If you have small hands or short fingers, choosing the right guitar is crucial to making sure it’s comfortable to play.
The best guitar for you is the one you stay with and are happy to play. When you have small hands, some guitars can feel uncomfortable or even painful to play. This guide will help you find the best guitar for your little hands.
I will also explain the important aspect of playing guitar with small hands.
There is no denying the fact that in the guitar world, the biggest hands rule the chicken coop. It took me 15 years of diligent practice to figure it out.
No matter how much effort I put into my daily guitar routine, which has always been enough, there will always be certain things that my little hands will never be able to do.
Playing the guitar with small hands was the crux of this matter, and my own appendages were my kryptonite.
Table of Contents
Are your hands too small?
You may be concerned that your hands are too small to play the guitar or that you are not progressing because of your hands. Let’s take a look at whether that is true.
Maybe you tried to play some chords but you had a hard time putting your fingers in the right places. It seems almost impossible to stretch your fingers to get them into position. Or maybe you feel pain in your hands when you play and you worry that your little hands just don’t measure up.
Over the years, I have had many students come to me worried that they may not be able to play the guitar because their hands are too small.
The real problem is not the size of your hands, the real problem is that the guitar requires you to stretch your hands in an unusual way.
If you have pain or find it difficult to reach while you play, part of the problem is due to the size of your hands. But the main problem is training your hands to stretch correctly.
In this guide, I will first see how it feels to play different guitars, but then I will focus my attention on the real problem you have to deal with when you have small hands. I will show you the exercises that you can use to train your hands to stretch correctly.
As you will learn in this guide, small hands are perfectly capable of playing the guitar when properly trained.
Full-sized guitars and small hands
While you may think small guitars are your only option, let’s take a closer look to see if that’s true.
Let’s look at full-size guitars and what they like to play when you have small hands.
While many people may want to skip this option right away, it’s worth considering as some full-size guitars may be comfortable to play, even with small hands or short fingers.
Despite what its name suggests, all full-size guitars aren’t exactly the same size. There can be a big size difference between different “full size” guitars.
Some full-size guitars will feel impossible to play when you have small hands, while others will feel surprisingly comfortable.
Guitar neck with small hands
First, look at the length of the red highlighted boxes on the different guitars. You will notice that there is a big difference in length between different guitars.
Not all necks are the same length. As I explain in detail in my Guide to Guitar Scale Length, there can be a big difference in neck length between different full-size guitars.
These are all considered full-size, but you can see the big difference between each guitar. The Fender Jaguar or Gibson Les Paul will feel much easier to play than the Ibanez.
The length of the neck affects the proximity of the frets. The longer the neck, the greater the gap between the frets. This is why many people with small hands tend to prefer small guitars. The frets are closer together, so your hands don’t need to be stretched as much.
But length is not the most important point when looking at the neck. The most important point when you have small hands is the width and radius of the neck.
Some guitars have a thick, chunky neck, making it difficult for small hands to wrap around. Imagine trying to wrap your hand around a baseball bat, this is what some guitars will feel like when you have small hands.
Playing guitar with small hands
You can also spend a few minutes on Instagram watching little 8-year-olds tear apart the guitar like they’ve been playing for decades. If you apply the following tips, it is definitely possible to become a great guitarist despite having small hands.
Having smaller hands usually only presents problems in the worrying hand, so the following 12 tips are primarily focused on avoiding that obstacle.
1. Consider buying a ¾ size guitar
There are a ton of ¾ or “travel” size guitars currently on the market and they are perfect for people with smaller hands. Popular models include Little Martin, Ed Sheeran’s signature Martin, Baby and Big Baby Taylor, and Fender’s Travel acoustic guitars.
As the name implies, ¾-size acoustic guitars are just that: a guitar that’s the size of a regular-size acoustic. The best thing about these guitars is that they generally come with a shorter neck length that will allow you to stretch across different frets more easily. They are also very light and compact, making them truly portable.
I remember the time I went to buy my first guitar. Picking up the heavy full-size guitars was daunting, and I probably played 10 or 15 of them before I found my true love: Little Martin LX1E.
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It is a three-quarter-size guitar, which means that the neck of the guitar is shorter and narrower than its full-size guitar. This makes traversing distant frets much easier since the space between them is smaller than normal.
Different guitar manufacturers and models may vary in size. I’d go to your nearest music store and pick up some smaller guitars and see how they feel.
In terms of sound quality, many of these tamaño-size guitars compare very well with their full-size counterparts. In fact, many of these smaller guitars sound so good that you can see them being used regularly by touring musicians.
Do a quick search of Ed Sheeran’s live performances and you’ll see that he often plays on his Little Martin acoustic guitar.
2. Finger-Stretching Exercises
You can find dozens of finger-stretching exercises online, some of which involve bending your fingers against the palm of your hand, against the wall, or using contrived gadgets.
I would avoid these exercises since practicing them does not give you experience in playing the instrument.
Other exercises are performed on the neck of the guitar. If you decide to try the finger stretching exercises, practice them on your guitar.
