Guitarists and their Nails

nailsAs I write this, I’m on a plane back from the Hamilton International Guitar Festival in Ontario, Canada. As customary for a guitar festival, we spent an entire weekend playing, listening, teaching, eating and drinking guitar. And in between all that guitar music and talk, of course we also talked about nails, which is probably the most random topic for the nearby eavesdroppers. The topics included everything and anything from the best file to the worst nail breaking story, to fake nails and hot spoons. So I figured, I should share some of the ways I like to take care of my nails to keep them in tip top shape and guard them from breaking. Each of us has our own dilemmas when it comes to our nails, their shape and the sound we produce with them on the guitar. Since that is an individual venture, I’m not going to delve too much into that, instead I will share what I do, or don’t do, to keep my nails in their best form.

Starting with the obvious, I avoid situations which can lead to nail breakage, such as sports that involve direct contact with my hands and a moving object; i.e. frisbee, basketball, hand ball… You get the idea. I also avoid situations which can cause the nail to weaken, such as doing dishes without rubber gloves, hand washing laundry, and any other activity that involves heavy detergents and prolonged soaking in water. Obviously, we all have to clean up after ourselves, so I always wear rubber gloves to try and protect them from the harsh chemicals.

I don’t reach into mysterious places with my right hand. Even though I’m a righty and my first instinct is to use my right hand to reach for things, I have subconsciously trained myself to use my left hand. If I don’t know what’s waiting for me there, I explore with my left hand. That way I’m not surprised if my right hand nail is broken from something hard or sharp. Same thing applies to my own pockets or purses. I carry my keys or any other sharp objects in my left pocket, to avoid the accidental nail damage by putting my right hand into a pocket and being greeted by a chipped nail.

Personally I’ve always worn my watch on my right hand, ever since I got my first one when I was seven. I’m not a lefty, but I found it more comfortable then and ever since have been wearing my watch on the right hand. Now when I think about it, wearing the watch on the right hand has probably helped me avoid some nail chipping from certain watch clasps along the way. Someone reading this might think I’m being a little paranoid, or a lot… but if you chip a nail right before a concert it can be a pretty big headache trying to play with a damaged nail. By wearing my watch on the right  hand, I use my left hand to fiddle with the clasp and avoid any potential disasters.

Sometimes nails come in handy for other things, besides playing the guitar. For those cases, I leave my left thumb nail grow out, so if I need an emergency “screw driver,” for example, I don’t reach with my right hand thumb.

If it’s cold enough outside, I always wear gloves, even if I could get away without them. Gloves are a sure way to protect your nails from breaking, especially when traveling and dealing with suitcases. In cold and dry climate, it also helps to keep my hands and nails moisturized in general. When the nails get too dry, they can become brittle and chip more easily, so keeping them moisturized, helps them to stay flexible. I’m not saying keeping your nails bathed in lotion is going to protect them from breaking, but replenishing the moisture that the dry cold took away, does help.

In hot weather, of course, gloves aren’t a feasible option, then I rely on my general caution. What also helps is always keeping my nails filed and buffed. By having the nails smooth, I can avoid the nail catching on clothes or anything else that can cause chipping or breaking. It helps to also have a small file in your purse or sandpaper in your wallet with you, to be able to fix any nicks or chips, before they get any worse.

If you have any tricks you use to avoid damaging your nails, feel free to share them below.

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2 Responses

  1. Jerry SIlbert says:

    I have really thin nails that tend to break and chip. I have found ibd brush on nail glue to be a real help in reinforcing my nails. I use it on the ends of the nails, not the whole nail and reinforce the glue with nail powder. This also makes the nail glue harden a lot faster. In addition to reinforcing nails, this approach really works well for chipped and cracked nails. I keep the nail powder in a small salt shaker and lightly sprinkle it on the fresh nail glue. This may sound wierd but it certainly works for me.

  2. Barrie Russ says:

    Having bought an RE SPAIN guitar from Ivor Mirants in 1972 for £200 I played irregularly for 30 years, then I found my lost love again. As I always had problems with Nails, I researched and found that going to a local nail bar (in the mornings when there was no one about) solved MY problem. An Acrylic coating every 4 weeks for £15 was a godsend!! my nails are perfect and strong and I only BACK COAT every 2.5 weeks as they grow and replace every 4-5 weeks. My Guitar is now 43 years old, and as I only took 18 months to pass my grade V111, from scratch, its been a blessing to still play at 69 yrs old. I find it relaxing and refreshing every day! try to take the plunge your mates will never know you are wearing Acrylic nail coverings, and they sound excellent!!


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