Nail care for guitarists


Why nail care? Classical guitarists file and polish their nails like non-guitarists, first and foremost. But, in addition, a well-groomed nail helps make the tone clean and round.

Finger nail length and filing technique

The fingernails of the fretting hand should be very short, so that you can really place your fingers vertically on the strings from above without dampening the neighboring strings. With pull-offs, the nails mustn’t get caught on the strings, as this creates unwanted and jarring noise. Nails touching the fretboard can also damage the instrument. On old traveling guitars, you can occasionally see the notches that have formed over the years between the frets due to overly long fingernails.
The nails of the picking hand should also be kept short at first, as they can initially be more of an obstacle for the inexperienced player when picking. Later, you may switch to picking with the fingernails, however, as this allows for more tonal possibilities and greater volume.


How long should my nails be and what shape should they be?

The nails should protrude about a millimeter beyond the fingertips, but a but longer on the ring finger for anatomical reasons. The length of the thumbnail varies greatly from guitarist to guitarist. If the thumbnail is short (about 2 mm longer than the tip), there is a risk of getting caught on the string when picked hard. Of course, there are also guitarists who prefer a longer nail.
Length and shape depend, of course, on the individual growth of the nails, and the individual preference of the player. Some nails point downward, others upward. Some nails are curved, others are flat. The degree to which the nail is fused with the nail bed also varies from person to person. All these factors influence the individual shaping of the nail, and so you’ll need to learn from practice what works best for you.

How to properly file and buff the nails?

For occasional pluckers simple nail clippers and a standard nail file will be sufficient.
First file the nail into the desired shape with a normal metal or sapphire file. When filing, make sure that the corners of the fingernail nail are evenly rounded.

Buffing your nails

After cutting and filing the fingernails, you should buff the edges of the fingernails with a buffing file, buffing linen or buffing leather until everything is totally smooth.
All angles, especially the ridges (protruding bumps), must be buffed. By deburring, rounding, and smoothing, the nails will no longer damage so quickly. To do this, go over the filed nail edge with the coarsest buffing file and file an angle of approx. 45 degrees in the direction of the fingertip. buffing files, buffing cloths and leather rags should no longer change the shape of the fingernail.
Only an absolutely smooth surface of the nail edge guarantees a smooth glide of the string and thus a beautiful, full tone. A rough surface sounds poor, strains the string and promotes tearing of the nail during everyday use.