View Full Version : Fingernails and Fingerpicking

09-26-2011, 01:43 PM
I have been studying with a classical guitar teacher, and playing in the classical style means you have to grow some fingernails on your right hand. This is a new experience for me since I have kept my fingernails very short since I was quite young.

I tore my thumbnail about 2 weeks ago, and it is very slow growing back. I am thinking I may have to resort to clear nail polish to keep this from happening.

Does anybody else here play fingerstyle picking using their fingernails? Any suggestions on how to not have them crack, split, and otherwise get torn up?

As a guy, I have to admit that it feels kind of weird to have nails... even if it's only on my right hand. Ya gotta make some sacrifices for your art.

09-26-2011, 01:47 PM
Yup.. My thumb nail is long. Took awhile to get the hang of it, but def. need to take care of it. I only put a coat of strengthener on my thumb. My pointer and middle nail is just over my finger tip as well.

09-26-2011, 01:52 PM
I broke my thumbnail setting up for rehearsal (I play bass in a band) two weeks ago, in spite of using clear "iron nails" fingernail polish. I was heartbroken, and it still hasn't grown out to where I need it to be for really nice arpeggios (with the thumbnail, "Hotel California" sounds great, without, anemic) :(.

I've heard that eating gelatin will strengthen nails and there might actually be some truth to that. I spent the next week eating a few "gummy bears" every day and I think my nails did get stronger. Then again, that could be wishful thinking because I like gummy bears.

Anyway, I sure will be glad when my thumbnail is back to where it should be - it took me months to get it just right! WAHH!


09-26-2011, 01:57 PM
As a lifelong tomboy I was hesitant to grow out my nails on my right hand, but eventually did and I don't think I could manage without longer nails. It took a year of *complete neglect* to get them to where they weren't cracking and splitting - first I did the clear nail polish thing, but that actually made things worse. What worked for me was this: no nail polish, no buffing, no glue, and no clippers, just filing, and only when absolutely necessary.

09-26-2011, 02:24 PM
I've found that the secret to not breaking nails is to not let them get too long. You really don't need a lot of nail for them to be effective for picking.

Alaska Piks might be an alternative for you.


09-26-2011, 02:25 PM
I played classical guitar for a number of years a long time ago. Longer nails are essential if you are alternating between rest strokes and free strokes. It's not so essential for ukulele. Nevertheless, I have grown my nails for ukulele. I suppose I do a variation on the strokes to achieve some tonal variety. In my experience, the enemy of longer nails is clipping, as janeray points out. Use a file. I grow them only long enough to accomplish the desired result. If they get too long, they are more likely to break. The white part (if you know what I mean, the part that extends beyond my fingertip) is about 3/16" long.

I have tried using superglue to repair cracks, but it always end up a futile effort.

09-26-2011, 02:50 PM
I've found that the secret to not breaking nails is to not let them get too long. You really don't need a lot of nail for them to be effective for picking.

Alaska Piks might be an alternative for you.


The Alaska Piks look interesting. They might help. I am going to try to hang in there and grow my nails, but I may have to use these as a fallback option. Have you used them yourself? If so, give us an evaluation.

09-26-2011, 03:13 PM
Alaska Piks might be an alternative for you.


Aaron Kiem was wearing something like those when he was playing banjo ukulele at the Wine Country Ukulele Festival.

09-26-2011, 03:14 PM
Here's what James Taylor does: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7BqISqpMRo8

09-26-2011, 03:48 PM
I agree that you don't need them too long to get the right picking effect. Filing not clipping has strengthened mine too I reckon. Not sure who mentioned it in another thread but tapping your nails to strengthen (william tell overture) I believe these tips have strengthened my nails over a period of time. Haven't had a broken or cracked nail in a long time now. I still need to be careful when catching the frisbee though.

09-26-2011, 03:54 PM
On a side note I think they need to do some photoshopping on those pictures on the alaskapik site. Those close ups of the fingers look hideous. Haha.

09-26-2011, 04:46 PM
Nthing the file (never clip!) suggestion, with the added advice of finding a good glass file instead of your average emery board. Also, OPI makes a product called Nail Envy that I've used for years with solid success (doesn't seal out moisture like clear polish does), and for the fellas, it comes in matte (so it doesn't look like you're wearing it at all).

