Every beginning guitarist I’ve taught has lamented the supposed inadequacy of his/her fingers. Some are too short, some are too fat, some are too skinny, some don’t bend the right way, some are too weak.
Don’t let these things get you down. Every person to ever pick up the guitar has fretted over some less-than-optimal aspect of their hands. We all wish we had perfect hands that did exactly what we wanted, but no one has those.
Some guitarists are legendary for their huge hands. Jimi Hendrix and Tal Farlow had tree trunks for fingers. Stevie Ray Vaughan had Popeye forearms, and each finger was about the size of two of mine taped together. My hands are probably larger than average, but not enormous. I shook Steve Vai‘s hand once, and his fingers wrapped all the way around my hand like a blanket. It was an uncomfortable moment.
But think about this. If some famous guitarists are known for their big hands, doesn’t that mean the rest of them, famous or not, should have normal or smaller hands? Indeed, some of the world’s most successful guitar players were stuck with a set of digits that would make anyone question their potential.
Let’s start with Angus Young. A master of both rhythm and lead rock guitar, he was behind some of the most gut-kicking riffs and screaming solos of the 20th century. And he’s tiny. Here, he discusses getting by with small hands:
Jimmy Bruno has some little sausage-fingers, and he has some of the best jazz chops I’ve heard. And he’s an excellent instructor to boot (I love his speaking voice):
There’s also Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath, one of the pioneers of heavy metal:
He plays guitar left-handed. In an industrial accident at the age of 17 on his last day of work in a sheet metal factory, he lost the tips of the middle and ring finger of his right hand. After attempting to learn to play right-handed, Iommi instead strung his guitars with lighter strings and made thimbles to extend his fingers.
And let’s not forget Django Reinhardt, one of my all-time favorites, who lost the use of his ring and pinky fingers on his fretting hand in a fire. He retaught himself to play the guitar with two fingers, and became one of the biggest names in the history of guitar.
Work with What You Have
The lesson here is simply to avoid dwelling on what you wish your fingers were like and work with the fingers you have. With some practice, your fingers will grow stronger, more flexible, and they’ll become more obedient over time.
Sometimes this means changing the way you play to compensate, like Angus displayed in the video above. If your fingers don’t stretch as far as you’d like, try The Magic Guitar Position. If you’re an exceptionally small adult, or you’re buying an instrument for a child under 10, you might consider a 3/4-size guitar or a ukulele to get you started. But Stratoblogster’s Young Guitar Wonder Directory should convince you that you needn’t avoid the full-size guitar forever!
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