Being a guitarist comes with many tricks of the trade. After hours spent practicing your favorite songs with the usual difficulties that come with the territory, like blistered fingertips and wrist fatigue, unexpected problems may arise.
It may be that some of these problems are the result of your guitar strings being hard to press down.
If your guitar strings are hard to press down, it could be due to problems with the nut slots, a high action, or using the wrong strings. A proper guitar set-up is required to remedy these problems. If you are a beginner, it could also be a lack of practice, poor playing method, or using a more advanced guitar.
In this article, we will discuss the various reasons your guitar strings may be difficult to press down, including a high action, string gauge, and playing technique.
What Causes Guitar Strings To Become Hard To Press Down?
A brand new guitar needs to be set up by a guitar technician. The technician will check the settings of the guitar and make sure they have ideal positioning. High nut slots, high action, or wrong strings can cause significant problems.
The action of a guitar is the space between the fretboard and the strings. A high action will require more pressure on the strings before the lines make contact with the frets, and this is the most common reason you’ll have to press down harder onto strings for clearer sound.
A few elements that cause a high action include shallow nut slots, a high bridge or saddle, or a warped neck. Luckily all these problems can be fixed by an experienced guitar technician.
Nut Slot Issues
A guitar’s nut slots are at the neck of the guitar. They are the grooves cut into the strip that holds the strings in position. This is where the strings angle from the machine heads onto the fretboard, helping to keep strings taught and straight.
If the nut slots are too shallow, the strings will be angled higher above the fretboard, contributing to a higher action. Nut slots can be altered by a professional to make the strings parallel to the fretboard again (source).
Saddle and Bridge Issues
A common problem that contributes to a high action is a high saddle or bridge of a guitar.
The bridge is the section at the lower portion of the guitar where the strings are held in by plugs. The saddle is where the strings rest over to hold them horizontally with the neck of the guitar.
The solution to the saddle’s contribution to a high action is to shave it, which will lower the strings. Saddles can become too low, with wear over time or after being shaved too often. If this occurs, you can have the bridge shaved to give the saddle clearance again.
In the case that both the saddle and the bridge are low while the action is still too high, it is worth analyzing the guitar neck to see if it is warped. It is always best to take the guitar to a guitar technician for proper diagnosis or the shaving procedure itself.
If the nut slots and bridge are both fine, the next issue to watch out for is a warped neck. It can go unnoticed but should be evident upon examination.
To diagnose a warped neck, examine the action of the guitar. The action should ideally be even from the neck to the bridge, and the strings should be perfectly parallel with the fretboard. If the strings aren’t parallel, your guitar’s neck is warped.
If the action is higher in the center of the neck, it could be due to a bowed neck. If this is what you suspect, contact a technician to evaluate the guitar and perform a straightening procedure.
String thickness refers to the gauge or diameter in inches of the string. The common terminology used is “heavy” for thick strings and “light” for thin strings, while there are also medium strings available.
Heavy strings are not ideal for beginners because the heavier the string is, the more pressure is required to push them down.
A heavy string will produce a louder, “thicker” sound, and metal guitarists or guitarists looking for a more vintage, original sound prefer them.
Medium-gauge guitar strings work well for almost any genre and produce a balanced sound. This size works particularly well for genres like blues and rock, where a heavier sound is needed while still requiring some light-handed guitar work.
Light strings require much less pressure and produce a more tinny sound compared to their thicker counterparts. There are three kinds: light, super-light, or extra super-light strings.
Lighter strings are great for beginners and genres like folk, country, or contemporary jazz and blues.
Decide which Strings are Right for You
Deciding which strings are right for you involves what sound you’re looking to achieve. If you’re unhappy with the sound of your guitar or the difficulty of the tension in the strings, changing strings could be your fix.
The gauge of the high E string serves as the marker for the string size of a package. The high E string might be anywhere from .010 inches to .013 inches, while the remaining strings will be thinner or thicker in proportion to the high E string.
Playing style and preference also plays a role in string choice. A player with a heavier hand or less intricate playing can opt for a medium or heavy string.
A beginner player or a player with a gentle playing style with more intricate picking will do better on a light or even super-light string.
