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Nails for Classical Guitar Playing

The Secrets of Good Nail care revealed...

To use or not to use nails? That’s the question often posed. Here we uncover the secrets of good nail care and consequently improved tonal quality!

How long should they be and why?

We personally recommend playing with an appropriately shaped nail (following the line of the finger tip or in ramped formation) at some 1/16th to 1/8th inch above the finger line, depending on the nature of finger and your nail shape. The reason for this is that playing without nails, in our opinion, will not enable a clear and variety of tonal qualities to be produced with the important right hand and enable the necessary string control.

How often and how long should I be taking to do them?

Once again, it's a question of experimentation and preference but it's time well spent. On average you should be looking to spend around twice a week (for around 10-20 minutes a time) keeping them shaped and maintained. Always have the guitar close at hand so you can check and fine tune them easily. Find an environment where you can concentrate too, away from distractions, as sometimes this can lead to undesirable results.

What should I be using to file my nails?

Whatever you do, don’t cut them with scissors or clippers, this will only damage and cause unwanted fractures in your nails, weakening them in the process. As you’ll see from our picture, we recommend using a range of files/shapers, with 3 or 4 different parts to shape, polish and buff the nail. To finish off or to concentrate on small parts of the nail only (as often the case around its extremities), use a medium to fine grade sandpaper. You can buy special kits, but a visit to your local hardware supplier will suffice. We always carrying some spare round at all times. You’ll often see guitarists on stage using it occasionally in between pieces to fine-tune and remove any unwanted snicks etc. By finegrade we mean around 160-220 grit. If unsure, ask your local store for guidance.

What shape should I be filing them?

Either in a ramp running from low to high or from left to eight of the nail for right handers at the length given above. Round off the edges too to facilitate string entry and exit on the fingers. Watch very carefully and pluck the string to see where your current string entry and exit points are, i.e. where the string first touches the nail and impact and where it is subsequently release. Basically the longer the distance between the 2, the fatter, round the sound. Again experiment with what suits, but whatever, do not create an arched or pointed shape in the middle!

How should I be filing them?

You should go up and over the nail basically so the inside nail line (left side of the nail for right-handers) should be on a slight angle before squaring off around the central part of the nail. It's quite difficult to explain, but if you have shaped them appropriately, the file should follow this line pretty much automatically. Always file with the nail towards you (see picture above) so that the nail sits comfortably on the edge of the file. You can also use the file as a quasi string running the finger across the top of it to check for fluidity of motion.

I have weak nails, what can I do to strength them?

There are a number of options-it’s a question of finding what works for you. Try a cube of raw jelly a day (it works for some of us). The protein will help to strength and enrich the nail. Other solutions include applying silk re-inforcements. A number of guitar retailers stock these, so you can visit our retailers links page to find out more. We suggest avoiding commercial nail-hardeners as these can “pickle” and weaken the nail over time. The final option would be to try artificial nails.

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