(STILL) Struggling with finger pain

Hey there,
I am playing for almost 2 years acoustic guitar. So I reached grade 3 now, yet I still struggle with finger pain. Ok, it is definitelly better than when I started but it still hurts after 2 consecutive songs I play for example, or 10-15 minutes of continuous playing.

I am using .11 gauge strings (custom light) on Lag T70A acoustic guitar. When I bought guitar my action on 1st fret was already quite low (around 1 mm) and on 12th it was 2.5 mm for low E and 2.0 for high E. I sanded down saddle and straightened the neck and even managed to lower action slightly at 1st fret. Yeah, by doing it I screwed it and I am getting some buzzing on harder strumming and have to take it to real guitar technician. Yet, regardless of mess I made, action is now really low with around 1.8 mm on low E string and 1.5 mm on high E string on 12th fret.

It’s quite low on 1st fret, as I barely fit .52 string (used as feeler gauge) underneath the strings. Note that I measure 1st fret action with finger fretting 3rd fret and than tapping/using string as feeler gauge.

Again, even with this action I get bad finger pain after couple of songs played and definitely I need to stop after 30 minutes of practice/playing. Now, I understand Justin said in one of earlier lessons that our anatomy is different and since I never really (ab)used my hands and fingers they might be bit oversensitive. Some folks suggest switching to .10 gauge or .09 even, and I won’t mind losing the loudness (I’m not fond of loud music anyway, nor I plan to play in band, it’s more meditative hobby to me). What I mind tho as I already tried .10s is that thin strings get very sharp and razor like and strings tend to be flimsier overall so I do lose some control over them. Stuck 3&4 chords are nightmare on such strings as my pinky hurts for days.

So, my question is if this is simply something that comes with guitar and I need to get used to it or there is some solution? I can’t even imagine how can professional musicians go for 1 hour or more session and survive :smiley: I do have callouses and yeah, I am paying attention that I put my fingers as close as possible to the frets. F chord even with this low action is still a nightmare after more than year of using it in songs and practicing almost daily.

Electric guitar isn’t solution as it’s not self contained and you need more gear to make it work (amp, speakers, etc…). Also I love the sound of wooden, non-electric guitars. I was even thinking of going to classical guitar, but it’s hard thing to do because I love strumming equally as finger style. Also, contrary to popular opinion I am not really fond of “warm tone”, it sounds muffled and lifeless. The “zing” I get from 80/20 is amazing and I love it as bright as humanly possible.

Sorry for such long tractate, I’d just love to hear from your own experience and how you deal with such issue (if you have it, that is). After all, Justin did warn that many quit playing guitar for this reason of pain alone.

Thanks for replies!

Hi Andrija

have you considered whether you are pressing down the strings to hard?

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Just wanted to clarify something.
Is the pain just in your fingertips and/ or in your finger joints as well.

I have the same question as @sclay. What is hurting?

I still get some finger tip pain, and definitely muscle soreness after playing a bunch of barre cords still at 2 years. Nothing that would discourage me at all though. A good type of pain I suppose.

My fingertips have also gotten soft because a bunch of my time is on nylon now.

But enough about me. Some thoughts would be to spend some practice time trying to find the softest touch that sounds good still. It is an exercise to learn.

Another is to consider even thicker strings. I find 11s are still too sharp for me on the steel string acoustic. Look at lower tension strings. I like Straight up Strings 12s, which have tension like 11s. They have 11s as well. Some people like round core strings and flat wound strings as well as better on the fingers. I haven’t tried them much and round core require some care stringing.

If you are looking at new equipment, think of a shorter scale guitar. The difference in tension going from a 25.5” scale to a 24.75” scale is about 6 or 7 percent lower tension. Or think of a nylon crossover.

Word of caution. Lower tension, whether due to the string or/and scale may require higher action than you currently have.

I think starting by practicing your lightest touch a lot is the best bet. I strive to seem effortless like Justin’s fretting. I have a long, long way to go.

Yeah, the pain is just fingertips, unless I am playing/practicing songs with full barre F (or Gm) then my wrist also starts to hurt. I guess it is something to be expected as @Jamolay has mentioned after 2 years still having issues with some pain.

Probably it is too much pressure on strings, but in fast songs it’s kinda very hard to focus on pressure when I am struggling enough with changing chords on time. Especially if there is F to switch to, then I probably out of desperation push string too hard. Interestingly though, aside F chord I really struggle with stuck 3&4 chords. My 3&4th finger keep on moving despite they should be stuck and that produces some buzzing which I try to compensate by pressing even harder.

Any tips on fixing 3&4th finger staying together? When switching to F chord they can usually end on really messy places on 5th and 4th string respectively.

Hi Andrija,

Pressing too hard is certainly a thing to examine.

For the fingertip sensitivity:

  1. I have trouble when I cut my nails too short. I need them fairly short so I don’t hit the fretboard before getting the string past the fret, so it is a balance.
  2. Do you use hand lotion that keeps your fingertips from hardening? There is a distinct difference between my picking and fretting hand fingertip rigidity.
  3. Do you regularly practice just after having your hands in water (shower, dishes, etc)? This softens up my fingers quite a lot for a short time.

Related to pressing too hard, pay attention to using muscles you do not need to get the strings pressed. For instance, fret your chord and stop there.

  1. Examine what muscles are in use and how tensely.
  2. Are you tightening your wrist where it doesn’t need it?
  3. Are you tense at the elbow without need?
  4. Are you tightening muscles on the opposite side of your hand that can be relaxed (they are just fighting the ones you need to squeeze the string down!)?

My wife tells me I make funny faces - muscles I don’t need to be using to play! :slight_smile:

Hope that gives you something to help!

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