The majority of guitarists are daily struggled by having to face nail problems and rightly so, as both for the classical guitar and the acoustic one, the best possible sound is picking strings with natural nails. Or better to say, this is an opinion that I share with other colleagues, friends and fans. Even guitarists using nylon strings can have nails problems. So try to imagine what’s what for those who play the acoustic!
In addition to being made of metal, steel strings are knurled, with greater tension so if you play often, even if nails do not break, they will certainly get consumed in a short time. This is probably also the reason why not many acoustic guitarists use their natural nails to play.
Habits of acoustic guitarists
Let’s say that the habits of the “steel string players” to make up for brittle nails are among the most diverse and bizarre ones: those who glue fake nails or cut-outs from plastic material (e.g. ping pong balls), those who use metal fingerpicks, others play just with fingertips.
Some others use “sculpture nails” by applying a mix of resin and various solvents. In this last case, they are using dangerous chemicals, such as cyanoacrylate glues, dangerous for the skin and health.
It is certainly reasonable that before a performance a fingerstyle guitarist resorts to several strategies to repair or strengthen his nails, but if some harmful alternative practices as described before, gradually become the rule, it’s good to know that gluing something on top or, even worse, under the nails, will do nothing but just weaken them.
Strengthen your nails without damaging them
If you decide to improve your sound choosing to pick the strings with your natural nails, let’s see how to reinforce them.
In the presence of particularly fragile nails, it is advisable to analyze the problem from a medical point of view and whether needed, to start a diet to fill up any calcium deficiencies.
On more, you can use products based on keratin, which is naturally contained by nails, or a mixture obtained with one spoon of lemon juice with two spoons of olive oil.
Currently, the product that in my opinion guarantees the best results from a curative and hardening point of view, is the Pentamedical ‘Pentaker’. It is recommended to apply it twice a week before going to bed. It is studied also against onychophagia, so in contact with the mouth, it releases a very bitter taste that can easily be transferred to foods, such as the fruit for example. That’s why the daytime application is not recommended.
Ideal cut of the nail
Source: Mauro Storti: ‘The art of the right hand’ published by Carisch
Care time must be considered in the long term, so if we need to protect our nails not only to play but also before a manual work, for example, it is always better to apply a layer of hardening enamel to prevent damage.
In addition to this, it is important to follow daily care: the use of progressively finer abrasive papers for filing and polishing are practices that allow you to have always ‘‘well-groomed’ hands and not just before playing.
Before diving into the water, especially if salted, apply two or three layers of hardening enamel protection over the four fingers of the right hand.
Before work, use protective gloves and always keep a pair at home, in the car and at work.
A good habit is to bring keys and other metal objects in the left pocket instead of the right one.
In many manual operations, use your left hand as much as possible. A typical example, especially for us Italians: grater in the right hand and parmesan on the left!
Check your nails twice a day. The so-called ‘sweater test’ consists of slightly rubbing the nails on the wool: in the presence of even the slightest cut, a thread of wool will fit on the nail highlighting the part to be filed at soonest.
Finally the length the nail cut is very important: a short, wide-dome nail (see picture n. 9) will be more resistant than a longer one with an acute end. Moreover, in the first case the sound will be stronger and the attack cleaner.