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Creating music with just the tips of your fingers is magical, but only guitarists know that behind this magic, things can get ugly.
I can’t count the hours I’ve spent mastering this art form, as well as the sweat, tears, finger soreness, and sometimes even blood that goes into it.
One look at my fingers and the steel strings on my guitar is enough for people to ask me:
Can guitar strings cut your fingers?
It’s rear for guitar strings to cut your fingers unless you are playing with heavy pressure or sliding and bending the wrong way. If a string snaps mid-play it might with enough force cut you, and the sharp ends of strings near the tuning pegs could also poke or cut you.
Cutting your fingers on your guitar strings is unusual but it’s not impossible, after all, accidents do happen. That’s why to avoid getting hurt it’s important to know how this can happen and the safety measures that will keep your fingers stay cut-free!
Can Guitar Strings Cut Your Fingers?
As a beginner, it’s more likely to experience finger soreness for the first couple of weeks or even months of playing the guitar, or in some cases even some bruising.
However, it’s highly unlikely for strings to cut your fingers. In fact, you should not have bleeding fingers from playing the guitar, because that means you’ve been practicing way too much and pressing the strings more than you should.
I know in the Summer of ‘69 Bryan Adams sang about playing the guitar until his fingers bled, and while I can relate to the sentiment, I think this is a very bad way of introducing someone to this musical instrument or music for that matter.
That being said, getting a cut on your finger or hand from a guitar or even a violin string is still possible, especially if you’re not using the right technique, and if a string ends up snapping mid-play or while you’re stringing the guitar.
I’ve never experienced a serious cut myself, but under really unlucky circumstances you might end up with a superficial wound on your fingers and hands that will sting.
When incidents like that happen during strumming, fingerpicking, or any other complex technique, I usually bet my money that it was a novice guitarist who haven’t had the time to develop proper calluses on their fingertips, or the gig they were performing was balls to the wall and super aggressive.
How Can Guitar Strings Cut Your Fingers?
The chances of you getting a serious or even a superficial cut from your guitar strings are small, but this doesn’t mean it can’t happen at all.
So, let’s see how this could actually happen.
Sharp String Ends
I love my guitars, and I actually enjoy the process of changing their strings, but I have to admit there is one thing that I hate about this process with a passion and that’s sharp string ends.
No matter how careful I am, there’s always one tip that will end up poking me. Even though the puncture wound is rarely that deep and it barely produces any blood, I tear up every time.
Occasionally I will also poke my fingers on a sharp end when my hands are near the tuning pegs. I do try to cut the ends short and tuck away the tip so it doesn’t get in the way, but sometimes I simply can’t escape it.
Even though the puncture wounds are mostly superficial, I’ve had more serious incidents or at least more painful ones.
That’s when the edge actually punctured the tender flesh that’s close to my nail, almost under it and another time it pierced my fingertip so hard that I couldn’t play for a day because of the soreness.
Another way a guitar string can end up poking you is when it breaks. Because this usually happens suddenly and with enough force that the sharp end can end up lodging itself in the hand that was closest.
Now again I want to mention that this is not something common, and you really have to be unlucky to get a severe stab.
The most common injury from a broken string is when it snaps against you and it ends up whipping you across the hand and in some cases your face leaving a red mark or even a thin cut that looks more like a scratch. And oh, how that stings!
This might not be a string cut, but I think sharp frets are something worth mentioning because this happened to me at the beginning of my guitar journey.
One of the first guitars I’ve ever owned was mass-produced by a company that didn’t necessarily care about manufacturing high-quality instruments.
One of the frets was actually cut improperly, but even that didn’t cause my finger to bleed, even though it easily could have. Instead, it was the end of the fret which was much sharper and it protruded in a way that a cut was inevitable.
Perhaps if my hands were more used to guitar playing and the skin was tougher then this wouldn’t have happened, but I’m not so sure about that.
Another reason why you might be experiencing pain and even small cuts on your fretting hand is that you’ve been keeping your guitar in the wrong humidity conditions.
If the air humidity is too low then the fretboard can shrink and the frets will end up protruding more than usual and in turn, you can get scraped. Let’s not forget that the strings might also end up breaking and cutting you.
String Material and Gauge
String quality is important not because expensive strings are better but because good quality strings are less likely to break and possibly cut you.
By saying that I don’t mean you have to spend tons of money on your guitar strings, there are plenty of affordable string options that are well made.
Another thing you need to be more aware of is the kind of strings you want to use, especially as a beginner.
Steel strings are much harder to press, and they are sharper compared to nylon strings. So, if your fingers haven’t developed calluses, or/and you decide to use a technique you’re not so familiar with then you might end up scraping or even cutting yourself.
Additionally, the high E string is usually the thinnest and sharpest and it could be the one responsible for that cut.
Gauge is another thing that some people keep mentioning, and depending on how experienced a guitar player you are and how adept your fingers are, you might find heavy gauge strings or light gauge strings more irritating.
While you might get hurt from simply strumming your guitar it’s more common to experience injuries with intense guitar techniques like bending.
Bending is a technique most commonly performed on electric guitars in which the guitarist pushes a string out of its normal alignment. It’s especially popular in rigs with lighter strings like the Fender’s Telecaster or Gibson’s Les Paul.
It may sound easy but, just by looking at this clip of David Gilmour, you’ll realize that it only seems easy.
This technique is probably not going to give you a cut, especially if you’re doing it right, but it could pull the flesh of your finger too far from your nail as you push on the string.
This injury is more like a tear between the nail and fingertip, and it can hurt so bad that you won’t be able to play for a couple of days.
