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Avery

Fingernails...

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Curious to hear from you guys like me who play with their nails a lot.

 

Maybe it doesn't get talked about a lot...but the state of nails I think is one of the most pivotal parts for getting a good sound.

 

That said, can be really frustrating when one chips on you...they can be very fickle and not reliable.

 

Also, I find that with fresh strings, long nails give me a harsh sound.

 

And when they get too long...also...too harsh.

 

Just right, you get a nice bright sound that doesn't come with just the fingers.

 

Was wondering how you guys work out playing with your nails...and some of your experiences?

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A Flamenco guitarist friend of mine actually gets his right hand nails professionally manicured, even his wife razzes him about it.

 

As for me, I'm NOT mainly a fingerstyle player, but what little I do is with fingertips, not fingernails. Never could play with thumb/finger picks either.

 

Mainly what DO is chunk funny chords in a jazz "big band", and for this I mainly use a bare thumb, with the nail trimmed very short as to NOT catch any string.

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I've mostly done one sort of fingerstyle or another since I started in '63, with excursions occasionally into flatpicking for specific music types.

 

IMHO, diet and general health are the primary considerations.

 

Way back when, there was a product called "hard as nails" that a number of fellow fingerpickers of one sort or another would use.

 

Generally I've also kept nails trimmed to meet the classical guitar concept of kinda a combination of fingertip and nail sweeping over the string as opposed to anything at all that would appear to be digging into the string. The "brush stroke" concept, in effect. That's also true even when the nail was more used for a sharper attack - but still with a "brush" sort of technique. The classical guitar "rest stroke" offers that rather easily and I've noticed that it's often used by flamenco players too...

 

Using bare fingertips without nails contacting the strings has been used quite a bit bit players, perhaps nowadays largely jazz pickers kinda emulating Joe Pass, is still something where a free stroke or rest stroke, either one, is not "clawing" the strings.

 

When I was doing much more classical and flamenco on nylon strings, I'd get frustrated with the broken nail. If possible I'd smooth it to roughly the shape of the fingertip; if not, down to the level of the chip and then smoothed to protect its growth. I've continued that even as I mostly am fingerpicking a "jazz" archtop electric or flattop.

 

Too, for what it's worth, mostly I play with very light strings compared to what others prefer. All but two guitars, electric or AE, wear 9-42. One wears 8-38 and one slightly heavier AE setup that's roughly 10-46 for strumming with a flatpick or a Mother Maybelle sort of thumbpick and fingerpicks as one would do on an autoharp. That latter, though, has mostly been on a 12-string when not flatpicked.

 

Yeah, it's my experience that if you're not a fingerpicker who uses a bit of nail in technique, it's hard to understand the concerns of nail shape and length. But like anything else, it's a matter of consideration of one's technique, how it might be improved, and what nail use/length/shape is most appropriate if nails are to be used.

 

Again, I'd recommend the OP check on written/illustrated discussion of nails for classical guitar. IMHO that carries over into any sort of fingerstyle playing.

 

Also, the battle against any sort of "clawing" at the strings IMHO is one I've seen flatpickers have to battle through as they work through any sort of fancier/faster picking - and that some sort of "brushing" tends to work best regardless, as opposed to anything that might encourage what I call "clawing" at strings.

 

m

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Fingernails do lend another dimension to the sound of fingerpicking. The trick is to find the exactly proper length, which isn't too difficult, and keep them there, which is a b!tch. I enjoy the experience when it goes well, but never count on its reliability. I know people who reinforce their nails with a variety of things, from nail polish to superglue, but that's more carrying-on than I want to do. Fingerpicks are something that I can never use properly or comfortably, and my thumb is too big for a thumbpick. The result is that I usually fingerpick however works at a given time. Most often, I flatpick.

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I can't do what you do Avery. I've also looked at some online lessons by Justin Guitar. Long nails. Me short nails. I have some Fred Kelly finger picks... they work for me. I hear Alaska Picks are a good option too...

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I fingerpick 100% of the time with 3 Dunlop metal finger picks and a clear plastic Dunlop thumb pick...when using steel or nylon strings, so I think I will bow out of this thread and defer to others on it.

 

😄

 

QM aka Jazzman Jeff

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I play bareback most of the time....

 

(When I was a kid, someone said the girls rode their horses along the riverbank not far from school, so a few of us went for a look one day. There were quite a few riders, and somehow I got to ride a horse, which was never in the plan. Bareback. Still hurts.)

 

Oh, fingerpicking bareback. Doesn't hurt quite as much, depending on the moon.

 

It is the best way to get a natural sound and playing style, but I just go with the flow these days as your fantastic nail on the kicking index finger is perfect and you adjust something on the car and half the nail is gone... But generally I like my index a bit longer, others short including thumb.

 

I have a super duper nail file from a slide maker but I don't have the patience to sit and file nails like a secretary at a desk, so I just cut the broken ones.....

 

 

BluesKing777.

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Finger-picking on my Epi 12 string has taught me to keep my nails short, about 1/8" or so, and to adjust the angle of attack.

I now use my fingernails so that the angle is more oblique or diagonal, as opposed to perpendicular to the strings.

I use my thumbnail the same way and generally just firmly brush across both strings with an almost sideways movement.

If I don't, it catches the upper octave string, and misses the wound one.

