“I got my first real six-string… Played it ’til my fingers bled … Was the summer of sixty-nine”
If you’re reading this:
Your fingers probably hurt. A lot.
One of the biggest issues for new guitar players is finger calluses:
Beginner players generally don’t have solid calluses on their fingers, which usually makes playing the guitar extremely painful.
If you’ve researched how to build up guitar calluses, you’ve likely heard this age-old piece of advice:
“Just keep playing.”
And while consistent playing is the best way to build up guitar calluses, there are some other things you can do to help your calluses along.
In this article I’m going to teach you all you need to know about guitar calluses, including how to get them, how long they take to form, and much more.
How I Developed Guitar Calluses in Just 1 Month
I’m Reggie, one of the contributors to this website.
I recently got back into learning the guitar after retiring from my job as a construction foreman.
I still remember my first practice session like it was yesterday:
Roughly 30 minutes into my first lesson with a local guitar teacher and my fingers were on fire.
My teacher was trying to run me through a classic rock tune we were learning together, but the only thing I could focus on was the pain in my fingertips.
I remember thinking:
“How am I meant to get to better at this if I can’t practice for more than half an hour?”
So, the minute I got home I jumped online and started researching.
I wanted to to know how long it would take for me to build up some dexterity in my fingers, as well as tips and tricks to help build up calluses on my fingers more quickly.
I quickly realized just how popular of this topic is among beginners like me.
I decided to put together the best information I found online in one comprehensive guide to building and keeping guitar calluses.
Here’s what I learned:
How to Build Up Guitar Calluses:
One of the first things most beginner players want to know is how to build up calluses on their fingers.
Below are some simple tips to help you form strong guitar calluses to help you play better and for longer:
- Play Often
Unfortunately, it’s true; the best way to build up calluses in your fingers is to keep playing. To make this easier, try reducing the time of your practice sessions and instead practicing more times per day. This will help reduce the pain of playing at the beginning while simultaneously building up endurance.
- Get The Right Strings
Guitar strings are available in a variety of styles and gauges. For beginners, I generally recommend sticking to light gauge strings like 0.10s. Then, as the calluses begin to form on your fingers, you can increase the gauge of your strings to suit the tone of your guitar.
- Play A Steel String Acoustic
I know, this sounds like a nightmare. But hear me out: While steel string acoustic guitars are usually the most painful to play, they are also the best for developing calluses. They have heavier, tighter strings than both electric and nylon-string guitars, meaning they’ll help you build up calluses more quickly.
- Get The Right Action On Your Guitar
Action refers to the space between the strings and fretboard of your guitar. The higher the strings (ie the higher the action), the more force you’ll need to hold down notes and chords. A guitar with low action will be easier to play for beginners and will help reduce pain in your hands and fingertips.
- Relax Your Fingers
I see a lot of beginner guitarists make this mistake; they press down really hard on the strings when fretting a note or chord. This puts a lot of pressure on the fingers and allows the strings to digger harder into your skin. If you notice yourself pushing down too hard on your fretboard, simply try relaxing your fingers a little and reducing the pressure.
- Ease The Pain After Playing
Remember, the best way to build up calluses is to play regularly. But it can be hard to be motivated to play when your fingers are still sensitive from your last session. Hence, it’s a good idea to try and numb the pain after playing so that you can get to playing sooner. I cover some tips for doing this further down so keep reading.
- Use Rubbing Alcohol
This tip comes from no other than the famous Eric Clapton, who suggests using rubbing alcohol to dry out the skin on your fingertips. Simply apply some rubbing alcohol to your fingertips 3 times daily for a week using a cotton bud or an alcohol wipe. This will help dry out the skin on your fingers and encourage the growth of calluses.
- Down Tune Your Guitar
This is a great trick for beginners; down tuning your guitar by a half or whole step helps reduce the tension on your strings, making them easier to play and a little less harsh on your fingers. Just remember that you won’t be in standard tuning anymore, and you’ll either have to tune back up or use a capo when playing along with songs or other musicians.
- Build Up Calluses Even When You’re Not Playing
There are some simple tricks to help you build up your calluses even when you don’t have time to play. For example, try pinching the tips of your fingers lightly throughout the day. Alternatively, use a credit card or something similar to dig into your fingertips. This will help stress the skin on your fingers, encouraging calluses to form even when you’re not jamming.
- Keep At It!
Unfortunately, building up calluses takes time. While the above tips will help speed things up a little, you’ll still need to be persistent in order to build solid calluses on your fingers.
How NOT to Build Up Guitar Calluses
Just like there are ways to speed up the process of developing strong calluses on your fingers, there are plenty of ways to ruin your calluses, too.