Just as athletes stretch to improve their flexibility, musicians must also stretch regularly. In fact, problems often arise due to a lack of flexibility rather than a lack of finger length.
Stretching also helps warm your hands before playing, which can help you avoid possible injuries related to playing the guitar. Start all your practice sessions with a simple stretching routine. You can start by massaging your hands and forearms, then stretch your wrists and each finger.
It’s also fun to find a song that you like and that runs through your neck and learn it. The most beneficial thing for me when training my hands to stretch was learning the Satellite by Dave Matthews Band, which spans from the fourth fret to the eighth fret, which helped me familiarize myself with the feeling of using all four fingers on 4 frets.
A useful tool that I used as a beginning guitarist was finger strengthening. It’s a button grip tool that, when held down, mimics the resistance of holding a guitar neck and playing strings.
The buttons are equipped with springs for resistance – it’s like doing dumbbell curls with your fingers.
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I kept mine and used it whenever I could, and after a few weeks my fingers were noticeably stronger, and the stiffness of the buttons also helped put my fingers on the tip.
This tool will not help increase the width that your fingers can go through the neck of a guitar, but it will help you achieve the strength necessary to play the guitar with smaller hands and the smaller muscles that come with them.
3. Use your pinky finger
This may sound like strange advice, but I can’t count the number of times I’ve come across guitarists who avoid using their little fingers. If you have big hands, it’s easy to get away with it without using your little finger, since you can always stretch your ring finger to worry about those notes; but if you have small hands, you will have to get used to using all your fingers.
As I discovered over the years trying to replicate the left-hand fingering of my favorite guitarists, the standard finger-to-index finger range expected from lesson books is sometimes physically impossible for my little hands.
Traditionally, guitar lessons teach us to use our left little finger as a kind of afterburner, a way of reaching notes that are outside of a typical four-fret box. This is universally true regardless of the size of the hand, but the little finger plays a much bigger role for guitarists with smaller hands.
If you are a guitarist with small hands, consider using your little finger in places generally designated for the ring finger. It doesn’t always work (minimal hand movement is still preferential), but it could be the difference between being able to play a particular role before accepting final defeat.
Of all the advice I have in this article, this is arguably the most difficult. Why? Because your little finger will always be the weakest finger on your left hand.
However, due diligence paid off: my legato is now much smoother and my solo ability has become significantly faster.
Moral of the story: incorporating more use of your little finger is not going to be easy, and it is not going to sound good during your first attempts. However, keep it up, and even the most difficult fingerboard patterns will become second nature.
4. Using a Capo Isn’t a Cop-Out
It is really frustrating when other guitarists talk trash about capos. For some reason, using a capo is considered a trap: an “easy way out.”
Well, I’m here to tell you that this feeling is complete nonsense. For those with smaller hands, bonnets can be a godsend. This is especially true if you are trying to play songs that incorporate open chord vocals, such as “Under the Bridge” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
It all comes down to how far your left hand can physically stretch. If you can’t show an open C chord shape on the third fret because your fingers won’t stretch as much today, then you will have the same problem tomorrow.
If you remove something from this article, leave it like this: If physical limitations prevent you from improving a certain song or technique, regardless of how much practice you put into it, then there’s nothing wrong with getting a little accessory-based help.
If you can’t play a song without a capo, then, of course, use a capo. Your audience won’t mind in any way.
5. Scale length and neck profile
When it comes to electric guitar, two things to keep in mind if you have smaller hands are the length of the guitar scale and the neck profile. Let’s talk about the length of the scale first.
The scale length of a guitar is the distance between the nut and the bridge, and different guitars use different scale lengths.
The way this translates to the fretboard is that guitars with shorter scale lengths have smaller frets, resulting in a fretboard that is easier to stretch your fingers.
A shorter scale length also allows you to make string curves with ease as there is less tension on the strings. If stretching across different frets is a problem for you, you will definitely want to go with a guitar with a shorter scale.
To measure the scale length of your own guitar, you can find the specifications of your guitar online, or you can measure the distance between the nut and the 12th fret and multiply that number by two.
For example, my Fender Telecaster has a distance of 12.75 inches from the nut to the 12th fret, and if I multiply that number by two, I will get 25.5 inches.
The reason we don’t measure directly from the nut to the bridge is that if you look at the rope saddles on the bridge, each saddle has a slightly different position.
If you’re curious about the different scale lengths of different guitars, most manufacturers provide their specs online.
6. Light-Gauge Strings
Like guitars, strings also come in different sizes. Or, thicknesses, rather.
If you find it difficult to pierce the strings of your guitar, resulting in a muted or unstable tone, you will benefit from lowering the gauge of the strings.
Players generally refer to the thickness of the string when referring to the gauge of the high string e. You may have heard the terms “10” or “12”, which means they are playing with a string package where the high E is 0.10 inch or 0.12 inch respectively.
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7. Utilize Every Finger
I fell into a trap learning to play the guitar by neglecting my little finger. He rarely used it when playing scales or chords. And I’m still suffering from the consequences, as my little finger is significantly weaker than the rest of my fingers.
