You are probably familiar with guitar calluses – the thick pads of skin on your fingertips. But you may be wondering what it is about them that is so special and why calluses are good for playing the guitar.
Every guitarist gets them and they are seen as essential for playing and playing well. But is that the case and do you really need them to become a guitar God (or just half decent!)
Let’s take a look then at whether they really make you a better player, and if so why.
Do Calluses Help you Play Guitar
The short answer is yes. When you build calluses on your fingertips they let you play without any pain and for longer. This in turn will mean you can practice more, develop greater technique and generally get better at playing the guitar.
Without calluses you would experience significant pain every time you played. It would be demotivating as well agony on your fingers. You would be far less likely to even pick up your guitar, let alone practice properly.
So they are a necessity for playing the guitar to any sort of standard.
Why do Calluses Make Playing Guitar Easier
If you were wondering exactly what it is about calluses that make playing guitar easier (aside from the obvious reduction in pain) then below will take you through all the benefits you may have overlooked.
It’s the most important reason for having calluses. Pushing down guitar strings hurts. There’s no getting around it.
So in order to reduce that pain and protect you your body has a clever trick up its sleeve. It releases extra keratin into the skin of your fingertips. This builds up and creates the hard, thick calluses needed for playing guitar painlessly.
It’s really an amazing and smart defence of the body. We’ve just taken advantage of it to let us play musical instruments.
So if you’re new to the guitar and find yourself struggling with the pain – don’t worry. Everyone has been there before. Just try to persist and keep practising on a regular basis and eventually your calluses will firm and you’ll be comfortable playing as much as you like.
It’s not rocket science to work out that if something is painful we are less likely to do it. So naturally it follows that if playing the guitar is painful we won’t play very much, if at all.
With thick, well developed calluses we can play comfortably. This gives us the chance to practice more often and for longer, thus progressing and improving.
That’s the beauty of calluses. They don’t just let us play pain free, we then use that pain free playing to practice and get better at the guitar.
So when you’re feeling down about how much playing is hurting just think that in a few weeks of persistent practice you will have forgotten all about the pain.
Having strong and well formed calluses doesn’t just stop your fingers from hurting. It actually helps your playing to sound better.
By having calluses that cover your whole fingertips you will develop a lighter touch, find playing much simpler and be able to move from one string to another more easily.
You will find your fretting becomes better and the way in which you play the guitar feels a lot smoother.
Bending is one of the toughest techniques for your fingertips. In fact if you’re trying to build your calluses then putting aside a little time just to focus on bending should help.
When you bend the string it requires a lot more effort and tension. This puts more pressure on your finger and fingertips. That’s why they hurt to do more than other techniques.
So when you’ve built your calluses you will find that those long bends you want to hold become so much simpler.
More Comfortable Slides
Slides are an important part of a guitarists repertoire of techniques. They’re actually one of the easiest to master as well.
But as they require you to hold and then slide your finger along the guitar string (or strings) then it’s not hard to see how that could be very painful! Or worse, cause an actual injury.
But with strong calluses you don’t have to worry. The reinforced pad of skin absorbs the sharp digging string as you slide your finger along it and you avoid any pain at all.
If you join a band or want to play a solo show you might be surprised to find how much playing that actually involves. That may sound stupid but if you play 5-10 songs in a row, back to back even at home it’s quite a chunk of time.
Add in adrenaline from nerves and excitement and it becomes pretty physically demanding. So the last thing you would want is your fingertips to get painful and sore.
With your calluses though you aren’t going to have any problems with playing for that long.
How to Build Calluses
There isn’t really any trick to building calluses. The main thing you should be doing is just practice, practice, practice. It’s really the best (and only) way to achieve
You can try to speed up the process by doing a few extra things:
- Playing the acoustic rather than electric will probably build calluses quicker. Acoustic guitars use heavier gauge (thicker) strings that will work your fingers harder and build your calluses up more quickly.
- Alternatively you could use heavier strings on your electric guitar. Much like the acoustic then you playing with thicker strings will help to build calluses faster.
- In your downtime try using household items to mimic guitar strings. A popular option is to push your fingertips into the edge of credit card. Doing this over time along with actual guitar playing will help speed the process up.
- A trick that Eric Clapton recommended was to apply rubbing alcohol to your fingertips. It dries the skin and then when you play the guitar and stress your fingertips the body should produce more keratin and your calluses form quicker.
Once you’ve got them you don’t want to lose them. So you need to ensure you do the right things and avoid the wrong ones to keep your calluses healthy.
For example don’t pick at your calluses or peel them. You will inevitably have lots of hard, flaking skin as they build but you mustn’t pick and pull that skin.
Leave them alone and try to forget they are there. You will quickly get used to them but if you begin picking the skin you’re likely to set back the process and have to start over again.
Don’t play it with wet or damp hands either. Getting calluses wet will make the skin soft and easily damaged. Pushing hard guitar strings into your wet and soft calluses will damage abs tear them, again setting you back and probably having to build them up again.
If you’ve read this far then it should be clear – calluses are good. They may take a few weeks to a month to develop, and require you to go through some pain to get them, but it’s all worth it.
Once you’ve built up some first rate calluses you will find playing the guitar painless, your technique will improve and you will be able to practice for much longer.
All in ‘all are calluses good for playing guitar?’. Not only are they good, they are absolutely essential! So get practicing and building them.