Shorter Nails = Better Tone?

Nail care, nail problems, and the use of nails in playing the classical guitar.
John Stone
Posts: 346
Joined: Fri Jul 18, 2014 5:32 am
Location: Ohio, USA

Shorter Nails = Better Tone?

Post by John Stone » Sat Oct 18, 2014 3:03 pm

At least in my experience -- shorter nails produce a more articulate sound with a better balance of frequencies and more overtones. When my guitar starts to sound a bit dull, it's often because my nails are a little too long. I file off a tiny bit of nail (usually less than a millimeter) and it actually sounds like I've got new strings. I keep them about equal in length to my fingertip. I file and sand them every day to maintain the right length.

I'm curious as to how true this is for other players. I realize that the physical properties of nails vary widely among different people.

The other benefits for me are that they're less apt to break, they don't look as weird as long nails, and (most importantly) they make it easier to play.
2001 Manuel Velazquez
1977 Ramirez 1a
2014 Cordoba C10
They said, "You have a blue guitar, You do not play things as they are." The man replied, "Things as they are / Are changed upon the blue guitar."

robinfw
Posts: 414
Joined: Sun Sep 09, 2012 2:10 pm
Location: Bangkok, Thailand

Re: Shorter Nails = Better Tone?

Post by robinfw » Sat Oct 18, 2014 3:18 pm

I'm sure Kaori Muraji would be interested.

Have you ever seen her nails up close?

Catire
Posts: 772
Joined: Sun Apr 13, 2008 7:03 pm
Location: NYC

Re: Shorter Nails = Better Tone?

Post by Catire » Sat Oct 18, 2014 3:32 pm

Works for me.
"The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible." - Oscar Wilde

User avatar
rojarosguitar
Posts: 4178
Joined: Sat Sep 19, 2009 12:24 pm
Location: near Freiburg, Germany

Re: Shorter Nails = Better Tone?

Post by rojarosguitar » Sat Oct 18, 2014 3:52 pm

Has also other advantages: less likely getting stuck in the string...
Music is a big continent with different landscapes and corners. Some of them I do visit frequently, some from time to time and some I know from hearsay only ...

John Stone
Posts: 346
Joined: Fri Jul 18, 2014 5:32 am
Location: Ohio, USA

Re: Shorter Nails = Better Tone?

Post by John Stone » Sat Oct 18, 2014 4:12 pm

robinfw wrote:I'm sure Kaori Muraji would be interested.

Have you ever seen her nails up close?
Ha ha - well, this is sort of the textbook picture of how NOT to file your nails -- (1) very long and (2) pointy. I won't argue with her results, though.

Image
2001 Manuel Velazquez
1977 Ramirez 1a
2014 Cordoba C10
They said, "You have a blue guitar, You do not play things as they are." The man replied, "Things as they are / Are changed upon the blue guitar."

R128

Re: Shorter Nails = Better Tone?

Post by R128 » Fri Oct 24, 2014 7:14 am

Yes, shorter seems to work better for me. I think in my case it's because I get a cleaner contact with the string with shorter nails even though that seems counter-intuitive. Might also be to do with the shape I keep my nails in - chisel like rather than pointy.

Joe

User avatar
petermc61
Posts: 5995
Joined: Sun Apr 08, 2012 12:11 am
Location: Sydney, Australia

Re: Shorter Nails = Better Tone?

Post by petermc61 » Fri Oct 24, 2014 7:47 am

I keep my nails just longer than the end of the flesh. Just, probably no more than 0.5mm. If they get much longer they start sounding brighter and thinner.


.

User avatar
Cloth Ears
Posts: 461
Joined: Sat May 24, 2014 9:37 am

Re: Shorter Nails = Better Tone?

Post by Cloth Ears » Fri Oct 24, 2014 8:47 am

I read somewhere that Tarrega cut his nails shorter in later life. I know that if I file my nails to short, then I miss the strings on my gentle tremolo action. I agree with others here: just longer than the finger tips.

It is worth pointing out that not everybody's fingernails or hands are the same, so what works for you may not work for somebody else.

Aseret
Posts: 28
Joined: Mon Oct 20, 2014 2:47 pm
Location: France

Re: Shorter Nails = Better Tone?

Post by Aseret » Fri Oct 24, 2014 9:13 am

petermc61 wrote:I keep my nails just longer than the end of the flesh. Just, probably no more than 0.5mm. If they get much longer they start sounding brighter and thinner.
Same for me.

Craig
Posts: 103
Joined: Wed Jul 23, 2014 6:22 pm
Location: Saratoga, New York

Re: Shorter Nails = Better Tone?