The material of the string can also affect difficulty. Steel strings are more difficult to press down on and are sharper on the fingertips. Nylon strings are softer on the fingers and preferred by beginner guitarists (source)
Consider Guitar Type
Different guitars sometimes require different strings and don’t always come with the best strings for them. Depending on a few factors, it may be best to set up the guitar with strings suited to the use intended.
Classical or flamenco guitars are designed for nylon strings and can get damaged if fitted with steel strings. Acoustic guitars generally have steel strings; however, they can be equipped with nylon strings for beginners to prevent sore fingers.
Electric guitars only use steel strings and will also be best fitted with the gauge size to suit the playing style or genre of music intended for the guitar.
When deciding which strings will suit a guitar best, you should also take the body of the guitar into account. A smaller-bodied guitar will suit light strings, while a larger-bodied guitar will suit medium or heavy strings better.
Another overlooked component to consider is the age of the guitar. Overused or old vintage guitars might not be able to handle the tension of heavy strings anymore and could break under pressure. Extra-light strings will work better in this case.
Overall, opt for lighter strings, unless heavy strings are crucial to achieving the desired sound. Lighter or medium strings suit almost any guitar, but string gauge comes down to preference.
Only time and experience will tell which strings work best for each individual.
Sore or Weak Fingers
Although obvious to experienced players, strings will feel harder to press down on for unpracticed hands.
The first few weeks or months are the most painful for a new guitarist. Blisters on the fingertips can affect your ability to push down on the strings.
Playing is greatly improved once calluses have formed, toughening up the fingertips to endure the hours in contact with guitar strings.
The only thing that decreases discomfort from pushing strings down is practice! The more practice, the more developed the finger muscles become, and the more the fingertips will toughen up (source).
How Hard Should You Press on Guitar Strings?
Pressing on guitar strings the wrong way or with improper pressure can lead to odd sounding chords and sore fingers. Bad habits are hard to unlearn and can affect many aspects of guitar playing.
Learn the right way early on to avoid bad guitar-playing habits.
Signs You’re Not Using the Right Pressure
Using the wrong pressure on strings while playing guitar is generally a rookie mistake, or a bad habit left unremedied.
The most common sign of using the wrong pressure is playing notes that sound out of tune, even on a newly tuned guitar.
This could go unnoticed by beginners, which is why having lessons with a professional teacher is essential for all budding guitarists.
Another common sign of pressing down wrong on strings is hand, wrist, and finger pain while playing. Pressing down on the strings with a poor hand position or too much pressure will put extra strain on the hand.
Pain and strain during or after playing can be discouraging. This is an excellent reason to learn the most optimal position for the least effort and strain.
Playing slowly from pressing too hard is another sign of using the wrong pressure. Learning to play faster and more efficiently is the goal of many guitarists, so correct small mistakes like this to speed things along.
Practice Proper Pressure
The most important tip for beginners is to practice frequently and consistently. Consistent practice will make playing guitar a lot more fun in the long term and boost skills quicker.
The more playing that gets done, the faster wrists, hands, and fingers can adapt to the new movements.
A reliable technique to practice is pressing gently down on the string while picking it until it produces sound. This technique will reveal how much pressure is needed before the guitar will make a sound, significantly improving your feel for the guitar.
Become accustomed to playing with just enough pressure to hear notes clearly; you will use less elbow grease and play in a more sustainable, pleasant way.
Well-accustomed guitarists can play effortlessly without pain or blisters. Many beginners give up before getting to this point because they assume the pain will always be a part of playing.
Using finger exercises and stretches are a great way to quickly improve playing skill and comfort, negating pain in a beginner guitarist’s hands (source).
Practice a finger exercise every time you play to improve your playing ability, leading to more complicated songs.
They loosen up stiff finger muscles and can significantly enhance finger reach and range as well as preventing fingers from getting stiff afterward.
Finger exercises make the fingers far more nimble and quick, enhancing skill levels faster while also toughening the fingers better than regular playing.
There are many ways to make life easier as a guitarist. If your strings are difficult to press down, check the action, string gauge, and nut slots. Make sure you’re using proper technique and seek guidance where necessary.
Learning from professionals is always the best option, whether in person or online. However, getting to know your guitar like the back of your hand will always be a bonus, and will allow you to notice problems sooner.