Guitar Calluses: 4 Tips for Taking Care of Your Fingers

One of the first things you learn as a beginner guitar player is that fretting the strings hurts. Your body will naturally start to build guitar calluses on the tips of your fingers to counteract this and protect the thinner skin.

Guitar calluses are not a bad thing. In fact, they are a sign of your commitment and dedication to the instrument. It is best to let nature take its course. If you have not developed calluses yet, there are three techniques you can use to quicken up the process!

How to Build Guitar Calluses – 4 Tips

If you play guitar long enough, sooner or later you will build the calluses needed for longer sessions without pain. Building calluses isn’t the funniest thing in the world though but is an important step in the process, and one that isn’t often talked about.

To get you past the difficult stage of building guitar calluses and back to practice, we’ve got three tips for speeding up the build process!

1. Short, Frequent Practice Sessions

Before you form your calluses your fingers are likely to start hurting after just a short while of fretting. To keep the pain down and allow your guitar calluses to develop quicker I like to coach new players to practice 3-5 times a day for no more than 5 minutes.

If you try to practice for 30 minutes to an hour your first couple of days you will likely rip the skin on your fingertips. Once this happens you have to wait to play again until the scab is gone and your fingers are healed. This will slow you down greatly!

By keeping your sessions short at the start you’ll build your guitar calluses faster, with less pain, and get some good practice fingering different chord shapes as well!

2. Don’t Worry About Strumming

Building calluses really has nothing to do with strumming. In fact, I would recommend that you avoid strumming for a couple of weeks in the beginning. You can start strumming once you have some decent guitar calluses on your fingers.

During this time just simply do one down strum per chord, maybe with a metronome going to help you start to develop your timing.

Or, a good practice schedule might be to work on your left hand (fretting hand for righties) for five minutes, strumming with muted chords for 5 minutes. Doing this for your first week should leave you with the start of great calluses and rhythm!

3. Use an Acoustic Guitar

Acoustic guitars have thicker strings than their electric counterparts, and thus are a little tougher on your fingers. So, if you can play your acoustic guitar, that’s a great way to build up calluses.

4. Use Rubbing Alcohol

In an interview, Eric Clapton suggested using products like rubbing alcohol or alcohol wipes to dry out the tips of your fingers. Doing this a few times a day for the first week or two of guitar playing should speed up the process of creating a dry, thick layer of skin on your fingertips.

Are Calluses Good for Guitar Playing?

Callused fingertips are very good for guitar players and are something that is almost a badge of honor. Building calluses can leave your fingers sore and uncomfortable for a few weeks, but once they’re formed they’ll create a protective layer between your sensitive skin and the strings.

Do All Guitar Players Get Calluses?

I have never known a guitar player without some sort of calluses on their fingertips, it’s just part of the game! Building a good layer of calluses is part of learning the guitar and something that you’ll quickly grow accustomed to.

Are Calluses Painful?

Once calluses have formed they actually make playing the guitar less painful, not more. Building calluses on the other hand can be painful at first and while they are forming it can be painful to fret chords and play. The good news though is that once they are formed they are actually significantly easier to bear and play with.

Should I Peel off Guitar Calluses?

Once your guitar calluses have formed a bit you may find that the top layer of your skin is peeling. You don’t want to peel off the entire callus, but letting this top layer rub off when it’s ready will reveal new, harder, stronger calluses growing underneath.

This is when you really know you are in the clear. The calluses you’ve formed will be there and fretting a guitar won’t hurt again!

The Final Note

While forming guitar calluses isn’t exactly a fun process, it is part of the guitar learning process, and the sooner you are able to build a strong base of calluses the more enjoyable the learning experience will be. After a month or two you’ll forget the pain of forming calluses and fretting the strings will be comfortable in the long run.

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Edward Bell Author

A ukulele player pretty much from birth, Edward has gone on to play banjo, lead guitar, and bass for a number of bands and solo projects! Edward loves talking, teaching and writing about music!