Fret frustration!

I’m a beginner and have been assiduously practicing on my Classic Vibe 50’s Stratocaster. Unfortunately no matter what I do I am unable to cleanly fret chords. I always find that one or more fingers hits an adjacent string and kills the chord. I have practiced enough to start hardening up my fingertips, but it just seems to be something anatomical that is causing the issue - never thought I had fat fingers!! I just seem to have soft pads on my fingertips…

I went back to the guitar store I bought my strat at and had a chat with a nice fellow who was running the shop - it was quiet so he was up for a chat. After I explained the problem, he told me to try (just for the fit) a Gretsch semi hollow, lo and behold I could fret every chord I know perfectly with no buzz. He explained that the nut was a bit wider on this guitar and that the radius of the neck was different. It was a revelation to me. He then advised that I contact a particular teacher locally that was very in to the type of music I want, and get him to check my posture and analyze things that I might be doing wrong before consider changing guitars.

I am going to do this, but was wondering if anyone else had experienced this sort of thing - playing problems on one guitar that disappear on another guitar?


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Not all guitars are the same, not all of them are beginner friendly.

Some advantages are also disadvantages too.

This is one reason I find the argument that electric guitars are easier to learn on amusing. The fender neck is quite narrow. I started on an acoustic with the same narrow neck (1 11/16th nut) and found everything very difficult.

A friend sold me a guitar with a 1 3/4 nut and also 5mm wider at the saddle and I was amazed at the difference it made. Everything that was very difficult just became difficult.

Your mileage may vary, the size and length of your fingers play a part. So does the setup of the guitar.

Don’t forget, as your fingertips harden and your touch lightens you will do better.

Some ideas:
Practice pressing just hard enough for the note to ring.
Move you thumb a little further down on the neck (down towards the floor, not along) to let your fingers curl a little more and be more perpendicular to the strings.
If you are just at the early callous stage, don’t beat yourself up to much. This is probably normal and you will continue to improve.


Hi Gary - the necks - and therefore the nuts of necessity - on Classic Vibes are notoriously thin / narrow. I know some experienced players who can’t / won’t use them for that reason.
You know what to do! :wink:

Fenders generally have a fairly standard neck width. It is the Squier series mentioned here that is especially narrow.

I’ve managed to borrow a Fender MIM Telecaster. This has a measured nut width of 42.5mm, my Classic Vibe 50’s Strat measures 42.1mm. I’m not finding the Fender any easier than my strat. The Gretsch I tried is specified at 42.8mm, can’t measure it, perhaps that tiny bit more made a difference? I’ve decide to have some personal lessons to try to sort things out - or at least to make sure that I’m not doing anything too wrong… I’ll wait for the teacher’s opinion…


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Remember that it’s not just the nut width that matters. It’s the string separation too and that depends on how the nut has been cut. If the high and low E strings are a fraction closer to the centre of the fretboard all the strings will be closer together.


The strat neck width is also quite narrow. It’s 1.65 inches which is 42mm. Verses 1 3/4 nut width (as most Taylor acoustics (as one example)) have which is 44.45 mm.

That may seem like a small amount but it can make all the difference.


You’re comparing acoustics with electrics - acoustics, as you say, being your preference.

@garymck Are you looking at acoustics or just electrics with bigger / wider / thicker necks?

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How does fretboard radius factor in to this? The Classsic Vibe has a 9.5 radius. Isn’t the Gretsch 12”? Also, isn’t the Gretsch a short scale? Both of those could have an impact.

It seems all my guitars end up with 15” radius and regular scale, so I can’t really claim any experience about these differences.

Either way it’s still a matter of physical dimensions that affect how easy / hard it is to play. The type of playing also comes into it, I play a lot of fingerstyle so the wider strings at the saddle help me dig into the individual strings, something that’s not as important when strumming chords.

Radius gives more of an indication of how ‘flat’ the fretboard is under the fingers. The lower the number the more curvature there is from beneath one E string to the other.
Think of the curved surface of the fretboard as a short arc taken from a much larger circle - the radius refers to the imaginary circle it would sit within.

Now a close up of just two fretboards in cross-section.

The general wisdom around this is that a smaller radius favours chord playing at he expense of bending. Vintage Fenders had a 7.25" radius - great for chords but lead players found / find that bent notes can ‘choke’ due to the curvature. This led Fender to move to an increased radius of 9.5" - a happy compromise for both types of play. Other manufacturers opted for 12-16" on their guitars. Some ‘shred’ machines have upto 20" radius and are essentially flat. Classical guitars have very flat (and wide) necks - great for lots of fast note playing up and down, not so great for barre chords.

