Surprisingly, playing guitar takes some to used to, despite the fact that it appears as a fairly simple instrument to play. One of the biggest issues beginners have when learning how to play the instrument is the effects it has on their fingertips.
After a few weeks of playing, however, the fingertips harden due to calluses forming. After this point, especially with repeated playing, the calluses only get harder and harder and suddenly the pain completely disappears and you don’t have to think about it again.
Calluses formed from playing the guitar aren’t permanent and they generally fade after one month of not playing, although, this depends on your skin’s regeneration rate and the thickness of the calluses. They build up due to repeated pressure and friction of the strings against the fingertips.
In this article, I’m going to explore this topic because of how important is to beginners that are first learning the ins and outs of the instrument.
Thankfully, after playing for a certain amount of time, it’s not something that a guitarist thinks about it anymore, because the calluses have been formed and you simply move on.
But there are a lot of people who struggle with playing the instrument because of how tender their fingertips are and how much the strings can hurt one’s fingers.
As I mentioned above, it takes about two weeks of continuous playing, around 1-2 hours per day, 7 days per week, for the calluses to form and calcify.
There are a number of factors at play when it comes to calluses forming and how long they last, including whether the guitarist uses an electric or acoustic guitar, in addition to the string gauges.
In my personal experience, the thicker the gauge of strings, the harder the calluses get, which makes total sense. Additionally, this point holds true as well when playing the acoustic guitar because of its much heavier strings.
Acoustic Guitar Strings Are Harder On Fingertips
Because acoustic guitars, on average, have much thicker strings, I find there are times when I make a switch to playing the acoustic for a little while and it takes several days for my fingers to respond to the additional tension and pressure.
Keeping that in mind, however, it’s possible to choose a lighter gauge string which will make playing the instrument a little bit easier.
Light Acoustic Guitar Strings (0.012 – 0.053)
Light Acoustic Guitar Strings are a bit thinner, measured at 0.012 – 0.053. These are quite heavy for an electric guitar, but they’re going to make playing the acoustic a little bit easier. Elixir has great light guitar strings because they tend to last a bit longer.
Medium Strength Guitar Strings (0.013 – 0.056)
It’s common for acoustic guitars to come stock with 0.013 – 0.056 gauge strings.
These are medium-strength strings, and they’re quite hefty. For instance, if you were to string an electric guitar with the aforementioned string gauges, it would make bending a lot harder.
Heavy Acoustic Guitar Strings (0.014 – 0.059)
Heavy acoustic guitar strings are typically 0.014 – 0.059, and they’re extremely heavy (you may all have to cut your nut to fit them – my guide on nuts). It’s going to be a real challenge to do any kind of bends on these strings.
Moreover, if you start off playing guitar strings such as these, it’s going to be a real challenge to get your fingers used to them.
Fingertips are sensitive enough for a beginner, that using strings such as these are going to practically shred your fingers.
In fact, I find that if I haven’t played the guitar in about a month (you won’t forget how to play in this amount of time btw which I’ve stated before), and I jump right into shredding on thicker strings, it’s possible that I’ll have blisters on the ends of my fingers and I’ll have to wait at least a day or two before I can start playing again.
Maybe even a week.
With that said, I can count on my hands how many times this has happened. Regardless, heavy guitar strings such as these will definitely contribute to the strength of the player’s calluses and how long they last.
With that said, I used to use thicker gauge strings all of the time and didn’t mind using them at all. These days, I tend to use Ernie Ball’s Slinky Top and Heavy Bottom strings, which are around 0.010 – 0.052.
As I mentioned above, the thicker the guitar string, the harder it is to press down on them and also perform bends. The added pressure and tension the string needs to bend and shake come from the finger.
For that reason, there is more pressure on the finger and thus, more calluses.
Electric Guitar Strings Are Much Thinner And Easier On The Fingers
Electric guitar strings are much thinner than acoustic guitar strings and a side effect of this is it’s going to put less stress on your fingertips.
While you can choose super heavy strings like 0.012 to 0.053 gauge strings, these are less common, even among professional players.
Stevie Ray Vaughn famously liked to use thicker strings, and after he went that route, a lot of other people changed to thicker strings as well. The idea behind it was to increase the tone.
The thicker the string, the stronger and longer-lasting the calluses will be.
Assuming you already know how to play the guitar, a great exercise is to play fast lines on the acoustic guitar and then go back to the electric guitar afterward.
There is a world of difference in terms of playability, mostly on account of the acoustic guitar’s much higher action and thicker strings. Additionally, it’s going to help a lot in terms of forming calluses.
Super Light Gauge Strings (0.009 – 0.042)
These are arguably the lightest gauge strings on the market, although, you can find even lighter strings all the way down to 0.008s.
Super-light gauge strings are the easiest to play with the least amount of tension on your fingers.
Light Gauge Strings (0.010 – 0.046)
Light gauge strings are more common, and these are the ones that come stock on most guitars. If you want to know the truth, I haven’t played guitar strings this light in many years, but I think I might go back to them soon.
Medium Gauge Strings (0.011 – 0.050)
Now, we’re starting to get into the thicker gauge strings. Strings like the 0.011 – 0.050s are going to produce much thicker calluses that will take longer to go away.
Heavy Gauge Strings (0.012 – 0.054)
Heavy gauge strings take the most amount of time to get used to.
It isn’t advisable to use strings such as these ones right away, because it’s going to take a lot of work just to fret the guitar, and bends will be practically impossible.
Once you’ve played guitar for some time and your fingers are used to it, you could probably move up in string gauge.
More Bends Equals More Calluses
Another factor that contributes to the longevity of calluses is how much bending the player employs. Bends are also how you break strings the most as I explained in my guide.
Like I said already, bends require added tension and force which comes from the fingertips. Putting it simply, if you bend a lot, there is more force on the fingertips, therefore, more calluses.
Not every guitar player does a lot of bends. For instance, on Animal as Leaders’ first album, Tosin Abasi barely used bends at all, however, he has since changed his style just a little bit, including some bends on a track every now and then.
If you do want to form calluses on your fingers as soon as possible, a good move is to use as many bends as you possibly can. This will definitely speed up the process.
How Do I Get Rid Of Guitar Calluses?
Frankly, if you want to get rid of calluses from playing the guitar, you just have to wait about a month.
There are probably some home remedies for making them go away sooner, but at the end of the day, they’ll go away if you stop playing the instrument.
I imagine someone out there will recommend soaking your fingers in lemon juice or something like that, but this isn’t really necessary. All you have to do is wait for time to heal all wounds.
Other Articles You May Be Interested In
- Are Nylon Guitar Strings Easier To Play?
- Are Guitar Strings Dangerous?
- When Are Guitar Strings Dead?
- How Tight Should Guitar Strings Be? [ANSWERED]
All-in-all, there are a few key takeaways from this article.
1) No, guitar calluses are not permanent, and they definitely go away with some time.
2) Thicker strings contribute to calluses more because of the added tension needed to fret notes and bend them as well. Stronger calluses mean they take longer to go away too.
3) Acoustic guitars, because they use much thicker strings, tend to be a bit harder to play and therefore need more time to grow accustomed to. Although, you can switch them out if you want too for lighter-gauge strings.
4) The more bends that a player uses, the stronger the calluses.
If you want the calluses on your fingers to go away, stop playing the guitar for a month or two, and your fingers will go back to normal.