I Broke A Fingernail! How To Cope With A Broken Fingernail

A few weeks ago I put up a post about playing guitar with nails versus flesh – https://classicalguitarnstuff.com/2014/06/23/classical-guitar-playing-nails-or-flesh/

Well, this past week I’ve had an enforced experimentation with just flesh playing (well, on one finger anyway!), as I went and snapped my “a” fingernail! Eek! For someone who plays with nails 99.999% of the time this has been a bizarre sensation and a good reminder that nails are indeed my preference for playing! Why? For all those reasons I’ve previously outlined, but mainly greater projection and greater tonal control.

It is inevitable, however, that at some point we are all going to break, snap, chip or somehow otherwise negatively impact our playing nails.


So what can be done when they get broken?

(1) Accept that it is broken!  Yes, it has happened. Yes, it is unfortunate. Yes, you will live. Yes, it will grow back.

(2) Minimise potential for any further damage to the nail. Depending on the nature of the chip, nick or snap this may involve trimming the nail further back beyond the damaged area and growing again from purely healthy, undamaged nail. It may take slightly longer for the nail to grow back to full playing length doing this, but you’ll be pretty much guaranteed not to have knock-on effects from the original nail damage or recurring chips or snaps.

(3) Depending on the side of the nail you damage (if it’s not a full nail snap off), you may be able to rescue the playing side whilst trimming back and smoothing off (you don’t want to snag it as this will make things even worse) the non-playing side. It will likely have an impact on your tone production and I’d lay off going too heavy with a nail in this condition, but will allow you to continue playing with the nail.

(4) If you’re in desperate need particularly if you’ve damaged the playing side and you need the nail (i.e. you’ve got a concert or exam coming up fairly soon), there is an option to retain that damaged nail, as per (3), and doing an interim repair job with layers of tissue paper and glue. Layer on the paper and glue, papier mache style, let it dry and then shape. Alternatively, you could test out a stick-on nail such as the Rico Nail.

(5) Be aware of your nails’ idiosyncrasies and manage accordingly. This includes recognising tendancies such as splitting a certain point and/or length or curling at a certain length.

(6) If you’ve damaged then nail down in the living area and you have a fault growing through the nail (which I have had on my “m” finger for around the last 10 months), see item (1) and just remember it’s there and manage it suitably to create your playing surface.

(7) Keep on top of maintaining your nails on a regular basis. Get into the habit of just giving them a maintenance file and buff before playing. I tend to mine before sitting down to practice, but once a week I’ll sit down for 20-30 minutes and carry out some more serious length control (I’m blessed with them growing quickly) and shaping.

(8) And of course, take care not to damage them in the first place! Check out a post from last year on taking care of your nails: https://classicalguitarnstuff.com/2013/09/26/nails-mind-the-nails-looking-after-your-guitarists-fingernails/

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?