Lessons and info for the nylon string guitarist

Nails

Protecting the surface of finger nails
The nail surface WILL wear when playing rasgueados. Protect the surface by applying a thin layer of nail
lacquer, such as Cutex “Strongnail” to the top part of the nail only. Putting anything on the bottom
half of the living nail is just asking for trouble. This will deprive it of oxygen and make it soft.

Then it takes ages to grow out strong again. Simply applying the lacquer, blowing it dry and using it within
5 minutes is not really good enough. It may look and feel dry, but it’s still soft and the sound will be soft
too. For best results, apply it in the evening and let it properly harden overnight. Some people also like to
press a layer of tissue paper into the glue while it’s still wet to make it stronger. Depending on your needs,
you may want to apply several coats. File the edges to suit, making sure the top nail surface is seamless where
the real nail surface meets the edge of the protective coat. The last thing you want is to hook on this. Some
people prefer to use superglue, but use this mainly on the dead part of the nail tip. To help prevent the
superglue from cracking, apply a a thin coat of superglue, then press a layer of tissue paper onto this so the
glue is absorbed into the paper. Finally apply another thin layer of superglue on the top. It’s brittle stuff
and can be very messy if you’re not careful with it. The advantage of superglue is that you get a hard surface
in a few minutes.

Here’s a tip. Don’t use the superglue sold in supermarkets. Get the really fine stuff from the cosmetics
section in a good department store. If you thought the supermarket variety was cool, wait till you try the good
stuff. If you manage to get your fingers stuck together, you’ll be sorry. It glues anything instantly on
contact and unlike the cheap supermarket stuff, it flows and spreads easily. I advise you to also throw some
nail polish remover in your shopping basket just in case.

As a general preventive measure for nails that are prone to cracking, peeling or splitting you may want to rub
olive oil onto your nail surface.

I’ve had my share of broken and split nails.
These days I don’t put anything on my nails. I am lucky enough to have reasonably strong, natural nails. But
when you’re playing flamenco for hours every day in dance classes, teaching, practicing at home, rehearsals and
performances, little accidents can and do occur. What do you do when you a have a well paid gig to do tonight
and your thumbnail breaks off in rehearsal. Canceling the gig is not an option because some pissed off dancing
girls who invited their whole family to the show might seriously consider killing you. So you have to do
something about repairing the nail somehow. Life is so cruel when this shit happens and all you want to do is
go fishing.

Repairing split nails
1. Always carry a basic repair kit in your guitar case. Nail clippers, emery boards, buffers, superglue (the
good stuff) and a ping pong ball. The easiest way to make a quick repair is to cut a piece of your ping pong
ball and stick it on with superglue. Then carefully shape the sharp edges with so there is no hooking anywhere.
I also carried a scalpel or some other sort of sharp blade. I used this to carefully scrape the sharp edge so I
got a smooth transition between plastic and nail on the top nail surface. The aim is to NOT scrape anything off
your real nail. You can use fine emery paper to polish the surface.

2. Use superglue with a layer (or layers) of tissue paper.

3. An alternative to tissue paper that is much stronger is a piece of woven fiberglass sheet. We’re not talking
about industrial fiberglass. We are only repairing a spilt nail, not building a surfboard. Very thin sheets of
fiberglass are available as cosmetic nail accessories and can be cut to size with a scissors.

Acrylic nails are dumb
One day my thumbnail broke off completely. It was an emergency situation so I walked into the local ladies nail
boutique and asked for half a thumbnail. The chatty girl talk abruptly stopped and everyone in the room looked
at me kind of funny. They automatically assume you want to do all the nails of both hands and cover the entire
nail surface. Then there is trimming, filing, buffing etc. Well that’s what ladies do. For them, false nails
are fashion accessories, not tools of the trade. “Why would you want to do only one?”, they ask. “Because
that’s all I need”, I reply. A good thing to keep in mind is that a ladies beauty boutique is a place where
women go to exchange stories about boyfriends and beauty tips. That’s why it goes all quiet when a man walks
in. If you unwittingly take up the offer for “the full treatment”, you could be there for ages. My advice is to
remain focused on the job at hand. Do it and get out of there quickly.

