are probably damaging the nerves in that fingertip and may well find yourself unable to play for several days until the irritated nerve endings heal. Better to stop when it starts to become painful and come back again later for more. Also, I think it is better learning wise to practice several times a day and let some latent learning take place in between sessions. I have been surprised when I practised a lick but just could not get it and found when I returned I could play it right away, latent learning.
I definitely agree, there is a point where you need to stop the practice session if there is nerve pain.
Constant practicing is the best way to build toughness. I have gigs where I play for more than 4 hours and no matter how thick your calluses are it still hurts. I played for 7 hours straight last St Patrick’s day and used superglue to reinforce my finger tips after 3 hours. It worked great but ruined my strings. The real problem here is playing so much with calluses that you end up hurting your finger bone tips. It happens to me and im sure it happens to many others. im going to switch to lighter strings this St Patricks day because I have to play 8-10 hours. best of luck to you all!!
Yes, I’ve had that happen before, when your bone hurts from playing too much. The best solution I’ve found is what you wrote as well, get lighter gauge strings.
Also, when playing electric, sometimes I have to remind myself how lightly you need to fret the strings.
Very helpful and funny article, it’s been a while since I’ve played very seriously, just picked it back up and I forgot how much the fingers hurt now that the callouses are gone. Thanks for all the useful advice, definitely covered the topic much better than I expected. Unfortunately the sucky answer also seems to be the most true: just be patient.
Yeah, it takes a bit of time and effort. In today’s world, we’ve come to expect everything to be instantaneous, which is actually the reason most people who start learning guitar stop, after they realize it’s not a skill that is easy to acquire.
Keep at it, practice everyday, and you’ll get there!
Great article, especially the end… I laughed out loud, for real, and grabbed my guitar. Lost my old one in a fire and haven’t been able to get a nicer lefty for a while. Got it just today and wanted to remember how long it took to build them the first time. About two months or so and my fingertips were perfect.
Still, the end of the article was absolutely hilarious… it was true, which is why I laughed. Time to play these sadistic steel strings.
Old article but basically keep playing. Live life as normal. Play enough, you’ll get callouses I guarantee it.
Thanks for great article! If I want to practise guitar but my hands have recently been in water I dry off my fingers by using a hair drier. I hold my fingers about 18inches to 24 inches away at a COMFORTABLE level of heat – not too hot – for a short while. At a pinch other sources of heat can also work (ie a radiator) but be careful not to get too near so you do not burn yourself – caution is best. I might try the alcohol trick mentioned above.
Hi WIlliam, thanks for the hairdryer tip!
My callus came after a week and now most of the pain is gone. I am glad because learning to play guitar is addicting and SO MUCH FUN!
So, I am working as a hairdresser. Thus my hands are literally wet and soaked in conditioner all day. Wearing gloves makes it harder to do my job effectively, so that isn’t an option. I was wondering, so you know anyone with this combo of hobby and profession? Did it just take them longer, or have they been forced to get creative?
Hi Morgan, sorry but I don’t any guitar players/students with a profession like yours, so I can’t give any advice. But once you see how it goes, I would be grateful if you would share experience here for others to see 🙂
Hello! Hairstylist here. I come from a guitar/ music family and learning guitar is a Must! It sucks to have soft hands AND trying to build calluses. But like the article says, practice. Its like doing a pedicure, you can file/ shave them rough heels as much as you want, but they’ll still be walked on so the callus will still be there.
After washing and cutting wet hair for 8 hrs, i dry my hands for a good hour before practicing guitar. It does tend to hurt a bit more than regular people lol but thats just our life. Our feet hurt, our fingers are cut, and if u play guitar, our fingertips hurt too. (Also, I put ice on them after a really long day)
I was a cosmetologist AND played guitar. I had thick lumpy callouses. They will happen. Fast forward 40+ years later just started playing again. Will be interesting to see how my callouses form now that my hands are no longer constantly wet. ( I’m now retired.) I had forgotten the pain of building those callouses. And now that I’m old and can’t see the strings anymore my way of learning has also changed.
