Nails! Mind the nails! Looking after your guitarist’s fingernails

Those of you who have been playing guitar for some time are probably well aware of the need to, firstly, cultivate a fine set of right hand (or left hand if you’re handed) fingernails. Secondly, you have to learn how to best shape them and polish them and buff them up and get them just so to help you produce the best sounds possible from your guitar.

Cultivating your nails and getting them into the shape you want can be the easy part. Oftentimes, the hard part can be keeping them cultivated, shaped, and in good nick (or rather with no nicks!). As you find yourself becoming more serious and committed to your guitar playing you may find yourself becoming quite particular about your nails and subsequently what you’re doing with your be-nailed (is that a word? I don’t know but I’m going with it) hand. Yes, folks, we guitarists reserve the right to become rather precious about our beloved nails!IMG_1725

Over the years there are a number of things that I’ve started to do or stopped doing to ensure my nails remain in tip-top, ready-to-fire condition at all (well, most) times. Here are some of my particularly precious tips and tricks:

  • Avoiding clothing that has pockets with zips on them. Where zips can’t be avoided and the hands need to be put into the pockets (on a cold winters morning this is a must, of course), ensure the fist is well clenched first, thumb tucked under the fingers, and knuckles headed first into the pocket. Voila! Cosy warm hands without that really annoying nick from a rogue zip!
  • Learning to open doors with the wrong hand thereby minimising the risk of nail to doorknob/ door bumpage.
  • Learning to zip up or button up your jeans with the wrong hand, again minimising the risk of zipping up a long nail into your zipper (I really hate that!).
  • Buying a dishwasher! Hah hah – didn’t need much of an excuse to do this to be honest, but avoiding dunking the hand into hot, soapy and hard/ sharp obstacle infested water is a pretty good one for guitarists. If buying a dishwasher is not on the agenda at least invest in fetching pair of tough rubber gloves. I can especially recommend a fetching shade of blancmange pink.
  • Realising that certain sports and guitar nails aren’t the best of buddies. Some sports that have gotten me into bother that I’ve sidelined include ten pin bowling (I had to rip off my thumb nail twice before I learnt that lesson), basketball, netball, volleyball. I’m sure there are plenty more that aren’t great for your fingers.
  • Supporting the local handyman or getting your other half to help out with household maintenance – there are certain jobs around the house which are just plain fingernail unfriendly. This includes putting Ikea furniture together as I’ve discovered.
  • Cultivating a liking for gloves of various descriptions.
  • Avoiding picking at things with your beautiful talons. As potentially helpful as your long nails could be in unpicking that staple, getting that pesky sticker off or prising open packaging, picking at stuff can be a real “danger” for your nails. If you want big ol’ grooves in your nails then go ahead and pick! Otherwise leave it alone and find some kind of implement to do the trick for you.

My list could go on!

I’d love to hear what tips and tricks you have to ensure your fingernails remain in prime condition. What do you do?


7 thoughts on “Nails! Mind the nails! Looking after your guitarist’s fingernails

  1. Hi Nicole,

    Great topic!

    I agree – don’t go ten pin bowling. I had my “a” nail going really well last week until I went bowling on Friday :-(.

    Also – I tend to go towards doors with my right hand in a loose fist or, like you said – use the other hand. In general I try to get into the habit of keeping my right hand half curled up.

    The other thing I try to do is to wear leather gardening gloves when doing a lot of physical work.

    Also – I try to keep my nails just long enough but not too long. About 3mm of white is about right for me. A little longer on the “a” is nice but then there’s more risk of breaking it back to too short.



    1. Thanks 🙂 And thanks for reading.
      I just checked out your great article on nails – fantastic. I love the photo diagrams on contact points, very useful tool in explaining reason for nail shaping. And I’ll definitely check out the Healthy Hoof protein cream – thanks for the tip.


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