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Blisters and Painful Calluses From Playing Guitar

Question by Bonnie

I've been playing beginning guitar for close to a year now and am getting blisters between my left fingers and a large painful callus on the inside joint of my left thumb.

I only expected to develop calluses on the tips of my fingers but this is extremely uncomfortable.

I know the action on my cheap acoustic guitar is a bit high but even after trying out other guitars at a shop today, I see that my fret hand naturally tenses between the fingers and against the neck of the guitar even as I try to practice "proper technique" for barre chord playing. Very frustrating.

Makes me again think that perhaps my hands are not designed for guitar playing and I love guitar music.

I'm wondering if there is such a thing as a more comfortable guitar for smaller hands. My hands aren't that small but I am 5'3". I think the necks are pretty standard sized, huh? What to do?

Don't Let Pain Force You to Give Up Guitar!

Bonnie, I'm reassured (and you should be too) that you've only been playing guitar for a short time.

You're only just starting to explore the more physically demanding aspects of guitar (e.g. fingering barre chords).

No matter how you're built, there are certain "growing pains" every guitarist must go through.

After all, playing guitar is physically demanding on parts of our body that don't usually get such an intense work out.

Blisters from Playing Guitar

Blisters are caused by repeated friction against the skin.

This can be incredibly painful, especially if the blisters burst.

But your body is responding in exactly the way it should. Eventually, those blisters should heal into tougher skin that will be able to withstand the friction.

Reduce your playing to once or twice a week (be disciplined!) to give the blisters time to heal and then go back to playing the guitar as normal.

Maybe more blisters will form. Give those time to heal as well.

Eventually, the friction caused won't be enough to inflame the skin any more because your body will have protected it through healing it with tougher skin.

It's exactly the same when you buy new shoes and they give you blisters. Most people soon develop a hard skin on their heels and around the achiles tendon, and the pain goes away.

Let the body do its thing. It's still early days.

But there are things you can do to ease the friction if it's caused by too much tension.

1) Use lighter gauge strings

2) Lower the string height (the truss rod may need adjustment to help with this - get a local guitar tech to take a look if you're unsure)

3) Buy a guitar with a slimmer neck profile. Ibanez do some good quality and affordable acoustics with very easy to play necks. There's a lot out there suited to those with small hands/fingers.

When Calluses Cause You Pain...

Calluses serve a beneficial function. They allow you to apply persistent pressure without making the skin sore or causing an abrasion.

But sometimes calluses can form in a particular way that the pressure on that area is actually increased.

picture of a nail file for use on calluses caused by playing guitarIf the callus looks unusually or unevenly raised or jagged, this will transfer acute pressure to the soft tissue underneath and cause pain.

If this is the case, try reducing and smoothing it out using a gentle nail file. Let it rest for a couple of days after you've filed it.

Also, refer to the three "tension easing" points from earlier.

Bottom line: pain is rarely a good reason to think you're not cut out for guitar. It's usually just a passing phase that you must grin and bare, making small adjustments where possible to minimize any discomfort.

I hope this helps you Bonnie and please keep us updated on your progress!

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