From time to time, electric or acoustic guitarist ask me if I need to keep fingernails for a fingerstyle guitar.
My answer is NO.
I guess that if guitarists keep asking the same question I probably need to expand a bit on the subject so that you decide whether to grow your nails or not.
Do I need LONG fingernails for fingerstyle guitar?
As a rule, the fingernail finger should be at the height of 1-2 millimeters above the height of your fingertip.
With a fingernail that is longer than 2 millimeters, you will feel a bit more cumbersome,
like “walking on high heels” (I haven’t tried it, I mean the heels thing…).
What are the benefits of playing fingerstyle with fingernails?
- With nails, you get a louder and brighter sound than just with the flash.
This parameter varies according to the shape of the nail, its length and the type of the guitar.
- You’ll have a more distinct tone separation of parts in a piece,
for example between the different melodic line in each of several different strings so they will pop out.
- Your playing will be faster and smoother because the nail doesn’t have the moisture of the flesh of the finger
and the contact area of it with the string is smaller than the flesh.
At the same time,
it should point out that even if you play with fingernails, the actual attack on the string,
with an ideal nail length, occurs in a joint action of the nail and the flesh together.
- Tone colors – with a fingernail you have more control over the tone color of the sound – fuller or thinner sound and it opens more possibilities of articulation of a certain sequence of notes so that you can more reliably express the musical image you have in your head and spice up your music.This way guitar playing will be more interesting for you and your listeners.
Should you play nylon string guitar with nails?
If you want to play classical guitar in the sense of a classical repertoire then I would recommend that you grow nails.
Just to mention that despite the fact that for the past few decades it has been the default in the classical world,
until the 19th century, it did not exist, and only the guitarist Dionisio Aguado y García (8 April 1784 – 29 December 1849) began to play with his nails and drew the other guitarists to do so.
If you play a nylon string guitar with the flesh, then you will get a softer sound that might fit some genres like smooth Bossa Nova.
In general, it is a matter of your personal preference.
KEEP IN MIND that to keep your nails, you need to file them every few days and take time,
if you have not already done so, to figure out what is the right nail shape for you.
The look of the nail depends on your characteristics such as their natural growth shape, the shape of your finger,
the direction of your attack on the string, and more.
This guy explains very nicely about how to shape your fingernails for fingerstyle guitar:
For many guitarists dealing with keeping their nails, it’s a matter of habit that they overcome
because of it worth the results they wish to get while others can find it annoying.
For me, it’s part of my guitar playing, so I do not think about it too much.
I usually play the bass with the flesh and occasionally change the nail sound if I want to highlight a melodic line
at a certain moment.
This way I create a more definite distinction between fingers and thumb, and when the index,
middle and ring fingers tend to sound crunchy with nails while the thumb, using the flesh only,
creates the illusion of a bass guitar, so the overall sound spectrum is a reach, broad and dynamic.
You can play with or without fingernails for a fingerstyle guitar.
Try playing with or without fingernails on a variety of guitar types and musical genres.
If you have not played with nails, give it a shot for at least a month with the ideal length I mentioned above.
The bottom line is that it’s a matter of personal taste and habit.
Keep playing and most of all, enjoy!