Nail Shaping and Maintenance for Classical Guitarists

The beautiful sound of the classical guitar depends not only on the player’s skill but also on the condition of their nails. Nail care and maintenance are crucial for achieving the clear, crisp, and vibrant tones that define classical guitar music. Understanding how to care for your nails is essential. In this article, we’ll explore the importance of using nails in your guitar playing. We will talk about nail care, and I’ll try to give you some tips to help you shape your nails and maintain them in good condition.

The Importance of Nails in Classical Guitar Playing:

When we talk about using nails in classical guitar playing, we’re talking about one of the hands. The one that is producing the sound. In most cases, this is the right hand, but in general, there is a mutual acceptance that when we talk about the sound-producing hand, we call it a “right hand” regardless, of whether the guitarist is left-handed or right-handed. So “right hand” in the classical guitar “world” is a term, which means the hand that is producing the sound.

How do the nails contribute to the quality of the tone?

Classical guitar players produce sound with their right hand’s fingertips. That is a straightforward explanation, but things are much more complicated than they look. The nail job, if you want, in the process of sound production, is to shape the sound and give it that clear and crisp characteristic. It is important to understand that the nail alone does not make that great sound.  Playing with the nail alone will result in a weak, empty, and dry sound. On the other hand, using only the flesh results in a warm deep, and full sound closer to the sound of the harp, as states Emilio Pujol.

As in anything, going to extremes won’t be fruitful for your guitar playing. What do I mean by that is rejecting one type of sound and glorifying the other is not a productive way of thinking and working with the instrument. Nails, flesh, or a combination of nails and flesh are just tools for producing sound colors. The specific of the instrument the anatomy of the players’ fingers and fingernails of course will determine to the great extent the quality of the sound that they will produce. Here we should not forget that music is not in the sound only. What plays a crucial role in the performance quality Is the guitarist’s level of proficiency in the music itself.

Think of using nails in your classical guitar playing as an opportunity to expand your arsenal of means and tools in the process of making or performing music.

I will not exaggerate if I say that the tone quality is in our mind before all, not in our hands. I suggest you ask yourself several questions: What kind of tone do you want to have? Do you like it?  If you like it, why do you like it? What will happen if you learn how to produce such a tone? How possessing the skills to produce such a tone will contribute to your playing? Do you like this sound because you heard someone sounding like that, or because your teacher told you that you should sound like that? Do you make a difference between your desired tone and the tone that you are currently producing?

What I’m going with this is that if you don’t have the inner need to acquire a different way of sound producing you’re doing this just because someone told you. It’s not that you’re wasting your time but it’s not the time now to think about such a thing.  If this is the case my advice would be, to listen to more classical guitar music, study music theory, and solfeggio, in other words, work on your general musicianship. I’m sure that in this process you will start making a difference in the other players’ sound, and your taste will appear to need a different tone.

Shaping Your Nails:

How do I shape my nails? My answer is: “I don’t know.” And trust me I mean that, I really don’t know how you’re supposed to shape your nails, what shape you should give them. Here we’re talking about shape which one works the best for you as I said I don’t know but what I can tell you for sure is what to do with your nails once you find your nail shape.

Find your fingernails Shape.

What you should be looking at here is the angle at which your finger is attacking the string going through it, et cetera, and by knowing this angle you can easily shape your nail accordingly. Bear in mind that each finger could be different, you cannot just find the front angle of one of the fingers and then apply it to all of them, in most cases it will not work. So, examine each of your fingers – index, middle, and ring how they attack and what they do while playing, observe them passionately, this will give you a good idea.

One of the easiest ways to determine the approximate shape of your nails is to place a piece of sandpaper on the strings and simulate free-stroke movements as if you were playing. By gently grazing your nails against the sandpaper, they will be worn in a manner that matches your string attack angle. This will provide a good idea of how your nails should be shaped.

Once again, I want to emphasize that you shouldn’t take things to extremes. Rubbing your nails gently on sandpaper over the strings won’t give you the complete nail shape, but it will provide you with the direction in which you attack the strings, which is a helpful starting point for finding your ideal shape.

Working the nails

Once you get the approximate angle in which your nails should be shaped, get your nail file and try to do the approximate initial shape of the entire nail take care of the edges avoid having any sharp angles use the line that you received from the glass paper as a guide around nicely the edges of their nails, frequently check how each nail slides on the strings if you’re happy you can proceed to the next stage:

People like to have exact information when dealing with instructions. For example, vague recipe terms like “Black paper on your taste” can be frustrating as they don’t specify the quantity, but in general that says that it is up to you up to your taste, no one knows your taste better than you… So, when it comes to shaping your nails and especially the length of your nails, please do not follow and do not look for exact dimensions. You can find statements like “it has to be 1 millimeter above the flesh”, “it has to be no longer than two millimeters” etc. All those are just words, trust me, you are the one who must determine the shape, and the length of your nails, by experimenting and thinking. When you’re playing free stoke you must feel how you place your finger on the string with the flesh and nail at the same time, then you displace the string and release it. During the release, you must feel how easily the string slips or slides through your nail. That will be your criteria for the nail length, the nail shape, and so on.

Polishing of your nails

Once you’ve found the shape of your nails or are satisfied with your search, give them a final gentle filing. Then, proceed to the polishing, using a Manicure 3 Way Nail Buffer or glass paper, starting from 400, 800, 1000, 1200, 2000, 2800 for the finest finish. Keep in mind that you’re not doing this for aesthetic purposes; you’re doing it to enhance your guitar playing. Polish the nail tips while working perpendicular to ensure that the front side of the nail is as smooth as glass. This will enable your fingertips to glide effortlessly through the strings, producing a beautiful sound.

Moreover, polishing the tips of your nails ensures that they won’t catch on various objects you handle daily. They will smoothly glide over whatever you touch, reducing the risk of breakage. Certainly, if you experience issues with your nails, such as excessive softness, brittleness, or frequent breakage, it is advisable to consult a doctor. These problems could be indicative of underlying issues, including potential nutritional deficiencies, such as a lack of essential vitamins like calcium. Please note that I’m only speculating, so it’s crucial to seek professional medical advice when your nails deviate from the norm.

Nail care is a personal journey, and what works for one guitarist may not work for another. Experiment with different nail shapes, lengths, and techniques to discover what complements your playing style best.

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