If you play the guitar, you know the strings cut in your fingers as you press them against the frets to sound different notes up and down the fretboard.  Building up your fingertips is part of the sore, but necessary, daily leavening process of learning how to play the guitar.  The idea, however, is not to build callouses on your fingertips.  The goal is to build up the inside of your fingertips while leaving the outer skin smooth.  If your fingertips look like mine below after a gruesome practice session — find a nail file and take off that thick, deadening, skin!

Callouses on your fingertips are a bad idea when you want to play the guitar.  They are rough and catch on the strings as you play.  If you look closely at the high “E” string in the image above, you can see a little piece of my pinky fingertip flesh stuck on the string. Skin cracks. You can’t help that, but you can help heal it and file away the rough spots.

You want to make your fingertips tougher — harder — from the inside out, not the outside in, and you do that by filing off the rough spots after each session.

If you don’t file down those callouses, you will get “string pathways” embedded into your fingertips and that means you will only be able to sound the strings in one lane of your fingertips.

You don’t want string indentations on your fingertips because your entire fingertip will, at various times, need to freely hold down a string or roll from one string to another.

Permanent “String Ruts” in your fingertips mean you have to actually press harder, and travel farther, to sound a note in the rut than you would if the surface were smooth.  Make your playing life easy.  File your fingertips!  Any emery board or similar instrument will work.

When you file away the rough spots on your fingers, you will soon feel the inside of your fingertip begin to get thicker — that’s what you want — your goal is to have tough, core, fingertips that are smooth outside so you can hold down any string in any contorted hand position.

Rough fingertips make for lousy playing and terrible soundings — after I file mine after each rehearsal session — then I use a creamy lotion to keep the nails fit and to help smooth out any remaining rough fingertip skin.

If you are stuck with fingertip ruts — you can always lotion them up and then pinch the fingertips to try to puff them back out flat again so you can then try to file them down to remove the grooves.

If you practice every day, your “inner fingertip pad” will continue to solidify while your external skin remains healthy and alive and ready to play!

13 Comments

    1. That’s right, deacondark — “leather” is just the right term. We don’t want rough callouses because they catch on the strings and bind you up, but fleshy fingertip “leather pads” is just what we want and need.

  1. Excellent article! Just what I needed to know! After one file I can tell the difference…. it’s easier to play a chord! Although, my fingers are still quite sore. I guess you just have to push through the pain.

    1. Thanks for the kind feedback! Yes, it is always a painful process — about 10 days of pain and filing if you allow your fingers to heal — but then they’re good to go as long as you practice every day! Good luck!

        1. Play as much as you can! Work with the pain. Some people even bleed in the “break in time” and they keep going. It’s all about creating a new attribution. If you need to take a break, do. It’s often easier to play for 5 minutes a day, 10 times a day, than to play in one 50 minute set.

          1. Got it! Muscle through…. thanks for the tips and rapid response! Appreciate it.

          2. Thank you sooo much for that feedback….! It is so encouraging! You are dedicated and sincere, no doubt well respected by your peers! I’m impressed!

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