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10 Tips for Guitar Players With Small Hands

It isn't uncommon for aspiring guitarists to walk into a guitar store, eager and exhilarated to get their hands on their first instrument. Looking up at the wall in front of them, they have a plethora of guitars to choose from. Just as they pick one up from the wall, they’re hit with this sinking feeling in their stomach as they feel, for the first time, how big the guitar neck is when held in their relatively small hands.

Unable to match the blazing scale runs across the neck or fast barre chord changes like their heroes, close to seventy-five percent of aspiring guitarists quit within the first year. A large portion of these guitarists cite their relatively small hands as a reason for this.

While this might be a statistical fact, it doesn't have to be the case. There are numerous ways for guitar players with small hands to fulfill their guitar-playing dreams.

If you've ever seen Japanese female guitarist Li-Sa-X play Racer-X's Scarified on a full-sized 24-fret Ibanez JEM, or seen AC/DC's Angus Young run around the stage playing with the fingers of an alleged 12-year-old, you know what we're talking about!

While guitarists like Steve Vai, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Buckethead might scare you with their freakishly long fingers, there is enough motivation in the world around you to keep you from quitting. Here are 10 tips for guitar players with small hands to keep you pursuing your axe-wielding dreams!

1. Consider Purchasing a 3/4-Size Guitar

While there might be many tips on making a full-sized guitar work for you, it's better to start with a 3/4-sized guitar if you know that you have small fingers. Making sure you have a positive learning experience in the first few months is crucial, as this builds up the necessary confidence to go after your dreams.

Choosing a 3/4th size can set you on the right track, as you avoid the biggest hurdle of having small hands: fretting issues. 3/4th size guitars have frets that are close together, making them easier to play in the lower frets.

As the overall size is around 36 x 13 inches as compared to the 40 x 15 inches of the full-sized guitar, you'll feel your torso and arms wrap around more easily around a 3/4th-sized guitar.

Guitar Players With Small Hands

With renowned manufacturers like Gibson, Fender, and Martin, amongst countless others, offering 3/4th sized versions of their regular models, there are plenty of options for people with small hands.

If you get comfortable with the smaller size and wish to continue, there’s no reason you have to switch to a full-sized one later. With the staggering rise of independent luthiers in the guitar world, you could easily get yourself a custom-designed high-end 3/4th size guitar made to your liking.

You get to choose the woods for the body, the neck, and the fingerboard. You get to choose your fret sizes, neck profiles, and scale lengths to cater to the size of your hands.

With so many avenues, we feel it's better to begin with a 3/4-size guitar if you're blessed with smaller hands.

2. Lighter String Gauges Require Less Effort to Play

While the choice of string gauges has to do with one's style of playing, it can be used to make it easier for someone with smaller fingers. Traditionally, heavier strings of 12-56 and above are used for getting a fatter tone, as opposed to the lighter 9-42, which is preferred for ease of bending.

Choosing a lighter string gauge allows you to be able to push down the notes easily. Choosing a light string set of 8-38 can be a great way to introduce someone to the guitar. The ease of playing can give them the necessary confidence to pursue the guitar seriously.

Once they're comfortable, they can go up the gauges as and when they see fit.

There’s nothing wrong with playing a super light 8-38 string set. A lot of guitarists in the '70s, including Jimmy Page and Frank Zappa, were known to use a set of 8-38.

3. Try Playing With a Thinner Neck

While some blues guitarists like Eric Clapton still prefer the '50s 7.25-inch neck radius, akin to a baseball bat, you don't need to stress about that! With modern guitars going all the way up to 17 inches, folks with smaller hands have it easy nowadays.

Doing a bit of research on neck radius before buying a guitar can save you the stress of having to wrap your fingers around a bulky guitar neck. Smaller hands prefer a flatter neck to wrap their fingers around. 16 and 17-inch neck radiuses are some of the easiest guitars to play fast on.

The only downside to playing on thin necks is that you don't quite feel the wood in your palms while playing. Some players tend to cite this as an issue, especially while playing chords on the first few frets.

Guitar Players With Small Hands

If thin shredder necks are too flat for you, you might want to consider going for necks with a compound radius. Compound radius necks are 16 inches in the higher frets but narrow down to 12 inches in the lower frets, which is great for playing chords. 12 inches is the standard Gibson Les Paul neck radius. So, you're bound to feel more wood in your palms while playing your chords.

