Most guitarists start on an acoustic guitar, then graduate to an electric. Acoustic guitars are notoriously harder to play, with high action and heavy strings. It’s common to question if you’re pressing down on the strings with the exact right amount of pressure.
You should not have to press down hard on electric guitar strings. Beginners may need to accustom themselves to what a “normal” amount of pressure is. If you continue to struggle with pressing down on the strings, you may want to look at your action.
This article will help you figure out how to determine how hard to push down on your electric guitar strings.
Why Electrics Are Easier To Play Than Acoustics
If you’ve played both acoustic and electric guitars, then you know that acoustics are much harder to play. Some guitarists even learn all of their songs on an acoustic first, the idea being that playing on an electric later will be much easier by comparison.
This has to do with the relatively low pressure that must be applied to the electric’s strings to make them ring out.
Electrics are, in part, so much easier to play because they have much lower action. The action of a guitar is the distance between its fretboard and strings. High action requires guitarists to press down much harder as they play, which can be difficult even for seasoned players.
Another reason for the comparatively ease of playing an electric is its thinner strings.
Electric strings usually have gauges of .011 through .050 (measured in one-thousands of an inch). Acoustics, on the other hand, are usually .013 through .056 gauge. While this may not seem like much, it can make a big difference when practicing for hours on your much softer fingertips!
Electrics are much more forgiving, and while you’ll still develop the callouses you need to play comfortably, you may experience a bit less pain if learning on one.
Acoustics Have No Effects
Acoustics lack one critical advantage of electric guitars: amplifiers and effects pedals. Distortion and the power of the pickups are how electric guitars pick up the sound, minimizing the need to press quite so hard.
Acoustics rely on their hollow bodies to project their sound. This is why it’s important to be precise and firm when pressing down acoustic strings.
Why Beginners Tend To Press Too Hard
All this means that people who transition from acoustics to electrics are very likely to push on the strings too hard, making their lives much more difficult. This shouldn’t discourage beginners from learning on an acoustic since the challenge can actually help you learn faster. Besides, pressing too hard is a common problem for all newbies, not just people who learn on electrics.
Even new guitarists who start on an electric can make this mistake, after all. Practicing on an electric that isn’t plugged in can be more convenient since it doesn’t make any noise and won’t disturb anyone, but it also makes it difficult to get a good handle on the quality of your tone. Make sure you’re not only playing your electric guitar unplugged (Question: Do you need a left-hand or right-handed guitar?), so you can hear yourself.
How To Learn How Hard To Press on Strings
Applying the correct amount of pressure is a matter of getting a feel and familiarity with your instrument. The best way to do this is to play. However, you run the risk of damaging your hand or instrument if you press too hard.
Fortunately, there is a way to test how hard you need to push on the strings quickly:
- Make sure your guitar is plugged in, in tune, and has your preferred brand and gauge of strings on it. If this is your first electric, you may want to write down what gauge of strings you’re using so that you start getting a feel for your preferences.
- Place your finger at the lower E string at the fifth fret. Just rest your finger lightly on the string, and don’t apply any pressure. Pluck the string. No note should ring out, just a dull thud.
- Slowly apply pressure, plucking the string as you do so. Eventually, the thud should turn into a clear, ringing sound. When you hear a tone you like, stop. That’s how hard you should press!
- Repeat these steps with each of the other five strings on the fifth fret. Don’t try to guess the right amount of pressure each time; slowly build up until the string rings out. This will keep you from guessing wrong.
- Repeat this process on the sixth fret if you still feel uncertain about how hard to press. Continue until you think you have a good sense of the amount of pressure you need to make the strings ring out.
That’s it! You may want to consider doing this test before each practice session to remind yourself not to press too hard.
Problems With Pressing Too Hard on Guitar Strings
Playing too hard can make the experience of playing the guitar miserable. It can also actually be hazardous to your health and your guitar.
How could pressing too hard hurt you? You’ll find those answers below.
Increases Likelihood of Injury
The more you play with exceeding force, the more likely you are to hurt yourself. According to this Healthline article, playing the guitar too hard can cause blunt trauma on your fingertips beyond regular callous development or even give you tendinitis.
Wears Down Your Guitar
You’re also in danger of causing excessive wear and tear to the neck and fretboard of your electric. Electric guitars will wear down with too much force, which will dull your tone and your instrument’s look. You don’t want to have to buy your second electric only a few years after buying your first one!
How To Make Your Electric Easier To Play
Maybe you’ve tried to avoid pressing down on your electric too hard and are still struggling to get a clear tone. Maybe you’ve even tried the test mentioned above for your guitar pressure and found that you had to press harder than you should.
If that’s the case, there are still things you can do to make your guitar easier to play.
Change to a Lower Gauge String Set
The easiest thing to do is lower the gauge of strings you’re using.
If your guitar is set up with a Heavy (.012-.054) or Medium (.011-.050) set of strings, you may want to consider switching to a Light (.010-.046) or Super Light (.090-.042) set. This will make the strings easier to play no matter what.
The Ernie Ball Super Slinky Nickel Wound Strings come in three- and six-packs, with gauges of .009 through .042. These strings have a cult following among famous musicians and are extremely easy to play.
Adjust the Action
Maybe the action on your guitar is too high. This will make playing much more difficult, and you’ll be forced to press a little harder on your guitar than what is good for it.
One way to check if your guitar’s action is too high is by playing an open note on one string, then playing the same string with a finger on the twelfth fret. This should be the same note an octave apart. If the higher note is sharp or slightly too high, then you should adjust the action.
This YouTube video gives a clear, brief explanation of how to adjust your electric guitar’s action:
There’s just no need to press down too hard on electric guitar strings if you play on a guitar with a standard setup. It can be tempting to press much harder than necessary when you’re new and inexperienced. Make sure you’re applying the right amount of pressure when you play.
Above all, pressing too hard on the guitar strings will make it much more difficult to learn, and therefore can be discouraging (relevant question: how far can you bend a guitar string?). Taking the time to figure out how hard to press the strings will ensure you’re getting the most out of your playing!