The vast majority of classical guitarists (and I’ve yet to meet one that doesn’t, actually) use our right hand fingernails (or left hand if you’re a leftie) as a key sound production tool when playing.
A well-shaped, buffed, fully primped and preened nail can go miles towards producing a full, fat, glassy rich tone with plenty of zing and plenty of volume at ones disposal.
A neglected, nicked and poorly shaped nail can really compromise your sound quality with a scratchy and thin tone. Obviously we’d prefer not to have this – so how do we go about ensuring we have tip-top talons?
These are my tips (and are an amalgamation of techniques from my very first teacher, Peter Nuttall, and the fantastic Phillip Houghton):
Firstly, you need to prepare yourself with the right equipment, which includes:
- Regular, common or garden nail file with coarse and slightly finer side
- 1200 wet and dry sandpaper
So here we go:
(2) Take the regular nail file and file out any nicks from underside of the nail.You can feel for any nicks with one of your short left hand nails (I usually use my thumb nail). Select which side of the nail file to use (the coarser or finer side) depending on the depth of any nicks and the thickness of your nail.
(3) Then file the nail square on with the finer side of the file, not too heavily so as not to reduce its length too much – the amount of pressure required will obviously depend on the strength, thickness and current length of your nail.
(4) Continuing with the finer side of the regular file then sand your shaped edges (already shaped as per your usual preference), or shaping them if they’ve grown out slightly or have been damaged.
(5) When the edges have been filed, then file lightly their underside again, making sure all remnants of nails filings have been removed and that there are no nicks from the filing process.
Then we move on to the 1200 wet and dry paper. You can pick this up at most hardware stores and this is a much much finer sandpaper for the next steps in the process.
(6) Firstly with the underside of the nails, use the wet and dry paper to finely sand the underside and remove finer nicks from the coarser filing.
(1) Select a right hand fingernail, any will do, as the following steps are to be repeated for each nail, in sequence or one nail at a time as you prefer.
Then do the same with the edges of the nails, before returning again and repeating to the underside of the nails.
When doing this there should be no squeaking sound from the paper – this is still a sanding stage, albeit very fine – and so there should some whitish deposit left from your nail on the paper.
(7) The next step is where we now buff and polish the working surfaces of the nail (the undersides and edges) to a super shiny and glassy finish for optimum tone quality.
Buff and polish the nail underside and square on and sides and top, making a squeaking sound on the paper. You may have to apply quite a bit of pressure initially. This works to make the nails really smooth and shiny.
Make sure you buff and polish make rounded edges – back to front over the nails, as well as square on.
And there you have it. This super shiny finish makes your nails super slidey on the strings, it also means there are no nicks or stops on the nail’s passage over the strings, sliding over it effortlessly.
I carry a couple of little squares of 1200 wet and dry paper around in my pocket with me. This is not so I can annoy people on the tram with my incessant squeaking, but enables me to buff out any little nicks from a mishandled zip or such like and so I’m always prepared with my super shiny nails.