Bleeding fingers after you play guitar – it’s not something you want to see but you might remember that video of Zakk Wylde playing with bloody fingers? It’s as if he felt no pain at all, and the song was played better than ever.
Guitar strings are incredibly sharp and can easily slice through your skin. In my experience, you can’t make the fingers on your fretting hand bleed from playing guitar. You get lots of blisters, and when those pop from playing, a sticky ooze comes out of it, but it isn’t blood.
In this article I’ll walk you through my experience and what I did to find out if I could get my fretting hand to bleed.
But guess what, almost all guitarists can get painful fingers at some stage.
To avoid making your fingers bleed while playing guitar, you can use musician’s tape on your fingers or petroleum jelly, beeswax, or other lubricants on your strings. You can also try using thicker gauge strings, or nylon strings which are less likely to slice through your skin.
Can playing guitar make your fretting hand bleed?
In my experience, you can’t make the fingers on your fretting hand bleed from playing guitar. You do get a lot of blisters, and when those blisters pop from playing even more a sticky ooze comes out of it, but it isn’t blood.
I had been playing guitar for 6 hours straight after not having played for 9 months and although it hurt like hell and the ooze made it difficult to play, there was never any blood.
It’s more, “can you make your fingers ooze from playing guitar?” then can you make them bleed.
Can playing guitar actually make your fingers bleed?
Yes, it’s possible to injure your fingers while playing guitar and it can even cause them to bleed.
Playing guitar can injure your fingers, especially if you are a beginner.
But no matter what technique you use, playing requires that you apply pressure to play the chords and the guitar string will injure your fingertips.
This is because guitar strings are very sharp and can easily cut through your skin if you’re not careful. Guitar strings are made out of metal and this material is very hard and thin.
As you press down on the strings for a long time, it affects the dermal layer on the fingertips. The layer of skin breaks down and tears on your fingertips and this makes the fingers bleed.
Even the tiniest nick or scrape caused by a guitar string can turn into something more serious.
Using petroleum jelly, beeswax, or other lubricants on your strings will help keep your fingers from bleeding while you play guitar.
The thicker the string gauge, the less likely it is to cut into your skin.
To avoid infection, clean and bandage any cuts you might have made on your fingertips.
You can also experience sore fingers and develop calluses from a lot of guitar playing.
Picking hand vs fretting hand: which is more prone to bleeding fingers?
There is no easy answer when it comes to which hand is more likely to sustain an injury while playing guitar.
Both the picking and fretting hand can be injured while playing, but the type of injury will be different for each.
The picking hand is more likely to develop calluses and blisters from the frequent contact with the strings. The fretting hand is more likely to sustain cuts and scrapes from the strings.
Why do fingers bleed when playing guitar?
There are several reasons why your fingers bleed when playing guitar. It happens to beginners learning to play the instrument and pro guitar players alike.
Even if your fingers don’t quite bleed, you can experience very sore fingers while playing guitar.
Let’s look at the most common reasons:
Friction and strain on the finger tendons are caused by repeated isotonic movements, such as those made by your fingers and hand when playing the guitar.
Another reason for this is that guitar strings are made of hard and thin metal. If you repeatedly squeeze your fingertips, you run the risk of tearing the outermost layer of the skin.
The fingers begin to bleed as the dermal layer below is exposed and this is the most common source of bloody fingers.
Not taking enough breaks
You probably really love to play guitar and when your fingers hurt you might ignore it just so you don’t have to stop playing.
The problem can be exacerbated if you don’t take frequent breaks while playing. The skin can be permanently damaged if you don’t give it time to recover and heal before picking up the guitar again.
Unfortunately, the skin can form calluses on your fingers which are hard to get rid of. You might end up having to use topical anesthetic products to deal with the discomfort.
Injuries aren’t healed properly
Injuries heal and recover at different rates depending on the individual’s body’s response.
It can take as little as three days for some wounds and bleeding fingers to heal, while for others it can take a week.
Your body’s healing process should take precedence over your desire to return to guitar practice.