I’m screwed, I just bought a new guitar, haven’t played in a while especially on string (> 1 year) and yet so excited to try the guitar. I played literally for 8 hours, went to sleep, played again for hours, then my fingers hurt so bad that I can’t even press a note for days. Argghhhhh…
Yeah, that’s happened to me as well. It’ll get better in a few days.
I’ve only been playing for about two months but I’m totally addicted! I consider my calluses a badge of honor and I smile evevery time I feel them while I can’t wait to get back to my acoustic. For sure, start with steel strings to get.the calluses going and take breaks often. Hurts so good!!
I know what you mean Mark. When my fingertips hurt, I know I had a great session 🙂
I have swim practice from 4:30 PM to 8:00 PM everyday. Cannot Not submerge my fingers in water.
Dry your hands thoroughly and maybe use a hairdryer on your fingertips straight after. Ensure you do not harm the tips of your fingers!!!
I cannot stop dish washing and bathing. I also, don’t want to use gloves. I wash hands three four times in a day. But, I practice half an hour in a day. Will I be able to develop calluses. I can increase the duration of practice but can’t reduce the water on my hand.
Hey Kumud, please don’t stop washing hands and bathing because of the guitar 🙂
As for washing dishes, I would really recommend using gloves. Either way, make sure you don’t practice right after getting your hands wet, while your skin is still soft. That can cause your calluses to peel off.
thank you so very much sir !!! I have already started with an expired credit card….
the problem for me is that I have eczema, so I have to apply cream often, and have to apply this with my hands of course.
Does this mean that I will never have calluses?
I have eczema on my hands as well. What I do is after applying cream, I quickly wipe it off of my fingertips. Of course, it depends on how bad your eczema is, and where it’s concentrated, but if it doesn’t affect your fingertips, this should work.
Hmmm no wonder I’ve been playing for months but after washing my hands I go and play while m fingers are wet now I know to wait an hour
This is what I did because I can’t always get to my guitar to practice but still wanted to build the callouses needed. I bought an Xcellent Global Finger Exerciser Strengthener Trainer Master for Arthritis Therapy and Grip & Finger Strengthening and for Guitar Practice, on Amazon. Then I drilled out 3 plungers and 90 degree bent a very short E, A, D string at each end then Krazy glued them into place on the top of the 3 plungers. Now I can develop the hand muscles needed by pressing on the top of each plunger including the glued string ones to build the callouses as often as I can. I also can notice the difference in short term callouses building.
YES, Eric Clapton’s secret elixir of soaking your finger tips in alcohol also helped.
Thanks for this! I love how you guessed that my fingers were sore in the beginning, and also that the pain had eased by the end. XD
I have had friends who tell me not to keep practicing when my fingers hurt, because they will only blister and peel and calluses will take longer to form. Is this true? Or should I continue practice despite the pain?
Hi there, I’ve never seen a blister on a fingertip before 🙂 They do peel off once in a while, happens to me as well, but I haven’t noticed weakened calluses after. If it peels, that’s just dead skin wanting to come off, the good skin is hiding beneath, don’t worry.
If you are just starting out and your fingertips really hurt, take a break. It’s not much fun when trying to hold a chord is agony. Rest a little, and start again. Or next day for that matter. Know that with each day of practice, you are building those calluses, and they’ll hurt less and less.
Though i am not a good guitar player, just played few times and my fingertips hurt like anything. But its great to hear that pain will go away with practice.
Helpful for me.
Some were suggesting to change strings and use nylon strings …only you said the fact that it will only increase the pain duration. So i am practicing on steel strings only 🙂
Thanks for this article.
This is so helpful!!!!
Thanks this was so helpful. Can’t wait till I get better
Really useful article.
Thank you for those tips, it’s good to know the pain of sore fingertips won’t last forever 🙂