How To Play Guitar With Long Nails [Effects And Strategies]

How to play guitar with long nails

Long nails have always had a bad reputation among guitarists. Even budding guitar players are often told to keep their nails short and clean to learn how to play better.

But, does having long nails stop you from being a great guitarist? That’s not the case at all. And we’re here to change this misconception.

In this article, we will teach you the following topics:

  • What is considered long fingernails in the world of guitar-playing?
  • Why it’s a misconception that you can’t play the guitar with long fingernails?
  • What are the effects of having long nails while playing the guitar?
  • What are the strategies that you can use to play better with long nails?

How Long Are Long Nails?

Before we answer the main question and teach you the techniques, how can you tell if the fingernail is already considered long?

Remember that we have different opinions about what we think is a long fingernail. Since a majority of guitar players prefer short nails, they might already consider their nails long even if the growth is merely minimal.

On the other hand, other guitarists don’t mind a little growth as long as it’s still within the length of the nail bed. At this length, you can still hold down the strings with ease, so playing the guitar won’t be a problem. In this case, they will consider the fingernails long once they go beyond the finger pads.

In rare instances, other guitarists can hold chords and play guitars with relative ease despite having acrylic nails or fake fingernails. Admittedly, it may have taken a lot of time and practice to do so, but to be part of a rare community of skilled guitarists despite having very long nails is truly remarkable.

But for uniformity in this article, we consider nails long once they have already protruded beyond the finger pads. This way, the long nails can get in the way of holding down chords, making it tricky to hold a solid sound. That’s why you’ll be needing strategies and techniques to successfully play the guitar without sacrificing your nail’s aesthetics.

Can You Play Guitar With Long Fingernails?

The misconception that we cannot play the guitar with long fingernails lie in the fact that it can be difficult to switch between chords with long nails.

Think about it: to hold down a chord, we have to use the pads on our fingertips to ensure a firm pressure on the strings. That allows the guitar to produce a solid sound minus any vibration or buzzing noise. As such, no doubt keeping your fingernails short can make guitar playing easier.

While short nails can make playing easier, that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to play with long fingernails. It may be harder, yes – but it’s possible.

With that said, there are tips and strategies that you can use employ to play the guitar with long nails. And with the right practice, you’ll get the hang of it in no time.

So to answer the question: can you play guitar with long fingernails? We give you an answer in the affirmative.

Check out this video to see how Dolly Parton used her NAILS to play a song (0:37) and her secret about guitar playing (1:27)

If you’ve been looking for ways to play the guitar without cutting your nails short, then keep on reading for more information.

Effects Of Long Nails

Before we head on to the strategies, we want to share some of the effects of playing the guitar with longer nails – both the good and the bad.

The Good

Having long nails works great when you’re fingerpicking. The nail itself allows you to pick each string carefully to ensure that accurate tones are produced.

Additionally, a combined fingerpicking technique that involves both the nail bed and nail can create a uniquely smooth tone. You can never create the same effect when you have short nails, so that makes it interesting.

If you’re learning guitar to play fingerstyle, especially on classical guitar, it would be much favorable with long nails. Also, several country guitarists use both thumb pick and their natural nails on other fingers to play fingerstyle music.

Also, you develop better control over your fingers when you’re playing guitar with long nails. Since you have to be extra careful with your every move to ensure the proper sound is produced, you also develop a natural control whenever you play. You become a more disciplined guitar player, and that gets you a step closer to achieving your goals.

The Bad

Unfortunately, playing with long fingernails can cause it to snag on the guitar strings, especially if it’s your first time trying to do so. It’s also a lot difficult to put pressure onto the fretboard with just your nails alone. These are among the main factors that you should consider before growing them long enough.

Also, having long nails will make it difficult to control your pick. This is especially true for players with fake nails or extremely long nails. In this case, your finger pads won’t get a firm hold over the guitar pick, which could easily cause it to slip or rotate while you’re playing. And when this happens, we all know how inconsistent the resulting melodies will be.

Strategies: How To Play Guitar With Long Nails

Now that you have a good understanding of playing the guitar with long nails, we can finally start teaching you the key strategies to succeed.

1. Develop Your Skill In Fingerpicking

Fingerpicking is a guitar-playing technique where you pull on or pluck the strings individually to produce a unique kind of sound. It is especially popular among country songs since it helps bring out the guitar’s unique tone.

When you have long nails, strumming with a pick can be quite tricky. Since you won’t get a good grip over the pick, it ends up rotating or slipping off of your fingers. And if you’re performing in front of a crowd, that can be really embarrassing.

So, to save you the humiliation, why not try and improve your fingerpicking skills instead?

Admittedly, it might take some time to get used to this playing style. But with the right practice and patience, you’ll surely get the hang of it in no time.

2. Replace Your Pick With Your Fingernails

If you really can’t let go of strumming, or if fingerpicking doesn’t suit your playing style, then why not let go of using the pick altogether?

Playing Classical Guitar With Long Nails
A popular option is to keep long nails on the strumming hand and short nails on the fretting hand

If your fingernails are longer than a pick, then you can successfully get rid of the pick and replace it with your fingers instead. In this case, you have the freedom to grow the nails on your strumming or picking hand to replace your old pick.

To ensure the best results, you can also file your nails into a specific shape to accentuate a specific sound. Here are some nail filing tips that you might want to consider:

  • You can file your nails in a way that has a pointed center. This is the shape that resembles a pick the most, so you can start with this shape. however, you have to make sure that the sides leading to the center are identical to ensure a pick-like sound.
  • If filing the pointed center seems too complex, you can also start with rounded fingernails. While the shape is not similar to that of a pick, rounded fingernails help give the guitar a fuller sound as you strum. And who doesn’t want that?
  • The third nail shape that you want to consider is a slope to one side. This nail shape is perfect for playing classical guitar since it helps give off a warmer sound. As to the angle of the slope, that all depends on you. you can start with different angles for each fingernail and find out which sound works best for you.

3. Maintain The Length Of The Nails On Your Fretting Hand To Not Go Beyond The Finger Pad

Now that we’re done talking about the strumming hand, let’s proceed to strategies you can use with your fretting hand.

As we have previously mentioned, the biggest struggle when playing the guitar with long fingernails is holding the chord down on the fretboard. Without the same amount of pressure, you can get from the finger pads, holding down the chords with your fingernails will never be the same.

As a tip, we recommend growing your nails, but only until the edge of the finger pad. This way, your nails won’t be in the way of you holding down the chords. This still gives you enough length, but without the hassle that could lead to poorer sound.

4. Take Advantage Of Open Tuning

But, if you really want to maintain long nails, then we suggest open tuning your guitar instead. This means tuning the A string to a B, the G string to a G#, and the D string to an E.

These changes will allow you to produce the same sounds on the guitar without having to put a lot of pressure on the fretboard. And this strategy makes it a lot easier to hold chords with long fingernails.

To summarize, we can all agree that learning how to play guitar with long nails is perfectly possible. Armed with the right techniques and strategies, you can perfect this special skill in no time.

Before ending the article, here are two guitarists trying to play the guitar with fake nails in this video:

Final Words

We have narrated four strategies that you can use to play while maintaining the length of your fingernails: develop fingerpicking, replace the pick with your fingernails, file your fingernails to resemble a pick, and use open tuning. You can pick one or try all these strategies to see which one works best for you.

But, bear in mind that playing the guitar with long nails will be tricky at first. To be successful at this, you must have the determination to see it through until the end.

Scroll to Top