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How to play with short nails

Brave Toaster

Joined: Nov 08 2009

Hello, guys. It's been quite a long time since my last post. Oh, boy.

So... I've been playing guitar for some years now, but because of my college course, I can't have long nails anymore.

It bummed me very much, because the quality of the songs I played dropped. It's just not the same. I tried some other options: I bought Alaskan Picks (those things that Sungha Jung uses), but it didn't help me at all, since you have to have at least a bit of nail for it to be still. I also tried to learn songs that didn't require fingerpicking, but it wasn't half as fun.

The frustration led me to play less and less. But I'd really like to start again. Even if the sound isn't as great, it's still very fun to play.

So, I'd like to know what could I do to produce a nice sound without nails? Is there anything other than alaskan picks that could help me? A differente technique? Any advice is welcome.

Thanks in advance!

You could try ProPik


Joined: Sep 06 2008

You could try ProPik Finger-Tone. You can feel the strings with your fingers with those, and you don't need a little bit of fingernail to use them.



Play steel string so you


Eric: tank,godlike

Location: Arizona

Joined: Jan 04 2009

Play steel string so you build some callouses on your picking hand.

I cut my nails earlier this year to focus more on pick technique, but I've found that you can still get great tone if you devote some energy in building up your picking hand.

Laurence Juber's a good example of someone who can do that sort of thing without needing fingerpicks.

What college course requires


Joined: Feb 02 2010

What college course requires that nails be shorter than classical length? Piano is the only thing I can think of, and maybe not even that.


And then I realized that the chord progression from Chrono Cross's Another World is the same progression as the chorus from Peace of Mind by Boston, and life was never quite the same.

Re: What college course requires


You've met with a terrible fate, haven't you?

Location: Guildford, UK

Joined: Mar 18 2011

I'd imagine in something like woodwork or metalwork it'd be potentially unsafe to have long nails.

Anyway, I don't really have long nails, as I find the pad of your finger offers far more control over tone and muting ability. Admittedly, I don't keep my picking hand nails completely cut, but no more than 2mm in length - I always ensure the nail never grows longer than the pad of the finger in any case. That way the nail acts as... structural support to the finger pad, allowing great versatility.

Once you build up a bit of a callus, you'll find that it is hard enough enough to strum with at the tip, yet soft enough to pluck gently and softly with as you get towards the pad.

Un-learning the way you've always played can be quite a difficult feat, but many players opt for a no-nails/short-nails approach for superior control: Andy McKee, myself and my good buddy Hanleg included.

My god he will have to play


Joined: Jan 20 2012

My god he will have to play with his fingertips! Welcome to my domain Brave! muwahahahah

@auriplane I've seen a lot of

Brave Toaster

Joined: Nov 08 2009

I've seen a lot of these while searching for Alaskan Picks. Are they good? They seemed a little weird, because it appears that the "nail" doesn't stay where your actual nail is, so I guess the technique is a little different. However, thank you very much for the advice. Tomorrow I'll search for some, and I'll give oyou feedback!

That makes me very glad. I did some research, and learned that many great guitarrist didn't use longe nails. I'll do as you said, it's a great idea to practice on a steel-stringer guitar to gain callouses.

I'm studying Medicine. Since I have to deal with some rather unhygienic stuff, it's a little dangerous for me to have nails. Also, I have to touch the patients a lot, and god forbid I harm them with my nails. And it could rip my gloves while doing some kind of procedure.
Because of that I thought of "switching" to another instrument, like piano. But I really like the guitar.

Andy McKee plays with short nails? Man, you just made my day! And thanks a lot for your tips!

Hahaha! I'm trying my best! Won't stop until I get used to it!

They are definitely weird.


Joined: Sep 06 2008

They are definitely weird. You won't be happy with them at first--playing with any fingerpicks takes getting used to, in my opinion, but I like these better than most. (Just my personal opinion.) I picked them up because I keep my nails short for bass :-)

I play with fingertips fairly often too (and I do have calluses, since I play bass), but I don't personally get great tone. That's probably a personal failing, since I'm not too good at guitar :-)



I completely agree with


I haven't had a chance to trim my hedges recently. Thanks for visiting anyway...

Location: United States

Joined: Jul 17 2009

I completely agree with Oggirt that you can achieve a nice tone without nails. Like he said, having them just long enough for the structural support can make a huge difference. Even without that, you can still get a nice sound.

However, I wholeheartedly disagree with him about the lack of nails offering more control. Without nails (or some sort of alternative like Alaska finger picks), you will simply not be able to achieve the same volume and tone that you could with them. Differences in your angle of attack are more pronounced with nails, and the amount of nail to flesh ratio you use can change your tone completely. While I would never suggest that Andy Mckee has a bad tone, I would also never point to him as an example of great tone. Better examples of great tone would be Scott Tennant or David Russell.

I think Auri's suggestion and subsequent advice is probably your best bet if you want to emulate nails. If you don't want to go that route, you'll need to understand that you won't be able to get the same satisfaction that nails can offer. This doesn't mean that you can't have good tone, but you will have to experiment with your angle of attack a bit until you find a tone that you like. Incorporating more rest strokes (if you don't already) will probably help as well. In fact, they'll probably become your best friend if you utilize them well.

I also think it might be beneficial to spend a few minutes before each practice session to take your best sounding stroke and try to emulate it with everything else. For example, my best sounding stroke is my index rest and my worst sounding was my ring free stroke. After spending a lot of time trying to emulate my index rest stroke, my ring free stroke is now my best sounding free stroke... still doesn't sound as good as my index rest, but it's pretty close most of the time.

You know nate id be willing


Eric: tank,godlike

Location: Arizona

Joined: Jan 04 2009

You know nate id be willing to challenge you on the tone control. Volume may be a different matter but id wholeheartedly attempt to prove you wrong there if we were to ever meet in person and we both had our guitars. Well-shaped nails are nice because they're really consistent; as long as the felt of the finger catches the string it'll slope off the nail and generally end at the same point. I took it for granted back when I had nails. Instead of adding control, it does the opposite. I have to make contact with the string at the very tip of my finger similar to how I fret the strings. The tone is not the same of course, but not inferior by any means.

EDIT comment: I'm going to go ahead and apologize for the ezkeys program on my phone for turning whatever I typed at the time into something that may be mistaken for spam. Though it probably was funny. I wasn't really tripping or anything guys. Swear.