I Admit It: My Hands Are Small
Like I said, this is something (especially men) don’t love to admit!
But I’ll freely confess: as you can see from the video of me above, I’m a small-handed guy, particularly being of Korean & Japanese descent.
Especially upon learning chords, in the first year I learned guitar (in 2005), I struggled to play a (simplified!) C major chord and thought to myself: if only I had hands like Jimi Hendrix, I’d nail this chord no problem.
It’s like struggling to learn to snap your fingers or whistle; if you can’t even make your first sound, it feels bad, and even worse since everyone else seems to nail it without any issues.
It didn’t take me long to decide that I needed to find a solution to this problem.
Small Hands Don’t Have To Get In The Way Of Playing Guitar
You’ve got 2 antidotes to playing guitar with small hands.
- Technique: Great technique in your fretting hand in knowing how to efficiently position your fingers and wrist is the most antidote to playing with small hands.
- Guitar Size: Next, by using a guitar which fits your hand-size and body-size, your guitar playing will come even easier.
In fact, with the proper guitar and (most importantly) well-honed technique, small hands are not only okay, but can actually be asset to playing guitar! Since you can more precisely hit notes on the fretboard.
Plus, try taking a quick gander at these North Korean kids playing guitars which are almost larger than them. If they can play with their small hands, so can you.
What Do Small-Handed People Need In A Guitar?
For small handed people who are still learning guitar fundamentals, it can be really helpful to get a smaller-sized guitar, while you improve your fretting-hand technique.
Then, once you’ve gained belief and confidence, plus your fretting-hand technique has improved (which may take 3-6 months), you’ll most likely be able to play any sized guitar.
But in the meantime, a few factors you should keep an eye out for are: neck profile size, scale length, fret size, and body size.
a. Thinner Neck Profile
One key issue is that, with smaller hands, you might struggle to reach your hand fully around the neck, which can limit the reach of your fingers as you try to fret notes.
If that’s the case, you’ll want to find a guitar with a very thin neck profile; probably a C or D-shaped neck. Here’s a chart so you can have an idea of the different neck profiles available.
You can also try visiting your local guitar shop and asking the sales rep to show you some guitars with very thin profiles.
b. Shorter Scale Length
You may have seen the term “scale length” for guitars before; in short, the scale length of a guitar refers to the longest vibrational span of the string, if you strum the strings open. Thus, the scale length is measured from the guitar’s nut to the bridge.
Finding a guitar with a shorter scale length, it’s quite helpful for smaller hands, since it can mean the frets are closer together, making it easier to reach notes.
Typically, scale lengths can range from anywhere between 24″ to 26.5″, so, if you’re stuck deciding between 2 or more guitars, you can try choosing the one with the smallest scale length.
c. Fatter Fret Size
Also, larger frets can make it much easier to play with smaller hands.
Not only do fatter, “jumbo” frets help to make the frets closer together, but you don’t need to apply as much finger pressure to fret notes!
Importantly, that makes it so you don’t necessarily have to fret notes perfectly behind the fret in order to create a clear sound; instead, you can get away with fretting notes a bit further back, which makes it much more realistic to stretch smaller fingers to hit certain riffs and chords.
d. Smaller Body Size
Of course, a smaller body size will undoubtedly help for smaller hands. Even just looking at all stringed instruments, from the mandolin to the upright bass, the smaller the body, the more favorable it is for smaller hands.
For guitars, you can find models which are 3/4-sized, which can be a major help for smaller hands.
Almost always, 3/4-sized guitars will automatically have a thinner neck profile and shorter scale length (two of the factors above), which means you won’t need to stretch as far to fret notes. Plus, the smaller body will just make it easier to handle the guitar overall.
Importantly, you don’t need to feel weird or embarrased to play a smaller-sized string instruments. Eddie Van Halen loved to use his tiny Steinberger guitar as a touring workhorse, and master upright bassist Edgar Meyer (one of the greatest who has ever played the instrument) prefers to play on a 1/2-sized upright bass.
Also, the greatest blues guitarists ever (Charlie Patton, Son House, Robert Johnson, and so on) often played on small, parlor-sized guitars, which are quite similar to 3/4-sized guitars.
You can always switch to a full-sized guitar at anytime, so don’t worry about it!
Acoustic vs. Electric: Do Small Hands Have A Choice?
Speaking of 3/4-sized guitars, they’re a great option for small-handed guitar playing, particularly when it comes to acoustic guitars. But there are plenty of other options available on top of that.
It falsely might seem inevitable that the best option for small-handed playing is to use an electric guitar, since they’re generally smaller and easier to handle than acoustic guitars; their necks have smaller widths and thinner profiles, as well as shorter scale lengths and smaller bodies.
