Photo by Hani Amir
Q: As I’m getting pretty deeply into a right hand technique using a ramp, light touch, etc… I’d like to hear your thoughts on fingernail care, particularly for your plucking hand. I keep mine pretty short (it’s hard to open canned drinks), and I’m guessing yours might be similar. Also wondering if you so anything to keep up your nail strength – gelatin supplements, how varied weather while touring can affect your nails and what “fingernail first aid” you’ve had to deal with, if at all. What do you recommend? (Sorry about the weird question, but I thought throwing a curveball might make for a good article).
A: Interesting topic! Although it’s one which I might have to pass on to the readers, because I’ve bitten my nails since I had teeth, and I have ZERO chance of a nail ever coming close to a string.
I’ve only really ever heard flamenco or classical guitarists speak about this in length. Many flamenco guitarists that I know file their nails to avoid snags, and many use clear acrylic nail polish to provide extra strength. Most also carry false nails in case of a broken nail emergency.
For bassists, it really comes down to whether you like the extra pick-like click of the nail when you strike a note or not. I’m more of a no nails, all meat on the string kind of guy, but I do have friends who like the extra attack and click that they get from a longer nail.
Most bassists I know train their nails to be very short (i.e.: keep cutting them a little too short until they get them where they want them – out of the way – and then keep them there).
Here is a video where James Taylor talks about using a fiberglass wrapping on his nail:
I’ve also heard of people using super-glue and tissue paper to build up a tough synthetic layer on the nail.
I’m not sure if any of those methods would hold up to bass strings, though.
Your turn readers! Do you pay your nails any attention? What do you do? Please share in the comments.