Responses-Guitar finger

Posted By: zach harvey on February 15, 2013

Thanks for everyone’s help on this case.  I received a lot of great ideas and shared experience.  Some famous guitar players have lost part of their fingers such as Tony Lommi of Black Sabbath, who uses a simple device and others such as the late Django Reinhardt who simply learned to adapt his technique.  In any case, tuning the guitar down using smaller gauge strings will lessen the tension on the strings and make playing a bit easier.  Design and materials used before ranged from super gluing layers of pelite to the residual finger to modified banjo picks to pencil erasers to standard prosthetic materials (surlyn, proflex, crepe, leather, etc.).  Some good advice was that less is probably more in this case.  In talking with my brother in law, a professional guitarist, I learned that the material used can affect the sound quality and the shape of the fret hand fingertips on an experienced guitarist is often more squared off and calloused than the other hand.  The ring finger is more involved in complex runs on lead guitar than bass, and the strings on a bass guitar are thicker and generally harder to compress than lead. After visiting with this man today, I learned that bass guitar is very easy to do but lead guitar is difficult, not because of pain and not because certain notes are out of range, but difficult because the softness of the tip of the finger is too soft, it compresses too much when pressing on the string.  I mentioned the possibility of soaking this fingertip in alcohol (a technique that Eric Clapton supposedly does) or coating the finger with superglue.  The problem, he said, is that even if the skin is firm, the soft tissue still compresses quite a bit until it reaches the bone.  A quick and easy design we came up with was a rubber fingertip that our office administrator had in her desk drawer filled with 60 second composite.  He took this with him to try out, but we’re not sure the texture and if it will be stable enough.  A couple other concepts we thought about were a paperclip pushed onto the finger and a spring door stopper threaded onto the finger with a rubberized tip then molded into these wire frame supports.  A modified pool cue tip may also work well.  Alternatively, a more standard socket could be fabricated using traditional mold making techniques using either a round shape or alternating compression style design.  A partially laminated compression finger sleeve may also do the trick. Again, thanks for all your input.  If anyone is interested in finding out what we ended up doing and if you have any other thoughts, please let me know! Zach   Original post:  I'm looking for ideas to fabricate a low cost design for a client who lost the fourth digit finger tip (distal to DIP) several years ago. This is on his fret hand and the device would facilitate his playing of both bass and lead guitar. Any experience with materials, alignment and design would be appreciated.  Cosmetic appearance is not a priority. Thanks, Zach Harvey, CPO   Many years ago I had a man who lost the tip of his finger in a carpentry accident and played the guitar ( I do not ). Very similar situation and wanted the same thing, not cosmetic but functional. Well, we got to playing with bondo, you know that putty like stuff used to fix cars. Found we could mold it right on to the end of his finger, sand it to any shape,and it stayed on pretty well by covering the flexed pip. Hope that helps.   You may have a look to the prostheses of "Tony Iommi", the famous guitarist of Black Sabbath and Dio Bands. You could search it on the internet. If you take a closer look to his pictures or videos, you'll see a very simple prosthesis, with conventional suspension. He also tunes the guitar down, and uses lighter gauges strings to minimize the tension on the prosthesis. He is a really great guitarist. I'm sure watching his performance will emotionally inspire your amputated case. You 'll find some ideas by searching "Tony Iommi Finger or Perosthe*" images or videos on Google.   Nader Fallahian PhD Student of Prosthetics & Orthotics, Guitarist, Music Lover, and a big fan of Tony Iomi ;) My brother-in-law is missing his same fingertip.. He plays the banjo And tried several different fingertip type devices to be able to play.  I used superglue and some pelite foam that I glued onto his finger tip. I could not find any other material or prosthetic device that give him the flexibility and sensitivity that just some foam glued onto the fingertip gave him and it worked great. The second best thing that worked was a suction cup  about a half inch diameter that you would attach something in the bathtub wall. As a clinician since 1980 and a guitar player since 1963 I have a thought or two on the subject.  I have tried on a few occasions to come up with a functional finger prostheses for musicians use.  So far the prosthesis has been abandoned in every case.  In every case the patient was most functional through compensating.  Mostly using the remaining fingers to play fretted instruments.  Read up on Django Reinhardt.  After an injury at age 18, he lost the use of his third and fourth fingers, left hand.  However through compensating and hard practice he was considered one of the greatest guitarist of all time.   Just my two cents worth.   Interesting question you have, it caught my eye since I'm a guitar and bass player.   I have not tried anything in the past but I would consider suction silicone. Only problem is the constant extension and flexion of the dip joint while playing. The 4th finger is used a lot, specially in lead guitar parts that require "runs". The other concern will be the lack of touch with anything you use plus it could effect the tone of the string having the buzz sound.   