Painful Guitar Calluses – Solutions and Information

There are some dangerous ways to get a little entertainment- sky diving, mountain climbing, and even playing the guitar safely at home. Newcomers to the guitar will find out the hard way that fingers and hands will certainly become callused, and may experience a little pain and tenderness to the touch as a result.
Professional guitar players feel no pain. Their fingers will have thick calluses, developed over years of playing. However, there are a few tricks of the trade that can help speed up the process.

hand callus

Figure 1 – You won’t have the best looking hand in the world- but it can play a mean guitar!

What are Calluses?

Calluses are thickened or hard parts of a certain area of skin. This is a result of rubbing, or pressure, and no doubt they have been experienced before on feet or hands. Most people don’t already have hardened fingertips, though, specifically the index finger on the left hand (the hand you fret with). As a newcomer begins to play more and more guitar, the fingertips may well feel tender. Blisters may even form. This can even affect your guitar playing, causing pain when you press your fingers against the strings. It is best to wait the tenderness out and wait for skin to heal. As it does so it hardens. Taking a few days away from the guitar will allow your body to respond to the stress it is being put in. As a guitarist, calluses are your friend. They let you play much longer and much harder!

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Guitar Picks

Why A Pick?

A guitar pick, or plectrum is used to pluck, or strum guitar strings; to improve sound, allow faster strumming, and reduce injury on fingers. You can just use your fingers, especially for picking, but a pick gives far more bite to notes, and hurts a lot less. There are many types of guitar picks to choose from: different materials, shapes, as well as sizes and colors. Some guitar picks are even used for special purposes, such as a double-sided pick for “double plucking.” This article explores some of the diffent types.

Different types of Guitar Pick

Guitar picks are commonly made out of plastic, but also wood, bone, amber, rubber, felt, tortoiseshell, stone, metals, and even gemstones. Each of the materials has it’s own unique sound, but also properties such as ease of grip, price, and durability. There is no one type to suit all players – playing style, and desired tone are important when choosing. For instance, metal has a very distinct bright sound when plucked against a guitar string and makes for great piercing solos – but offers little grip. It can also damage a guitars finish if played too aggressively. Wood picks are cheap, with great grip, nice attack, and a full woody sound – great for jazz. Actually woods tonal qualities can vary hugely from species to species, and as they are so cheap, buying a selection of different types is quite affordable. Tortoiseshell was historically one of the best materials in terms of grip and tone, although an international ban on tortoise shell (rightly so) led to the creation of Tortex picks, which are a pretty good all round replacement. Leather picks offer a rather mellow muted sound great for strumming chords, but too flexible when playing individual notes.

Choosing your most suited material is a matter of trying them all out, and deciding on which sound and grip works for your playing style – whether it be metal, blues, or jazz. Many players have a selection of picks, using different ones at different times. If all else fails, weird guitar picks aren’t unheard of – from bone, to an Allen wrench – just about anything can become a useable plectrum!

Fender Guitar Pick A thumb guitar pick.A triangle guitar pick.

Figure 1 – Traditional picks, a thumb pick, and a triangle pick example

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Choosing Between Time-Based Distortion Pedals

Time-based distortion pedals (we’re talking flange, echo, an chorus) are less widely used as other types of distortion, but are still the best option for some of the more unique sounds that come from distortion pedals. Much of these effects are great for solos, but some practical uses that the everyday guitar player would experience exist as well. Even rhythm guitarists are cashing in on this less popular type of distortion, but there are a few things to look out for when buying them.

time based distortion

Figure 1 – When it comes to time based effects, don’t be surprised to see Boss pedals take the lead in most categories. (Pictured on the left)

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Alternate Picking – Is it Worth the Effort?

Alternate picking is said to provide more sustain and tone control, as stated by guitar legends such as Steve Morse. This type of picking pattern takes more time to learn than natural picking patterns such as directional picking. Most guitar players seek to use a hybrid of the two picking patterns instead, so the best of both worlds may be enjoyed.

alternate picking
Figure 1 – With alternate picking, up-strokes and down-strokes are alternated. There are a few benefits and disadvantages over direct picking that guitar player should be aware of.

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Music Theory – The Importance of Rhythm

Rhythm is one of the three building blocks of music theory. Without it, timing wouldn’t exist- much like the basic tablature system lacks timing and rhythm. For music theorists who take the time to learn the three building blocks of music theory- rhythm, harmony, and melody; the payout will be enormous in the long run.

music theory and rhythm
Figure 1 – Timing and rhythm are part of the core essentials of music theory- learning rhythm is vital to grasp harder music theory concepts.

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Recording Options for Guitarists

Guitar players who are looking to record live sound for the first time will inevitably see a large amount of mistakes and errors along the way. Most beginners are simply satisfied with propping up a cheap microphone headset against the amplifier speaker and jamming away. Once the initial “cool” factor of being able to record music dies, guitarists looking to record their favorite riffs or songs will realize that a little more thought needs to go into the recording process.

microphone recording
Figure 1 – Recording relies on many components- not just a microphone. Monitors, stands, interfaces, cables, and software will likely have to be bought.

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Choosing Between Basic Distortion Pedals

Distortion is absolutely necessary if a guitar player is to play any type of rock or metal. Basic distortion seeks to “dirty up” a signal, and to make it sound more dynamic or “crunchy.” Out of the basic distortion family, there is overdriven, fuzz, crunch, high gain types of distortion.

distortion pedal

Figure 1 There are several basic types of distortion that guitar players should explore. Fuzz crunch, overdrive, and high-gain will be the most common.

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How to Read Tablature

Not everyone has the time or patience to learn how to read and write music with standard notation. Tablature, also called tabulature or tabs, is the world-renown solution that proves to be much faster in terms of learning, writing, or reading a song in standard notation. In fact, it is much more likely that a guitarist seeking to learn a song will find tablature long before standard notation is found.

how to play tabs

Figure 1 – The top shows standard notation, while the bottom shows tablature. Notice how there is no rhythm or timing for tablature, as compared to standard notation.

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Guitar FX Box Review

Guitar FX Box claims to be a “real-time guitar/voice processor” with plenty of features. In this review, the voice processing feature wasn’t used, but the guitar distortion and recording features were taken complete advantage of. This small program surprises a lot of people with its cheap price of $20- and the wide range of features. This is well worth looking into if vocal or guitar recording is necessary for soloists or small bands.

guitar fx box
Figure 1 – Guitar FX Box recording screen. Innovative layout, nice options, very functional- overall, nice design!

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An Introduction to Music Theory for Guitarists

Music theory is vital to any guitar player that is looking forward to a long-term hobby or even profession. The majority of young guitarists decide to skip music theory, and instead start learning tablature of idolized bands. This is often a bad idea for a number of reasons, and is usually better to learn music theory first- however “less fun” it might be, since it will be a phenomenal help in the long run.

fretboard notes

Figure 1 – It might not look like a fretboard, but it is! Don’t worry if it looks confusing- it’s actually quite simple. Learning music theory is vital to the avid guitarist!

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