View Full Version : nails

02-25-2015, 08:19 AM
As I started to play fingerpicking style more, I found myself growing out my nails on my right hand, to get that crisp, articulate, loud sound I hear from the really nice fingerpickers.

They are starting to feel kind of long, and I wanted to hear everyone's thoughts regarding nail length and kind of your philosophy on nails and the use of them when fingerpicking.

My final question would be what you think is too long for a nail length before it actually hinders your playing. Also would be curious in what you all do regarding nail maintenance - I've got a file that I use to keep them nice and smooth.

02-25-2015, 08:26 AM
I'm not a nail grower. Perhaps I'm not dedicated (or skilled) enough? I also tend to like the softer mellow sounding picking. That having been said, I mostly play for myself. I don't know if I would have a different opinion if I was trying to perform or record.

02-25-2015, 08:38 AM
I have always had problems growing my nails and maintaing them and when do they do grow they tend to be brittle and break when they get long enough to use. I have tried some suggestions on earlier post about nail maintenance but so far nothing has worked for me. What I have found that works for me is the Alaska Finger Pik that I picked up at Elderly Instruments. They fit really well under my existing nails and supposedly you can adjust the length which I haven't tried as the preformed ones do me just fine. They took a little to get use to but once I did I find I really like them and while using them my natural nail seems to grow well and are less brittle plus I think they sound very similar to my natural nail.

02-25-2015, 08:47 AM
They don't have to be scary-long, in my opinion - in fact, for me, that leads to all kinds of splitting and breaking problems. I tend to go by this advice (http://www.guitarfresh.com/guitar/ending-the-debate-over-the-proper-finger-nail-length-for-guitar-players/):

So What's The Right Length?

You'll want to clip and or file your nails down so that when you hold your hand in front of your face with your palm facing you, you can just barely see the top tips of your nails over the top of your finger tips. Yeah, it's that easy, and there's no need to go longer. You need just enough nail to make consistent contact with the string without the strike being all flesh.

My nails are really awful to begin with. One thing I've found that helps with the brittleness, breaking and splitting is this product from Sally Hansen (http://www.amazon.com/Sally-Hansen-VitaSurge-Growth-0-45/dp/B004KS2LYQ/ref=sr_1_1?s=beauty&ie=UTF8&qid=1424893578&sr=1-1&keywords=vitasurge+growth+gel) - it's intended for growth and while it does speed things along that way, it's really helped strengthen my nails. A similar product sold to improve strength didn't do a darned thing!

02-25-2015, 08:57 AM
Agree with Janeray. I prefer to hit the string with a mix of flesh and nail.

02-25-2015, 09:10 AM
great comments you guys. Yes when I face my palm, there is a good chunk of nail that I can see over the horizon, if that makes sense. Time to file down!

I am a very bad nail/finger chewer. However, the motivation of growing out my nails for uke has been probably the only time in my whole life that I have not bitten my nails! When I catch myself about to, I start to think of my nails as part of my instrument and I quickly avoid the habit :)

02-25-2015, 09:44 AM
I keep mine fairly short. I use cuticle oil and also file them with a Ruby Stone file. My favorite cuticle oil is Contours Botanical Oil.

Length can also be determined by the shape of the nails. I know on the guitar forums there are lots of threads on which shape is best.

Adrien Janiak has a pretty thumb and index nail on his right hand.


02-25-2015, 09:49 AM
It's definitely a constant challenge to maintain good fingernails, especially if you are doing manual work that may damage them. They don't really need to be too long IMO but they do need to be a well shaped and require careful daily maintenance to keep them in good nick!

02-25-2015, 12:16 PM
It's all in the result. They're the right length when it works.

02-25-2015, 12:19 PM
I keep my nails short - they split otherwise - and pick with the fleshy part of my finger tip.

02-25-2015, 12:47 PM
I don't grow my nails out--I can't stand it when they are anything but as short as possible. I like picking with the fingertips anyway. I am considering getting some finger picks to try, maybe a thumb pick. Just to have a different sound to work with.

02-25-2015, 04:51 PM
If you are going to be an accomplished finger picker, you must have (fairly) long nails, or finger picks. Take a look at guitar players you admire...folk, classical or flamingo ......long nails are a requisite. The only folks that don't have long nails are those that can't, or won't, grow them.

