The lighter touch

Moondog Wily

In Tune Wit Da Moon!
Joined
Feb 12, 2021
Messages
5,276
Location
Piccolomini Crater, Luna
I have spent the last few hours (rabbit hole alert) on the interweb, researching ways to lighten up my touch on the guitar. Wondering if anyone has any suggestions ;~)) That is enough said, but will add a bit of description now to detail some specifics, what I have already tried, what I have not tried but am going to try etc.

Although I have been "playing" guitar for over 30 years, it was not until 2021 that I really grabbed but bull by the horns. I played more in that year than the rest of my life combined. I am on a similar track for this year. At the beginning of 2022, I decided to get a grip on my ham fisted death grip and have made a lot of progress. I would say that I used to be 100% ham fisted, and am now at about 60-70% of the time ham fisted, which is certainly an improvement. I blame my ham fisted technique in part on guitars that had high action that forced me to use a lot of pressure to be able to fret chords/notes properly. Of course, my lack of actually spending any time with my guitars was an issue as well among other things. One of the things that is pushing me to address this more intently is, I have a couple of dents in my 1,2 and 3 frets on my 594 HBII, and I know that part of that is due to Mr Ham and his fist grip! This is a result of ~1500 hours of of playing in the 18 months I have owned this guitar (and I acquired it as a brand new item that was "born" less than 30 days from the time I became the owner). I don't want this happening to my other guitars, nor do I want it to continue at this rate on this guitar (fret job every two years, ouch), so looking to find additional ways to lighten up my grip. Here are my observations as well as my techniques/methods I have tried or read about.

Observations:
1. On slower material (let's say Cat Stevens, Bob Dylan, etc.), I have almost zero problem maintaining a light touch.
2. If I think about what I am doing, I can lighten the touch, but decades of playing with a much tighter grip has me reverting to the ham fist when I don't think about it. I also have a problem with having to think about it as I then generally start to make other mistakes.
3. The more intense a song gets, the more likely I am to start gripping tighter (and of course, this is sometimes necessary).
4. I started working on lightening my touch because of hand/fingertip pain starting to pop up after long/intense sessions.
5. Started working on lighter touch about 6 months ago and have made some progress as noted above but still have a lot of work to do.

Techniques/Methods:
1. I have tried playing stuff with NO thumb on the back of the neck. It was liberating to know that I could actually do that, but it is certainly not my preferred technique or example of my best playing.
2. I have tried to consciously reduce my grip when I feel Mr. Ham Fist squeezing the life out of the guitars neck.
3. I have read about turning up the volume on amp so that you are forced to touch lighter and will try this.
4. I have read about "just practice" and at 4-6 hours a day, I am there.
5. I have read about playing more slowly to develop the muscle memory of the lighter touch and will be implementing this (although I generally do this anyway after my girl goes to sleep and I need to take things down a few notches every night - no secluded practice place at this point and very open architecture in this house).
6. I have read about keeping fingers closer to the fret when making notes or chords and will be ensuring I am doing so whenever possible.

Any advice/suggestion/thoughts on this appreciated. My apologies if there is already a thread like this at this forum! I did do a search to see if anything popped up but after a few pages of search results, I did not find anything. If there is another thread, I will certainly consume it! Thanks in advance for sharing your knowledge/techniques!!!
 
I have spent the last few hours (rabbit hole alert) on the interweb, researching ways to lighten up my touch on the guitar. Wondering if anyone has any suggestions ;~)) That is enough said, but will add a bit of description now to detail some specifics, what I have already tried, what I have not tried but am going to try etc.

Although I have been "playing" guitar for over 30 years, it was not until 2021 that I really grabbed but bull by the horns. I played more in that year than the rest of my life combined. I am on a similar track for this year. At the beginning of 2022, I decided to get a grip on my ham fisted death grip and have made a lot of progress. I would say that I used to be 100% ham fisted, and am now at about 60-70% of the time ham fisted, which is certainly an improvement. I blame my ham fisted technique in part on guitars that had high action that forced me to use a lot of pressure to be able to fret chords/notes properly. Of course, my lack of actually spending any time with my guitars was an issue as well among other things. One of the things that is pushing me to address this more intently is, I have a couple of dents in my 1,2 and 3 frets on my 594 HBII, and I know that part of that is due to Mr Ham and his fist grip! This is a result of ~1500 hours of of playing in the 18 months I have owned this guitar (and I acquired it as a brand new item that was "born" less than 30 days from the time I became the owner). I don't want this happening to my other guitars, nor do I want it to continue at this rate on this guitar (fret job every two years, ouch), so looking to find additional ways to lighten up my grip. Here are my observations as well as my techniques/methods I have tried or read about.