A physician or dermatologist can advise you on the best course of action for a speedy recovery if the problem persists.
How to avoid making your fingers bleed while playing guitar
While bleeding fingers may seem like a rite of passage for aspiring guitarists, it is actually quite easy to avoid.
Simply take a few precautions and be mindful of your playing, and you’ll be able to keep your fingers safe and sound.
So what can you do to avoid making your fingers bleed when playing guitar?
If you do happen to cut yourself, be sure to clean the wound and put a bandage on it to prevent infection.
Keep nails short
First, make sure that your nails are trimmed short. Long nails will catch on the strings and can cause nasty cuts.
Longer fingernails are harder to play with, especially as a beginner. Keeping nails short is an easy way to prevent injury.
Use light gauge strings
Second, use light gauge strings if you are a beginner or have sensitive fingers.
Heavy gauge strings are much more likely to cause cuts and scrapes. Pick up a steel-string guitar to get your hands used to the metal strings – this will teach you the feeling of your fingers on the strings.
But, as you learn to play, begin with nylon strings which are softer and gentler on your hands.
Use a pick to play
Third, be sure to use a pick when playing. Your fingers will thank you later.
Take regular breaks
And finally, take breaks often when playing. Your fingers need time to heal if they do get cut, so give them a rest every now and then.
Use guitar tape
What do professional guitar players do when their fingers bleed? Well, they use tape and build up calluses.
Professional guitar players have to deal with this issue all the time.
Many guitar players usually have their own way of dealing with it and some even develop calluses on their fingers that protect them from further injury.
If you’re playing for several hours a day, it’s hard to find a solution to this problem.
The most common solution is guitar finger tape. You might see bandmembers wearing tape on their fingers to prevent bloody marks on the instrument.
Many guitarists use this method as it’s the most convenient and doesn’t require any special products besides the tape. The picking hand is taped, not the fretting hand.
Adding petroleum jelly, vaseline, or beeswax to guitar strings
Adding a lubricant to your guitar strings can make them easier to play on and can reduce the irritation on your fingers but many players don’t like to do this because of the oil transfer.
But if you want to keep your fingers from getting cut while playing guitar, you can try adding petroleum jelly or beeswax to the strings.
This will create a barrier between your skin and the strings, and help to prevent cuts.
Some players like to use vaseline and this is a cheap solution.
To do this, simply rub a small amount of petroleum jelly, vaseline, or beeswax onto the strings but not directly. Use a small rag and only apply very small amounts.
Build up calluses
Experts recommend building up calluses on your fingers. If you have tough skin, you’re less likely to cut yourself.
This takes time and some players use a pumice stone to speed up the process.
You can also buy callus plasters that contain salicylic acid which will help to build up your calluses quickly. These are available at most pharmacies.
But, once you’re past that initial fear of the pain and hurt fingertips, you can start forming calluses as protective barriers.
How to hasten the formation of calluses
There are a few things you can do to speed up the formation of callus:
- Practice frequently but for brief intervals, taking care not to overwork your fingers to the point of injury.
- In order to get your fingers used to playing with tough materials, start with a steel-stringed acoustic guitar.
- Instead of cutting open your fingertips, use thick-gauge strings that can rub against them and develop calluses.
- Using a credit card or similar object, press down on the thin edge of the card to get your fingers accustomed to the feeling and pressure of playing.
- To hasten the formation of calluses, dab your fingertips with rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball.
By following these simple tips, you can avoid making your fingers bleed when playing guitar.
So get out there and start strumming away, bleeding fingers are not necessary!
Also read: Best self-teaching guitars & useful guitar learning tools to practice your play
What you need to know before picking up a guitar
Now that you know how to avoid making your fingers bleed, you’re ready to start playing guitar! But before you do, there are a few things you should know.
First, practice makes perfect. The more you play, the better you’ll get and the less likely you are to injure your fingers.
Second, be patient. Don’t try to play too fast or too difficult songs right away. Start slow and work your way up.