02-26-2015, 04:42 AM
If you are going to be an accomplished finger picker, you must have (fairly) long nails, or finger picks.



zooms to close-up of the fingers at 30 sec

02-26-2015, 04:46 AM
The nails on my picking hand can be like talons, it takes some seriously clumsy gardening or whatever to break one, but the only one that I usually let grow to any length is the one on the little finger (that I don't use on stringed instruments) ... that only gets clipped on occaision when it starts to trip over the keys on my flute or clarinet. It may well be over a centimetre (1/2 inch) long at that point!

For "perfect picking", the advice given above, that you should just be able to see the nail over the tip of the finger when looking at the palm, is perfectly valid. Through laziness, my nails often get somewhat longer than that. Eventually, when the tone of my picking starts to suffer noticeably, I get the clippers and the file out and trim them back to a more suitable length ;)

02-26-2015, 06:49 AM
In classical guitar pedagogy, the argument over nails versus no-nails goes back past Segovia. There are exceptions, but most players opt for nails, and the consensus seems to be just-long-enough-to-do-the job.

A few years back, somebody on a classical guitar newsgroup invited players to send in images of their plucking hand fingertips, and of the photos submitted, most were of the barely-visible-from-the-palmar-side length. There were some who had those Mandarin-like daggers, and some in-between.

If you have some time on your hands, google “guitar fingernails” and read a few entries. There are more than 300,000 such.

Topics include shape, size, real, artificial, picks, you name it.

The ukulele is not a guitar, however, the general belief is that a combination of fingernails and the fleshy part of one’s fingertips together produce a sound that is louder and fuller than either alone. This was critical when playing a nylon- or gut-stringed instrument in a big hall, even if everybody shut up and listened. Unless your instrument is amplified, it still is. Classical guitars are relatively quiet compared to most stringed instruments, though not as quiet as ukueleles.

There are videos on how to do silk wraps and how to file and polish ‘em. You can get emergency repair kits if you break one before a performance. Among serious players, a broken fingernail is a disaster, and the really serious ones won’t wash dishes without wearing a rubber glove, nor pick up something from the sidewalk, nor even zip up trousers using their picking hands. There are most-detailed instructions on how to file and shape, and what not-to-do. Essentially, your nails are supposed to be smooth enough so they won't snag silk, which takes some doing if you use clippers or regular emery boards.

I don’t know if I am typical, but I break my fingernails frequently, even though I keep them at the barely-visible-length. Not being a professional-class player, it’s not a big deal, but I surely notice the difference in the sound from a finger sans nail while the sucker grows back.

02-26-2015, 09:19 AM
I have rather long nails and shape them square. A glass file is all I need, no oils or anything as my nails are quite strong by nature. My thumb, without the nail, sounds very weak and there are some songs I simply can't play without nails, especially if there's a lot of thumb-work required.

The weird thing is that the '1 mm longer than your finger' rule worked fine when playing guitar, even when playing Flamenco. But for the ukulele, my nails have to be really long.

02-26-2015, 02:17 PM
One of the greatest guitar pickers ever, the late Mississippi John Hurt, mostly finger tissue and very short nails. I personally like the more mellow sound of finger tips (than nails) on a string, and therefore keep my nails short. I also find longish nails a hinderance to every day activities like carpentry or gardening

02-26-2015, 04:06 PM
One of the greatest guitar pickers ever, the late Mississippi John Hurt, mostly finger tissue and very short nails. I personally like the more mellow sound of finger tips (than nails) on a string, and therefore keep my nails short. I also find longish nails a hinderance to every day activities like carpentry or gardening

or zippers.......

02-26-2015, 05:35 PM

zooms to close-up of the fingers at 30 sec

Very good point. I am old enough to know better than make absolute statements. I apologize - my bad. And, I'm confident that any other nail-bitters can spend their time searching the web to discover additional examples. Maybe even a video of one of those guys that play with their uke behind their head, or with their (nail stunted) feet.
I guess for most nail length, shape, etc. is not one of the major factors impacting the sounds they are able to coax out of their instrument, but if you are serious, it is something you might want to consider. Just saying...

02-27-2015, 09:31 AM
...the consensus seems to be just-long-enough-to-do-the job.

This is the only right answer. The actual length will differ from one individual player to the next, sometimes widely. The whole idea is to develop an ability to get the tone you want. Nail length one factor.

02-27-2015, 09:46 AM
..what you think is too long for a nail length before it actually hinders your playing.

Anything that sticks out above your fingertip. I cut mine down to the quick and play with me fingertips, sides and palm.