Observations:
1. On slower material (let's say Cat Stevens, Bob Dylan, etc.), I have almost zero problem maintaining a light touch.
2. If I think about what I am doing, I can lighten the touch, but decades of playing with a much tighter grip has me reverting to the ham fist when I don't think about it. I also have a problem with having to think about it as I then generally start to make other mistakes.
3. The more intense a song gets, the more likely I am to start gripping tighter (and of course, this is sometimes necessary).
4. I started working on lightening my touch because of hand/fingertip pain starting to pop up after long/intense sessions.
5. Started working on lighter touch about 6 months ago and have made some progress as noted above but still have a lot of work to do.

Techniques/Methods:
1. I have tried playing stuff with NO thumb on the back of the neck. It was liberating to know that I could actually do that, but it is certainly not my preferred technique or example of my best playing.
2. I have tried to consciously reduce my grip when I feel Mr. Ham Fist squeezing the life out of the guitars neck.
3. I have read about turning up the volume on amp so that you are forced to touch lighter and will try this.
4. I have read about "just practice" and at 4-6 hours a day, I am there.
5. I have read about playing more slowly to develop the muscle memory of the lighter touch and will be implementing this (although I generally do this anyway after my girl goes to sleep and I need to take things down a few notches every night - no secluded practice place at this point and very open architecture in this house).
6. I have read about keeping fingers closer to the fret when making notes or chords and will be ensuring I am doing so whenever possible.

Any advice/suggestion/thoughts on this appreciated. My apologies if there is already a thread like this at this forum! I did do a search to see if anything popped up but after a few pages of search results, I did not find anything. If there is another thread, I will certainly consume it! Thanks in advance for sharing your knowledge/techniques!!!
Used to stab notes to death like Roy Buchanan.

When I lightened up my attack with the picking hand, my fretting hand also lightened up.
Magic.
 
I too found myself wrestling the guitar neck, but especially on solos.

Practice helps to me to relax more as I play, which in turn helps to lighten my touch.

Also I find the lighter my touch, the better the intonation, rhythm and tonality from the guitar.

Phrases become easier to play and tempo is better regulated.
 
One of the things that is pushing me to address this more intently is, I have a couple of dents in my 1,2 and 3 frets on my 594 HBII, and I know that part of that is due to Mr Ham and his fist grip!

My opinion: This just happens when a guitar gets played a lot. You may be able to slow it down by lightening your touch, but I don't think you'll be able to eliminate it.
 
My opinion: This just happens when a guitar gets played a lot. You may be able to slow it down by lightening your touch, but I don't think you'll be able to eliminate it.
Understood! Would like to slow it down though!! I really need to try a guitar with SS frets at some point so I know whether or not it is going to affect what I hear in any significant way!!! Thanks for the feedback!!!!
 
Used to stab notes to death like Roy Buchanan.

When I lightened up my attack with the picking hand, my fretting hand also lightened up.
Magic.
I have been working on a lighter touch with the pick as well! They are definitely related as you stated!! I also changed my pick grip as I was using both index finger and middle finger on bottom side of pick and thumb on top side!!! I was beginning to develop some pains in my middle finger, so I switched my hold to thumb and second digit of index finger which has eliminated any pains in that hand! I still find myself gripping the pick wrong at times, but easily corrected and a much more fluid wrist on that hand now as well!! I appreciate you sharing your thoughts!!!!
 
I too found myself wrestling the guitar neck, but especially on solos.

Practice helps to me to relax more as I play, which in turn helps to lighten my touch.

Also I find the lighter my touch, the better the intonation, rhythm and tonality from the guitar.