Therefore, if you're an aspiring shredder with small hands, thinner necks are your quickest path to Rock N Roll glory!

4. Do Not Ignore Body Size and Contour

Acoustic and classical guitars generally boast a bigger body size than electric guitars. With little to no body contour on them, they can be quite difficult to place on your lap if you're a small person.

If you're set on learning the acoustic guitar, a good option would be to check out the Ovation. Ovations generally have a beveled body and are much more ergonomically suited for smaller arms to wrap around them.

Guitar Players With Small Hands

If you fancy playing the electric guitar, then headless guitars are worth checking out. Devoid of the headstock, they generally work with a Floyd Rose bridge. This allows them to get rid of a lot of unnecessary wood, which considerably reduces the guitar's weight.

Having a smooth contour and beveled body, these guitars are small enough for a young adult to wrap their arms around them with ease. So, if the guitar's bulky body size is getting in your way, do consider checking out these alternate options, as they add a dimension of maneuverability and comfort.

5. Choose a Shorter Scale Length

A shorter scale length rather than the actual size of the guitar is more important for people with smaller hands. Choosing a guitar with a shorter scale means that the frets are closer together. The makes playing on the lower frets much easier.

The Stratocaster-style models, which boast a scale length of 25.5 inches, are probably the hardest to play on the lower frets. The Les Paul, SG, and ES-335-style guitars all have a scale length of 24.75 inches.

Guitar Players With Small Hands

We call them "style guitars" since there are many manufacturers who make their versions of the original Fender and Gibson models.

If 3/4th-sized guitars are too small for you, then you can surely try out the 24.75-inch versions, as they offer you a taste of playing a full-sized guitar with a bit of leniency.

6. Exercise Your Pinky

While a lot of folks with long fingers tend to have an underdeveloped pinky, you can break that norm. A lot of players with long fingers play pentatonic scales with their index and ring fingers alone, which results in bad technique.

This affects their speed in the long run. If you can be disciplined in training your pinky well, the long-term results can be phenomenal!

The pinky finger, by default, is controlled by the ring finger as the tendons and bones of the last two fingers are connected. So, regardless of your finger size, you must make conscious efforts to make it independent.

Starting with four-note per string chromatic runs is a great place to start. Simply place your four fingers back-to-back in four adjacent frets. You can choose a comfortable pocket on the guitar like the area between frets 9 to 12. Now, go up and down the pocket while playing all the chromatic notes.

In this way, the pinky gets trained rigorously and doesn't suffer from the 'fourth finger floating syndrome'.

While you might find yourself going that extra mile, you're bound to reap the benefits of a well-developed pinky in the long run.

7. You Can Always Train Your Fingers to Stretch Wider

While we've only spoken about the ease of playing for someone with smaller hands, it's worth remembering that you still need to develop dexterity in your fingers.

While warm-up stretches are a great way to prepare for a session, it's important to practice playing across 6-7 frets on a string to develop usable stretching abilities.

Playing an Octatonic scale would have your fingers skip one fret each. You can try it out by placing your fingers on frets 7, 9, 11, and 13. This would result in a 7-fret stretch. It might sound like a stretch, but you would be surprised at how the fingers get used to these stretches in a couple of months.

If you do this exercise for just 10 minutes a day, it should give your fingers the dexterity they need to play complex chord stretches, let alone jazz-fusion runs, in the future.

8. Try Exploring the World of Tapping

Tapping with the index and middle fingers of your picking hand is a great way to add more notes if you can't stretch with your fretting fingers. Made famous by the legendary '80s guitarist Eddie Van Halen, tapping is a superb way to add a fourth note to every three notes played on a string by the fretting hand.

This means that you can play four-note per string scale patterns at blistering speeds across the neck without having to worry about the size of your fingers.

Guitar Players With Small Hands

Since the guitar is tuned in fourths, you don't need to stretch your fretting hand beyond three frets. The tapped note would play the extra fret, and going down to the next string would have you continue the scale from the perfect fourth onwards.

Please don't fret if all this sounds too technical! You can simply start by tapping a note every time it feels hard to reach with your fretting hand. As you get into the groove of tapping, you'll know when to tap a note and when to fret one.

