Living With Classical Guitar Nails

Fingernails sound great on the classical guitar, but to get that sound, you have to go through your daily life with longer-than-usual nails.  And that can be a tough sell.

But in this article, I’ll suggest a few small things you can do that will increase your chances of keeping those nails (and avoiding the pain of accidentally ripping them off!).

To really explore this subject, see my articles on classical guitar nails, and on tone production.



Getting Through the Day with Nails

What Are We Doing?

There are many tasks we do each and every day that seem tailor-made to destroy our nails.

A few of these are:

  • Opening doors
  • Using metal zippers
  • Searching through drawers or bins full of small items
  • Any type of work that uses the hands
  • Any encounter with metal objects that have rough or sharp
  • Outside work
  • Anything that can get your hands dirty

There are thousands and thousands of simple, everyday movements that can quickly beat up your nails.

How does it happen?

To prevent the painful and annoying little rips and tears, it helps to understand how they happen.

Nail damage generally occurs when something hard and/or sharp catches on a little notch or bump in the edge of our fingernail.

Try this right now:

Using your left-hand thumbnail, rub across the end of your right-hand nails.

Chances are (unless you have recently polished them) you will feel rough little ridges across the edge of your nails.

This is because your nails don’t grow out smoothly.  They grow out unevenly.

Even over the course of a few hours or overnight you can notice new ridges forming.

Keeping Your Nails Smooth and Polished

One of the very best preventions of nail damage is to keep a small piece of “nail paper” in your pocket and keep your nails with a glass-like finish.  This alone will help you keep your nails attached to your fingers.

If this sounds artsy-fartsy and bizarre, that’s okay.  Nail paper is actually just very fine sandpaper.

You can be discreet about “doing your nails”, and your friends don’t ever have to know.

The upside is that you’ll both sound much better (because you’ll have better tone), and you’ll avoid so many “incidents”.

For more on Nail Paper, see this article.  To order some, go here (not an affiliate link).

Go Lefty!

Although it may be a bit weird for the first little while, it can be very beneficial to start the habit of performing “dangerous tasks” with your left hand.

After all, if you are taking the long view of your classical guitar playing, you could be living with guitar nails for decades.  A couple of weeks of inconvenience is a small price to pay for a lifetime of good tone.

And besides that, it’s great for your brain to do things a little differently now and then.


If you are going to use a metal-toothed zipper several times per day, try going at it with your left hand.

Rummaging in dark places?  Stick your left in there.

Where in your daily routine can your find to use your left hand instead of your right?

Keep Them Clean

You also have a better chance of hanging on your nails if  you get into the habit of keeping them clean.

Besides being unattractive (in every culture I can think of) and more hygienic, keeping your nails clean help you avoid accidents.

At the very least, if you create the habit of keeping your nails clean, you are more likely to also notice when you get the burrs and ridges we talked about earlier.


If you are setting out to do something dirty, like changing your oil or potting those spring annuals, either lead with the left, wear gloves, or clean them immediately afterward.

Keeping a nail brush on every sink in your house, as well as at work and/or in your every-day-bag (purse, man-purse, gym duffel, messenger bag, backpack, knapsack, what have you) will help to keep you clean, presentable and on the safer side.

Keep Gloves on Hand (no pun intended)

For those expected and unexpected jobs and chores, consider using gloves.

Having a pair live both in the house and in the car (if you have one) will keep you prepared for those big jobs.

Use a Bandaid

When you are first getting used to having nails, keeping band-aid or tape on one finger will remind you to favor that hand.

It will draw your attention to how you are interacting with the items your touch and pick up.

As you get comfortable noticing and remembering your nails, you won’t need it anymore.

Keep a “Nail Kit” Close-by

Keep a couple of helpful items on hand for emergencies and general care.

Here are a few things you could have in your nail kit:

  • A file
  • Nail Paper
  • Nail Clippers (for your left only)
  • Superglue
  • Band-aids

Having a nail kit in your guitar case, as well as anywhere else convenient is a good (and cheap) insurance policy.

When Things Start to Go South

If you’ve found yourself with a small rip or tear started, or if you have banged your nail head-on and creased it (which weakens it and makes it vulnerable), there are a couple of things you can do to salvage what you can.


If you get a rip or tear that you can’t file away without taking too much of your nail, superglue can be the answer.

Putting just a bit over the rip can keep it together until it has a chance to grow out.

Superglue won’t stay on forever.  The oils in our fingernails will slough off the glue within a few days.  So you may have to re-apply.

Also, after it dries, you can file it flatter to make it less obvious and lower-profile.


If you get a rip or any damage that you want to contain, taping your fingernail or using a band-aid can protect it from further harm.

If you are caught out somewhere and get some nail damage, you can often find someone with something you can use.  That will tide you over until you can more fully address it.

Forgive Yourself

Even with all these preventative measures, we are still likely to occasionally destroy a nail or two.

It’s just the nature of the game.

While extremely inconvenient to our daily practice, at least we can feel better knowing that it will grow back.  Eventually.

It will take a few rips and tears to let you know where and how you need to pay more attention, or do things differently (like using your left hand).

When you get this feedback, heed it.  Make a mental note and do it differently next time.

Again, this is a long-term affair we are having with the classical guitar, and like all relationships, we will get better at navigating the daily dance as time goes by.

Over To You!

Have you gotten used to having classical guitar nails? How?

Are you on the fence?  What is your top one or two concerns?

Leave your answer in the comments below!

Allen Mathews

Hi, I’m Allen Mathews. 

I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
Click here for a sample formula.

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