Callouses on Right Hand

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by Ethan Marsh, Jul 16, 2021.

  1. Ethan Marsh

    Ethan Marsh

    Jul 16, 2021
    Clearly there are handfuls of forums like this, but I'm putting it out there anyway.

    I've been playing upright consistently for about 5 years now. In the past couple years I began to gig consistently up to 5 nights a week. I have always had an issue with developing callouses. It seems that no matter how much I play, or how much I let my fingers heal, when I have back to back gigs, I struggle to get through the week. My fingers will blister again and again in the same spots, sometimes over blisters that haven't even fully healed yet. I typically try to lance and drain them in an attempt to heal the skin, but it most often ends up coming off, which puts me back at square one with raw skin.
    Playing with the constant worry of intense pain upon every note is no fun, despite the unquantifiable amount I love music (playing jazz mostly by the way.) In recent months I've been incredibly busy playing, and its been really getting to me as I can't be fully present in the music when I am stressing about blistering.
    I've asked my professor at the conservatory, asked just about every bassist in town (nobody seems to experience it like I am) and even a physician and nobody can give me an answer that leads me to healing. I tend to have dry skin, so I have been recently using products like Vaseline and Working Hands to keep my skin moisturized after I am done playing.
    So I'm pretty much here out of desperation.. surely I should have those rock hard callouses by now, right?
    JRA likes this.
  2. You might want to look into taping your fingers before any blisters or consider wearing a cloth glove. Stressing over blisters violates your muse. Don't stop trying to fight them!
    JRA likes this.
  3. Ethan Marsh

    Ethan Marsh

    Jul 16, 2021
    Any recs on good cloth gloves to try that wont sacrifice tone? I will try anything at this point...
  4. turf3


    Sep 26, 2011
    Blisters are caused by friction.

    The countermeasure to friction is lubrication.

    Lubricate your pizz fingers. I use Chapstick.
  5. Have you ever heard of moleskin? That might be something to try. The gloves I've thought of trying are white cloth "finisher gloves" EDIT: white cotton gloves (there are plenty to choose from). If I need to reinforce, I prefer tape (usually gaffers or duct tape cuz I'm at a gig). Honestly, I feel for your discomfort. Two Advil prior to the gig and icing after the gig and more Advil might ease some of your pain. Another thing is softer touch with louder sound reinforcement.
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2021
    rickwolff and Ryan in PDX like this.
  6. I just switched to guts and solved my problem that way. That's what most other bassists I know recommended, and it's what I'd been wanting to do anyways.
  7. Ethan...What kind of strings? What kind of string action? What kind of bridge? What kind of amplification? What kind of jazz?
    JRA likes this.
  8. AGCurry

    AGCurry Supporting Member

    Jun 29, 2005
    St. Louis
    A dry callus is pretty slick, causing less friction IMO than hard wax. The Vaseline and other similar products may actually prevent callus formation by allowing the skin to soften. YMMV, of course.

    When I played six nights a week (on steel strings), I developed good calluses after the initial blistering, and I could play as long as I could stand up. I suspect that Ethan's plucking technique could use some adjustment, or perhaps he's trying to play too loud.

    And @Eli Brockway is right about gut strings, if you want to go that route.
  9. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Gold Supporting Member

    all of it!

    while i no longer play DB, i would recommend:
    - the right tape to prevent/mitigate ongoing problems, and
    - reassessment of string choices, plus
    - the right adjustments to technique, along with
    - the right amplification to keep up with what you're doing (i.e., the various ensembles and gig contexts).

    it's time to change things up, OP --- you've been suffering too long! good luck! :thumbsup:

    note: ethan is an accomplished player and a younger star on the scene in cincy! he's very, very good! ;)
    AndersLasson and Keith Rawlings like this.
  10. My teacher in college always told me to keep the blister dry and to not pop it. The puss inside helps the wound heal and if you leave it alone, your body will do most of the healing. If you keep your skin too soft, you inadvertently wind up preventing the callus to not properly form.

    I got blisters on the tips of my right hand index and middle finger after my first gig since the lockdown and I just kept playing with them for a good month. Keeping the blisters dry the whole time. Tape definitely can help ease the pain. I keep a roll of metolious climbing tape in my gig bag and it can stand about an hour of bass playing before it starts to fall off. After about a month and when they for sure weren't swollen, I popped the blisters, drained the puss, and removed the dead skin. Since then I've gotten nice strong calluses again that have been refusing to blister again.

    So to sum it up, keep the blisters dry and do not pop them!
    Slaphound and Keith Rawlings like this.
  11. Actually, friction blisters like we deal with are generally just filled with plasma. If they're actually filled with pus, they're infected, and you've got a whole new set of problems to deal with.

    But yeah, don't go and drain them unless they're massively problematic (or, well, full of pus instead, because then a clinician would drain it anyways). The plasma provides a good solution for new cells to grow, which then absorb it. If it's a blood blister, definitely don't go and drain it.

    Also, you don't want your skin too dry and hard, either, because that makes for calluses that are easier to lose and tissue underneath that can't withstand the shearing forces we're putting it through as easily.
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2021
    strigidae, AGCurry and Sean Riddle like this.
  12. dhergert

    dhergert Gold Supporting Member

    Jan 17, 2018
    Blue Zone, California
    Strings! Setup! Amplification! Maybe even technique???

