Preserving Guitar Calluses On-the-Go

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A Practical Guide for the Seasoned Player

Maybe you're traveling, tied up in endless meetings, or just going through one of those phases where you're not playing your guitar as much as you'd like. Your hard-earned calluses start to soften, making it a painful experience when you finally do get back to playing.

I've had times when I couldn't play my guitar for a few weeks, due to travel or whatever, followed by one gig after another when I got back. When I do this and my calluses have melted away, it can be a painful experience getting through gigs one day after another.

If this is you, I've got your back!

There are practical, science-backed methods to help preserve your calluses even when you're not able to play.

What Is a Callus Anyway?

Before we dive into the practical stuff, it's good to know what you're dealing with. Calluses form due to the repeated pressure and friction against the skin. The outer layer of your skin, the stratum corneum, thickens to protect the layers beneath it. A healthy callus is your body's way of protecting itself, and it's crucial for any guitarist, newbie or pro. 

So, now, let's look at some practical things you can do to keep from losing those precious things.

Items Easy to Carry With You

  • Fishing Line: If you've got some heavy fishing line laying around stick a short length of of it in your pocket before you leave. The texture and diameter of a heavy fishing line can closely mimic that of a guitar string. Form a loop and place it on the tip of a finger then pull tight forming an indention in your fingertip. You can move it around to different places on the tip of your finger and do one finger at a time.
  • Pencil & Paperclip: Straighten a thin paperclip and wrap it around a pencil. Press your fingertips against the paperclip to mimic the pressure and texture of guitar strings.


Friction-Based Tools

  • Coins: The edges of coins can be used to simulate the texture of a string against your fingertip. Dimes are perfect because they are thin and have rough edges. Quarters have rough edges too but they're a little thicker so you don't get quite the same bite into the fingertip.
  • Hard, Thin Surfaces: Surfaces like the edge of a plastic card or anything else you might be carrying with you. 


Custom Made Tools

I found this tool on Amazon called, "Perfect Pinch Callus Builder" that actually looks like a useful tool. It also comes with a finger strength builder tool. I haven't ordered it myself but it's pretty reasonable so might be a great choice for having something you can keep in your pocket and use off and on through the day.
At the time of  this article, it was $12.99 so might be worth it! I think I'll order one of these myself.
Update! I went ahead and order it myself since I'm gonna have to be away from my guitar for about a week in a week or so. I'll try to post an update here to let you know what I think.


Nutritional Aids

I'm not a doctor. I don't even play one on TV but my wife is a very knowledgeable nutritionist. Now I have to say this - it's always better to get nutrients of any kind in your food. Sometimes, though it's just not possible to get the levels you need in the food you're eating. As good as my wife's advice is, please consult your own medical professional before you start popping any supplements into your gullet. Disclaimer out of the way, on to nutrition list.

Vitamin E: This vitamin is essential for skin health. You can take a supplement but there are a few foods very rich in Vitamin E. One of those is almonds, which my nutritionist wife tells me are a very healthy snack in many other ways such as helping you lower your LDL cholesterol.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega 3 fatty acids can improve skin barrier function, which can help maintain your calluses. 

Walnuts, believe it or not, have a huge amount of Omega 3's but they're not the same type as that found in fish such as wild caught salmon. Omega-3 fatty acids come in more than one form. The types found in fish, called DHA and EPA, seem to have the strongest health benefits. Another form known as ALA is what you see in walnuts, and dark leafy vegetables such as spinach. So fish oil is the best source.

But, if you're gonna focus on fish oil, you're better off getting it in a supplement. Mainly because eating enough seafood to get a regular beneficial dose of omega 3's can cause you to get too much mercury and that's bad for your noggin.

As for supplements, besides being a brand that gets lots of love from my wife for quality, the Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega fish oil is the only one my wife can get me to take. That's because they have a slight lemon scent (instead of a nasty, fishy "scent"). I never burb fish oil taking them which is a huge plus.

Zinc: This mineral plays a vital role in skin regeneration and could aid in maintaining calluses. My wife says to not take too much of any of the metals like zinc so be careful with that. Here's an article that talks about the different foods high in zinc.


Alcohol Pads

Stow away a handful of alcohol pads in your bag. You know, the kind that come in little tear packs. Using alcohol on your fingertips can help harden the skin on those prized fingertips of yours. The alcohol dries out your skin, which may help to preserve the callus, but be cautious not to overdo it.


Moisturize—But Not Too Much

Temper the alcohol drying with a little bit of moisturizer if you find your calluses are on the verge of cracking. In other words, don't overdo the alcohol. Also, don't over-moisturize because too much can soften the callus, which sort of defeats the purpose.


Bonus Tip: Virtual Practice with Riff Lab

Being away from your guitar doesn't mean you can't practice in your noggin. Visualization has been proven to be of some benefit. If you want to spend some time imagining playing riffs using visualization, pull up Riff Lab where you can visualize all the notes of any scale or arpeggio across the entire fretboard. Create note sequences, study the stroke directions, pull-offs, hammer-ons and slides. Doing that can keep your guitar brain sharp, even when you're miles away from your guitar.

And hey, if you haven't registered for your free account at Guitar Creative, register now and get access to all the awesome guitar tools available to you free with your free user account.


Final Thoughts

Maintaining your calluses while on the road or away from your guitar is not just possible; it's also pretty straightforward with the right techniques and a little ingenuity.