Fingernail Care for Guitarists

Having had some classical guitar training, I play with the fingernails and the meat of the fingertip on my right hand. Over time, Iíve struggled with the impact carpentry and mechanical home repair jobs had in destroying the nails. I have come to rate a job's difficulty not only by the number of bloody knuckles but also by the broken nails received. It doesn't help that with age your nails either grow softer or more brittle. So I guess itís no surprise that as I've "matured," Iíve begun to have problems keeping nails at all.

But in the 1990s I had one particular solo fingerstyle acoustic gig for which I really had to keep the nails alive. Unfortunately as the gig approached, my nails began crumbling faster than they could re-grow. Since none of the usual dietary remedies were working, my wife made a suggestion based upon comments from guitarist Pat Kirtley. She suggested that we go down to her nail salon and have them put on acrylics. Given my dire straights, I did it. In fact, I took her along for moral support. I ended up with short, clear acrylic nails which honestly couldn't be distinguished from my real nails. No polish was applied so they weren't too glossy. It cost me $15 the first time for the one hand.

If you've taken a shop class you might be interested in how it was done: First, they used alcohol to clean up and a dremel-type tool with a sanding collet to rough-up the natural nail. The acrylic was mixed on the spot from micro-beads and resin. Any fingers that had lost too much nail then had the nail built-up over a little tape-on form in order to bring them all to the same length. Final shaping was done with an abrasive board or a dremel tool. Cool. Since I worked in plexiglass, acrylic, and fiberglass in shop class and when my family built a canoe, the smell of the acrylic resin and the sound of the dremel tool kinda made me feel more at home. Of course, the lady customers at the shop wanted to know what it was all about. Once the acrylic hardens, they use a fine grit sanding block to smooth the nails and finish with a dremel miniature cloth polishing wheel with polishing compound.

How do they play? WOW! First off, it took a couple of days to get used to the feel of the nails. Secondly, the tone of these acrylics is a little less "sproingy" and a little more "solid" and round than that of my normal, extremely thin, brittle nails. I like that. Thirdly, the acrylics gave me LOTS more volume and dynamics and a fuller sound on my classical guitar, as well as more volume when needed from my acoustics. I get the feeling that Iíd been holding back on my right hand to keep from damaging or quickly wearing my nails. Without the acrylics, Iíve found I can chew up a set of natural nails in a single nightís gig. But like the Energizer Bunny, these acrylic things just keep on going and going... By the way, a month later, a "fill-in" job cost $8. Soon, my natural nails grew out to their proper length for guitar work and I just had a layer of protective acrylic over my natural nails. I've found that I can get about a month or so out of a job. What's more, I no longer have the "total disaster" breakages I used to have.

So, if you end up in a pinch, or perhaps if you donít, and if you think you are man enough, give acrylics a try.

UPDATE: 04/15/2020
A few weeks ago as we began the necessary Coronavirus self-isolation and all the small businesses shutdown, I was at the end of a life cycle with my acrylic nails. Iíd had them for about three weeks when my work ramped up and the businesses precipitously shut down. My index fingernail cap began dying and the tip began crumbling off. Eventually the nail itself began breaking a little at a time. The salon I frequent was closed and there appeared to be only one way to repair my nail: do it myself. On a shopping trip to the Walmart Neighborhood Food Store I picked up a KISS Products acrylic nail kit for $18 that had everything necessary to do the job. "KISS." I wonder if that stands for "Keep It Simple Stupid?" I laid out the tools and supplies in the kit on one of those flimsy bulk delivery ad paper booklets that arrive unbidden in the mail and followed the enclosed instructions to a "T." I also applied what I had seen my tech do. I applied an adhesive foil form to my fingertip that allowed me to extend the nail a bit. Believe it or not, with a little fiddling around I was able to produce a reasonable application of the power and resin. I shaped it during the application with the brush and resin. After it dried I smoothed it out with a two-stage emery board and smothing block. Now, mind you, Iím not going to offer any competition to my nail technician and Iíll be going right back to him when he reopens, but it is good to know that in times of stress I can indeed do passable repairs on my own.

UPDATE: 12/30/2020
At this point I've been back at my nail tech for several months and can say I really appreciate how much better his skills are than my own!