One of the most frequent reasons aspiring guitar players quit is because their fingers hurt after playing! Just touching a string when your finger is sensitive make it easy to see why so many beginning guitarists stop playing. Why put yourself through all this pain for what ? So you can eventually play Wonderwall or Stairway ?
The good news is that fingertip pain can be managed while learning to play the guitar. I didn't say eliminated, but by following using these tips (pun intended) your fingertips will thank you for taking care of them. Bear in mind that EVERY guitar player has been through this finger toughening process before you, so you're in good company. Follow these steps, and you fingertips will be guitar ready in 2-4 weeks.
1. Don't learn to play guitar on an acoustic with steel strings. This is a sure fire way to be in pain in less than 30 minutes. If possible, start learning on a classical guitar, using nylon strings. Nylon strings are softer on the fingertips than steel strings. You can pick up an inexpensive acoustic guitar for less that $200.
2. Spread out your practice time. Avoid the temptation to play more than 15 minutes in any session until your fingers have toughened up. A shorter 15 minute practice session, twice a day, is far better than one 30 minute session.
3. Don't moisturize, shower, or wash your hands before playing guitar. I'm not saying never shower or wash your hands, just avoid contact with water 30 minutes prior to playing guitar. Soft hands that have absorbed water will become painful very quickly.
4. Use correct technique. When you play guitar, make sure you're not using the fleshy part of your finger pad. You should only be using the tip of your fingers, about 2mm or 1/16" away from your nail. This part of your finger will form a callus much quicker than the finger pad.
5. Practice playing on both the thicker E and A strings, as well as the higher B and e strings. Varying the strings you play will avoid deep painful marks in your fingers.
6. Use lighter strings when beginning to play. Guitar strings come in different gauges from .08 to .13 (for example) with .08 being lighter, and .13 being heaver, and thicker. Using lighter strings makes fretting them easier, and causes less pain for beginners.
7. Don't press too hard on the string. You only need to press the string hard enough for it to come in contact with the fret, and sound the note clearly, to be correct. Pressing beyond that point of contact will cause pain.
8. Don't hold down the same string, with the same finger, for too long. Easier said than done, but when you're beginning to play, you shouldn't be holding the strings down for more than a couple of seconds before releasing them. Practice the spider method of finger movement to use different fingers for different strings.