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Old 08-17-2013, 11:54 PM   #1
Monkeyleg
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Elderly guitarists: dealing with cramped fingers?

No doubt younger players get cramped fingers after prolonged periods of playing, but I suspect that older guitarists may be more in tune with my problem.

I've now been playing for 17 months. I've made a lot of progress, and practice a lot. The problem is that I reach a point where my wrist and fingers hurt so much that I have to stop. I can run through a song that requires finger strength (barre chords, bends, etc) maybe three or four times before my fingers cramp up so badly that I can't play the song any more.

My wrist also gets to hurting so much that I have to stop. I'm careful not to bend the wrist too much, but some chords demand a certain amount of bending.

I can take a break for a couple of hours, and play a little more, but the cramping and wrist pain comes sooner.

I'd really like to continue with my current pace, and try to be a decent player before my mind or body goes completely.

Any suggestions from other elderly players as to how to handle this?
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Old 08-18-2013, 12:17 AM   #2
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Do you warm up before playing?
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Old 08-18-2013, 12:27 AM   #3
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Yes. I start doing scales slowly, then go to a couple of different pentatonic scales with a metronome at 80 bpm. I then do some finger dexterity exercises. In all, I'll do about half an hour of exercises before I start to play a song.

I'll also stretch elbow and wrist tendons, and do some finger stretching (I have tendon damage in both elbows).
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Old 08-18-2013, 01:14 AM   #4
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Hmmm then it's something else, could it be bad posture? or...

What guitar do you play and what string gauge do you use with it?
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Old 08-18-2013, 02:26 AM   #5
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I have two Strats. The one I practice with and play about half the songs with is set up with normal .010 to .046 or .048. The other, for bluesy stuff, has .012 to .058 on it.

The one with the thicker strings doesn't give me as much fret hand pain, as I don't do many barre chords with it. My pick hand gets a little bit sore after playing a long time, as it takes a bit more effort to play those songs.

I'm really conscious of my posture, so I don't think it's that. I wore an Ace bandage on the fret wrist for the first year or so to keep myself from picking up bad habits as far as bending the wrist too much.
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Old 08-18-2013, 11:42 AM   #6
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What is the tuning on the strat with12's?
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Old 08-18-2013, 12:21 PM   #7
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Age should not really restrict you to that extend. I would see a doctor to exclude arthrosis or rheumatism. If thats not the case with proper technique you should do fine. Don't overextend with barre chords. Do more hendrix style chords instead.
Why don't you try 09 strings if bending causes pain? You don't play long enough for thick strings to have that much of an impact. You improve your tone every week you play more than 12 strings do.

Edit: Really cool btw to learn an instrument at progressive age. I think it conserves mind and social life.
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Old 08-18-2013, 12:47 PM   #8
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The tuning on the heavy strings is a half step down. (SRV).

There's all sorts of things that start to hurt when you get older, even parts you're not using any more than usual.

I'm just hoping to hear from some older players who have experienced pain and what they did to address the problem.

If I don't play barre chords, then I can't play the Stones songs I like. Those and SRV are my favorites.

The lighter strings don't have the same tone, as everyone knows. I've gone to great lengths (amp, pickups, strings, speakers) to get a certain tone. The bending is part of the physical part of the songs. Think Pride and Joy. There's a lot of finger work in that song for someone just getting started.
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Old 08-18-2013, 04:17 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Monkeyleg
The tuning on the heavy strings is a half step down. (SRV).

There's all sorts of things that start to hurt when you get older, even parts you're not using any more than usual.

I'm just hoping to hear from some older players who have experienced pain and what they did to address the problem.

If I don't play barre chords, then I can't play the Stones songs I like. Those and SRV are my favorites.

The lighter strings don't have the same tone, as everyone knows. I've gone to great lengths (amp, pickups, strings, speakers) to get a certain tone. The bending is part of the physical part of the songs. Think Pride and Joy. There's a lot of finger work in that song for someone just getting started.



