The Musician's Room: Fingernail Care

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 carpentry and mechanical home repair jobs destroying the nails and have come to rate a job's difficulty by the number of bloody knuckles AND 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 twenty years ago I had a solo fingerstyle acoustic gig and 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.