Short nails

Nail care, nail problems, and the use of nails in playing the classical guitar.
AAA

Short nails

Post by AAA » Wed Mar 21, 2018 3:13 am

I know this is rank heresy, but I play with extremely short nails. They barely reach the tips of my fingers, and they're filed to match the contour of the fingertip.

Back when I started classical guitar (many, many years ago), there was not so much discussion about nail shape. In fact, as I recall, the nail shape that was taught (or at least inferred) followed my current practice, albeit the "proper" length was somewhat longer than I use now. When I left guitar to concentrate on harp (Medieval and wire-strung technique: using nails still, but on both hands), I shortened my nails, particularly when I got a regular gig and a broken nail would be a major disaster. In fact, it was nail breakage that caused me to give up the long nails and play with my very short nails.

I should mention that, regarding wire-strung harp technique, the current orthodoxy specifies *long* nails, filed slantwise: much the same as I'm seeing in some of the nail discussions about classical guitar. Honestly, I mostly don't care for the sound produced by these harpers, and I shudder to think what their nail-upkeep routine must be.

But I played wire-strung harp with short nails for years and never had much of a problem either with length or with tone.

I don't really feel that, even with my very short nails, I'm having much of a tonal problem with classical guitar. (I accept the fact that others may disagree.) One of the advantages of short nails is that breakage becomes less of a problem. In fact, the only time I really cause damage to my nails is when I'm working the heavy bag: my bag gloves compress the outside (pinky finger) corner of my index fingernail and cause a whitened stress fracture. (I just file off the damaged part.) Another advantage is that I don't have as many problems executing daily tasks...such as the typing I'm doing now. In fact, I can tell when my nails need shortening when I start to feel them impact on the bezel surrounding my keyboard keys.

So maybe I'm wrong, but this nail length appears to work for me.

I mention all of this for the sake of those who, like me, have problems with "tracing paper" and or hooked nails.

AA

Scott Phillips
Posts: 2788
Joined: Tue Nov 29, 2016 1:16 pm

Re: Short nails

Post by Scott Phillips » Wed Mar 21, 2018 3:29 am

I keep my nails short, just a little bit past the tip. I used to keep them long, but they were always breaking. I like the sound with the short nails the best. There is more flesh behind the initial attack when I pluck. I do find that this works best for me, in terms of tone, especially with brighter strings.

Alessandro Giovanni Frassi
Posts: 76
Joined: Sun Jul 29, 2018 11:08 pm
Location: Cremona, Lombardia, Italia

Re: Short nails

Post by Alessandro Giovanni Frassi » Tue Aug 07, 2018 9:15 pm

Everyone has to understand which is the best length for himself, there is not a valid rule for everyone. It is true, however, that years ago the general rules were followed more, copied by the great masters but now, in my opinion, there is more attention to the needs of the individual person.

powderedtoastman
Posts: 569
Joined: Sat Feb 20, 2016 1:15 am
Location: Sunnyvale, CA

Re: Short nails

Post by powderedtoastman » Tue Aug 07, 2018 11:34 pm

I would like to be able to play with much shorter nails or no nails but I have a setup that works for me where they are a little bit long and skewed to one side in a certain way...
I'm trying to go with "if it ain't broke don't fix it" but I do have one other hobby where the nails would eventually become a problem depending how far I decide to stick with it. One thing that is on my side if I decide to go no-nails is that I primarily like to play early romantic guitar, and in that little niche they actually encourage no-nails playing. For that matter there are even some very die-hard proponents of that, much like the modern classical guitar community has.

dtoh
Posts: 325
Joined: Mon Jan 11, 2016 12:54 pm

Re: Short nails

Post by dtoh » Tue Aug 07, 2018 11:55 pm

A few observations.

1) Nail length and nail angle are not the only thing that affect tone. By changing your angle of attack you can get comparable tone with different nail length and angle.

2) Nail breakage should not dictate nail length. There are good solutions (gel, artificial nails, etc.) that are easy to use and produce good tone. IMHO anyone with a nail breakage issue is just grossly ill informed.

guit-box
Posts: 1478
Joined: Mon Dec 05, 2011 4:57 am

Re: Short nails

Post by guit-box » Wed Aug 08, 2018 8:46 pm

AgedAngel wrote:
Wed Mar 21, 2018 3:13 am
I know this is rank heresy, but I play with extremely short nails. They barely reach the tips of my fingers, and they're filed to match the contour of the fingertip.

Back when I started classical guitar (many, many years ago), there was not so much discussion about nail shape. In fact, as I recall, the nail shape that was taught (or at least inferred) followed my current practice, albeit the "proper" length was somewhat longer than I use now. When I left guitar to concentrate on harp (Medieval and wire-strung technique: using nails still, but on both hands), I shortened my nails, particularly when I got a regular gig and a broken nail would be a major disaster. In fact, it was nail breakage that caused me to give up the long nails and play with my very short nails.

I should mention that, regarding wire-strung harp technique, the current orthodoxy specifies *long* nails, filed slantwise: much the same as I'm seeing in some of the nail discussions about classical guitar. Honestly, I mostly don't care for the sound produced by these harpers, and I shudder to think what their nail-upkeep routine must be.

But I played wire-strung harp with short nails for years and never had much of a problem either with length or with tone.