I'd lighten those strings up. Those strings are insane, evens half step down. You need to keep in mind you started late in life, there is a reason why those guys are pros, and realize you will never capture a tone completely.

Billy Gibbons was told by BB King that those heavy strings make you work to hard. Back in the day that was all they had. Billy has killer tone and uses 7's. if you can't do what you need to do with 9's or 10's on, you can't do it with 12's. sorry to burst your bubble.
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Old 08-18-2013, 05:01 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Monkeyleg
No doubt younger players get cramped fingers after prolonged periods of playing, but I suspect that older guitarists may be more in tune with my problem.

I've now been playing for 17 months. I've made a lot of progress, and practice a lot. The problem is that I reach a point where my wrist and fingers hurt so much that I have to stop. I can run through a song that requires finger strength (barre chords, bends, etc) maybe three or four times before my fingers cramp up so badly that I can't play the song any more.

My wrist also gets to hurting so much that I have to stop. I'm careful not to bend the wrist too much, but some chords demand a certain amount of bending.

I can take a break for a couple of hours, and play a little more, but the cramping and wrist pain comes sooner.

I'd really like to continue with my current pace, and try to be a decent player before my mind or body goes completely.

Any suggestions from other elderly players as to how to handle this?



You could try a bucket of warm water, about 42C for a bout 1 minute and give your hands a massage while still in the water. I do this every day before playing.

Every time a go through a SRV phase I end up with a hand injury. They say he had a killer handshake.


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Old 08-18-2013, 05:01 PM   #11
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I agree you are using too heavy a string gauge. You wouldn't try to lift 400lbs right off the bat because the bodybuilder you like can, would you? Stupid example, but you should get the point.

Go with lighter strings until your hands can get used to it. I remember using 8s when I started. I've been playing for 30 years now and pretty much can do what I want gauge wise. It doesn't just happen right away though. If you insist on keeping the heavy strings, you'll just have to accept the discomfort. Not to mention you are losing out on more play time because of unnecessary pain.

Also, your tone is not from your equipment as much as you would like to think. SRV would sound exactly like SRV on a $100 amp and guitar, using 7s. Don't get hung up on matching a certain person's tone. If it were as easy as buying specific gear, everyone would be able to sound like him.


You are doing everything else right it seems. Stretching and warming up etc. Try washing some dishes with hot water before you play. Or just soak them, but might as well be productive while you do it


Buy lots of Advil, have fun. If your not having fun or are hurting yourself, what's the point?
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Old 08-18-2013, 05:15 PM   #12
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Well, I'm only 22 but I have some experience with the issues here.

You seem to get things like posture, so that's a really important thing down right there- I have actually injured my wrist/hand from playing barre chords with a bent wrist before. That was back in January, and it still hasn't healed because I use my left hand all the time. Good job on your part!

This might just be one of the most demanding things to practice, but economy of motion is VERY important for not injuring yourself/increasing endurance with guitar playing. Why move your hands all over the place when you can play the same thing with one quarter the effort?

Economy of motion usually seems to be brought up when people are asking about how they can play 10+ notes per second, but it is a big deal in all guitar techniques. Just practice barre chords while keeping your hands as comfortable and relaxed as possible, trying to only use the bare minimum strength required to hold the chord. Just keep exercising your hands/wrists, warming up before playing, and stopping when you're getting sore. You should be able to continue to improve your endurance not only from physical exercise, but mentally refining your technique as well.

In my opinion, the mental aspect of guitar is way more important than the physical- you can make much larger improvements through intellectual means rather than physical effort, but you still need hands that work!



As for the thick strings on your other guitar... those are pretty massive for Eb tuning!

I use a custom set of 12-60 strings for C tuning, 3 notes lower than Eb. I use thicker strings like this to get a lower action without fret buzz and a thicker tone. Also, I find picking to be more accurate with thicker strings because they don't move around as much. Of course, bends are going to take more strength. At the same time, thicker strings aren't as "sharp" (I mean this as in cutting, not tone) so they don't mess up your fingers the same way.