I’m not going to lie feeling some pressure when bending strings is not unusual, and your fingers do get used to it and become more resilient. However, if you push too hard or your nail gets caught on the string then you might end up with some serious bleeding.
Sliding is another technique that if done wrong could leave you bleeding. This technique is often seen in blues. The guitarist uses a slide that is fitted on one of their fingers on their fretting hand and as you can imagine they hold it against the strings and the fret beneath them to produce the right pitch.
The rest of the fingers are supposed to lightly graze the strings. Obviously, most strings are not sharp enough to cut your fingers as you slide along their surface, but if the quality of the strings is not good or you play more aggressively than your fingers can handle then you could scrape or even cut your fingers.
You can hear the beauty of sliding in this Led Zeppelin song.
If I were to try and play like Jimmy Page a few years back I wouldn’t be surprised to find my fretting fingers bruised or even bleeding!
How To Stop Guitar Strings From Cutting Your Fingers?
As you can see guitar strings can cause a cut or a puncture wound here and there, some more serious than others, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do, or that the guitar is simply a savage instrument you have to accept.
So, let’s see how you can avoid cutting your fingers on your guitar!
Change Your Strings Properly
If you are still a rookie when it comes to replacing your guitar strings then there might be a few things you’re doing wrong.
Of course, even an experienced guitarist can end up cutting themselves during this process, I still do, but I have more control now than I did back then.
The first thing you need to do is have all your tools and most importantly the right tools beside you, so you don’t end up getting up every minute looking for one.
Remember to take your time, I would advise you to pick a moment in the day when you’re without company if possible and that you actually have enough time to change the strings without rushing.
The most important tip is to start by detuning the first string. The reason why you need to lower the string tension before cutting it is so it doesn’t snap back and whip you with all its force.
It’s also advisable to destring one string at a time because you don’t want the tension exerted on the neck to fluctuate too much since that can hurt the neck.
Remember to coil the removed strings and store them in a package. Don’t leave them laying on the couch or the floor or any other string leftovers for that matter, because it’s easy to forget about them, but those sharp edges won’t forget about you.
Be Careful Around String Ends
Speaking of string ends, it might be difficult to avoid the sharp tip of a string that just snapped, but when you are replacing your guitar strings you can make sure that your fingers are not going to be exposed to the sharp ends of your fresh set.
If you choose to leave a longer tip at the end of your string because you want to reuse them you need to carefully wind the excess around the tuning knob multiple times.
Winding alone won’t keep you from poking your fingers though, so you also need to cut the tips of the string off with a plier. With my favorite tool, the needle-nose plier, you can reach into tight spots and make sure that the ends are no more than a centimeter or two long.
As I’ve already mentioned you need to be careful when cutting the ends because they can easily end up on the floor and get lost, especially if you have a carpet and these little sharp fellas will also find a way to poke you when you least expect it!
Work On Your Guitar Technique
Learning how to play the guitar comes with its upside downs and you can expect that pain will also be a part of this journey.
Finger soreness and the occasional bruising are to be expected at the start but strings will hurt less and less as your fingers develop calluses, as well as strength and dexterity.
That being said, this is the moment to be careful, cause once you start feeling less pain and you become more familiar with your guitar, that’s when you can get too cocky and reckless, and I’m speaking from experience.
It’s important to know your limits, you can’t play guitar for hours on end without a break, because that’s how you end up hurting your fingers.
If you’re self-taught and you want to try new techniques like bending and sliding, but you notice that you end up getting hurt each time then I would actually recommend taking a few classes.
A teacher can correct the few mistakes you already might be making, like bad posture, perhaps you are not holding your guitar in a perfect position, or you are simply not using the right strings for said technique.
Small mistakes put together and combined with a more intense and complex guitar technique can end up hurting you, whether that’s a cut on your fingers or a scrapped knuckle.
I also want to note that when it comes to bending you might want to keep your nails at a certain length. Your nails are more likely to get caught if they’re too long, and there might be more painful pulling if the nails are too short, so a sliver of white should be enough.
What To Do If You Cut Your Fingers On String Guitars?
If you ever had a cat or you’ve experienced a healthy number of papercuts in your life, then you know that while little cuts and pokes can hurt, they are also easily forgotten.
Superficial guitar string cuts are no different, and the only thing I would suggest is to clean the wound and use a topical antimicrobial that is suitable for open wounds.
You also need to be careful when playing on old strings. My advice is to avoid them altogether but if you are craving to play a vintage instrument then make sure the strings don’t have any rust on them.
A small amount of rust is unlikely to cause a tetanus infection, the least it might do is turn your fingers black. That being said old and dirty strings could cause an infection nonetheless, especially if you are allergic to certain metals like nickel.
I also want to add that in some cases guitar strings can cause deeper cuts, whether that’s a broken string or the string’s sharp end. So, if the cut is more serious and you start bleeding then you need to first clean the wound and then apply a sterile dressing
If the bleeding is serious and it’s not stopping, or you notice that the area is not healing properly then make sure to get it checked by your doctor.
Playing the guitar doesn’t always come easy, especially if you’re just getting started, but that doesn’t mean you should experience pain. Sure, finger soreness is to be expected but cuts not so much.
Of course, accidents can happen, strings may snap and your bending and sliding technique might need some work, but that doesn’t mean that cutting your fingers on your strings should be a constant thing.
So, learn how to change your strings safely, protect your fingers from the sharp ends, and most importantly work on your techniques.
After all, you need to produce music, not screams of agony!