What we've mentioned here as an example only scratches the surface. Modern guitarists like Niels Vejlyt, Hans Van Even, and Dan Mumm have taken this technique to the stratosphere by using all four fingers of their picking hand for tapping. Known as eight-finger tapping, these techniques cover so much real estate on the fretboard that it makes finger sizes quite irrelevant.

Be sure to check out these techniques if you're looking to find ways to evade finger size problems completely.

9. Using a String Dampener or a Capo Isn't Cheating

While using string dampeners and capos is generally looked down upon in the guitar community, it's best to sometimes ignore online opinions and do what's best for developing your guitar-playing skills.

While using a string dampener can help any style of playing, it's generally used for playing fast legato lines. Pushing down the strings just enough, so that the guitarist can execute smooth legato phrases with minimum effort and string buzz, string dampeners are highly effective.

Guitar Players With Small Hands

Besides reducing string buzz, string dampeners also make it easier for people with smaller fingers to push down on the notes. If you're a beginner who is getting discouraged by the amount of time and effort it takes to develop calluses on your fingers, we recommend trying a string dampener for some time.

Based on the same idea, you can use a Capo if you're finding it hard to push down bar chords. Having smaller hands can be tricky if you're playing a lot of songs with barre chords. Barre chords expect you to have a strong index finger with calluses along the sides to be able to execute them properly.

If you find yourself experiencing pain in your index finger or your wrist while playing barre chords, it's best to consider using a capo. The capo works like your index finger, barring the entirety of the fret you've put it on.

Now, you can take advantage of the capo by opting to play chords with open voicings. Instead of having to use your index finger to barre constantly, you can now fret certain notes while allowing certain strings to be played open.

If you can arrange your song smartly, you can get away with playing very few complex chords on the guitar. As the capo can be adjusted according to the key of the song, you can get a lot of mileage by learning how to use a capo.

10. Don't Give Up

Whether you've got small fingers or fingers like a deer's antlers, you've still got to put in the necessary hours of practice! It takes repeated and systematic hours of training to get your guitar chops in place.

While it's easy to cite your small fingers as a reason to give up, there are countless examples of guitarists who've gone far and beyond their physical limitations to achieve their dreams. We've listed some of the famous guitarists who've overcome career-ending accidents to reach the highest echelons of guitar-playing.

Black Sabbath Guitarist Tony Iommi

With missing chunks of flesh from his middle and ring fingers, Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi has helped shape heavy metal the way that we know it today.

With a terrible industrial accident at a metal factory resulting in the loss of his fingertips, Tony Iommi was staring down the barrel. Working his way up, Tony melted plastic onto his fingers and found leather to give him the right feel on the strings.

Guitar Players With Small Hands

Speaking of lighter gauge strings earlier, Tony tried stringing his guitar with light banjo strings for him to be able to push down the notes. Still unable to play certain chords, Tony ended up sculpting the iconic Black Sabbath sound with his impending physical disabilities.

Singer-Songwriter Joni Mitchell

Singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell is well known for her wonderfully odd-sounding guitar tunings. While most might think of it as a conscious choice, very few people know about Joni's disability.

Affected by polio in her childhood, Joni tuned her guitar differently so she could be able to play the guitar to her liking.

Using alternate tunings lends her a characteristic sound and makes her fretting hand have to do less work in the process.

Guitar Players With Small Hands: Use These Tips

While we've only listed these two guitarists with physical anomalies, there are countless others, including the great Django Reinhardt, who have fought against the odds to pursue their guitar-playing dreams.

With countless gadgets that are being innovated each day to make guitar-playing easy, we see no reason for guitarists with small hands to give up. The guitars being manufactured nowadays are getting more and more sophisticated, with increasing attention to detail. Even if you have seriously small hands, you're still bound to find a type of guitar and a specific playing style to suit you.

If you would like to know more about how you could take your guitar playing to the next level, be sure to check out our other guitar articles.

Author

  • Guitar Players With Small Hands

    My "day job" used to be teaching but I decided to give that up to play music full time. I have gigged all over the world playing in bands or as a solo act since then. I still have a passion for teaching others anything related to music. Writing content for InciteMusic.com gives me an opportunity to combine my love of music and education.

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