Get Smart: Protect Your Hands

Playing guitar for a living is a wonderful job.
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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 the studio.

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.