Please don’t touch my cuticles.
Here’s a thing. Don’t ever let a manicurist shape your nails or mess around with your cuticles. For the
uninformed, cuticles are hardened portions of skin that fit tightly against the base and side of the nail
plate. They can peel, lift, split and bleed when they lack natural oils. Using a Vitamin E hand cream will
prevent this. The important thing is that the cuticle is a barrier to keep bacteria from entering your body.
Whatever you do, don’t cut them, unless you want risk infection. Manicurists will offer to cut them if they are
really ugly (the cuticles, not the women). They also have this torture device called an orange stick
which they use to push back and prod the cuticles in order to remove the loose bits.

Shape your own nails
Maybe it’s just me thinking like a man, but you’d think that a simple instruction like “please give me half a
thumbnail” is pretty clear and unambiguous. Why does it have to be so complicated. Just tell them to form the
basic nail and let you do the filing and shaping at home. For a guitarist, that’s a very personal thing because
the sound and feel of a nail needs to be tested on the guitar as you shape it.

Don’t become an Acrylic junkie
Acrylic nails are not the horrible, pre-shaped plastic nails you buy over the counter in a department store.
Those mass produced things are too small anyway and designed for tiny girl hands. The biggest one, the
thumbnail, hardly fits on my index finger. Acrylic nails are created with a mixture of acrylic powder and
acrylic liquid. These two elements create a chemical reaction not unlike two-part epoxy resin. There is also a
primer liquid which is basically an acid-like cleaner used to prepare the nail surface so the acrylic sticks
well. This really stinks. So I got my brand new thumbnail in a few minutes, thanked the nice lady and walked
back out the front door into the fresh air. After I shaped the edges, it sounded great. I was so impressed, I
bought my own powder and liquid kit. Doing it in a boutique can be very expensive.

It’s amazing how you can get hooked on that stuff. Even though I only intended to use it for splits and breaks,
I found I had to keep using it because when the broken nail grew back to the right length again, it was weak
and thin as paper because it had been deprived of oxygen from being covered so long. I used acrylic for a
couple of years until one day I managed to get some of the primer liquid into an open cut (underneath the nail)
and caused a painful infection which took a couple of weeks to heal. Like I said, the only problem (apart from
the smell) is that this primer liquid is a form of acid. This is not real good for open wounds.

In an emergency, acrylic can make a very nice nail that sounds good……if you’re willing to take the risk. I
felt I had no choice at the time. The downside is that I had to wait until strong new nails grew out to replace
the weak nails. So I basically took a break from flamenco for a few weeks and played with no nails. Apart from
my own bad experiences with it, I have seen (and heard) some other horror stories relating to acrylic so I
strongly advise against using that stuff.

Maintaining the playing edge
The playing edge of the nail should be kept smooth and free of any rough spots. Use emery boards for bulk
removal and progressively finer grades of emery paper for final shaping. It’s always wise to test how it feels
on the string as you reduce the nail length. You can always file off a bit more if you need to, but if you go
too far, you can’t put it back on once it’s gone. I also test a nail edge on my clothing. Woolen jumpers are
good for this. If there is even the smallest split edge, your woolen jumper will get hooked on it. For a final
polish, use a piece of thin cardboard wrapped around a nail file. This polish can make all the difference to
how your playing will sound and how the nails feel as they strike the strings. I also make a point to polish
the underside of the nail. It does make a difference.

Left hand fingernails
The nails of the left hand fingers serve no purpose in guitar playing and only get in the way. Keep them very
short. If you have a habit of nail biting, try munching on these left hand nails and leave the right hand nails
alone. It is worth noting that descending ligados (slurs) are executed with the flesh of the left hand
fingertips, and not with the left hand fingernails as some people believe.