Though, does that mean the door of acoustic playing is shut forever for small-handed guitar players?
Although acoustic guitars are, generally-speaking, larger than electric guitars, there are many sizes of acoustic guitars which are suitable for people with smaller hands.
For example, as you can see from the sizing chart above, as defined by C. F. Martin & Company in the early 1900s, sizes such as the parlor, 00, & 000 are well-suited for smaller hands.
As mentioned above, it’s truly nothing to feel weird about, to play smaller guitars! In fact, here’s the great Derek Trucks, playing a vintage L-00 Gibson guitar; a very prized vintage guitar model.
You might feel torn between the smallest guitar options, which would likely be the Parlor size or the 3/4 size.
If so, know that the key difference is that Parlor guitars tend to have the smaller body size, but a closer-to-normal-sized neck (in its profile, fret size, and width).
On the other hand, 3/4 -sized guitars have not only the smaller-sized body, but a smaller-sized neck as well.
Thus, if you’d like the smallest possible option, it’s best to choose a 3/4-sized guitar.
4 Technical Tips For Guitarists With Small Hands
By far, the greatest help you’ll have in playing the guitar with small hands will be your technique.
Small hands with great technique will outplay large hands with bad technique any day of the week, guaranteed.
To be frank, each of 4 tips could use an article, or even a course, on their own, but as a general overview, hopefully these help to give you belief that playing with small hands can potentially be overcome simply with technique.
1. Practice Using Your Pinky Finger
The pinky finger is often the most underutilized asset that a guitar player with small (or even big) hands has.
Likely, you’ve found that when you’re instructed to use your ring finger in a certain chord or lead riff, you have to make a monumental effort to stretch until you can fret the right note. This can easily lead to pain, and a lack of speed in your guitar playing.
The solution? Make better use of your pinky finger! (And don’t look at the bad examples which guitar players such as Eric Clapton set, since he often omits his pinky finger!)
For more information, try checking out the lesson on how to fret your first notes, which includes the ideal hand positioning for stretching to reach notes; by using the “Tiger Claw” fretting-hand grip, you’ll be able to reach much further, and your pinky can more easily access notes and become useful.
No doubt, it’ll take some getting used to in order to get into shape, but in the end you can use your pinky to replace the ring finger in many difficult chords and lead riffs.
The more you practice with it, the more useful it will be.
2. Make Sure Your Wrist Is Where It Belongs
Having the proper wrist positioning and finger “direction”, you’ll really help yourself in making small hands a non-factor.
It’s a common misconception, and typically not addressed in guitar lessons, that the fretting hand’s wrist is dynamic — not static; like a sunflower that rotates to point towards the sun, your wrist will constantly rotate to point towards the frets you’re trying to reach.
By being mindful of how your wrist, and thus your fingers, are directed, you’ll give yourself tons of extra reach which you didn’t know you had.
No doubt, it’s something which comes with time, sitting with the guitar, but try to stay mindful of your wrist positioning, and you’ll easily reach chords which less-practiced, large-handed players struggle with.
3. Get To The Higher Frets
As you can see by glancing at your guitar, the higher frets are much closer together, making a world of a difference in spanning several frets with your fingers.
If you’re having trouble fretting chords on the first and second frets, you can try using a capo, similar to players like Bob Dylan or Albert Collins. This will move everything up, getting you to those higher (and narrower) frets.
In case you have a guitar with a long scale length (which means the frets will be farther apart, on average), the higher frets will be your friends. Experiment with using them, finding sounds that fit your fingers’ range the best. The capo won’t be the solution for every song, but in many cases it can help.
Just like singers try to find songs that fit their vocal range, guitarists with small hands can find songs that are easier to play for their hands. This could also mean leads and riffs that are played higher on the fretboard.
4. Don’t Fret About Fretting Notes Perfectly
I almost hesitate to mention this tip, since it could easily be misconstrued, but one common misconception when first learning the guitar is that notes must be fretted by placing your fretting fingers perfectly behind the fret.
In an ideal world, that would be best because, based on physics, you’d exert the least amount of force needed to fret a note by doing so.
But, that’s not always possible, particularly once you start fretting oddly shaped chords.
Thus, don’t feel bad if you’re trying to fret a chord which spans several frets, but you can only reach the farthest frets by hitting the note halfway towards the fret. Simply apply some more pressure to fret the note, and you should be able to sound the note without needing the full stretch.
Again, that’s a bit of an odder tip, but it’s true and there are situations where it can be very liberating.
The 4 Best Guitars For Small Hands
Ready to find a guitar which suits your smaller hands?