So yeah, I'd say thicker strings could definitely help out a bit for lead-type playing unless lots of bending or vibrato is involved. If the guitar itself is fine like that and you like it, it's good. I'd imagine you can get the strings really low to the frets on that guitar so you don't have to press down much as well.

I hope something I have said was useful. Have fun!

EDIT: Personally, I find chords more difficult and much more physically demanding so I don't really see much of a problem with the more bluesy guitar's strings. It's also better to take a bunch of tiny breaks while playing than one big, sore break.
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Old 08-18-2013, 05:30 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Monkeyleg

If I don't play barre chords, then I can't play the Stones songs I like. Those and SRV are my favorites.

The lighter strings don't have the same tone, as everyone knows. I've gone to great lengths (amp, pickups, strings, speakers) to get a certain tone. The bending is part of the physical part of the songs. Think Pride and Joy. There's a lot of finger work in that song for someone just getting started.


Sure you can, you can produce a similar effect with 5 string and other smaller chords. Most blues players prefer them anyway. I'm not saying never do them but exchange some of them.

Light strings don't have the same tone but players that don't play on a high level sound better on lighter strings nevertheless because of better phrasing bending vibrato.
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Old 08-18-2013, 06:59 PM   #14
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As I mentioned in an earlier post, it's the barre chords on the Strat with the lighter strings that give me the most aches. Maybe it's because I can go through a song quickly, so I'll play it more in a practice session than I will something like Pride and Joy. It takes me 40 minutes to go through that one twice.

When I finish a song on the Strat with the heavy strings, my hands will ache a bit, but a rest buys me another couple of plays. After two or three plays in a row, I just start screwing up.

I screw up the songs on the light-stringed strat because the barre chords and wrist bends make me ache a lot more. Brown Sugar, Start Me Up, Can't You Hear Me Knockin' and Ron Wood's lead in Stay With Me are all really demanding as far as finger pressure for the barre's.

I'll give the warm water a try, and see what happens.

It's not arthritis. I've had that checked. I think it's starting so late in life.
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Old 08-19-2013, 06:52 PM   #15
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Here's what the onset of arthritis looks like. These are Keith Richards' hands today.



That's what my mother's hands looked like as her arthritis progressed. By the end her fingers were bent sideways at the middle knuckles.

I don't have that problem.
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Old 08-19-2013, 08:09 PM   #16
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That's good that that is not your problem. It doesn't change the fact you ate using too heavy of strings for your hand strength and experience.
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Old 08-20-2013, 09:04 AM   #17
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I'm 66 and have no problems with facility whatever.

Most all such problems can be laid to the mechanics of playing.... Either:

Your playing position is terrible and you're bending your wrist too much....

Your guitar's action is severely in need of attention... You're using too much effort to hold the strings down... Or....

You have gotten into the habit of pressing too strongly on the strings to begin with.

It should not be difficult... A well-set-up instrument played properly should not require a huge amount of effort.

Another standard technique is when playing barres is to strike the chord and then instantly let the hand relax, clamping down again in time for the next stroke.
Standard jazz rythm playing technique.
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Old 08-20-2013, 06:11 PM   #18
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Thanks again for the replies.

I've been playing with the heavy strings for a year now. I don't notice that it takes any unusual effort to do bends or such, but I do notice a difference when I go to the other guitar.

I have the action and the truss rods on both set to where the strings are just above the point where they'd cause fret buzz.

I think the problem is probably what Bikewer is talking about. I know that I squeeze the neck a lot when doing Stones songs. I'll try backing off and see at what point the strings don't ring out properly.
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Old 08-20-2013, 06:50 PM   #19
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Poor Keith Richards! I had no idea he had arthritis. Good luck Monkeyleg. I wonder if you're pushing yourself too hard? Even a 20 year old will get aches and pains if they overwork.
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Old 08-20-2013, 10:58 PM   #20
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I don't know that he has arthritis, but it sure looks like it.

My hands aren't as bad as when I first started playing 16 months ago. I'd wake up in the mornings and my fret hand would be swollen like the hand was sprained, and the knuckles hurt like mad.
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