If you are not practicing using your little finger, or any other finger, start now! Leaving one finger unused will result in inefficient and choppy play and uneven muscle strength in your hand.
This also applies to your thumb. Not all guitarists use their thumb to play the strings, but it may be easier to use it in the low E in certain situations.
8. Utilize Drop-D Tuning
Those who enjoy playing modern metal should immediately familiarize themselves with Drop-D tuning, which simply involves tuning the sixth string down one step (for standard tuning, it means dropping the string “E” to “D”).
Using Drop-D tuning is a great way to get a tasty riff from your guitar, but it doesn’t have to be strictly for “heavy” playing. Since Drop-D tuning allows you to play power chords with one finger on the lower two strings, it requires less stretch if you want to add additional notes on the higher strings.
This is especially useful when attempting suspended and minor trims on the lower three strings.
Drop-D tuning is also useful for classic boogie-woogie patterns, the chagrin of small-handed guitarists everywhere. Watch this video to see an example of what I’m talking about. Note the return of my indifferent puppy.
9. Incorporate Tapping Techniques
It’s tempting to rule out beating on the fretboard as an ’80s guitar hero trick, but it can be a life-saving technique if you’re a guitarist with little hands.
Think about it: having small hands restricts how far you can stretch on a fingerboard. By using two hands instead of one, it suddenly opens up more access between particular notes.
Confession time: Of all the techniques listed here, I use this one the least. Why? I’m honestly not a flashy player, and playing the fingerboard is the very definition of flash.
But if I have to play a note that is not within four frets in a particular section, you better believe that my right hand is quick on the task.
And hey, if you’re a flashy player, tapping your finger is a win-win situation. Sounds good, it is not particularly difficult to do and will impress your friends.
10. Higher frets are your friend
There’s no way to move – peeking around the top of the fretboard sounds amazing. It’s a tonal range that allows guitarists to really cut through the mix, and it’s where several iconic solo moments have happened. If it works for Joe Perry and Jimmy Page, it will work for you.
If you are a guitarist with smaller hands, here is a place where you really have an advantage. While players with big hands can feel tight anywhere beyond the twelfth fret, those of us with smaller hands should feel right at home.
So go ahead, familiarize yourself with the upward patterns of the twelfth fret. If you are a beginner, it will take a while to get used to it. Lesson books (and videos) generally ask you to start practicing a single note around the third or fifth fret and not even touch higher frets until much later in the curriculum.
You must still practice in this region, but there is no absolute rule that prohibits you from jumping forward and getting used to the higher register at the beginning of your training.
And if you are a guitarist with small hands, you will find that these higher frets allow you a much more comfortable (and fast) experience.
A final note on a higher fret: if you’re physically struggling with a part designated for the bottom of the fingerboard, try raising it one octave (12 frets).
Sure, you’re going to lose some of that bottom edge, but on a purely musical level, the notes will be exactly the same. Like my pinky tip, this isn’t going to work for everyone, but the pros outweigh the cons.
Watch the video to see an example. Note how nonchalant the dog is, I guess it can’t please everyone.
11. Get books to supplement you
The Internet is full of wonderful resources and also misinformation. To make sure you’re practicing things that will really help you, you can’t go wrong buying a published book with useful information.
Here are some that I recommend:
12. Practice guitar every day!
Okay, this will be totally obvious, but practicing the guitar every day is the only way you’ll ever get better on the instrument. This will always be true, regardless of hand size, but for guitarists with small hands, it is an absolute must.
It all comes down to physical science: playing the guitar requires muscular movement of the hands, and small hands are inevitably less powerful than larger ones.
Developing a daily practice routine allows you to improve muscle mobility, allowing your hands to do more with less effort.
For my money, I have found Troy Nelson’s Guitar Aerobics an invaluable practice book.
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It features a different practice riff for each day of the week, focusing on a single guitar technique for each day. If you’re like me, I recommend incorporating it (or a similar guided practice tool) into your daily practice routine.
The reason I list this as one of these tips is simple: It’s easy to blame the inefficient guitar for playing in small hands, but there will be genuine times when hand size isn’t the problem.
It took me several years of practice before I realized that certain things were literally beyond my reach, the classic “boogie-woogie” pattern I mentioned above is one of them, and I adapted accordingly.
Sometimes the honest practice of kindness is all it takes to overcome bad guitar performance.
Why you should consider a full-size guitar
The advice I see on other websites is that if you have small hands, buy a small guitar. While you can definitely consider those guitars, let’s see why I recommend a full-size guitar and why it may be a better option for you.
A full-size guitar won’t suit everyone, but from my experience as a guitar teacher, I can tell that it will suit most people with small hands.
If you’ve been learning with a full-size guitar and searched this article to find a smaller guitar, I recommend spending some time with these exercises before ditching your current guitar.
Unless the size of the guitar body causes problems or a thick neck that makes it difficult to reach the strings, the exercises will significantly improve your hand’s ability to reach out and play what you want.
If you want to switch to a smaller guitar to make things easier for you, that’s perfectly fine. But hopefully, this guide has explained why you shouldn’t think of small hands as a limitation when it comes to playing the guitar.