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/


Classical Guitar Playing – Nails or Flesh?

I’ve been asked a couple of times recently my opinion on whether or not a classical guitarist should sport and play with a set of fingernails on the plucking hand, so I thought I’d produce a wee blog post on the subject for you today.

Well, my straightforward and simple answer to the question in today’s title is, for me, unequivocally nails. Yes, a classical guitarist, whether just starting out, developing, or well accomplished should really give serious consideration to growing a set of nails on the right hand (or left hand for left handed players).

Why?Nails - filed and buffed, ready for action..

There are a significant number of benefits that can be derived from playing with fingernails that I feel, for myself at least, outweigh any annoyances in protecting and nurturing a prime set of playing nails.

For me these are, in no particular order:

  • You can produce some serious projection with nails that flesh alone cannot provide. The nail being a harder substance can dig into and through the string  for great projection.
  • It’s far easier to play at a greater speed whilst maintaining volume with nails than with flesh.
  • You can change the shape and length of your fngernails to experiment with different sounds and angles of attack (for example, the upper image to the right reflects the shape and length of may nails around 2 years ago. The lower image is my nails just yesterday – longer and a different angle of attack) . You just can’t do that with the flesh of your fingertips without moving your hand which may impact on playing.
  • Nails can help produce a lovely fat, juicy tone by rounding the playing edge and shining to a high gloss, glassy finish. It’s darn near impossible to get a such a smooth finish on your fingertips without damaging the skin!20140622_174923
  • Flesh playing can encourage the development of callouses on the plucking fingers (depending on the sensitivity of your skin) which can impact upon sound quality, not to mention become painful to play with. Fingernails avoids this by providing a surface that you can keep consistent by a little minor maintenance.
  • One of the greatest reasons for me  is the palette of colours offered by playing with nails – there are numerous ways that the nails, or nails plus fingertips, can be used to create a wonderfully, complex suite of tone colours.

Having said that….

Having said all of that, there is no such thing as “must do” – not really – in learning and playing guitar when it comes to nails versus flesh. And just because certain players do one thing, or tell you you’re mad if you don’t, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right for you. If you’re producing a sound that pleases you, that you can control and add variations of colour and dynamic into then however you’re producing it doesn’t really matter. Technique and “hardware” (be it instrument, nails, strings or whatever) should all be there at the service of the music.

It’s worth remember too that the current prevailing preference for concert guitarists to play with fingernails hasn’t necessarily always been so. The great Fernando Sor was a huge advocate of playing with flesh only. His compatriot Dionisio Aguado was firmly in the nails camp.


If you’re a nails player blessed with relatively fast growing nails (or you’ve just taken a hit to one of your nails from an errant fly zipper or something) you could experiment with chopping them down (or chopping them off!) and getting a feel for pure flesh playing for a couple of weeks. It will probably feel strange if you’ve played with nails for a while so give it time.

Conversely, if you’re a flesh player try growing out your nails for a couple of weeks (or purchase some of the stick-on fake options), and experiment with some lengths and shapes for different sounds. Again, it will probably feel strange for a while, but give it a go. And if you don’t like it you can just chop them off again!