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Chris from tonebase shares TEN essential nail tips that will make you the envy of all your guitar friends. Read on for his take on shaping, maintaining, and strengthening your nails, ideas gathered from almost twenty years as a classical guitarist. Watch instructional videos & receive personalized feedback from the artists featured in this post including Bill Kanengiser, Thomas Viloteau, and Marco Tamayo, exclusively on tonebase Guitar.

1. Find a nail shape that works for YOU, not everyone else

Examining hundreds of other guitarist’s nails (as fun as it is to do) will not help you figure out what to do with your own. The fact is, your shape shouldn’t be determined by what David Russell or anybody else’s nails LOOK like. The perfect shape should be found by how it FEELS when you play.

David Russel nails classical guitar player

“Is there too much or too little resistance? Is my nail too long and therefore difficult to get through the string? Is it too pointy and giving me bad tone?” These are all much more valuable questions than “What do David Russell’s nails look like?” And frankly, he’s been asked this way too many times, so if you really have to know, just look at this picture!


2. Try different nail products until you find the one that works.

I can’t tell you how many “strengthening” products I went through before I finally found one that worked. For me, it was a random CVS brand. For you, it might be something totally different — Sally Hansen, OPI, Nutra Nail, etc. You’ll know it’s the right one because it will work. When I started using it, I immediately noticed a difference and haven’t badly broken a nail since (knock on wood…) However, everyone’s body is different so try a lot of different brands and find the one that works for you. Then, you’ll be set for life.

3. If you’re practicing a lot, protect your nails with tape.

The tape trick was a godsend for me when I was preparing for my senior recital and practicing around eight hours a day. If you haven’t read David Russell’s blog on this, I highly recommend giving it a look. It’s tricky to do at first and requires some skill, but when your nails are grinding down to nothing from the ridiculous scales in Concerto de Aranjuez, you’ll be happy you learned how to do it.

4. Don’t get TOO obsessed with your nails.

I know this one seems counterintuitive to this post, but it’s actually the most important. I used to shape and buff my nails EVERY day before beginning my practice sessions. It got to the point where I couldn’t start playing until every finger felt perfect.

Apart from wasting a ton of time, this routine made me dependent on having perfectly shaped nails to play well. Of course, like many aspects of performing, it’s rare that your nails ever feel perfect when you’re out on stage. They are always a little too short or not quite the right shape. For me, this meant I was always concentrating on how bad my nails felt which made me feel like I was playing badly as well.

Eventually, I stopped doing my nails every day and now only pull out a file and sandpaper if they’re too long or in major need of a buff job. Knowing that I can play well whether my nails feel good or bad has been a huge boost to my “nail confidence” and I definitely recommend maintaining a healthy relationship with your nail file.

5. Watch Bill Kanengiser’s video on nails.

If you haven’t seen it yet, Bill’s “giant nail” video is absolute genius and breaks down EXACTLY what is going on when your nail plucks a string. Check it out:

6. Bring a nail buffer EVERYWHERE.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve chipped a nail and been saved by the old, disgusting piece of sandpaper I’ve had stashed in my wallet for the past ten years. It’s been a lifesaver countless times, and every time I think about throwing it out, three days later I’m using it again and so thankful I still have it. Sandpaper is the easiest to have on hand, but it’s worth also keeping some extra buffers in your backpack, purse, or anything you carry around on a regular basis. Trust me.

7. Start doing everyday things with your LEFT hand.

In the past, my biggest broken nail culprit came from everyday occurrences. I’d reach into a bag with my right hand and, like some cruel magic trick, come out with a torn nail. Another regular break would happen when I would reach for a door handle and smash my finger into the door instead. Call me clumsy, but these activities aren’t an issue for me anymore because I do them with my left hand!

All it takes is instilling a mental note in your head to do dangerous nail activities with the hand full of nails you can afford to lose: your left! I’ve even taken this as far as learning to rebound a basketball and bowl exclusively with my left hand.

8. Don’t file your nails too short.

This seems obvious, but it’s a mistake we’ve all made. You’re hanging out backstage, feeling good, and doing your nails before a concert. You decide you want to play really fast tonight, so you take a little more off than usual. Suddenly, you’re on stage and it’s like there’s nothing there! I always try to leave an extra millimeter of nail to help me feel more secure and give my nails a little more “grip” to the string.

9. Watch Thomas Viloteau’s video.

Thomas is the perfect example of why you shouldn’t simply copy another guitarist’s shape. His nails are completely unique to HIS playing style and would never work for anyone else. In this video, Thomas demonstrates how he found his own shape and how you can do the same.

10. Watch Marco Tamayo’s video.

Ok, one more…

I hope you found these useful and learned a thing or two. If I missed anything or if you have a tip of your own, email us at team@tonebase.co!

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