Best Way to Build Calluses for Guitar

If you're reading this article, your fingertips are probably hurting like crazy right now 🙂

Be comforted by the fact that sore fingertips are part of the initial learning process, all guitarists know the pain and got through it. 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, they'll just be toughened skin on your fingertips. You can see what you can expect your guitar calluses to look like below. Nothing special.

healthy guitar calluses

Healthy guitar calluses

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?

First of all, what are calluses? They are areas of hardened skin which develop as a result of skin irritation, so your skin being put out to constant friction and pressure. The most common callused skin people have is on their feet, from walking.

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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 importantly 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. 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.
Your guitar calluses after playing

Your guitar calluses roughened up after playing

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, than you can do the following to ease your sore fingers:

  1. Get lighter gauge strings, they are easier to play than medium/heavy gauge strings.
  2. Practicing is least painful on nylon stringed classical guitars, a bit more painful on electric guitars, and the most painful on steel stringed acoustics.
  3. 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.

32 replies
  1. Justin Goldsmith
    Justin Goldsmith says:

    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!!

    Reply
    • Tom - TheGuitarLesson.com
      Tom - TheGuitarLesson.com says:

      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.

      Reply
  2. Mas
    Mas says:

    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.

    Reply
    • Tom - TheGuitarLesson.com
      Tom - TheGuitarLesson.com says:

      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!

      Reply
  3. Greg
    Greg says:

    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.

    Reply
  4. Robert Berry
    Robert Berry says:

    Old article but basically keep playing. Live life as normal. Play enough, you’ll get callouses I guarantee it.

    Reply
  5. William
    William says:

    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.

    Reply
  6. Ben
    Ben says:

    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!

    Reply
  7. Morgan Smith
    Morgan Smith says:

    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?

    Reply
    • Tom - TheGuitarLesson.com
      Tom - TheGuitarLesson.com says:

      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 🙂

      Reply
    • Andrea
      Andrea says:

      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)

      Reply
  8. John
    John says:

    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…

    Reply
  9. Mark Worthington
    Mark Worthington says:

    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!!

    Reply
  10. kumud joshi
    kumud joshi says:

    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.

    Reply
    • Tom - TheGuitarLesson.com
      Tom - TheGuitarLesson.com says:

      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.

      Reply
  11. Dylan vieira
    Dylan vieira says:

    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?

    Reply
    • Tom - TheGuitarLesson.com
      Tom - TheGuitarLesson.com says:

      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.

      Reply
  12. Donovan Amado
    Donovan Amado says:

    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

    Reply
  13. Matt Hintze
    Matt Hintze says:

    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.

    Reply
  14. Callista
    Callista says:

    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?

    Reply
    • Tom - TheGuitarLesson.com
      Tom - TheGuitarLesson.com says:

      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.

      Reply
  15. Shailesh Sharma
    Shailesh Sharma says:

    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.

    Reply
  16. Nirmal Sarkar
    Nirmal Sarkar says:

    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.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *