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guitar - How not to touch neighbouring strings?
  • lamwaiman1988

    When playing guitar, my fingers often touch other strings on the guitar. I found that my fingertips are too broad for the strings. When I press one string by my middle finger, the meat of the fingertip usually touches the next string. How can I avoid this?

    Also, my fingernails are very special ( inherited from my mom, the shape of the fingernails are curve, unlike some other people's fingernails which are flat. ). The fingernail of my index and middle finger is having the same length to my meat of the fingertip. When I tried to press the string perpendicular to the board, my fingernail is limited my press become it hit the board.

    Your may think I am crazy, but if you have any suggestion, please tell me and I am willing to listen.

    I've already cut my fingernail, any deeper my finger hurts.

    To illustrate:

    enter image description here When I place my finger perpendicular to the board, my fingernail meet my flesh of my finger in the same horizontal line. If I press the string like this, I can't press the string firmly.

    enter image description here

    enter image description here

    If I can play like this, there would be no problem but the flesh of my finger will touch the later string.

    Here is the C chord I am having problem with: enter image description here When my middle finger is pressing the 4th string, it often touches the 3rd string. As I've said in the above, if I press it perpendicular to the board, I can't press it firmly.

    Here are the demos(I already cut the fingernails): enter image description here Perpendicular, I put the string inbetween my fingernail and the flesh of my finger -> The string is not pressed firmly and sound weird.

    enter image description here Same, but I place the string right below the flesh of my finger -> just can't press it because my fingernail hit the board.

    enter image description here This time I make my finger a little slant so I can press the string firmly. But the 4th string was block by my finger when it was bouncing.

    enter image description here enter image description here This time I made a weird position to tackle this problem....this is actually not a solution. I tried to make my finger slant and press the string with the edge of my fingernail so the string was locked between my fingernail and the flesh. The problem is the weird angle of my finger and extra force to make this position.

  •  Answers:

  • Muckle Beats

    Try putting your thumb in the middle of the back of the neck. This will bring your wrist out forwards and your finger ends can then come down almost perpendicular to the fretboard. Sure this isn't as comfortable as wrapping your thumb around the neck but it's a good starting position to practice, and you can slacken off when you've got the hang of it.

  • Kaz

    Shorten your nails as much by possible, but not by cutting. The problem with cutting them very short is that the tool compresses the fingernail and pulls it away from the skin. That causes the separation and pain. You should cut your nails only to a comfortable point, and then from there continue to shorten them by filing with a diamond file.

    The nails on your fretting hand will get shorter over years as you cut and file them back regularly. That is to say, the line where your nail departs from the skin will recede somewhat.

    Look at a side by side comparison of my left and right pinky, which I assure you started life being identical twins. You can see that the left pinky (shown on the right) has more padding at the tip, and the nail is shorter. The changes are from playing guitar and only took a few years.

    The right and left pinkies of a guitarist

    Another thing: get a guitar with a scalloped fingerboard. Or perform scalloping (or have someone do it) on an inexpensive instrument: get a $50 guitar from Craigslist, some half-round files in a couple of sizes and whittle away the fretboard.

    Scalloping refers to valleys that are filed in the fingerboard between the frets. The extra clearance might do the trick of allowing your nails to clear the fingerboard. Nail clearance isn't what scalloping is specifically for, but for some people, it can be one of the benefits. The purpose is so that no part of the finger comes into contact with the fingerboard. This means that all the pressure is on the string, which improves fingering, and there is no fingerboard friction, which improves bending and vibrato. Also, scalloping lets you achieve a more ideal angle against the string during a bend or vibrato.

    This is a picture of what a bend looks like on a scalloped fingerboard:

    Scalloped Fingerboard Bend

    This shows how a nail can clear the fingerboard. For this shot, I used my right hand, of course, whose nails are long for classical playing.

    Scalloped Fingerboard Nail Clearance

  • sanjaypoyzer

    Play around with the position of your finger on the string. The tip of your finger should be pressing down and you should be as close to the fret line as possible, without actually being on the fretline.

    As you keep playing, your finger will learn the best place for to be and automatically go to where it needs to be.

    Hope this helps.

  • Vlad -


    My suggestion is actually to try and not be concerned about your finger touching other strings other than the one you're sounding. Instead use this as an advantage as a string dampener when you play. This at least helps you focus on accurate picking or finger picking.

    In terms of moving away from the string and causing accidental pull-off noises, the secret is to use more of your picking / rhythm hand. You know where I'm going with this! The palm of the picking hand should stop extraneous string sounds. It's about control.

