Finger nails, long or short

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

Finger nails, long or short

Post by Galaxie » Sat Sep 03, 2011 4:41 pm

My teacher is always telling me that very short nails are best and I know that if your nails are to long you may have poor tone. I have taken a few lessons with scott tennent and he sujests longer than my teacher. I have also seen vidios of familiar professionals who have somewhat long nails.I just don't know anymore whats best. :?


Re: Finger nails,long or short

Post by mwinckler » Sun Sep 04, 2011 12:02 am

I've rarely heard anyone recommend long nails, but I personally like them longer. I think you can get good tone with many different lengths and shapes. Rest strokes are not quite as easy with longer nails, so I probably use them less than I could. Also I will probably never play scales faster than 120/quarter note, but these are trade offs I'm willing to make for the feel of a longer nail. Ralph Towner's thumb nail is very long, at least when I saw it. I believe he said it had the strength of a horse's hoof. I use acrylics myself, so I don't worry too much about damage because they're long. My disclaimer here is that I just love to play, I will never be a professional classical guitarist.


Pat Patterson

Re: Finger nails, long or short

Post by Pat Patterson » Wed Sep 07, 2011 1:42 am

I think you should listen to your teacher for now. Short nails have many advantages, especially for a student level player. I once had the pleasure to meet and talk with Angel Romero. He had nails so short, that it looked like he was playing with more flesh than nail, yet he did get a strong nail sound with amazing tone and precision. If your nails are thin and have a lot of flex, short nails will probably work much better. Also flat nails should be short. Long nails seem to work best on well rounded nails. All that being said, short as possible nails is only a good starting point. As you progress, you will want to experiment with varying nail lengths. I played with very short nails for many years, but I presently play with very long nails. This change happend over a thirty year period. One word of caution though is that you have to develop very strict safety habits with long nails to keep from breaking them. You never use your right hand for any activity which has the possibility of breaking a nail. Good Luck.


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Re: Finger nails, long or short

Post by laoren » Fri Sep 16, 2011 4:15 pm

Yeah, short nails have its advantages such as manipulation of tone colour. And I think having longer nails can have this consistency of tone. That being said, I think the shape of your nails weighs a greater consideration.

But please experiment all these things, no two hands (even for your fingers) are the same! So have fun (or fustrations)!


Re: Finger nails, long or short

Post by AsturiasFan » Sun Sep 18, 2011 7:26 am

If Niedt has said it once, he's said it, and he has: "Experiment! Find out what works best for you!!" Google Douglas Niedt to view three new videos on nails.

I've played with no-nails, and short nails, but will take Niedt's advice and try his longer options: nails that are 1/16 in to 1/8 in beyond the tip. My terrier prefers even longer nails and uses them to great effect.

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Re: Finger nails, long or short

Post by gtrfinger » Mon Sep 26, 2011 12:13 am

I always used to keep my index finger slightly longer than my middle. Recently split the side of it, and had to file right down, level with top of finger., wish I'd done that years ago! so much more control.
google Mike Fowler guitar

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Re: Finger nails, long or short

Post by KevinCollins » Wed Sep 28, 2011 4:17 pm


For me, BC, fingernail length varies, depending on what phase of practice I'm in. When I'm learning new pieces, I like longer nails to help find the string. As I get closer to the concert, I like shorter nails, for brilliant sound. These are the trade-offs: long nails to help find the string, and short nails for brilliant sound.

When I am in the acquisition phase, I found that short nails produced a stilted sound, too short and controlled. I had to stab the string to find it. It wasn't good. You may want this sound in certain spots, but you don't necessarily want it all the time.

When the nails are long, I found I was getting noise as I pushed across the string, a "wiping" sound. When I played flute, I liked a softer attack on the note, but on guitar the softer attack produced a 'wiping' sound which my teacher could not stand and he told me so, in no uncertain terms. Flute good, guitar bad. If your teacher thinks you would like shorter nails, you might want to listen to your sound in terms of the quality of the attack. Maybe he's trying to tell you something.

In guitar, there is only one thing, the gesture, the attack. We only get the attack -- sustain and decay are up to the guitar. And we get the closure of the sound, if necessary, but that is another topic.

While the guitar has "an unlimited tonal palate" [Segovia], and "unlimited consonant sounds" [Collins] you would prefer not to take advantage of your audience's patience by wiping the string every time, playing with only one consonant sound.

I would look at the "push across the string", then, and see if the nail is "wiping", rather than crossing the string on one point, and clean that up. You would like to have a variety of sounds available to you, not just a "th" sound.

The other problem may be "catching". I like to create a striking surface on the nail by placing my sapphire board under the nail and filing a flat striking surface.

Flat striking surface with sapphire board

nail shape - file.jpg
The shape of the striking surface will vary according to the curve of the nail. I think we have all tried different nail shapes and that is how I get mine. Then I file the nail to a symmetrical shape. Mine is curved but others have a flat striking surface with the nail filed at a distinct angle.

Here is a drawing that shows the issue about trying to describe "nail shape":
Nail Shape.jpg
Without seeing the actual curve of the nail, from the top, the drawing is meaningless. The two nail shapes may create the same striking surface for each of the two individuals. We will never know.

I would keep the side off, though, that soft spot where the nail tends to catch and break, when I'm putting on my socks in the morning, before my eyes have opened.

So, I would look closer to see what your teacher is saying, some things things are lost in translation between two individuals. You could become an active observer, check a couple more angles.

Maybe your teacher is right. Try it shorter, just a little at a time. They grow back.

My $000,000,000.02 worth.