09-26-2011, 06:51 PM
It's interesting that everyone has arrived at avoiding clippers and using a nail file. I use a nail file every 2-3 days because if they get longer, a nail is likely to break or tear. It helps to pay attention to any minor rough edge because that spot is where a tear usually starts.

09-26-2011, 09:31 PM
The nail polish especially the hard as nails stuff just made me lose big half round chunks of nail. I've been having a ton of trouble recently with overall finger and joint inflammation and started taking chondroiten/msm supplements. That and flax seed oil helps the pain tremendously. I have been able to start practicing again after six months of using ice, heat, ointments, anti-inflammatories and worry wondering how I was going to keep my job. I still hurt but not nearly as bad, and about a month back I noticed my nails were really tough. I suspect the chondroiten really has helped. It certainly is going to be beneficial to joints as well.

However I really enjoy gummi worms so that might be part of it too. :D

mr moonlight
09-26-2011, 10:02 PM
I've been playing classical guitar for most of my life and I've been through it all in terms of nails. After so many years you just get used to people asking about your long nails. I've used all types of nail polish and while some work better than others, none really made all that big a difference. Calcium and gelatin make a difference and filing helps. The main thing when using your natural nails is just being careful with them, keeping them short and always filing off any cracks or dings as soon as they happen with a proper nail file. The type you get in the nail section at the drugstore with different grits.

If you can't keep your natural nails in good playing condition you can always use fakes. I go back and fourth. I keep my natural nails until one breaks and then I throw on a set of fakes. The glue eats into your nails, so you're kinda stuck using them for awhile until your nails grow out, but it's nice not having to worry about keeping your nails in good playing condition all the time. It sux to have a nail break right before a gig!

09-27-2011, 03:12 AM
I file and use a graded abrasive board, the one intended for the top surface of the nails rather than the ends. . . use it on the ends, though. If you file properly and use all the grades your nail ends will be smooth as glass and it'll help you get good tone as well. Keep 'em dressed with the abrasive board and don't let 'em get too long (unless your style of playing demands especially long nails).

09-27-2011, 04:38 AM
I would agree with a few of the previous posters - Don't let the right hand nails get too long.
Rarely use the right hand pinky, so I keep this nail short. (I use it as a prop on the soundboard from time to time and it can easily scratch french polish if left long)
I don't use anything on my nails apart from scissors and sandpaper ;) (works for me)
All you really need is a couple mm overhang to get a nice clear tone.

What (for me, anyway) is more important for playing cleanly, is to keep the left hand nails REALLY short.

ps, I'm right-handed. Apologies lefthanders...

09-27-2011, 05:58 AM
I grow index, middle and ring fingers on my right hand - mostly for guitar as I always found I could pick uke ok just with fingertips.

Viewed from "below", i.e. the palm side, about 2 - 3 mm of nail protrudes past the end of my fingertips.

I keep my nails painted with clear toughener varnish (which I then desperately try to dull!), however I strip it off for a few hours every few days and rub nail oil into the nails. I've been doing this for about 12 months, since I started playing guitar again to accompany my "singing", and my nails are strong and healthier than ever.

Definitely catch any rough edges straight away with a file or board.

I actually hate having long nails, but I have to do it. Can't get on with any kind of finger pick I tried.

09-27-2011, 12:59 PM
Does anyone else just use the fleshy part of their fingers to pick and keep their nails really short?
If not, why not?
You can't get enough volume and or "bite" into the string without nails or picks?
A problem I have is getting the side fleshy part of my thumb in between the 3rd and 4th strings for picking. Any suggestions?
I've actually reluctantly modified my picking pattern to 4-3-1-2 using just the thumb for 4, the index finger for strings 3 and 2 and the middle finger for the 1st string.

09-27-2011, 02:58 PM
I keep my nails short and use the fleshy part of the finger with a bit of nail. I picked this up from my fingerstyle steel string picking ala Mississippi John Hurt. Works even better on a nylon string uke.

09-27-2011, 04:01 PM
I keep nails SHORT , I am used to playing with finger tips , when nails start to grow they interfere with the picking of strings. I cannot play with nails. Maybe it is something you get used to. My fingers just know where the strings are, I have big hands & play mostly soprano & concert- NO PROBLEMS