    I know this, because I suffer from the same plight - but not because my hands are too big - it's the way I fret the strings. I ALWAYS catch other strings

    But you won't hear other strings in my playing because of the way I control the sound with my right hand, and muffle surrounding strings with my left.

    In lead work, you will often see players bend up with their middle finger, and use an index finger behind to mute the surrounding strings. If your fretting hand is already doing this, I would use your perceived weakness and turn it to an advantage to muffle surrounding strings.

    In rhythm work, perhaps adapt this to your style. Perhaps even expand on it and freet two strings with one finger! (if that is at all possible you would be unique!)

    There is no rule that says your fingers cant touch other strings when aiming for one string one note.

    Edit: Hi Gunbuster, thanks for the extra edit and photos.

    I suspected that this was your problem. Because you have extra flesh under your nail and it is also a more elongated shape, you cannot use a perpendicular pressing stance on your finger - it is impossible for you.

    You will have to try an approach other guitarists will find unconventional - mainly because they don't have your physiology. You will have to try and place your fingers at an angle not at a perpendicular.

    Your problem on the C chord is that you are trying to go for a T shape perpendicular against the fretboard when you have nothing to press the string with thus muting the G string.

    I think you should be attempting to press the E note with as much of your flesh but at the same time so that you clear the G string. That is, the fleshiest part of your finger is not under your nails but at at position as if you are playing piano.

    This will mean that the tip of your 2nd finger would probably overlaps the E note (D string ) and the next string above - the A string... but this doesn't matter since you will be playing the C note in front of your problem finger with your ring or 3rd finger.

    I know this problem as I have tried to coach women with fingernails who don't want them cut.... not exactly the same thing as yours but I've managed to get them sounding the C chord by tweaking their hand position.

    For everyone else reading this, the points made previously by everyone about being perpendicular to the fretboard is correct - but you must all take into account everyone else's unique physiology and adapt it.

  • Jason W

    What you are experiencing now is exactly what happened to me when I first learn my acoustic 9 years ago. Unable to progress as I can't even fret the strings at all. For a moment, I accepted the fact that it was impossible for me to learn guitar, so eventually I gave up after a few weeks and stopped for about 2 months before decided doing a last attempt.

    I didn't look back since 2nd attempt!

    What I did? After I softened the nails through bathing, I cut my lefty nails to the shortest it could be. And I filed them twice everyday, always 1% or 2% lower than before, together doing along with some calluses building exercises, in no time you'll notice the pink flesh getting shorter and tip flesh slowly taking over. 1st week may be painful but its worth while. So now my lefty's pink flesh is only half of my right's finger nails.

    Hope it helps! Tristan YT, cheers

  • luser droog

    I have a few ideas:

    • Try using a nail-file instead of clippers (or after clippers). You should be able to file away some of the excess flesh along with the nail (surface layers of skin are dead cells) without the pain that comes with clipping.

    • Prosthetic tips? Rock God Toni Iommi from Black Sabbath lost his middle- and ring- fingertips in an industrial accident and eventually used artificial tips. Until then, he had to play with only the index and pinky.

    Edit: Looking at the pictures again much later.

    I think it may help if you try pressing more with the face of the finger rather than the tip. Your fingers appear very bent, when they should appear to curve more gracefully. If you're not elevating your knee, you should consider a small cushion or rolled-up towel to raise the neck higher, giving your left hand easier access generally to the fretboard.

  • PetaspeedBeaver

    If you also play electric guitar I would suggest trying heavier gauge strings on that one. Thicker strings will be more "in place" and are less prone to getting bent while you position your fingers on the neck before stroking (which might lead to that you slipper into some other string with your finger.

  • Steve Ross

    I'm a bit surprised nobody's mentioned this, but try cutting your nails. Really cut them. I don't have any nails that extend as far as yours (forgive the beaten up hand -- it gets used for other things than just playing guitar):


    It's possible that once you aren't dealing with the nail against the fretboard, you will have less of an issue with the other strings.

  • Matt D

    best advice is to shorten your fingernails.

    scalloping is irreversible, some people like it, some don't. getting used to playing with the flat part of your finger over your pad will more than likely make certain techniques later more difficult. in particular large bends, and descending across strings where you use the flat of your finger to strike the higher note, and roll onto the pad of your finger on the lower string for the next. You may also end up over bending at your first knuckle.

  • user6025

    I have the same problem, my nails are just naturally long. But if you angle your fingers down the fret instead of directly over in a u shape it avoids your nails from touching the other strings.