The Top 3 Guitars for Players with Big Hands
Ensure Your Hand Size Really Is an Issue
First off, I’d suggest reflecting on whether your hand size really is an issue; the reason is, many of the great guitar legends, including Hendrix, Clapton, Stevie Vai (known for his octopus-tentacle-like fingers), and Paul Gilbert, are known for their massive hands; in fact, it’s usually seen as an advantage, much like the massive hands of piano players. You can reach more chords and execute techniques which in some cases are literally impossible for small-handed players. In other words, big hands tended to not be a hindrance for those greats, so that might mean your hand size is totally fine and it’s more of an issue with technique.
For example, the well-known shredder, Buckethead, is 6’6, and he used normal Gibsons for much of his early career.
Also, players like Shawn Lane (known as perhaps the greatest shredder ever), and Segovia (arguably the greatest guitarist who ever lived) had “sausage fingers”, and they had pretty good careers!
In short, at least ensure the issue isn’t technique. If your technique is good to go and you still have issues, then you might want to try things like different nut widths and scale lengths to find a guitar which is a great fit for you.
Tips On Your Guitar Technique to Help With Your Larger Hands
Here are some tips on hand technique, which are fundamental to-dos, whether or not you have XL hands. Certainly, for large-handed people, really doing your best to execute these technical tips will be enormously helpful. As a recommendation, try getting the oversight of a teacher for 1 or 2 lessons, to make sure your technique is optimized to make room to your larger hands. If that’s all you need to solve your problems, then it’ll be much more affordable than buying a brand new guitar; plus, you’ll probably become a better player in general.
Tip #1: Fret Notes With the Tips of Your Fingers (Not the Pads)
With your fretting hand, ensure that your fretting fingers are (almost) always fretting notes with the tips of your fingers, rather than the full pad of the finger; in fact, your fretting hand should look like Jackie Chan posing with his best Kung Fu tiger claw — each digit of your finger should be bent, so that your finger as a whole creates more of an arch.
Why is this important? It’s actually just pure physics! By using a smaller area of your fingertip to fret the note, you don’t need as much pressure (AKA strength) to hold down the note. It’s the same concept as why a sewing needle can pierce fabric more easily than a chopstick; the tiny area of the sewing needle’s tip makes it so you hardly need any pressure to exert a force great enough to pierce the fabric.
Fortunately, using your fingertips to fret notes has an added benefit, besides maximizing your fretting hand’s strength. By using a smaller area of your finger (the tip, rather than the pad) it creates more room for you to invite all fingers to the fretting party!
The reason why many people ignore this aspect of technique, usually, is because it takes time to build both the muscle memory, to use your fingertip, and it takes different muscles in general! In everyday life, there are probably more uses to using your finger pad, as opposed to your fingertip, so people generally have less muscle development to perform this motion. Don’t worry though, after even a week of disciplining yourself to use your fingertips, you’ll find it easy to do — and you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it before!
Even for people who don’t have large fingers, using your fingertips to fret notes is not optional — it’s a must, if you’d like to eventually play more complex chords, single-note lines, at high speeds, or for long periods of time (such as during a gig).
As a caveat, probably the only time it’s actually necessary to use your finger pads, rather than tips, is when you play barres (that is, when you fret multiple strings with a single finger, simulataneously). Other than that scenario, always use your fingertips, and it’ll probably help greatly with the dexterity of your larger hands.
Tip #2: Trim Your Fingernails
Once your start playing with your fingertips, you might notice that your fingernails get in the way; actually, long fingernails can sometimes be the reason why players revert to playing with the pads of their fingers!
This tip is super easy, and ironically this is for all the masculine guys with massive hands.. manicure those nails! Every week (give or take a few days depending on how your nails grow), ensure to keep your nails trimmed. Even with a few millimeters of growth, they can hugely hinder your abilities to properly fret notes with your fingertips. In that scenario, you might revert to playing with your fingers’ pads, and then you’ve got a traffic jam with your big hands again.
Tip #3: Fix Your Fretting Arm’s Posture
Oftentimes, the main issue with your fingers colliding is your fretting arm’s posture. Unfortunately, this is probably the hardest tip to actually diagnose for you; not only could the posture of your fretting arm (shoulder, forearm, wrist, and fretting finger angle) be unoptimized, but it could be different for each chord (or riff) you’re having trouble with. The best that can probably be said is that it’s an issue, but the solution will best be arrived at through trial and error. Also, having an in-person teacher to help you with this can be great.
Since it’s really tough to write a one-size-fits-all guide for this tip, I’ll mention two things.
