Guitar Finger Hardening
June 7, 2006 12:39 AM   Subscribe

What tips do people have for hardening fingers so they're good for extensive guitar playing.

This is for a friend. He plays Acoustic guitar for a living, but is finding the current heat-wave is "melting them [his fingers] to shit." Anyone got any advice or hints?
posted by seanyboy to Grab Bag (30 answers total)
Extra Information: It's specifically the tips of the fingers I'm interested in. ermm. Fnarrr.
posted by seanyboy at 12:43 AM on June 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

Try climbing chalk.
posted by randomstriker at 12:53 AM on June 7, 2006

Get an acoustic guitar with steel strings and a high bridge or try making the bridge higher yourself. It's going to hurt for a while but there is no more effective way.
posted by zaebiz at 12:54 AM on June 7, 2006

Seriously, practice TONS. It's about the crazy practice.
posted by disillusioned at 1:00 AM on June 7, 2006

Play bass for extended periods. That may help.
posted by limeonaire at 1:13 AM on June 7, 2006

Sand paper works wonders for toughening up fingers.

Not to say you should grind your fingers down with 80 grit, but when I used to skateboard, the grip tape forced my fingers to get a bit tougher.

Maybe use an emery board on your fingers when you're watching TV. As long as no one sees you, you'll be fine.

posted by psyward at 1:18 AM on June 7, 2006

Surgical spirits?
posted by wilberforce at 1:57 AM on June 7, 2006

Just play and play and play. One day, it'll start to hurt less, and then you're set for life, as long as you don't stop for too long.
posted by chicobangs at 2:00 AM on June 7, 2006

I knew a guy who stuck his fingers hard onto a hot frying pan when the old calluses wore down. Just practicing is much easier.
posted by fourcheesemac at 2:02 AM on June 7, 2006

If you mostly play a guitar with light gauge strings / low action then try playing something with heavier strings / higher action / paired strings once in a while. My acoustic is set up with a very low action and light slik+steel strings for fingerstyle; I find that playing a mandolin (or 12-string) or banjo as well really helps to keep the fingers tough.
posted by primer_dimer at 2:32 AM on June 7, 2006


No, really. Right on the fingertips.
posted by empyrean at 2:42 AM on June 7, 2006

I've seen people do superglue. It works great in the short term, but it does sometimes come off at inopportune times, like in the middle of a performance.
posted by chicobangs at 2:52 AM on June 7, 2006

seconding the superglue tip, there's a reason that gomez's album was called liquid skin.
posted by triv at 2:54 AM on June 7, 2006

I second the call for Surgical Spirit. I had a friend who played cello. He said he used to soak his fingers in Surgical Spirit every night to harden the ends.
posted by xpermanentx at 3:27 AM on June 7, 2006

Don't do anything weird. Just keep practicing.
posted by ludwig_van at 4:14 AM on June 7, 2006

Also, heat waves don't melt fingers.
posted by ludwig_van at 4:15 AM on June 7, 2006

Yeah, just practice frequently and the tips of your friend's fingers will adjust. However, the body adjusts as much as it needs to: if he plays an hour a day and then plays a three hour set, it might start to hurt his fingers. So, longer sets = longer required practice.

Other tip - try to avoid moisturisers/skin cream/anything softening. Sometimes the use of moisturiser is essential to stop a callous crack from developing, but try and minimise use.
posted by pollystark at 4:31 AM on June 7, 2006

Just keep an old cheap small guitar around whenever he is sitting around and press fingers on the strings. Mandolins are great for building callouses if your guitar has low action and soft strings. They are incredibly unforgiving to fingers and a lot of fun to play.
posted by any major dude at 5:48 AM on June 7, 2006

Second the bass. Everytime I warm up on the bass, I've got mad guitar skills.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:12 AM on June 7, 2006

Playing bass may give you callouses in the wrong spots for playing guitar. Just play guitar a lot, and do it on a guitar that has heavier gauge strings. And dig your thumbnail into your fingertips a lot -- right where the string position will be.

It won't do you any good to build up a callous that's not aligned with where you'll be pushing the string down.
posted by JekPorkins at 7:24 AM on June 7, 2006

I used to keep a fine-toothed comb in my pocket for callous maintenance. In your spare moments, rub it back and forth along the fingertips with enough pressure to hurt a bit.
Also, play on heavy strings.
posted by leapfrog at 7:36 AM on June 7, 2006

Friend used to use benzoin to harden his fingers up for rockclimbing.
posted by Good Brain at 8:11 AM on June 7, 2006

High-action (read: cheap) heavy-gauge steel string acoustic. Play until fingers hurt. Play more. Repeat. Deep red grooves in your finger tips? Perfect! Now play some more. Fingers bloody? Too much.

I play both bass and guitar, and the bass has never put any callouses in the right spots.
posted by mzurer at 8:34 AM on June 7, 2006

Wait. Hang on. He plays for a living, and yet he has calluses that disappear in the heat?

He really doesn't play much, does he?
posted by chicobangs at 9:01 AM on June 7, 2006

Soak in saltwater, but if your are going to take the time to do that you might as well use the time to practice.

I'm just starting to learn guitar and have been amused to find the fingertips changing sensitivity.
posted by edgeways at 9:16 AM on June 7, 2006

Look guys, this guy plays for a living -- he already has callouses. The problem is that in this heat, the sweat on his hands softens the skin and the callouses come off easily (just like they do after a shower). That's why I suggested climbing chalk -- it dries out the sweat.
posted by randomstriker at 9:31 AM on June 7, 2006

I guess I don't understand. I play guitar all the time and my callouses don't come off in the shower or in the heat.

But yeah, I've heard of people using superglue. I knew a bass player who use to put something on his fingers which I think was called "nu-skin" or something similar, but I couldn't find it with google just now.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:01 AM on June 7, 2006

If he's taking time off due to the heat, his callouses might be coming off -- mine only peel away when I take a break for a week. (Note: my callouses are from hand tools, not guitar playing.)
posted by Sangre Azul at 11:48 AM on June 7, 2006

Hello - this is quite some time from when this question was asked but we here in California are getting into some heat and I have once again thought of this question as I find my own fingertips "going to shit".

Less playing is certainly a factor. Barely want to touch anything, to speak less of working an instrument. We will adjust -- its still early in the season.

Lack of playing is, I believe, only one factor as I've gone off the instrument for weeks at a time before with less damage. I think during these periods of warmth there is definately some skin exchange going on. My hands will grow and shrink during the day as a result of the heat: I find myself relocating rings to fingers that fit better. Needless to say, I expect this causes havoc with the once-hardened tips of my fingers as well.

I think that there is a general lifestyle change as well given the heat. I'm outdoors quite a bit more as well as taking in sun, water, sunblock and other oils to the detriment of hardened masses on my flesh in a general sense.

Anyways, a much late .02. Hopefully your friend (and you) are still interested in this subject.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 11:53 PM on May 30, 2007

Also, on post-preview (cheating and looking at the then-best answer), sure, there's probably some sweating, but I very much doubt at the tips of the fingers. I run mine through my hair in this weather so no doubt they are getting wetter than normal but I have reservations when being convinced that there is any real moisture coming out my pads -- all palms for me, your genetic mileage may vary but I doubt by much.

Look for other things as well. More pizza? Chips on the patio? Washing your car more? Watch what happens to your hands on a daily basis and ask if this is what was going on several months ago.

In my case, very much now.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 11:56 PM on May 30, 2007

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