I’ve been learning and teaching guitar for over 5 years, and a question I often got asked is how long it takes before calluses develop on the fingertips, and to the point where you don’t experience any pain. I did a poll of guitarists and here’s what I found.
On average, it takes 4 weeks to develop guitar calluses. After this time a person will not experience any pain in the fingertips from playing guitar. A survey of 49 guitarists found that 61.2% said it takes a month or more, 30.6% said 2 weeks to a month, and 8.2% said a week or less.
In this article, I will explain what to expect when calluses are developing, whether they go away when you stop playing, as well as, how to care for them so they develop smooth and well.
Steel String vs Nylon String Guitar Calluses
As you may know, steel string and nylon string guitars both have metal strings for the top 3 strings. But, nylon string guitars have softer strings made from synthetic material on the bottom three strings.
These aren’t as harsh on the fingertips as the bottom 3 strings on a steel string guitar. The reason is that nylon strings are thicker. This concentrates the pressure of the strings over a wider part of the fingertips. Spreading the force and reducing how much wear and tear they create the fingertips.
Therefore, calluses will develop faster when you play steel strings. Steel strings are present on electric guitars, as well as acoustic steel string guitars. Whereas, if you play a nylon string guitar it will generally take longer for calluses to develop.
Classical and flamenco guitars are also called Spanish guitars, and many people wonder what the differences are between them. I recently explained this in detail with the key differences in this article about the differences between a classical guitar and a Spanish guitar.
Here’s a table that shows the result of a poll of guitarists to see on average how long it takes to get good calluses from playing guitar. Below is a table that shows the results:
|Timeframe||Percent of people who voted (total votes = 49)|
|2 to 4 weeks||16.33%|
|4 weeks or more||61.22%|
As can be seen from the responses the vast majority said 4 weeks or more. One third of people said 2 weeks to 4 weeks. This I worked out by adding the votes for ‘2 weeks’ which is 14.29% and the votes for ‘2 to 4 weeks’, which equals 30.61%.
Very few people said it takes a week – only 8.16% of all people that responded. Therefore, based on the results, about 1 month is a reasonable average for how long it takes to develop good calluses as a result of playing the guitar.
Calluses will usually peel: how to care for them
As calluses from guitar first start to develop, or if you take a break from playing for a week or two the calluses will begin to peel. This is natural and doesn’t indicate there is any wrong with your calluses.
When new calluses form they will also peel around the edges. Where the callus ends and the rest of the skin on the fingers starts. It’s common to pick calluses, or for them to get pulled up a bit at the edges when they accidentally catch on a piece of clothing.
Or, during other everyday activities. Such as, getting something out of a backpack or purse, or pulling items off a shelf during supermarket shopping. Generally, picking calluses from guitar is not the best idea as it can cause a tear in the soft underlying skin and take longer to heal.
In my experience the hard part of a callus is in fact dead skin and doesn’t have any nerve endings. So, they can be trimmed off without any pain. There are however various other steps to care for peeling calluses.
I explained how to care for peeling calluses in a lot of detail based on my own experience to develop nice smooth calluses, as well as, explain how general medical advice for treating calluses doesn’t always apply to guitar in this article about guitar calluses peeling.
Don’t push through the pain as it can take longer for calluses to develop
According to medical experts a callus is the body’s natural response to protect the area under your skin which includes your blood and veins. Which are one of the most important functions in your body. So, in a way of speaking takes the area under your skin very seriously.
However, it’s very unlikely playing guitar will pierce the skin, and cause your fingertips to bleed. But, blisters can be common if a person plays too hard, or plays too much beyond their pain response. In general, people tend to have a different pain tolerance.
For example, some people are quite tough and will push through any pain they feel. But, as a general rule, it’s best to take it slowly at first, and not to push your finger tips too hard. A light dull pain is ok, but if you feel a sharp pain you shouldn’t continue playing.
If a person continues to play guitar when they have blisters they can pop, where puss, blood, and a clear liquid can come out. And overall it once blisters develop it will take a longer to develop calluses. Therefore, to avoid this from occurring you should take a break from playing if you notice the first signs of blisters. Or, take it a bit more easy on the fingers that have blisters by working on other techniques, or techniques that don’t involve the finger with the blister.
In my opinion you’ll have a better time developing your calluses by taking it slowly, rather than pushing your fingertips to the absolute limit.
Guitar slides cause the most trauma on the skin of the fingertips
You may be aware there are what are called ‘slides’ on a guitar. This is where you hold your finger on one fret, play the note, and slide your finger up or down the string. While keeping it pressed hard against the fretboard. This sliding action rubs the skin on your fingertips off more than other actions of the fingertips during guitar playing.
