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  #1  
Old 08-12-2018, 04:25 PM
strumming strumming is offline
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Default Fingernail Length and Tone?

I started letting my nails grow longer about 7 years ago as I've been working on improving my fingerstyle technique. I've tried various lengths and shapes. Some players, such as James Tayler have quite long nails and his tone is pristine, while other players have much shorter nails using both the flesh and nail to get a great tone as well. I've read that shorter nails provide a fatter tone. I suspect that there is not one right way just like there isn't just one type of pick everyone uses. Still, my question is whether longer or shorter nails will provide a fatter tone for fingerstyle playing.
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Old 08-12-2018, 04:33 PM
Woolbury Woolbury is offline
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My tone is greatly improved when my nails are longer. They often crack and I have to start from scratch, always a bummer. I do great with my thumb, but index never grows out and is very thin. Middle and ring are good, and i often file them to keep them from getting too long. If they're ragged in the least, it affects the tone, shorter, thicker, smooth nails sound much better than thinner, ragged nails. The eternal tone quest!
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Old 08-12-2018, 04:37 PM
stringjunky stringjunky is offline
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Playing with all flesh brings out the lower frequencies and all nail strongly favours the higher ones. If I want a full tone with a sharp edge I press with the flesh and finish off on the nail. It depends on the effect you are after which is best. 2-3mm overhang should be fine on the fingers to get the full range of effects available.
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Old 08-12-2018, 09:22 PM
jklotz jklotz is offline
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Not sure if this applies, but back when I used to play classical, one of the first things they taught was to get some 400/500 grit sandpaper, and sand the edge of the nail. It makes a big difference.
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Old 08-12-2018, 09:49 PM
mercy mercy is offline
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some good answers here. I find that with longer nails I am more accurate. I am fortunate to have good nails.
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Old 08-12-2018, 11:10 PM
jseth jseth is offline
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When I was in my 20's and 30's, I kept my fingernails fairly long... but, as I began to do a lot of hybrid picking with flat pick and fingernails (pretty most of what I do), I found I liked the tone better when they were a bit shorter.

I've always had to deal with the dreaded "breaking a nail", some times before a gig... if I'm living life, there's only "so much careful" one can be and actually participate.

I finally realized that, when my nails are quite short (just peeking over the edge of the tip/flesh), they give a great tone, fatter than long nails - PLUS, a huge bonus! Shorter nails do not break nearly as easily as long ones...

I do keep mine smooth (Wolfram file and MicroMesh), but I keep them trimmed shorter.
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Old 08-13-2018, 02:45 AM
JonPR JonPR is offline
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I tend to go with classical orthodoxy, which is quite short nails, at least on the fingers. Just enough nail to project beyond the fingertip, so that you touch the string with the fingertip before picking with the nail. That means around 1 or 2mm past the fingertip.
I do often let mine grow more than that, and it's not the tone that suffers so much as the accuracy and clean-ness of my picking. I get a more positive and confident attack from short nails.
My thumb nail is an exception, because I often play with my wrist resting on the bridge (I play blues and folk more than classical), and I don't use a thumbpick, so the nail needs to be long enough to reach the string with my thumb at that angle. So I let my thumb grow quite long - sometimes over 1/4" past the thumb tip. It's a good thick nail, and never breaks, while the fingernails can chip quite easily if too long.

One thing I've found crucial with my nails is I need to cut and file them so they don't hook over at the end. There's a technique to filing them to prevent that, but it just means they tend not to look as curved at the end as the fingertip beneath.

This is a good video for classical nail length and shape.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rUjV0X1-I_o
In the shapes he shows at 1:40, mine resemble the one on the left. But then my finger angle to the strings is not the usual classical approach, so the one he recommends (the right hand one) wouldn't suit me. But he makes very good points about how the angle of finger to string should govern the shape of the nail, to get the strongest sound.
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Old 08-13-2018, 04:28 AM
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Michael Watts Michael Watts is offline
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My own preference is for short, polished nails to make the initial attack as pure as possible and ensure the timbre remains rich and full.
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Old 08-13-2018, 09:13 AM
silvereagle48 silvereagle48 is offline
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Have found through the years that acrylic nails (yes from a nail place) work the best. Inexpensive, last couple of months and strong. James Taylor uses them which, is imo a great testimony.
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Old 08-13-2018, 11:07 AM
ezcawi ezcawi is offline
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My nails tend to curve down on each end, which can catch on the strings, so I generally try and file them down to be sort of flat if you're looking at them straight on. That and matching the general shape of each finger gives a tone I like.
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Old 08-14-2018, 08:43 AM
strumming strumming is offline
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Thanks everyone for the great information! So what I'm hearing is that longer nails can produce brighter, more pristine tone and shorter with some flesh can produce a warmer fatter tone. Does this sound accurate?

Based on the feedback from this thread, I'm experimenting with shorter nails so that I can get the flesh part of my fingers involved in the attack. I can definitely hear a difference although it's taking some getting used to. I've been playing with longer nails for the past 7-8 years. There are things I like about the longer nails and aspects of the tone I like with the shorter nails. I suppose it depends on whether you want JT or Micheal Watts tone. :-) Just listening to Micheal's latest album and that's motivation for anyone to follow his lead IMO. ;-)

I think the real proof in the pudding for me will be hearing the two approaches recorded side-by-side.
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1959 Gibson Country Western
1956 Gibson Southern Jumbo
2018 Heinonen "Olson" SJ Western Red Cedar / Cocobolo
2003 McAlister Model C Adirondack / Brazilian
2017 Connor Custom European Spruce / Bubinga
1997 Taylor 810
1990's Fender Strat
2010 Fender Tele "Nocaster" Custom Shop

Last edited by strumming; 08-14-2018 at 09:20 AM.
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