That showed me that I was clawing somewhat at the strings. It's been a hard habit to break but it seems easier on my old hands.

The notes sound way better when they are massaged out rather than clawed at.

 

With shorter nails come fewer breaks and chips but my nail file is ALWAYS handy.

I have to use it every 2nd or 3rd day on my fretting fingers, anyway, so I keep the others smoothed at the same time.

I'm using 12-53s with a 13 single up top on my everyday 6 string.

Edited by L8_4thesh0w

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Like blues king, index is a little longer, but it is essentially a bare finger approach. I've never broken a nail while playing and I haven't used a pick in over 10 years. Granted I too use very light gauge strings and am usually tuned down a half step.

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Finger picks and flat picks mostly, but I am blessed with good nails. I use them for two things. We have four pre-1925 size 0 and size 1 Martins that we string with newtone heritage low tension steel strings. This sound is amazing, but with finger picks they are almost impossible not to over play. Even played really lightly, they are still very loud.

 

The other thing I do is clawhammer banjo. This uses a down stroke, and I vary between index, middle, and ring finger to get a different sound.

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I keep my nails pretty short, literally maybe 1mm over the the flesh, and maybe 2 mms over the thumb. Thats enough for me to dig in and get a strong tone. I strike with both flesh and nail. If they get too long they break easy and the tone suffers. I use a nail hardener about once a week now and have not broken a nail since then.

 

My wife thinks Im a fairy now.

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So many permutations.....so little time.....dry.gif

 

Starting in the 60's 'suffering' the rigours of classical technique....playing p,i,m,a with thumb and first three finger nails....(nylon strings)

 

Hearing and digging the bright-toned virtuosity of John Renbourn....steel strings using reinforced fingernails

 

Plectrum and fingers on an SG to achieve sufficient attack in an organ/guitar/drums combo....[thumbup]

 

Focussing on 12 string....initially fingers only....until nails wore down.....:blink:

 

Then Dunlop thumbpick and fingers

 

Finally Dunlop thumbpick and Dunlop or National fingerpick(a la Leadbelly)

 

I can switch between fingers on a nylon stringer to thumbpick'n fingerpick on a 12 string with reasonable ease

 

V

 

:-({|=

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Keep my nails short and like the sound of skin/nail

Just enough nail so it won't break , I tried before and found that withthe growth of nails mixed with nails breaking any progress in practicing would be regularly knocked back with the nails changing .

 

Avery , you seem to have a James Taylor fixation so I guess if your aim is to sound exactly like him then nails or picks have to be utilised

I think you'd be better trying to sound like yourself , as everyone should , unless they see a career as a tribute act

 

I'm speaking from someone who had a Dylan fixation , a Neil young fixation and a Ryan Adams fixation! And many others , but the Dylan fixation was akin to where you are now with James Taylor. I'm doing a bit of assuming here so apologies if it's not true.

I sound like none of them but years of trying to at times has shaped my voice a little

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I play fingerstyle with a Fred Kelly thumb pick I use the nails on my picking hand 100% . I have tried all manner of things to strengthen my nails but I have settled on using a Wolfram nail file . I file the nails in the classical guitar style with a ramp on the leading edge then I put a quantity of hand soap on the file and finish the nail . I find that this gives a really good polished edge to the nail .

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Anyone get sore calf muscles from their high heels ?

Haven't owned a pair of boots w/'contest-riding' heels in years - they're not meant for walking😯

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I use my nails on all but a couple of the songs I do. Use a Kelly Thumb Pic on a few where I really need a strong bass. I've fingerpicked since the 60's, only rarely using a pick for strumming. I use a nail hardener 1/2 times per week and keep a nail file in each guitar case, along with a tuner, capo, and thumbpick........ I quite wearing high heels a few years ago. Same time I stopped with the short skirts.

Seriously, it's true. All boots are not made for walking.

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I play with nails, I file them weekly keeping them just proud of the flesh. I only use a flat pick if I am required to play rhythm and I will use a thumb pick playing with others when I need the extra volume for a base line or a solo. I play with all three fingers without a little finger support,.

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I've played fingerstyle with my own nails for decades. When I first tried to do fingerstyle, I used finger picks. I didn't find them comfortable or flexible. For example, in many songs, I want to finger pick but then do a downstroke with the backs of my fingernails. The fingerpicks just fly off in all directions.

 

I'm lucky that I've got strong nails. My thumbnail, in particular, is like a horse hoof so I can really dig in with it. Steel strings chew up real nails like a hot knife through butter. With the amount that James Taylor plays with his nails, I'm not surprised he fashions his own fake nails with acrylic. I don't play as much or as often as James does. I tend to file my nails after playing to make the edges smooth again. If I'm playing a lot this means they will get shorter and shorter. So I apply Sally Hansen "Hard As Nails". It is like a clear epoxy nail coating. It works great.

 

Just a note that James Taylor is not the only famous advocate of acrylic nails. Paul McCartney, due to his idiosyncratic style of down stroking with his index fingernail, applies an acrylic nail to his index finger while he is in concert.

 

IMG_3299.jpg

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Guys, thanks for all the input so far. Now I've got a lot to read!

 

Doug...I can see why down-strumming with the index needs some means of strengthening the nail... whenever I try to do that my index nail always chips.

 

Which is why when I play James Taylor songs, or just in general, I strum with my middle finger.

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