Post by Craig » Fri Oct 24, 2014 12:37 pm

Could make an hour speech over the frustration with getting 'good' nails. But the consensus (if there is such a thing) is true: each person will develop shapes and lengths that work best for them. And part of what is 'better tone' is a matter of taste.

That said, am finding that can make good tone with various length and have control - at least hit correct string at correct time. Still a long way toward developing consistency. The final goal (holy grail) would be to control tone/timbre as masters do, such as Segovia.

It seems that longer nails lend toward brighter and thinner sound, as stated earlier. I find that I can hear the nails 'scrapping' even though the upper strings are not wound, which is unpleasant. The shorter, the less of this. Really short begin to mute/dull the tone too much.

Short nails better 'match' legatos (pull-offs) since LH nails are usually filed away leaving only calloused pads. Can't imagine someone could fret with nails ... but perhaps some can.

Short nails seem to get damaged less easily ... but there is less 'reserve' when they do (no length after one fixes them).

The psychological affects of nails are amusing. For a time, my nails were longer than the wife's. Felt like getting a white glove like Michael Jackson wore. But now the length is shorter and not so noticeable - except the thumb which looks weapon-like (have a growth pattern that requires length, otherwise there is a tight hook that simply grabs the string).

Even after tone is 'mastered', time and effort needs to be applied to each piece. In watching videos of highly skilled players, some seem to work a piece to play and record it, and then move on. Whereas they would need to spend more time perfecting the finest details - something not possible if one is learning hundreds of pieces. Perhaps it is a matter of personal interest in a piece as well.

In summary, time is the biggest factor. Time to learn what works best for you. Time to gain skill. Time to perfect each piece.
2013 Hippner Spruce/BRW 8-string

User avatar
twang
Posts: 358
Joined: Sat Aug 17, 2013 11:57 am

Re: Shorter Nails = Better Tone?

Post by twang » Fri Oct 24, 2014 1:06 pm

I wonder which way the causation runs...

I've noticed when my nails get a bit long I need to be less precise to get my finger on the string and displace it-- there's more area to find the string and glide the fingertip into position. I think I'm able to get pretty much the same tone with long or short if I try. Ironically, I noticed this after cutting the nail.
"An amateur is he who takes up the study of an instrument as a relaxation from his serious occupations." -- Sor

User avatar
Contreras
Posts: 765
Joined: Sun Jun 15, 2014 12:13 am
Location: In the Wind

Re: Shorter Nails = Better Tone?

Post by Contreras » Fri Oct 24, 2014 1:52 pm

I keep mine pretty minimalist too ... not just because longer nails are no good when I play steel strings, but also shorter nails work much better for apoyando, which I like.
Put down the bagpipes ...
... and no one gets hurt.

Handy-Andy

Re: Shorter Nails = Better Tone?

Post by Handy-Andy » Sat Oct 25, 2014 5:14 am

Contreras wrote:I keep mine pretty minimalist too ... not just because longer nails are no good when I play steel strings, but also shorter nails work much better for apoyando, which I like.
Good point! I also definitely find that Apoyando is a more pleasurable experience with shorter nails. Mine are just beyond the figure tips. A longer nail can delay the apoyando slightly and it also doesn't feel that great for the string to have all that leverage in pulling on your nail bed...freaky...

I do subjectively find the tone of long nails to be thinner and makes my plucking very sloppy. Shorter nails give much more control and a warmer, fuller sound.

a human
Posts: 480
Joined: Sun May 04, 2014 1:37 am
Location: Raleigh, North Carolina

Re: Shorter Nails = Better Tone?

Post by a human » Sat Oct 25, 2014 9:14 pm

My nails sound clackety when they are too long. I like them best just a bit longer than just over the finger tip.
1965 Krempel Classical (660ish mm)
The rest come and go.

User avatar
mike.janel
Posts: 657
Joined: Wed Apr 09, 2014 12:55 pm
Location: Israel

Re: Shorter Nails = Better Tone?

Post by mike.janel » Sun Oct 26, 2014 10:11 am

I totally agree with that.
I used to play with longer nails (rounded) and switched to much shorter straight ramp shape.
The main motivation was a nasty reoccurring nail split on my 'a' finger I could not get rid off.
Now I find that I like the tone and feel of shorter nail, especially with apoyando.

At the same time I have to say that the tone with longer nails did have a character and also playing some things required less accuracy. I still did not achieve the tremolo I used to have.
Michael
-----------------------------------------------
2013 Amalio Burguet 3M (Cedar)
1989 Yamaha CG 110 (Spruce)

Return to “Use of nails in playing the classical guitar”