There are also different neck shapes to consider - which is the chunky bit your hand goes around.

This is very much a personal choice based on what feels good in your hand.

RE: scale length.

This is the measured distance between nut and saddles. For a given gauge of string at the same standard tuning, a guitar with a shorter scale length will have the strings at a lower tension, meaning that bending is made easier and pressing barre chords potentially easier too.

Cheers :smiley:
| Richard_close2u | JustinGuitar Official Guide & Moderator


Thanks for all the replies - I’m looking at electrics only, as something else to try, I read about progressively trimming and filing fingernails to make them as short as possible. I’m going to see if I can get them even shorter than I have them now. I’ll let you know what happens once I’m able to see a teacher, hopefully this week - may be delayed as we had severe thunderstorms a few days ago and the music school got flooded out.

If this issue could lead to giving up guitar then the better option would be to switch to a guitar that is more comfortable for you.

However, if you want to stick to the current guitar, I want to give you some hope. :wink: I currently play guitars with narrow nuts - classic vibes and taylor gs mini. I had similar issues as you, but overtime my technique improved and narrow nut stopped being a problem. I also think that it makes some things easier.

Thanks kamkor, sorry you had similar issues, but glad you overcame them. I have to admit I did have a couple of moments where I thought about chucking it in, but decided to work through everything I could possibly try before giving in - I can be a persistent, some would say obsessive little %^cker :slight_smile: even at 70 years old…

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I’ve been practicing 30 minutes a day, 5-7 days per week, for almost 2 years now (following Justin’s curriculum) and my chording has finally started to get solid in the last 6 months. I’m currently working through grade 3.

It seemed like it took forever to get the chords clean, then one day, after about a year, it seemed as though my fingertips finally grew “eyes” and my fretting started to become good without me having to always think about it. The two things that helped the most were:

Chord Perfect: I still do this for every new chord I learn and still have this in my practice routine. I really focus on how subtle changes to my finger angles, thumb position, and wrist angle affect my hand comfort and the ease of fretting. Once I get a “grip” that works for me, I then focus on trying to keep the strings fretting clean with the least finger & thumb pressure possible. Squeezing more just causes my hand to tire more quickly, and I was SHOCKED to realize just how little pressure is really needed to fret a string. This was really a game-changer for me!

Perfect Fast Changes: I still do this to my 3 “worst” chord changes or the chord changes I need for whatever song I’m trying to learn.

Here’s my neck width story:
I was playing an electric guitar with a common 1.673” (42.5mm) nut width and was having so much trouble keeping adjacent fingers from grounding out strings that I searched for an electric with a “wide” neck. A long-distance friend of mine had the same guitar as mine, except his guitar’s nut was 1/16” wider. I decided I’d try his guitar the next time I visited (6 months away) and buy one like his if it was easier to play. Well, in the 6 months that I practiced until my visit, my chording became much better. When I finally tried his guitar, I struggled to play it because the strings felt like they were too far apart LOL!

I also thought I had “soft” fingertips. Keeping my nails cut as short as possible over the last 2 years has definitely made my nails retract a bit, so I no longer feel like my nails are hitting the fretboard before the string is properly fretted. Over the last 2 years, my callouses have actually changed from small hard spots on the fingertips into an overall firm cap on each fingertip. This took about 6 months for me.

If the Gretch is easier for you to play, inspires you to play, and you can afford it, go for it! Anything you can do to make playing more fun is worth it. Just realize that as you progress, you may find a time when you wish the strings were closer together (I never thought I’d say that LOL) and go back to the Strat.

Hope this Helps,



For me, the electric guitar is for lead and solo, so the strings getting closer is actually easier for the finger to move around fast. And the fretting finger needs to mute the adjacent strings, so again close is better.

Thank you Fast-Eddie for the detailed explanation of your experiences. Perhaps I have had too high an expectation of myself…your story has given me some hope! I am booked in for my first lesson tomorrow, and I think the combination of real life teacher as well as online lessons will give me some perspective…as well as stop me prom developing any bad habits.

Thanks and welcome to the community @Fast-Eddie ! That was a helpful response.
Also thanks @Richard_close2u for a great summary of information!

My answer of course is that any solution that involves buying a new guitar is a good one!:wink:

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