How To Play Guitar With Long Nails (Problems & Advice)

I have long nails. I want to play guitar. Am I cursed?

QUESTION

Well, actually no. Unless your nails are nine-inch long (pun intended), you're absolutely fine. It turns out that in some cases long nails are rather a blessing, than a curse. Before we learn how to play guitar with long nails, let’s take a look at the…

Problems You Might Be Facing

As a bearer of long nails on your fingers, you might be facing the following problems when learning how to play guitar with long nails:

  • Problem #1: Inability to finger chords and fret strings properly with your left hand, especially the ones that involve heavy stretching, like G major chord (QUICK NOTE: from now on, we will be referring to the right-hand players).
  • Problem #2: Hard to hold a pick with my right hand – it always slips away because of the long nails
  • Problem #3: Hard to do fingerpicking the right way – fingernails are either too short or too long. If you’re a woman or a girl, you may have another problem not listed here – you’d love to start playing guitar, but…
  • Problem #4: You’d rather not cut your nails short.

In any case, don’t worry – we’ve got a solution for everyone!

Solution - How To Play Guitar With Long Nails

Solution #1: Cut The Nails On Your Fretting Hand Short

Unfortunately, this may be the only solution for those who want to finger the chords properly and not get strange, unwanted sounds. You can’t fret a string with your nails because it’s just too unstable and uncomfortable.

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Nails on Left Hand

The anatomy of a human fingernail suggests that whenever you press your fingertip against some hard surface (like fretboard), your nail will always be protruding unless you cut it short. For those of you who have a longer nail bed, this might get even worse – yet, the cure is still the same: cut it short.

You will be regretting it maybe for a day or two. Then it all goes back to normal. Keep practicing to get strong calluses formed on your right hand fingertips – these calluses will eventually ease the pain and help you fret strings effortlessly.

Solution #2: Cut Your Nails Short Or Forget The Pick

If you plan on using the pick in the future, you’ll have to choose the side: either you’re switching to fingerpicking/strumming or you’re still playing with a plectrum. Long nails on your picking hand fingers mess up with your ability to hold the pick properly as they tend to touch the strings when you strum.

Cutting your fingernails short will effectively eliminate the problem and regain you full control of your picking hand fingers. This is an easy step in learning how to play guitar with long nails.

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The Pick

However, if you’ve grown to appreciate these long nails of yours more than anything else, here’s a plot twist for you: switch to fingerpicking or strumming as they require good strong nails of medium length.

Perhaps, you can do a nice transition from a typical “heavy metal shredder” type of guitarist to a well-established country guitarist!

You may want to see Top 9 Amazing Best Fingerstyle Guitar Songs

Solution #3: Experiment With The Length Of Your Nails Until You Get It Right

Some guitarists don’t need picks at all – they can do both fingerpicking and shredding with their nails, which quite awesome so to say. In order to achieve the same level of awesomeness and learn how to play guitar with long nails, you need to follow these tips:

  • Cut your nails in such way that they will be just a few millimeters longer than your nail bed
  • Make sure your nails don’t have round edges – make them almost square
  • When playing, keep you fingers as close to guitar strings as possible to avoid unnecessary right hand movement and saving yourself time and energy

Check out this video to see How To Shape Your Nails:

Solution #4: Play In Open Tunings!

If you really hate the thought of losing those beautiful nails of yours, take the famous Dolly Parton as an example. This female guitarist is known to have very long nails on her fretting hand and somehow she gets away with it while playing guitar.

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Dolly Parton with long nails on both hands. Source: © GETTY IMAGES JIM DYSON

How does she do it?

The answer is quite simple – she plays her songs in an open tuning (usually it’s Open E). Open tunings allow guitar players to strum all six open strings and get a major chord (most commonly it’s E, G, or D).

To tune your guitar from a standard tuning into an Open E tuning, all you have to do is:

  • Leave the 6th string (E) as it is
  • Tune the 5th string (A) one full tone up – to a B
  • Tune the 4th string (D) one full tone up – to an E
  • Tune the 3rd string (G) one semi-tone up – to a G#
  • Leave the 2nd string (B) as it is
  • Leave the 1st string (E) as it is

Once you’re done with it, you’ll be able to play wonderful open major chords using just one finger to do barre on various frets. Life is not that, isn’t it?

To understand about Open Tuning, please read this article: Lesson: The Advantages of Alternate Tunings

Conclusion

We’ve looked at some of the ways how to play guitar with long nails – thanks for reading and don’t forget to look after your nails!

Natalie Wilson
 

I've been an avid guitar fan for as long as I can remember and the day I embarked on my six-string journey at the young age of 5 truly defined the course of my entire life. I work as a professional musician, session guitarist, and guitar teacher, and would like to use this blog as a personal outlet to share my six-string knowledge with the world. Welcome to MusicalAdvisors.com

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