I just happen to have a guitar at the office.  I taped a tongue depressor to my worked for strumming cords but not individual notes. Maybe with practice the lead notes could be played.    I wanted to try an eraser that fits on top of a pencil to try it but did not have one around the office. You may even try a thimble then add rubber coating to soften the action against the strings.   I'm thinking the smaller & simpler the better. Less will be more.   If you do find something that works let me know. Have your client look up Django Reinhardt a famous guitar player who learned to play while missing fingers on his fret hand. There is a student project to design something like this at IIT in their IPRO program.   I did something similar a few years ago for a guy that wanted to play guitar.  Since he has most of his digit and only needs a little extra length, it might be fairly easy.  We took an alginate mold and filled with dental plastic, tightened up just proximal to the DIP joint for suspension and I molded proflex with silicone around the positive model.  I then ground down to match the outer circumference and length of the contralateral finger.  This is absolutely not cosmetic, but extremely inexpensive and very easy.  If he doesn't like it, there isn't much lost.  I know the one we did helped our patient with typing and helped him learn a little on the guitar, but I think he has put it down since then.  Just something you might want to look into.  Email me with any questions. The key to this is going to be the ability of the patientto apply distal pressure to the DIP and how much flexion he will need to do it. Most guitar players flex the fourth finger and stretch to depress the strings for the best sound. If the patient can take distal pressure a silicone finger with a reinforced and preflexed PIP/DIP setup could work for him. i all comes down to what the patient can do with his hand positionally to play gitar cords and notes fluidly and comfortably. Any previous patients had to practice positioning for a while before felling comfortable playing. Good luck with this!  I had struggled with a similar situation a few years ago.  This gentleman's fingers were "huge".  What I ended up with was making a "cap" from Surlyn that he pressed into, heated and manipulated the end for the best angle, and attached some crepe and/or Cat's Paw.  I will look for pictures but doubt that I have any.  It wasn't a thing of beauty.   Let me know if I can be of further assistance. Zach, have him use a banjo pick on that finger and fill the hollow side with either crepe or resin. The proximal end of the banjo pick can wrap around and grasp his remaining finger. would you be able to send a pic of the amputation? I just finished a partial hand bass guitar prosthesis but for the strumming hand...I may have some insights for you. Check this out: I used something very similar a while back for the same purpose:   these are basically custom to measurement hard rubber could probably request an extension to dial in the ideal length. Not sure if there would be any suspension issues, I'd bet if it's pretty tight it would work. Anyway, for $25 it's worth a shot. I made one years ago by fabricating 2 rings and a metal cup to hold a pencil eraser.  it worked. I may even be able to find a picture if you are interested. Learn to play the Steel Guitar or become a drummer like Rick Allen of Def Leppard!   As a CO who can no longer practise due to TBI, I am however a pretty proficient bass player.   If I am understanding this question correctly, this is the pinkie fingertip on his left hand, assuming that he is right handed?   The very first thing he needs to do with his bass is have a professional set up done with the action set as low and light as possible. That way when he uses the digit in question, there won't be near as much stress or pressure on the residuum. As guitars typically don't have near the string tension, he shouldn't have too many difficulties in switching between bass and lead guitar.   As far as a 'prosthosis' for him to use for playing, a fingertip sleeve similar to use when counting money or shuffling papers would be about as cheaply as can be done. Simply mark how much fill he will need. and fill the void space with RTV silicone, similar to what you would use to fabricate a distal end cushion for a bony trans-tib or bony trans-femoral.   Simple, relatively easy, and very durable.   Good luck, and keep us posted. I recently fit someone with a guitar finger made by living skin (first digit on fret hand, DIP level). They were great and worked with me once I explained the situation.   I just used the silicone material for molding and once it started to set up I had him position his fingers like he was playing to give him sufficient angle to reach as many strings as possible. It's working well so far!   A co-worker forwarded your post about a patient needing a 4th digit finger tip prosthesis or protector.  The prostheses that I have seen are pretty much just cosmetic.  My suggestion would be to look into what Tony Iommi the guitarist for Black Sabbath uses, he has several finger tips missing on his fret hand. As far as I know he has always made his own out of leather.  There is a website called that sells finger protectors very similar to Tony’s.  There is another protect called Gorilla Tips finger protectors that might work. I'm no prosthetist,, but the first thing that came to my mind was adapting a sewing thimble. I did a quick search and leather ones exist that may be easy to work with. I'm not sure how low cost you are looking for but New Touch Prosthetics has made a couple of similar finger extensions for me.  The prosthesis would be made of a silicone material. Contact is [E-mail Address Removed]

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