If you can, use a nylon-string guitar. Nylon-string guitars have softer strings that are less likely to cause cuts but they’re also harder to play.
And finally, have fun! Playing guitar should be enjoyable, so don’t get too frustrated if you make a few mistakes along the way.
Just keep practicing and you’ll be playing like a pro in no time.
How to heal bleeding fingers if you are a guitar player
Calluses typically develop over a period of two to four weeks.
Most professional guitar players will build calluses to make their fingers more resistant to the strings. Even if you have thick skin, you can’t really avoid bloody fingers.
Calluses can be helpful though and don’t cause permanent harm.
After a long period of playing the guitar, a hard and thick layer of skin forms. And patience is required to get to this point.
You can speed up the healing process, however, by being aware of the best practices and taking steps to reduce the discomfort over time.
In addition to how often you practice, the type of music you’re learning to play, the strumming techniques, and the guitar you’re using all play a role in this.
Use these suggestions to keep your fingers from bleeding excessively and to speed up the healing process for cracked or bleeding calluses.
- You should start out by practicing for a shorter period of time. This will keep your fingers from tearing apart from the inside out.
- Cut your nails short to avoid scratching your skin. Ingrown nails can result from damaged nail beds caused by long fingernails.
- Make calluses by applying rubbing alcohol to the skin.
- If your fingers are bleeding, take a break from playing the guitar. Before playing the guitar again, make sure your skin is healed. Keep the wound sealed and disinfected with bandaids to help speed up the healing process.
- While playing, you can apply numbing cream to your fingers to lessen the discomfort.
- Pain medication and a cold compress can help relieve swelling and reduce swelling in your fingers.
- Diluted apple cider vinegar can be used to soften your fingers.
- Apply hand lotion regularly to keep skin soft and healthy. Cracked skin can cause more bleeding.
- If the pain persists and the wounds do not heal despite the fact that you haven’t played the guitar in a while, you should see a doctor.
Here are the answers to some other questions you probably have.
Do guitar fingers ever heal?
Yes, guitar fingers will heal pretty quickly. This type of “injury” isn’t serious and doesn’t require too much worry.
The soreness on your fingertips is temporary. It lasts about one week.
Even though icing or numbing creams can provide some short-term relief, it doesn’t necessitate treatment. However, the best remedy is to play guitar until your fingers become calloused.
Can you damage your fingers playing guitar?
Yes, you can get bloody fingers from playing the guitar because those strings are hard and sharp.
Only minor finger damage is caused by playing the guitar. The toughness of your fingers increases as they heal. As your fingers become more resilient, playing guitar will no longer cause any harm.
Do I get bloody fingers if I have small fingers?
No, not necessarily. The size of your fingers does not affect whether you’ll get bloody fingers from playing the guitar.
It doesn’t matter how big or small your fingers are – if the strings are sharp and you’re not using proper form, they can still cause cuts.
How often do guitar players get bloody fingers?
Most guitar players will get bloody fingers at some point, especially when they’re first starting out.
As you become more experienced, you’ll develop calluses that protect your skin from the strings. But even then, you might still get the occasional cut or nick.
How long does it take for your fingers to get used to guitar playing?
It usually takes a few weeks for your fingers to get used to playing the guitar.
In the beginning, you might experience some soreness and even some cuts and bruises. But as your fingers toughen up, the pain will go away and you’ll be able to play for longer periods of time.
Playing guitar may seem like a harmless activity, but if you don’t take the proper precautions to protect your fingers from injury, it can be quite painful.
The tips and tricks provided in this article should help keep your fingers safe while playing guitar.
The most obvious easy fix for your bloody fingertips is good old musician’s tape.
But, for the long term you can form calluses which will make it easier to avoid this issue.
Next, check out the best guitar stands in my ultimate buying guide for guitar storage solutions
I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Neaera and a content marketer, dad, and love trying out new equipment with guitar at the heart of my passion, and together with my team, I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2020 to help loyal readers with recording and guitar tips.
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