First, ensure that your thumb (of your fretting hand) is planted behind the neck, and pointing straight up to the ceiling; try to avoid wrapping your thumb around the neck like BB King, or Hendrix, unless you might be playing bends on the treble strings and you need leverage. Just placing your thumb properly can have a trickle-down effect and help your wrist, forearm, and shoulder reposition in a way that gives your hand and fingers more space.
Second, spend lots of time on the guitar. Perhaps you already have spent lots of time on the guitar, but — if you haven’t — block out some evenings for “date night” with your guitar. I’d recommend those really open-ended sessions (where you’re not watching the clock), where you really sink into the guitar and work things out; in fact, those are the sessions that catapult your growth, in general, as a player. They can also help you naturally, through trial and error, work out the optimal fretting finger angles, or shoulder and forearm positions, to make your large hands fit your guitar.
Physical Factors to Vary In Your Next Guitar
Now that the variable of technique is at least accounted for, here are some physical factors about the guitar which can help make room for your hand size. These are probably factors you’d perhaps play around with if you’re over 6’4 or 6’5. Not to be a piss-off, but if you’re less tall than that I’d suggest focusing on optimizing your technique and using your large hand size to your advantage.
By getting a guitar with longer scale length, the distance between frets will be greater, allowing more room for your larger fingers to fret the notes. You’ve probably heard of this metric before; scale length is the distance between the guitar’s bridge and the nut.
Typically, electric guitar scale lengths are between 24″ and 25.5″. Try to lean towards longer scale length guitars if you’d like to explore this route as a solution to your larger hands. For example, most Fenders (other than the Fender Jaguar and Mustang), Ibanez, Jackson, Kramer, and other brands build guitars with 25.5″ scale lengths. On the other hand, Gibsons, PRS, and Carvin models tend to be more around 24.75″ to 25″.
Fret sizes are a bit more personal — you might be best to head to a guitar shop and ask someone to help show you guitars with different fret sizes to find what you prefer.
With jumbo frets, you’ll find they’re easier to hold down notes; they might match your larger finger sizes and be quite helpful to play the guitar. Not only do they tend to be easier to hold down notes, but they can offer more tone as well. Though, pros of smaller frets is that they can make it easier to play at greater speeds, and the intonation can be better.
Nut width is probably going to be the single greatest difference maker of each of these factors. Definitely try guitars with varying nut widths — a wider nut usually means a wider neck in general, and that can help greatly for large fingers.
With a wider neck, the strings are spaced farther apart, which definitely makes it easier to individually access each string. Oftentimes, people like fingerstyle players, who need to pluck the strings separately with their picking hand, prefer larger widths, though they can also help for large hands.
Electric guitars tend to have a nut width of 1 11/16″ as a standard, but they also come in a narrower variety (1 5/8″) as well as a wider variety (1 3/4″). While the wider one can be trickier to find, with enough searching you’ll find a few options.
Note on Fretboard (or Fingerboard) Radius: Sometimes, the width of guitars is also measured by their fretboard radius. For those familiar with carpentry or other handy work, you might know that a larger radius means a greater arc; translated for guitar necks, a larger radius means the fretboard is flatter and wider. Therefore, if a few guitars you’re comparing both show their fretboard radius, you might want to choose the one which is larger.
The final main factor you can perhaps tweak to fit your larger hands is the guitar’s neck profile. The neck profile is the rear part of the neck, usually with the C or V shape, which is a big part of the guitar’s feel. Both the shape of the neck (the C or V profile) as well as the thickness of the neck can be factors to the profile.
In terms of the shape, the C profile is definitely most commonplace, probably because over the years players have generally decided they’re more comfortable to play, which might be objectively true since the C profile fits the human hand better. Though, you’ll find rare cases of guitars with V profiles, or vintage guitars with V profiles. That different shape might actually work better for your larger hands, but it’s definitely up to your personal preferences and feel.
Perhaps more relevantly, the thickness of the neck is a big factor for big hands. Thin necks are generally regarded as “fast necks” since there’s less contact of your fretting hand’s palm on the neck, so that you can move up and down with less hindrance. Though, this lack of support (which offers more speed) can also lead to cramps if your hand doesn’t like it. In that case, you might want to instead try using a neck with a fatter neck. I’d suggest again heading over to your local guitar shop and asking the sales guy for a few guitars with fat baseball necks — that might be a big help to making your guitar experience better.
Alright! Now that the quick discussion about technique and physical factors of the guitar is done, here are a few humble recommendations in case your large hands are potentially an issue for your playing. These are just a few suggestions, meant to help initiate your research on which guitars to buy for your bigger hands. Thanks for reading thus far!