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All You Need To Know About Fingernails For Classical Guitar

Fingernails for classical guitar

Fingernails for classical guitar is one of the most misunderstood subjects, especially for beginners.

This post is for those whose nails are in basically good shape and who would like to learn to use them correctly.

If for one reason or another you cannot begin using your fingernails at this time, treat this post as a reference guide to be returned to it later.

fingernails for classical guitar

The Shape of the Nail

The shape of the fingernails for classical guitar should not be long and pointed, but relatively short and blunt. The nail should project about 1/16 inch beyond the fingertip (1/8 inch for the thumb) seen from underneath.

The exact shape the nail takes when properly filed, seen from underneath, will differ from one person to another, and even from one finger to another on the same hand.

This is because of variance in the arch-contour of nails. You can look at your fingertips head-on to see the arch-contour of the nails.

Not all nails have the highest point of the arch in the center. Some have it on the right; some have it on the left. Still others turn down in the center.

No matter where the highest point of the arch-contour is as seen head-on, it should be the longest point of the nail when seen from underneath.

In the case of a nail that turns down in the center, the nail should have a squared-off appearance seen from underneath when correctly filed.

Filing fingernails for classical guitar

Learning to file your nails to just the right shape will take patience. Here are some general guidelines:

  • Use a metal file that has a blade covered with industrial gemstone (tradenames such as Diamon Deb, Diama-file, etc). Hold the file at about a 45-degree angle to the nail. Use short back-and-forth strokes.
  • Try to shape the fingernail so its edge appears as a shallow curve or even a straight line. Avoid any kind of dip, wiggle, or notch in the line of the edge.
  • Polish the nail with a very fine grade of sandpaper. I use number 1000 emery paper that does a great job; so will crocus cloth. Both are available at large hardware stores.

Some advanced players use jewelry paper to touching up their fingernails but is a little harder to find. Craft shops that include jewelry-making supplies usually have it; so do many guitar shops.

No matter what paper you use, the objective is a slick, glossy edge to the nail that will pass over the string without a snag.

using the nails

For all strokes, the string should make simultaneous contact with the nail and the tip of the finger. The flesh of the fingertip does not actually engage the string – instead, it damps the string from above. The sound is produced by the nail alone.

For the i, m, and a fingers, the nail engages the string at one point on the left side (the side nearest the thumb). In playing, the nail will thus glide across the string from left to right.

The exact amount of angle varies depending on the size of your hands, but a completely perpendicular attack is used only for an intentionally brittle or glassy tone.

In the case of the thumb, the nail-to-string contact point for utmost players is near the center of the nail.

As the thumb plays, the string glides along the edge of the nail and releases near the downside corner.


Whether you are comfortable growing nails or not, it is still an important aspect of being a classical guitarist.

Watch the pros on Youtube playing and see how they are taking very good care of their nails! Its clean, polished, and very smooth. No wonder they are producing a great tone out of their guitars.

We all have different hands and finger shapes, so the standard shape of nails might not work for you. Try different shapes and lengths until you are comfortable with one, then keep your nails clean and the edges smooth.

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