Saturday, January 12, 2008

Guitar Tricks for Building Calluses

I see questions around building calluses come up a lot and remember my initial experiences trying out guitars. Some felt better to my finger tips and others not so much. In hindsight I know the differences were due to string gauge and action. To quickly build your calluses with less pain, make sure you start with lower gauge strings and action on your guitar.

String gauge represents the diameter of a string. You may hear an old salt say, “I use 10s”. What they’re saying is that they use strings where the high E string is .010 inches in diameter. In a set of 10s the low E string will have a diameter of .046 inches. There is more to this than just the gauge though.

Strings with higher gauge will have a higher tension when tuned. While there are many advantages to higher gauge such as tone and sustain (Stevie Ray Vaughn’s unique tone came in part from very high gauge strings), a beginner will not appreciate this due to the difficulty and pain associated with fretting these strings much less learning bending techniques. Frustration increases further if the action is high.

Action is just the term for the height of the strings above the frets. In one of my first posts I outlined how I had taken a run at the guitar back in high school without success. My first guitar was an acoustic of dubious quality with an action around an inch off the frets. If only we had affordable high quality import lines back then!

So, for your callus formation period, I would recommend D’Addario EXL120s or other brands with similar characteristics. These are a super light gauge string where the high E string starts at .009 inches in diameter. As far as action goes, lower the strings (your guitar user manual or a wealth of guides on the Internet will outline how) to the point it is comfortable but not so far you get excessive string buzzing. Action is more of a personal preference anyway so you are not violating any guitar laws by doing this :-).

Once you’ve built your calluses (two or three weeks) you can elect to make changes to your guitar setup from there based on your evolving technique. Most importantly, rock out!

>>Related Articles
· The Essential Callus Building Tips
· Midlife Crisis: Learn to Play the Guitar
· Guitar Gear: Import Lines Make Playability More Affordable Than Ever
· Learning the Guitar: Waterfall or Iterative Method

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