I don't really feel that, even with my very short nails, I'm having much of a tonal problem with classical guitar. (I accept the fact that others may disagree.) One of the advantages of short nails is that breakage becomes less of a problem. In fact, the only time I really cause damage to my nails is when I'm working the heavy bag: my bag gloves compress the outside (pinky finger) corner of my index fingernail and cause a whitened stress fracture. (I just file off the damaged part.) Another advantage is that I don't have as many problems executing daily tasks...such as the typing I'm doing now. In fact, I can tell when my nails need shortening when I start to feel them impact on the bezel surrounding my keyboard keys.

So maybe I'm wrong, but this nail length appears to work for me.

I mention all of this for the sake of those who, like me, have problems with "tracing paper" and or hooked nails.

AA
How about posting a close up video of your right hand so we can see the nails and hear the sound you're talking about?
An eyewitness will often only see what he already believes to be true.

AAA

Re: Short nails

Post by AAA » Thu Aug 09, 2018 3:25 am

The nails of my right hand come up to the tips of my fingers, sometimes they're a little shorter. There is, on average, about a sixteenth of an inch of "free" (white area) nail between the nail bed and the fingertip.

"Sound" is very subjective. If you're defining a "long nail" sound as the norm and the one and only acceptable sound, you would doubtless not like the sound of a shorter nail. Or you might not notice any difference (in the case of a blind comparison). The question is, does the sound satisfy me? The answer is yes. Another question: does a shorter nail allow me to exploit the dynamics of the instrument as much as I want? Again, yes.

And I can open bottles, pull weeds, fish out car keys from the bottom of my purse, work the heavy bag, and, most of all, pry open those dratted battery compartments of remote controls without worrying that a chunk of nail is going to go flying off somewhere.

When I was playing harp with nail technique, short nails allowed me to play faster and more deftly, and my dynamics ranged from a mere whisper (not good for a noisy restaurant!) to full-out, all-but-ripping-the-strings-off-the-instrument.

My suggestion: try it and see what you think. Nails grow.

AA

guit-box
Posts: 1478
Joined: Mon Dec 05, 2011 4:57 am

Re: Short nails

Post by guit-box » Thu Aug 09, 2018 4:03 am

I played with short nails years because they wore so fast and that's just how they ended up. Until I got acrylics and gave up on the one size fits all nail advice in Pumping Nylon that the nail length should just meet the tip of the flesh, my technique was limited. We all know about the differences in flesh of fingertips affecting fingernail length and how that makes the length an individual thing, but finger length also affects this. Some of us have an index finger that is the same length as the a finger and some like me have a shorter index finger. Compounding that short index finger is the fact that I like to approach the string tangentially, and all of this together makes it work better for me to have a longer index finger nail 2-3 mm past the flesh. I can get by with a short m fingernail since that finger is the longest. I've seen and heard nice sounds from players with short and long nails, but I don't think we can simply say that one length is best for someone else just because it works for us, we all need to experiment and find what works best based on hand position, fingertip flesh, nail shapes, forearm supination/pronation, wrist height, finger length, etc.
An eyewitness will often only see what he already believes to be true.

AAA

Re: Short nails

Post by AAA » Thu Aug 09, 2018 5:22 am

guit-box wrote:
Thu Aug 09, 2018 4:03 am
I played with short nails years because they wore so fast and that's just how they ended up. Until I got acrylics and gave up on the one size fits all nail advice in Pumping Nylon that the nail length should just meet the tip of the flesh, my technique was limited. We all know about the differences in flesh of fingertips affecting fingernail length and how that makes the length an individual thing, but finger length also affects this. Some of us have an index finger that is the same length as the a finger and some like me have a shorter index finger. Compounding that short index finger is the fact that I like to approach the string tangentially, and all of this together makes it work better for me to have a longer index finger nail 2-3 mm past the flesh. I can get by with a short m fingernail since that finger is the longest. I've seen and heard nice sounds from players with short and long nails, but I don't think we can simply say that one length is best for someone else just because it works for us, we all need to experiment and find what works best based on hand position, fingertip flesh, nail shapes, forearm supination/pronation, wrist height, finger length, etc.
I agree completely. Whatever works for you.

AA

Jack Douglas
Posts: 1584
Joined: Wed Aug 19, 2015 2:37 am
Location: Ashland, Va

Re: Short nails

Post by Jack Douglas » Thu Aug 09, 2018 12:27 pm

I get a rounder tone with shorter nails and no hooking on the strings. I can also play faster with ease. When my nail get longer they hook downward and no matter how smooth I buff and polish them they snag on the strings especially the I finger. Even though I keep them short I use the hot spoon straightening technique. Bottom line is short is best for me.
Richard Brune 'Artist' Cedar/Brazilian 1996

Conall
Posts: 742
Joined: Wed Dec 27, 2017 10:26 am
Location: Scotland

Re: Short nails

Post by Conall » Thu Aug 09, 2018 1:32 pm

I also have short nails (see picture). It's a necessity with me as any longer & they chip or break anyway. As long as they are filed well & the angle of playing is diagonal rather than perpendicular to the string I get a good tone.

A related problem is a concentrated period of intense practice leads to wearing them down - as happened to me recently so I played nailess for a couple of concerts (see hard skin under nails). I'm considering trying to practice quietly only for the week or 2 previous to my next series of concerts & perhaps even use removable plastic nails with a non permanent glue that's less damaging than super glue during practice, removing them for the concerts. I'll probably use only the treble strings for exercises too. Any suggestions as to temporary removable nails & non damaging glue welcome!

P.s. my index is also hooked!
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