Here are some important “don’ts” when it comes to building up guitar calluses:
- Don't Use Super Glue
Some websites will recommend applying superglue to the tips of your fingers to act as makeshift calluses. I recommend you don’t do this. Not only will you risk getting superglue all over you fretboard, but you’ll also be slowing down the process for building up real calluses on your fingers.
- Don’t Play Guitar Straight After Showering/Bathing/Swimming
Water hydrates and softens your skin, making it harder for you to build up calluses. Always give your hands a chance to dry out after showering or swimming before picking up your guitar.
- Don't Bite/Pick At Your Calluses
A lot of beginner guitarists like to attempt to nibble or pick at their fingertips, thinking it’ll help them build up calluses faster. But it won’t. In fact, picking and nibbling at your fingertips usually just ruins your calluses rather than improving them.
- Don’t Moisturize Your Fingers
Remember, calluses form best on dry skin. Hence, try to avoid regularly moisturizing your hands or fingers if you’re serious about building up guitar calluses fast.
Guitar Calluses FAQs:
Here are some of the common questions I see regarding this subject.
See if any of your questions can be answered here:
- How Long Does It Take To Build Up Calluses?
This depends on your skin type and the amount of time you play the guitar. However, most players should start seeing some solid calluses forming on their fingers within 3-4 weeks.
The first week will usually be the toughest and you’ll likely only be able to play for 15 minutes at a time.
You’ll probably also live with a constant sharp pain in your fingertips.
This’ll usually wear off after 1 week or so, at which point you’ll be able to play for longer. Within a month, you should see some nice hard skin forming on your fingertips.
Note: Pieces of old skin might peel from your fingertips as calluses begin to form. This is normal as new, harder skin starts to form underneath.
- What Can I Do To Reduce Finger Pain?
There are a few ways to reduce the pain of playing guitar. Here are some of my favorites:
Apple cider vinegar. Soaking your fingers in vinegar helps reduce the pain from playing and will also help dry out your skin, encouraging calluses to form more quickly.
Ice. Applying ice to your fingers after playing is another simple way to numb the pain from playing guitar. Just remember that the ice will rehydrate your skin, too.
Topical anesthetics. This is probably overkill, but some beginner guitarists use topical anesthetics like toothache creams to numb finger pain. I haven’t tried this and wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re in serious pain.
- Help! I Have Blisters On My Fingers!
While it’s not too common, some beginner guitarists do develop blisters in the early days of playing. If this happens to you, I recommend you stop playing until your blisters have healed completely.
- Should I Use Finger Caps Or Protectors?
Sites like Amazon sell fingertip protectors and caps designed to help beginner guitarists minimize the pain of playing.
But let’s be honest; have you seen any professional players use these gadgets on stage or in the studio?
Sure, fingertip protectors and caps help minimize the pain of playing guitar. But, they’re no permanent solution.
If you’re serious about picking up the guitar, I suggest straying away from these products early and instead focusing on developing natural calluses on your fingers.
- What’s The Deal With Protective Skin Lotions (like NewSkin)?
Are they worth it?
Protective skin lotions like NewSkin are a staple among many guitar players.
They add a protective layer to the skin, making them great for situations where you want to minimize the damage to your fingers while playing.
I recommend using these lotions for emergency situations like live shows where you need to play for extended periods of time and your fingers are already injured or sore.
However, I don’t recommend using these lotions as an alternative to building actual calluses.
Real calluses are your best friend when it comes to playing the guitar.
Time to Get Practicing! Get the Fastest Results With Online Lessons
So, you now know how to build up solid guitar calluses on your fingers.
You also know how to reduce the pain in your fingers from playing and how long you can expect to wait before seeing the first calluses on your fingers.
Well, it’s time to get practicing!
No matter what you read online, the only way to build up calluses on your fingers is to practice regularly and consistently.
And one of the best ways to do that is via online lessons.
Trust me, I tried a lot of different approaches to learning the guitar.
I took lessons from a local guitar teacher and even tried teaching myself using free online material like blog articles and YouTube videos.
But nothing compares to online lessons:
The material is well-curated by professional players and the lessons are laid out in such a way that's easy to follow even for an old-timer like me.
So, if you’re looking for a great way to practice the guitar at home and simultaneously build up strong calluses on your fingers, consider signing up for online lessons today.
Some of my favorite online guitar platforms include TrueFire, JamPlay, and Guitar Tricks.
For more detailed information on each of these platforms, check out the overview articles that Steve put together. Click here to read it now.
All the best,