Phrases become easier to play and tempo is better regulated.
Totally agree! So much easier to move about with fluidity when you are not ham fisting!! I'm tryin' coach, I'm tryin'!!! Many thanks for sharing your insights!!!!
 
Put the lightest gauge strings on your practice guitar that it can stand. It’ll sound like chewed dogfood that’s been expectorated At first.That’ll force you to lighten your grip. After multiple hand surgeries, it was lighten up or lose it. Also, if you feel your muscles tightening, stop immediately and take 5 or 10 deep breaths before starting again. You may be stopping a lot at first, but it’ll come with time.
 
Used to stab notes to death like Roy Buchanan.

When I lightened up my attack with the picking hand, my fretting hand also lightened up.
Magic.

Put the lightest gauge strings on your practice guitar that it can stand. It’ll sound like chewed dogfood that’s been expectorated At first.That’ll force you to lighten your grip. After multiple hand surgeries, it was lighten up or lose it. Also, if you feel your muscles tightening, stop immediately and take 5 or 10 deep breaths before starting again. You may be stopping a lot at first, but it’ll come with time.

Yup, both of these helped me tremendously. I have RSI so I had to lighten up my ham fistedness too. Now I play 7s. Can't get too ham fisted with those.
 
Put the lightest gauge strings on your practice guitar that it can stand. It’ll sound like chewed dogfood that’s been expectorated At first.That’ll force you to lighten your grip. After multiple hand surgeries, it was lighten up or lose it. Also, if you feel your muscles tightening, stop immediately and take 5 or 10 deep breaths before starting again. You may be stopping a lot at first, but it’ll come with time.

Yup, both of these helped me tremendously. I have RSI so I had to lighten up my ham fistedness too. Now I play 7s. Can't get too ham fisted with those.

I have tried going down to 8's, and although I liked the feel of them and my hands were happier, they were breaking on me pretty quick! Now that is probably from my ham wristed moves on the right hand, but whatever the case is, they did not work out for me. I still have a few packs left (I bought about 6 different brands/models and still have 3 I think) so I will try again as I have made improvements in lighter strumming since I tried them a few months ago!! Thank you both for chiming in!!!
 
I Sir am a member of the “ Grip Group” ,Hairstylist since 1977 and retired Custom Knifemaker, I have extremely strong hands.. I could take a guitar outta tune. I have gone lighter gauge strings( now I love 9s on certain rigs) , but my fantastic mentor and teacher Jak3af3r has been working on me. Breathe, relax,it’ll come, I have a ways to go but with drive and great motivation/mentoring, it will come.
 
I don’t think I was ever a ham fisted guitar player, but I did play double bass for years before taking guitar seriously. That meant my fingers were trained to put a LOT of pressure on the strings. On guitar, that translated into fretting strings a bit sharp. I resolved that by feeling when the string contacted the fret, versus being jammed down to the fretboard. It took quite a few hours - I no longer remember how many, but it was in the era when I practiced a technique for months to get really comfortable with it.

It might not be directly related, but another thing a spent a lot of time on back then was playing with only my left (fretting) hand. I think you would find that it is impossible to be ham fisted doing that.
 
Thanks for starting this thread Moondog - I have the same problem for the same reason (crappy starter guitar). I am developing a lighter touch by trying to be more cognizant while chording, but will try some of the other tips offered here.
 
I totally understand this situation. I will put part of it on my job life as a meat cutter for 30 years...packing 200# quarters of beef over your shoulder will give you a forklift type attitude. OH&S has rules now that preclude lifting that much in the workplace. I used to bench 250# with relative ease, it sticks with you. In the dojo and in the ring I was the proverbial Mr Plywood for many years, and until I got serious with the grappling arts of judo, jiu-jitsu and aikido I never found the "soft" side of combative training until very deep in my martial studies. Being a commercial pilot helped me become more gentle with my hands, muscling an aircraft and fighting the trim is no way to keep passengers comfortable in rough air. Took quite a lot of flight hours to be fingertip control adept on the yoke.
I'm still very much a "vice-grip" on the fretboard a good amount of the time and I have to really work on being more delicate even with my picking and strumming techniques. Having a death grip slows down your movement/dexterity, stiff muscles/joints are slow muscles/joints.
 
Back
Top