PLAYING GUITAR FOR A living is a wonderful job. It
feeds the creative soul, and
keeps you interested and learning
all your life. Then, there’s
the travel and new lands to
discover, new people to meet
every year, and the many musical
comrades you encounter
all over the planet. I wouldn’t
want any other job out there.
But if I had to name one
drawback to being a professional
guitarist, I would have
to say it’s the constant worrying
about—and protection of—
your hands. This thought bubble
occurred to me this morning
as I was climbing a tree in the
backyard to trim a high branch.
I was reminded of the danger
to the fingers while firing up
my chainsaw. Of course, there’s
always something to do around
the house, whether it’s a plumbing
problem to fix, an electrical
project, a room to paint, hardwood-
floor restoration, or just
pulling weeds in the garden. In
every job, the hands get beat
up, and after mangling them a
dozen times or more, I’m much
more careful now.
For example, strategically
placed work gloves help. I buy
them by the dozen, and I keep
a pair in the garage, backyard,
kitchen, laundry room, car, and
other places throughout the
house. The gloves are never
more than a short walk away
if I decide the barbecue needs
cleaning, or a Marshall 4x12
cabinet needs to be moved to
In 1980, I took classical
guitar lessons from a friend
and grew out my right-hand
nails. Before long, I had incorporated
hybrid picking into my
electric-guitar playing, and I
couldn’t play without nails.
Unfortunately, I kept breaking
them! I was a steady nailparlor
customer at the mini
mall until I got used to them
being a fragile part of my right
hand. I began to open car doors
with my left hand and reach
for things gently. Now, I can
go years without breaking a
nail—knock on wood!
But no matter how careful
you are, injuries will happen.
While on tour, I got my entire
left hand closed in a car door
at the Vienna, Austria airport.
Two months later, a Rottweiler
roaming backstage at the AWD
Arena in Bremen, Germany,
attacked my other hand. And
I got my left pinky fingernail
torn off in a bizarre beach chair
accident at a local beach—five
days before my band headlined
a festival in San Diego.
The local TV newscaster who
interviewed me asked why I
painted just one fingernail on
my left hand black, and I had
to tell her, “It’s blood.”
So, keep your hands clean,
and wear gloves even if you
don’t think you need them.
And if you use a Trac II razor,
don’t reach into your overnight
kit without looking. Two little
slits on your fingertip are pretty
rough on the vibrato.
Carl Verheyen is a critically acclaimed,
Grammy-nominated guitarist, vocalist,
songwriter, arranger, producer,
clinician, educator, and tone master
with 12 CDs, two live DVDs, and
two books released worldwide.
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