And it can sometimes hurt when you don’t have well developed calluses. It also can create heat from friction which gives you a sharp pain when you do a slide. So, it’s important to take care when doing slides on the guitar when your calluses aren’t that thick yet.
Callus on the corner of the thumb can need to be smoothed with a file
If you play fingerstyle, classical, or flamenco guitar it involves generally involves a lot of downstrokes with the thumb and a callus will develop on the corner of the thumb. As it develops it’s particularly prone to being rough. This causes it to catch on the strings as you play with the thumb. Making it difficult to play using the thumb.
It’s very easy to stop it from catching on the strings. Simply take a nail file also called an emery board and lightly rub the area concentrating on the rough parts that catch on the string.
If you use a pick most of the time, the thumb of your playing hand won’t develop a callus. Many people wonder whether you can play a classical guitar with a pick. It’s definitely possible but there are some tips to ensure you don’t damage a classical guitar when doing so. I explained what these tips are in this article about playing classical guitar with a pick.
Calluses on the palm side of the index finger from sliding barre chords
As you may know, playing barre chords involves holding the index finger across all of the strings. This alone can develop calluses on the palm side of your index finger. In certain songs you may also do slide barre chords. These are also really fun when just playing around. And is one of my favorite techniques.
Sliding barre chords up and down the fretboard develop calluses on the index finger. They tend to develop more on the area just below the individual joints of your fingers. Because this area sticks out a bit more than the rest of your finger. So makes more contact with the strings.
I’ve found from time to time I needed to sand them down a bit using a nail file, or emery board because after a while parts can stick out a bit, and catch on the string.
Do You Need Guitar Calluses?
If you haven’t played guitar much, you may be wondering how important it is to have guitar calluses. So, I thought I’d answer whether you need them, and what purpose they serve if any.
To play guitar regularly you need guitar calluses. But, they will develop naturally from playing guitar. As they develop it’s necessary to trim parts of the callus that peel and stick out using a nail clippers and sand the rough edges with a nail file/emery board.
Not having guitar calluses will be too painful to play guitar for more than about 5 minutes a day. Pressing the fingers on the guitar strings removes the top layers of the skin on your fingertips, which makes them more sensitive. And when they’re that sensitive it’s too sore to play guitar for most people.
If you’re particularly tough, and have a high pain tolerance you can bear through the pain. But, in my opinion this isn’t recommended as you can develop blisters which take longer to heal, and it will take longer overall to develop guitar calluses.
Another question budding guitarists can have is whether you need long fingers to play guitar. And if the size of your hands, and whether your fingers and hands are skinny is better or worse for guitar. I explained this in detail in this article about whether long fingers are better for guitar.
Do Guitar Calluses Go Away When You Stop Playing?
Guitar calluses are noticeable on your fingers compared to people who don’t have them. And they seem to stay for a long time even if you don’t play for a while. So, I thought I’d explain whether guitar calluses go away or if they’re permanent.
Guitar calluses go away completely after 6 months of not playing guitar. There will be no indication on a person’s fingertips that they ever had guitar calluses after not playing guitar for this amount of time. The fingers will return exactly to how they were before the calluses were developed.
I personally stopped playing guitar for about a year, because I was travelling and didn’t want to carry my guitar with me everywhere I went, so I sold it. After about 3 to 6 months my guitar calluses completely disappeared. And I noticed my fingertips returned back to exactly how they were before I began playing guitar.
Overall, before I stopped playing I played guitar for 5 years and played almost daily. So, my calluses were as developed as they would ever get.
Do Calluses Make Guitar Playing Easier?
Playing and learning guitar is quite difficult at first. As you play guitar calluses naturally develop, but once they’re fully developed does it make playing guitar easier? Here’s what I found.
Calluses make playing guitar easier. With fully developed or partially developed calluses from guitar, the guitar can be played for longer. Therefore, a person can practice more and without experiencing pain in the fingertips. But, dexterity in the fingers doesn’t improve from calluses alone.
Without calluses a person can only play for about 5 minutes before the fingertips are too sore to continue practicing. And you’ll need to take a day or two off and begin practicing once your fingers have healed a bit and it’s not sore.
The beginning stages of learning guitar is generally the most frustrating, and many beginner guitarists wonder whether playing guitar gets easier. In my extensive experience learning and talking with other guitarists, and teaching others to play guitar I explained what aspects of guitar get easier in this article about whether learning guitar gets easier.