Nail Care Guide for Finger Style Guitar

Nail Care Guide for Finger Style Guitar


It is very important in finger-style guitar to be aware of, and nurture the nails of the picking hand, usually the Right Hand. The nails of the picking hand should be long enough so that when you look at your palm straight on the nails are visible slightly over the finger tips. Any longer and the nails can catch on the strings and hinder your playing.

The nails of the opposite fretting hand, usually the Left Hand, should be cut short so they don’t interfere with fretting.

The Nails are comparable to the violin bow or the brushes of a painter. They are tools by which we are better able to play the instrument and produce a variety of sounds. As such, we must make sure to look after them as we would any other tools.This will not be so important if you are a beginner and decide to move on to using a plastic pick for example. When you begin you will often be using only one finger. It will become more of an issue as you progress and require more fingers “picks”.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Be aware of your nails during any activity such as washing dishes, washing your hands, bathing, or playing sports.
  • Nails will be dried and weakened by using detergents and strong soaps. Try to not use strong soaps on your picking hand and use them sparingly and carefully (I like natural oil based soaps available at health shops); avoid soap contact with the picking nails. Shampoo is a mild soap. When you shampoo use only your left hand or fretting hand. When cleaning around the house wear gloves.
  • Use a fine file to smooth any jagged edges or snags that may cause the nails to rip off on your picking hand.
  • File your nails on your picking hand to produce an optimal sound or nurture their natural shape with a fine file to remove any potential snags. This optimal shape is a tapered shape, sharp slope from left to center, and a mild slope from center to right (when looking down at the picking hand). We all have different nail shapes so it may be slightly different for you.
  • Eat a healthy diet to produce strong nails. For example: eat salads, fresh meats, fresh fruits, fresh vegetables. Avoid processed foods. Lack of zinc in the diet causes white spots on your nails which become weak spots as they grow to the edge of the nail.
  • Let them grow long enough for a good sound and no longer. Just past the finger line when viewing your palm is a good starting point. If they are too long they are more prone to breakage and can actually hinder your playing speed and sound. I find steel strings require longer nails than nylon for the optimum sound. Your nails should be long enough for a clear, distinct plucked sound, but not long enough so they catch on the string.
  • Avoid chlorinated water. If you go swimming in a pool, put natural oil such as Coconut oil, Jojoba oil, Avocado oil, etc. or other non-chemical lubricant on them first.
  • You do not need to oil or lubricate your nails except during special circumstances like I just mentioned. They will be strong and healthy just by following the above steps. If you really need to, or if you want to try and improve dry and brittle nails, try ‘pure’ natural conditioning oils such as; Almond, Coconut, Avocado, Apricot Kernel, or Jojoba. You can find these in health shops or online. Avoid products with alcohols and harsh chemicals.


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