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Re: Finger nails, long or short

Post by glassynails » Sat Oct 01, 2011 4:06 pm

There are advantages and disadvatages to both nail lengths. Also, it depends on what you define long and short as. Mine are about 2mm above the tip and I consider them "long" for me. I like them and it's easier to play, BUT I usually have them shorter. Nails are an ever-evolving issue and will always vary, I think.
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Re: Finger nails, long or short

Post by Bryanm » Sun Oct 09, 2011 8:15 pm

When I am able to let my nails grow out some (without breaking them in a kitchen accident etc.) I like the nail tone that I get. But inevitably they will end up having to be clipped because of some mishap or another. Flesh sounds pretty good to me as an amateur, so I can live with it. My nails seem to be fairly soft. Somebody mentioned acrylics? Does that help a lot?


Re: Finger nails, long or short

Post by Australopithicus » Sat Oct 22, 2011 8:38 am

Regarding nail length, I find 1 mm beyond finger tip fine. In my experience I have found the middle finger needs a little more length than the index and third finger. This is my weakest finger and perhaps the length helps compensate for a poor action. I am working on it. I find my right hand has a high wrist action by comparison with some classical models I have observed. Maybe I am subconsciously influenced by Flamenco. However I cannot get short nails work well with a high action free stroke. Short nails seem to work best for the flatter Apoyando action.
So general wrist/hand position seems to me an important consideration when discussing nail length and I think that may explain why preferences of nail length vary so widely. I find different playing techniques demand adjustments to wrist angle to get the best attack such as higher for tremelo and lower for Bach passages and scales.

Regarding Acrylics, I resort to them out of necessity when a nail breaks, but I find them too crude to achieve good sound. Of course I file them to replicate the original nail as best I can but they are thick and there is a dullness to sound produced with acrylic on string. The original nail sound is cleaner and has more snap. I am told that the acrylic sucks moisture out of the original nail with the result that after removing acrylic your nail is weaker and more brittle. The same informant recommended regular applications of olive oil which penetrates the acrylic and helps nourish the nail. Has anyone else any experience of this issue?

Comments welcome.
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Re: Finger nails, long or short

Post by glassynails » Sat Oct 22, 2011 4:13 pm

The anular nail should always be longest, with the middle and index shorter respectively.
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Re: Finger nails, long or short

Post by Luis_Br » Sun Oct 23, 2011 7:23 pm

I think it is difficult to say that it is better a long or short without parameters.
If a great teacher recommends something, I would certainly do it. You can test and if it is not ok, you can go back without problems. To get good nailshape, it is important to make a lot of tests.
I use slight different shapes from one finger to the other and anular is a little longer, as Glassynails has said. But I wouldn't simply say a longer nail on the anular is better.
KevinCollins wrote:---
Without seeing the actual curve of the nail, from the top, the drawing is meaningless. The two nail shapes may create the same striking surface for each of the two individuals. We will never know.
I think this is an important point and the shape of your nail compared to the fingertip is also important. I use longer nail on the anular because of the fingertip curvature, the nail is further to the center of the tip flesh.
I have 3 different guitars, with 3 different strings, with different tensions, that fit better to each guitar. According to each guitar and strings, small differences in nail shape and length may work better. I have a traditional spruce guitar which I have to dig in to get nice sound. This one works better with shorter nail. Another guitar with modern style of construction requires different style of attack and it seems a little longer nail works better.


Re: Finger nails, long or short

Post by danilo » Mon Oct 24, 2011 7:48 pm

Hi there. I prefer short nails, but it is really strange that Scott Tennant said that: he discusses about nails his handbook "Pumping Nylon". It says: "To gauge the lenght of your nail hold your finger out horizontally and then place a file against the fingertip at a right angle. If the nail and flash touch the file at about the same time, the lenght is good. If you have to tilt the file forward or back the nail is either too long or too short.
Although this warning, there are several positions about one of the problems of guitarists: nails. I suggest ou to try, try and try to understand what is your best nail's lenght.

Best regards from Italy,

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Re: Finger nails, long or short

Post by dfl3tch3r » Mon Apr 17, 2017 7:48 am

I'm a 'beginner'? after having taken up CG in March 2016.
I have read so much and experimented quite a bit with my nails and so here are my own findings on 'my own' nails.
I record all my playing (usually pieces) so that I have some kind of reference, audio and visual feedback.

So when I first started playing I had zero nails; and now I have short nails with a ramp which barely extend past the tip .
I have not as yet been able to try longer nails because of a slight hooking issue which I have to literally iron out with a hot spoon (David Russell).
Also I have found that 12 months isn't really long enough to grow CG nails! Your initially trying to find the best shape for you; filing and testing and filing incorrectly and then awaiting re-growth etc etc. At this same time your also maybe have to combat certain nail issues you never knew you had when they were short. Also after many breakages I am gradually changing the way I do things, like opening drawers with my LH etc etc.
I'm beginning to find that nails are a real pain in the proverbial and a learning curve too. In fact at least half as much of my musical study has been devoted to nail study and maintenance. Every time I play I listen and then look / polish / refine my nail/s.

So in my early playing with nails clipped short I found that much of my concentration and brain work was devoted to contacting the strings with just the right part of the finger tip. If I got too much flesh it made it difficult to release the string; conversely, too little flesh (right on the tip) and the volume and tone changed completely and with no nail to locate and grip the string the inconsistency and lack of control was annoying.
So whilst trying to read the score and shape the left hand I had to also concentrate on my RH string contact at the same time.
I continue to struggle with this but to much less a degree as my nails grow, shape and improve. I find I don't have to worry about the RH quite so much and I can definitely find the string a lot easier and the tone is obviously much better IMHO.

Good luck.

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