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Last Updated: May 10, 2019
Got sore fingers from playing guitar? You’re not alone.
For new guitar players, sore fingertips can be pretty demotivating. In fact, I’ve met people who quit guitar after just a few months of trying, simply because the pain was too great.
There’s also another category of hand pain guitar players might experience: pain in the muscles, tendons, and joints. I wrote about this in another article on hand pain, and these can be the result of pre-existing medical issues such as arthritis or an injury, or it’s possible you’ve somehow injured your hand while playing guitar. Whatever the cause, when a guitar player comes to me asking what they can do about pain in their fingers or hand, my first recommendation is almost always the same:
Switch to really light guitar strings.
And not just standard “light” strings–I’m talking really, really, exquisitely light guitar strings. They’re not well advertised, so I’ve decided to track them all down for you and put them into this blog post.
These light strings are what I recommend every new guitarist start with. Once you’ve built calluses and hand strength, or your pain has subsided, you can move up to a heavier gauge, if you’d like.
For Electric Guitars
- Classic Pure Nickel Extra Slinky
- RPS-8 Slinky Nickel Wound
- Extra Slinky Nickel Wound
- Cobalt Extra Slinky
- Stainless Steel Extra Slinky
- Coated Electric Titanium RPS Extra Slinky
- GBUL Boomers Ultra Light
- ST-UL Ultra Light Super Steels
- Electric Guitar Strings Nickel Rockers
- ST-UL Ultra Light Super Steels
For Steel String Acoustic Guitars
- EJ10 Bronze, Extra Light
- EJ15 Phosphor Bronze, Extra Light
- EFT15 Flat Tops Phosphor Bronze, Extra Light
- EXP10 with NY Steel, 80/20, Coated, Extra Light
- EXP15 with NY Steel Phosphor Bronze, Coated, Extra Light
- Nickel Bronze, Extra Light
- VTA-10 Phosphor Bronze, Extra Light
- DSA-10 Coated Phosphor Bronze, Extra Light
- Black Beauties, Coated
- “Zebra” Acoustic-Electric Round Core
- “Rare” Phosphor Bronze Hex Core
- Hi-Def NEON Pink Coated
- Hi-Def NEON Green Coated
- Hi-Def NEON Red Coated
- Hi-Def NEON Orange Coated
- Hi-Def NEON Blue Coated
- Hi-Def NEON White Coated
- Hi-Def NEON Red/White/Blue, Coated, Lite
- Hi-Def Neon Multi-Color
- Red Devils Coated
- Phosphor Bronze with NANOWEB Coating
- 80/20 Bronze with NANOWEB Coating
- 80/20 Bronze with POLYWEB Coating
POLYWEB vs. NANOWEB: The difference between these is tone and feel. NANOWEB coating is going to sound and feel more like traditional, uncoated strings. They’re crisp and bright, and the coating is so thin you’ll barely notice it. POLYWEB has a warmer… “played-in” tone and the coating will be slightly more noticeable under the fingers.
- Earthwood Extra Light 80/20 Bronze
- Earthwood Extra Light Phosphor Bronze
- Earthwood Silk and Steel Extra Soft
- Everlast Extra Light Coated 80/20 Bronze
- Aluminum Bronze Extra Light (these are what I use)
- BB10U Bright Bronze, 80/20 Copper-Zinc Alloy
- 345 Silk And Steel, Silver-Plated Copper
- Vintage Bronze 85/15
- MA130 Silk & Steel, Custom Light
- MA170 80/20 Bronze, Extra Light
- MA170S Marquis Silked 80/20 Bronze, Extra Light
- MA530 Phosphor Bronze, Extra Light
- MA530S Marquis Silked Phosphor Bronze, Extra Light
- MA530T Lifespan 2.0 Phosphor Bronze, Extra Light
Will My Guitar Tone Suffer?
If you’re worried about your tone, don’t be, because big names like Billy Gibbons, Tony Iommi, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Peter Frampton, and others all use these really light string sets. You can be picky about your tone later, after you’ve built up your finger calluses or your hand pain has subsided.
Potential Drawbacks of Really Light Guitar Strings
Your first priority should be your health and comfort, and this is where really light guitar strings truly shine. However, they aren’t without their faults, so you should be aware of some potential tradeoffs before you run out and buy a 12-pack. The keyword here is “potential.” You may not actually experience all or any of these.
Potential Tuning Issues
It’s a fact that lighter guitar strings can be a bit more work to keep in-tune than their heavier counterparts. This isn’t always the case, but something you should be on the lookout for if you decide to switch.
Potential Intonation Issues
Since the strings are so thin, it’s easier to apply too much pressure when you press the string down. This can cause the note to go sharp a bit. So, despite your guitar being in perfect tune, your notes might sound sharp while you’re playing. Again, not guaranteed to happen, but just something to be on the lookout for. If it’s a problem for you, you may be able to fix it by simply using a lighter touch (which, it just so happens, will also help with your pain).
Potential String Breakage
Naturally, since the strings are really light, you’re more likely to break the thinner strings if you get crazy and bend a note too far. If that happens, this is another issue you can probably fix by simply being less aggressive.
Potential String/Fret Buzz
The thinner a guitar string is, the larger it’s vibrational arc. That leads to the potential for it to rasp against frets while it’s vibrating. This is why it can be harder to set up a guitar to be buzz-free if it has really light strings vs. heavier gauges.
Reduced Volume (Acoustic Guitars Only)
With acoustic guitars, it’s a fact that lighter strings will result in slightly reduced volume and “body” when playing purely acoustically (not amplified). This is one instance where the “better tone” argument holds some weight. Fatter/heavier strings do actually give an acoustic guitar a bit more volume and resonance.
However, as I said: your health and comfort should be first priority. In reality, the minor reduction in volume will be barely noticeable to you. Focus on your health first, then later you can move to heavier strings if you wish.
Final Note: You May Still Have Some Soreness
I’d love to tell you that switching to super light guitar strings will eliminate all finger and hand pain for you. They won’t. When it comes to building toughness and calluses on your fingertips, you’re always going to have some soreness during your first few weeks (or months) of playing guitar. And when it comes to other hand pain (due to arthritis or other medical issues), you really should consult a doctor if the pain doesn’t subside.
Also, be sure to check out my other article on this topic: 6 Ways Guitarists Can Reduce Hand & Finger Pain.
What’s Your Story?
Have you been struggling with sore fingers from playing guitar or some other type of hand pain? How do you deal with it? What have you tried? Have you ever tried lighter guitar strings to see if they helped? I’d love to know in the comments below. Also, if you know of some ultra light strings I didn’t include, please let me know and I’ll add them to the lists.