It seems that after all these decades, the guitar still remains one of the most popular instruments. Hordes of music enthusiasts of all ages flock to music stores to buy acoustic or electric guitars. But right after learning their first chords, beginner guitarists immediately realize that they have to deal with sore guitar fingers. And it's pretty frustrating, especially when you see how effortlessly some experienced guitarists are playing.
However, there's no need to worry about this issue. After all, every single guitar player has dealt with guitar calluses and plenty of other problems and they overcame them, in time. Yes, even the biggest guitar legends complained about it at least once. So before you set out to become a new guitar god, we're here to help you out on how to deal with sore guitar fingers.
Use Lighter Strings
One of the simplest ways to get around this common problem is to start by using lighter gauge strings. With electric guitars, this is usually a recommended practice even for some experienced guitar players. In fact, not many electric guitar players use heavier strings unless we're talking about some specific cases, most commonly jazz or blues players who use hollow-body guitars. We can find some pretty big names that use super-light strings, like Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, just to name a few. What's more, even guys like B.B. King and Frank Zappa used lighter strings back in the day.
When it comes to acoustic guitars, lighter strings are not that common, mostly because they produce lower volume output compared to heavier strings. Nonetheless, you can still use lighter strings, like .009 gauge ones, to ease things up a little until you get ahold of it. Nylon-string guitars, on the other hand, might feel a bit easier for beginners in this regard, but they require different techniques of playing.
Either way, lighter strings can help you get guitar calluses the easier way. It might take a bit more time for them to form this way, but with enough practice, you'll be able to get things done after a while.
Adjust the Action on Your Guitar
Another thing that might be causing sore guitar fingers is your guitar's action. When we say "action," we refer to the strings' height or their distance from the frets. Professional guitar players use lower action in almost all cases, especially if we're talking about solo guitarists. Higher action is usually applied to guitars that are played with a slide.
Almost all electric guitars are pretty easy to set up, even cheaper ones. Luckily, we live in a time when even cheaper guitars are well made. What's more, there are plenty of tutorials online that can help you set up your guitar. You'll need to know what kind of bridge you have, and you can go from there. Those with individual saddles for each string are usually simpler to set up. It would be best if you also looked into how the truss rod should be tightened and loosened.
With steel-string acoustic guitars, however, things might be a bit trickier. This is because they come with bridges that can't be adjusted and you can only set up the truss rod. The best idea is to get an acoustic guitar that's made with lower action, although they might be a bit more expensive.
Start By Practicing Less in One Session
After getting your first guitar, you most likely feel like you'd want to play and practice all the time. But this gets pretty frustrating when you start feeling the pain on the fingertips of your fretting hand. And the worst part is that the more you play, the more they hurt.
In these starting stages, you should take it easy. There's no need to push things if it hurts a lot. Of course, this doesn't mean that you should reduce your daily practice time to a minimum, or just stop every time you feel the slightest pain. Just take it easy and take a break when you feel quite uncomfortable. If your standard daily practice time is one hour, you can start by doing two sessions of half an hour each, or three separate sessions of 20 minutes each.
After a while, you'll start forming callouses and you'll be able to do longer sessions. It's not certain how much time will take though, but this can be a pretty useful method to get things done.
You Can Also Practice Fretting Hand Without Fully Pressing the Strings
Getting the desired guitar fingers' stamina and forming callus from the guitar is a long process. But in case things hurt a lot and you feel like you cannot play your guitar, then you can compensate by practicing your fretting hand without fully pressing the strings. This way, you can get the much-needed muscle memory and learn how to go about your fretboard, all while not pressing the strings to the needed extent.
Don't Press Too Hard
One of the most common mistakes beginners make is that they actually press strings too hard. This can be counterproductive, mostly because you'll be getting a bad habit that can eventually lead to you not being able to play any complex or fast melodies and chord progressions. Take your time to find out exactly how much pressure is needed to produce a normal tone and let your guitar fingers develop naturally.
Sore Guitar Fingers Will Not Be an Ever-present Issue, Practice and Be Patient
Calluses are areas of thickened skin that usually happen due to constant friction. They are a common issue all string instrument players face, not just with guitar players. And the most important thing to note here is that it takes a lot of time for them to form.
With this said, you'll need to be patient. There's no definitive time frame when you'll stop experiencing discomfort. But it's important to be persistent, work on your playing technique, and things will fall into place.