A pick or plectrum is an essential part of any finger style guitarist’s toolkit for playing. There is something about the touch with the string, the push into it, and the release, which makes the plectrum really pluck. However, when we hold a pick we are typically limited to a single line formation, along with chords strumming, so for anything much more elaborate other tools are necessary. Having nails on all the fingers of the hand that plucks the strings makes it possible to execute full finger style songs without ever needing to grab a pick. Nails can have many different shapes and sizes. From straight to crooked, from down to up-sloped, from V to U shaped. All of these factors determine how easy the string moves through the nail.
The age old question from a guitar student to a teacher is often times whether the shape of the nail is the right one. While there really is no right answer because all fingers and fingernails are different, the easiest test to do is to place the fingertip directly on the string, press inwards a bit and follow through the string to see whether the nail gets stuck or if it slides through with ease. If it does get stuck typically it is because there are creases and inconsistencies along the left side of the nail, which need to be buffed out. The nail is like a slope: when smooth, the exit off of a string is easy, but when all jagged and rough, one needs additional effort to push through.
The nail is like a slope: when smooth, the exit off of a string is easy, but when all jagged and rough, one needs additional effort to push through.
Guitarists typically foster all sorts of nail lengths, but what is the right length? One way of looking at the nail length is by turning the plucking hand so that the palm faces inward and you are able to see the nails lurking over the fingertips. If the nails stick out particularly well, then the nails are considered long. If you can’t see the tips of the nails at all, then they are short. Neither is necessarily a problem, but it does raise a question whether length makes a difference. A shorter nail, catching more of the fingertip as it exists the string, produces a warmer, rounder sound, while a longer nail can in principle avoid the touch of the fingertip on string almost completely. This produces a rather sharp and direct sound. Everyone has their preference, so when determining the length of a nail, one needs to consider which type of sound and feel is preferred when playing.
A finger style guitarist’s nails are almost a must, as they really do act as individual picks for every single finger. They make playing generally easier, and enable things like speed, accuracy and color to be more pronounced.
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