Making nails stronger
Calcium, Gelatin & moisturizer
I’m not a nutritionist, but I believe nails can be made stronger by increasing calcium intake. I can’t remember
when I didn’t have strong nails. But then again, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t consume lots of milk,
cheese and yogurt. I have no proof, but I suspect there is a connection. Nails are made of protein fibers
called Keratin. Some people believe that Gelatin contains the necessary protein to promote nail growth and
swear by it as a remedy for soft or brittle nails. Gelatin is a slaughterhouse byproduct, made from the skin,
bones, and other inedible connective tissue of pigs and cattle. All this is chucked into a vat of acid to
disintegrate the cow hairs and rat excrement and then boiled to extract the collagen. Would anyone like a
marshmallow? Anyway, I had a student who was blessed with really soft nails that were prone to splitting. Among
other things, I showed him an article about gelatin so he decided to embark on a daily course of Gelatin in the
form of jelly beans. After two weeks he reported that his nails had definitely become stronger. He was a happy
chappy.

Because gelatin contains essential amino acids which the body uses to produce collagen, it has been used for
over a hundred years in a variety of medical treatments and in a mind boggling array of foods we eat every day.
Gosh! It’s even used to coat the pills and capsules prescribed by your doctor. Among nutrition type experts,
the jury is still out on whether it’s really any good for you. Party poopers. Leave it to the experts to pour
cold water on a popular idea. As soon as one group of experts delivers a research paper with a particular set
of findings and conclusions, another group of experts will instinctively set out to disprove or debunk those
findings. The general public in the meantime becomes totally confused and don’t know who to believe.

I always view research findings with a deep suspicion that they are dictated and predetermined by some hidden
commercial agenda. It’s always enlightening to discover who actually commissioned the research. I personally
think they’re all a bunch of over-qualified idiots but sometimes you have to make personal choices based on the
only thing you can trust; namely, your intuition. Damn! I used to like jelly babies, now they got me eating
carrots. The common, but inconclusive consensus seems to be that the gelatin remedy for weak nails is all a
load of bullshit. Their argument is that gelatin is a poor source of protein and amino acids and that brittle
nails have more to do with a lack of moisture than protein deficiency. One thing they do agree on however is
that using moisturizer will certainly help to strengthen weak and brittle nails. Another thing they
agree on is that applying a nail hardener is a good idea, but avoid products containing toluene,
sulfonamide or formaldehyde.

 

Strengthen weak nails with a simple Vitamin.
A reader suggested that Biotin can be a lifesaver for people with weak nails. Biotin is Vitamin B7, a B complex Vitamin.
It is also known as Vitamin H.

 

In his own words.
“Its a vitamin B thing and my cousin who is a
horse vet told me that they give it to horses to harden their hooves. Trust me here, I tried
most of that other sh*t you mentioned, none of it holds a candle to this. I normally have the
thinnest nails. Not anymore. You can buy it at any grocery store. One pill a day first thing in
the morning. It takes 40 – 60 days to grow in when you start but the difference is amazing. So
buy a tin of Biotin.”
Mikael – USA – 29 July 2009

 

 

That’s it. Now you know all my beauty secrets.



right hand nail lengths



Thumbnail

I found the following information on Myspace

1 – After filing them to the shape I want, I use 1000, 1500, then 2000 grit sandpaper to get them so smooth
the strings roll right off with little wear. It’s the little flaws, and roughness left over from filing is what
wears nails down faster than anything because they get caught on the string and cause tears in the nail.

2 – I have also learned to play with a much more lighter touch with my hand that does the fingerpicking.
(That’s harder to do with a steel string acouctic. You have to dig in more than I like to, to get more
volume and tone.)

3 – I have found that taking supplements helps strengthen my finger nails. Try this combination: Coral calcium,
Magnesium, Vitamin C, liquid Silicea gel, and Vitamin E. (matter of fact, if you liberally apply Vitamin E,
squeezed directly onto the fingernails from the gel caps, and left on overnight, your finger nails become at
least twice as hard as normal. They seem thicker and stronger too.)

Links
Nail care for classical guitarists
Flamenco guitarist nails – tips and advice
The Ping-Pong Ball Trick – Repair broken nails
Shaping your nails
Fingernail care and repair for guitarists

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