Here’s a list of 4 guitars, 2 acoustics and 2 electrics, which are well-suited for smaller hands, since they fit the criteria above, having thinner neck profiles, shorter spaces between frets, or a smaller body size overall.
If anything else, hopefully this list helps to lead you down the rabbithole of suitable guitars so you can find your perfect instrument.
Acoustic #1: Yamaha JR2TBS
This 3/4 size guitar is a fantastic option for those with small hands. With a fretboard radius of 15”, it is extremely easy for even the smallest of hands to get around.
Also, it is the only acoustic-electric on our list, meaning that you can have the best of both worlds with this little guitar. It is made of solid tonal wood, and features a cutout at the higher frets which will be extremely helpful for hitting the highest notes on your guitar.
- Yamaha tends to be a reliable maker for affordable guitars
- Ideal neck size for small hands
- Very reasonably priced
- May require a setup from a guitar technician to play nicely out of the box
- Won’t project as loudly due to smaller size
Acoustic #2: Taylor BT2
Made by one of the finest makers of acoustic guitars today, the Taylor Baby Taylor guitar is built with among the best materials in its price range, and is particularly well-suited for small-handed players.
With a body made primarily of mahogany, you’ll get that classic “rocking chair on a cabin porch” sound; that being, nice and woody and thumpy.
It’s surely a finer choice in terms of build quality than the 3/4-sized Yamaha above, but due to the more restrictive pricetag, it’s listed as choice #2 for the smaller acoustics here.
- Taylor is among the finest acoustic guitar makers today
- Wood quality is great, made mainly with mahogany
- Fret spacing is shorter than usual, making it well-suited for small-handed players
- Price is slightly more restrictive, since it’s $450+ brand new
- Being a smaller size, it won’t be as loud as full-sized acoustic guitars
Electric #1: Squier by Fender Classic Vibe Mustang
A lot of weird, robo-written articles out there will suggest just about any electric guitar for small-handed players, including Stratocasters and Telecasters. Though, those latter guitars aren’t great for small hands, since their scale lengths (which correlates to the spacing between frets) is 25.5″, whereas Fender’s Mustang model is 24″, which can be just enough of a difference to make electric guitar playing easier for you. Plus, it’s the type of guitar which Kurt Cobain and many grunge & punk rockers have used.
Though Squiers get a terrible rap, mostly due to their reputation in the 90s and 2000s, in the past 10 years, the Classic Vibe line of Squiers is practically like a new brand, and comparable in quality to the Mexican-made Fender guitars.
On top of being one of the better, more affordable choices if you’d like to play guitar but have small hands, it’s quite a beauty to behold, with its vintage Surf Green, Sonic Blue, or Vintage White colors.
- Shorter scale length than most electric guitar models, which means frets are spaced closer together, and more accessible for small-handed players
- Classic Vibe line of Squier is high quality, and quite competitive with Fender’s Mexican line of guitars
- Affordable pricing for extremely classic colors on these electric guitars
- Many knobs make it possible to really dial-in the right sound, though it can be confusing at first
- Tremelo bar on these guitars are fun to play, but known to take the guitar out of tune if used aggressively
Electric #2: Ibanez S521
Being the brand of choice for countless gunslinging guitar players, from Steve Vai to Joe Satriani, Ibanez guitars tend to have “fast” necks, meaning the profile is quite thin.
For small-handed players, this is quite ideal, since you can easily wrap your fretting-hand’s palm around the neck, with room to spare so you can reach more notes.
Plus, with this S521 model, the fret sizes are jumbo-sized, so you can more easily get away with fretting notes halfway towards the fret, rather than having to fret notes more perfectly behind the fret, which also gives you stretching room to spare.
Similar to the Mustang above, this S521 is quite sleek, and beautiful to behold, coming in 2 different colors. It’s placed at #2 on this list since it’s more expensive than the Squier above.
- Thinner neck profile, allowing for room to more easily stretch to fret notes
- Frets are jumbo-sized, so you can get away with “imperfect” fretting, in case your reach is inadequate
- Tuners and hardware in general is very good quality
- Particularly after being shipped, the guitar may need a quick setup from a guitar technician for proper intonation and feel
- Pricing is slightly more mid-high range, making it potentially cost-prohibitive
So, What Is The Best Guitar For Small Hands?
We’ve gone through some guitars which would pair well with smalls hands, all of which have rather reasonable prices for the quality that they provide.
But which one is best for you?
This will depend greatly on whether or not you want to play acoustic or electric.
Both of these guitars come from extremely reputable builders, and they’ve got the proper physical attributes to match smaller hands, such as a shorter scale length, and thinner necks.
Overall, they’ll be quite forgiving, which will make learning the guitar friendlier and more enjoyable.
Thanks very much for reading, and hopefully you find these suggestions helpful.