    (It's a whole mindset that centers playing around preserving the hands.)
    JRA and Carl Hillman like this.
  13. CaseyVancouver


    Nov 4, 2012

    I have played a lot of gigs back to back, including 30 casuals in a month and 3 gigs in a day. I would say I pizz harder/louder than most.

    At my busiest, gig wise, my right hand fingers are soft. No hard callus or tough skin at all. I do get some callus on the knuckle from sliding against the ebony fingerboard. I normally never get blisters.

    When not real busy I may get an occasional blister. Like after this covid pause the first gig recently for me was 5 hours of jazz. And almost every tune I played a solo. I got a blood blister in the first hour lol. I played on.

    I always pop them with a pin and cut off the dead skin. Perhaps after a day or two. Sorry for the gruesome details. This is how I always have dealt with the issue. Tape has never worked.
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2021
  14. sean_on_bass


    Dec 29, 2005
    I tend to get blisters in a few situations:

    1. Haven't played much in awhile and suddenly have to play a gig
    2. Playing too hard/enthusiastically with a group
    3. Humidity causing friction on the strings, or being super sweaty

    Number 1 and 3 are what they are, but number 2 is pretty common and what i can actually control. It means i have to relax when i am playing and play with more sensitivity when i am maybe not cutting through the mix or the dynamics increase. No level of callous can contend with that. It's sort of like start struggling and you sink faster. Keep still/calm and you don't!
    dhm likes this.
  15. Keith Rawlings

    Keith Rawlings Gold Supporting Member

    Aug 3, 2019
    First of all don’t pop your blisters. Let them heal up on their own and they’ll get much stronger. Also I would only apply a little bit of a good hand lotion when you go to bed — something like Eucerin or Lubriderm works really well. Don’t go overboard or you’ll prevent those calluses from forming and sticking around.

    Secondly get a roll of Johnson and Johnson Coach Tape. This stuff has saved my hands many, many times during 3-4 3-hour gigs a weekend playing almost exclusively slap bass. The tape up process is as follows: start by tearing the tape down the middle to make two 3/4” strips and unroll enough to start at the top of your index finger knuckle with your finger bent, then go over the top, past the tip of your finger and then terminate where the finger meets the palm. Make sure to keep your finger bent so you get all of the freedom of movement you’re used to. Then start tearing off the other 3/4” strip side into smaller pieces that are just long enough to encircle each of the three segments of your finger. Boom - you are taped up and ready for hours of play even in the most humid of weather conditions. You can repeat for your middle finger (if you use a two finger technique); I usually only tape my third finger now as I slap with the Kevin Smith/Lee Rocker three finger slap technique. You’ll find you still may be sore after the show but you won’t be blistered. I also recommend wiping down your strings afterwards as sometimes you might get a bit of adhesive on the plucking area, but it doesn’t affect your sound whatsoever.

    As far as keeping and developing those calluses let me ask you a question? Do you like gardening? If you do, get outside on your days off and dig in the dirt, pull weeds, pot plants, and get those hands dirty and you’ll get some great bass player calluses very quickly. I know I have slap bass and gardening to thank for my calluses — plus gardening is hella relaxing. I enjoy it so much. I got a ton of tomatoes this year and it’s very rewarding. Good luck!

  16. ctrlzjones


    Jul 11, 2013
    For practise hours (before gigging): Chances are that you are using too much force. In my case the fingertips hurt before forming a blister. That is a sign to stop playing (I stop playing any time anything hurts and reflect upon what’s going wrong). And take on after a longer pause or the next day and then the time I can play without feeling irretated is a little longer. That’s a way to build callousses.

    When you feel irretations on stage the only thing you can do is to change details in your technique such as the places or angles where the fingers touch the strings or playing softer.
  17. CaseyVancouver


    Nov 4, 2012
    Interesting and funny that the responses contradict each other and are polar opposite advice.

    Reminds me of the thread where somebody asked how to determine a bass is a ‘D’ neck or ‘Eb’ lol.
    NOBODY could agree on what is correct!

    Ethan, find what works for you.
    Sam Reese, Quinn Roberts and AGCurry like this.
  18. mtto

    mtto Supporting Member

    May 25, 2008
    Los Angeles, CA
    If you play all of your solos with the bow, it takes some of the pressure off of your right hand fingers. That’s been my solution, especially on long jazz gigs.
  19. ricknote


    Aug 3, 2006
    I feel your pain! I’ve struggled to keep calluses for 40 years of playing bass. No matter how much I practice or how consistently perform, I don’t develop thick calluses ever. It can be a royal pain in the butt. I have been using this product for the last 10 years. It’s like superglue without the toxic ingredients. More like medical grade skin glue. It really helps a lot.
    Rock Tips Website
    Now that I’m older and don’t make my living as a musician anymore, I’ve Been playing with a pick a lot more lately. About 50-50 on most of my gigs.
    rickwolff likes this.
  20. You aren't by chance playing arco at all are you? If so, try wiping your strings down with a dry cloth after bowing. Excess rosin on the strings and consistent pizz can be a recipe for disaster.