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Playing Guitar with Fat Fingers

Question by Sambit Tarafdar

I am a beginner, my problem is that I have quite fat and meaty fingers.

When I play chords I tend to block the down strings and buzz up the bass strings.

Many experts say that it is good to buy a 12 string and string it as a six string.

Do you think that it will help for smooth chord changes and smooth guitar playing?

How to Make Playing Guitar Easier with Large/Wide Fingers

Hi Sambit. Fingers come in many different widths and lengths and as guitarists we have to learn to adapt to whatever nature/God has given us.

The main issue with stringing a 12 string with 6 strings is that 12 string guitars are set up to handle the extra tension from the 6 extra strings. So by only using 6, you may cause neck problems or even damage the neck if it doesn't get set up properly.

If you are to go down that route, take it to a guitar tech so it can be set up to accommodate the right amount of tension, otherwise there may be other playability issues down the road.

I would personally recommend getting used to playing a regular 6 string. Here are some tips to help make the most of your situation...

Buy a wide neck, flat radius guitar

While classical and 12 string guitars naturally have wider necks, there are also wider neck electric and steel string acoustics available.

Look at the nut width to determine the width of the fretboard. The wider the nut, the more space between each string and the less obstruction for your fingers.

Also, you'll benefit from a relatively flat fretboard radius as opposed to a curved radius.

For example, Ibanez' Wizard necks tend to be flatter and wider than, say, most Strat necks. PRS style guitars are also known for their wide necks, as are most hollow body guitars (e.g. ES-335).

Be conscious of these specs (nut width, fretboard radius) when shopping for a new guitar. The manufacturers website usually has the most details spec and ideally try out gear in person at a store if you can.

Keep your fret hand fingers vertical

When fingering chords, many players get into the habit of collapsing back their finger tips.

If you have larger fingers, you need to be more conscious of keeping your fingers vertical against the strings, using more of the actual tip, closer to the finger nail, to fret the string.

To help with this, position your thumb more towards the center of the back of the neck so you have more leverage to curl your fingers over and come down vertically on the strings.

Eventually, you'll develop calluses (tough skin) on your finger tips and muscle memory for whatever positioning you persistently practice so you won't have to think about it as much.

Use one finger to fret adjacent strings

If the chord you're playing requires two adjacent strings to be pressed at the same fret, you can use one finger to fret them both.

For example, open E minor requires the A and D strings to be pressed at the 2nd fret. If your fingers are wide enough, you might be able to press down both strings with your index or middle finger.

This is how 12 string guitars are played - two adjacent strings fretted under one finger, but 12 strings produce a very specific type of sound (a chorus effect) which you might not always want.

Watch this video for examples of this adjacent-string fretting technique...

Use lighter gauge strings

The thinner the strings, the more space there is between them. However, thinner strings will generally produce a thinner tone, so there's a trade off to consider here - tone vs playability.

With acoustic guitar, you might want to try a relative light gauge such as 11's or even 10's.

With electric, 9's can still produce a decent tone and help with reducing finger obstruction.

Embrace and keep practicing with what you have

It sounds trite, but practice makes perfect. No matter how you're built, you will eventually adapt and grow into your own style of playing.

As a beginner, any disadvantages can be amplified in the mind, but be reassured that having larger fingers will not bother you for very long. The more you play, the more you will find subtle ways of compensating for any perceived disadvantages.

People often overlook the fact that playing style is heavily influenced by our physical qualities, and it actually helps us to shape our unique sound. For example, people with short fingers tend to use techniques such as sliding and box pattern runs typically more than people with long, spidery fingers.

Embrace your physicality and your brain will do a lot of the adaptation work in the background.

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