I guess Mark Knopfler doesn't swing a hammer very often.
February 10, 2012 10:53 AM   Subscribe

How can I, a male who used his hands a lot, keep longish fingernails for guitar?

I play guitar with a sort of classical/clawhammer finger picking style, which I don't want to change. This requires well maintained fingernails on my right hand that are long enough to extend slightly beyond my fingertips when looking at the finger straight on from the palm side. The problem is that I do manual labor, play sports, and generally use my hands a lot and when a nail tears and can't be shaped optimally or has to be too short, it can impact my picking ability noticeably.

I realize as long as I play like this and do the things I do I won't be able to eliminate the occasional problem completely, but what can I do to make my nails tougher? I've tried a (cheap) "no chip" clear nail polish, which seems to help a little, but still wears off pretty easily. Are there nail polishes that are actually really hard? Can I add anything to my diet that will help?
posted by cmoj to Grab Bag (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Damn it. "Uses his hand a lot."
posted by cmoj at 10:54 AM on February 10, 2012

Can you wear gloves when doing manual labor or sports?
posted by wongcorgi at 10:56 AM on February 10, 2012

I can have been able to do is to keep an emory board on me at all times and do a lot of filing and maintenance on them.

Plus wear gloves whenever at all possible.

I used to alternate between nails and fingerpicks, depending on the condition of my nails, but for clawhammer, that might not be feasible.
posted by Danf at 10:57 AM on February 10, 2012

Oh yeah, I meant to mention that I've tried fingerpicks before, but they come off way too easily. So easily, it seems like I'm missing something about how to use them.

I do wear gloves, but they aren't always feasible for the weather when I'm playing sports or the kind of work I'm doing.
posted by cmoj at 11:06 AM on February 10, 2012

Here's a story about a banjo player getting acrylic coating applied at a nail salon. Apparently it's a good deal stronger than store-bought nail polish.
posted by theodolite at 11:08 AM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

You can buy nail strengthening coatings that aren't polishes, but more like... paint-on supplements? Nail conditioners? They make your nails stronger. I used to carry a bottle with me all the time when I was breaking my nail biting habit.

I'd second constant filing- you want to take care of tiny chips before they spread.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:13 AM on February 10, 2012

Could you try something like this?
posted by 3FLryan at 11:17 AM on February 10, 2012

I got fairly good at picking with acrylic nails, however if you tear one off at work, you probably won't be able to play for a couple weeks with that finger.
posted by Ardiril at 11:17 AM on February 10, 2012

or never mind, I just read your update. Maybe there is a way to tighten them, the reviewer in the link i mentioned you might be able to put them in boiling water to tighten or something.
posted by 3FLryan at 11:18 AM on February 10, 2012

A lot of nail polish aficionados swear by Nailtiques to keep their nails strong. If you want something similar without a shiny finish, Seche Natural might work for you. Both are available in drugstores.

Loodie Loodie Loodie has a lot of good nail care info, including filing and treatments.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:22 AM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

James Taylor has a video lesson called "Nails 101" on his website - describes his all-business approach to prepping his nails for playing.
posted by gyusan at 11:24 AM on February 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

You can find biotin supplements sold alongside other vitamins; they're supposed to be good for strong nails.

And I'd second looking over Loodie's blog. She knows her stuff.
posted by rewil at 11:41 AM on February 10, 2012

no joke on the vitamins I could tell the difference with just a multi; also nail files, and clear coat. I wear 'the rock' topcoat maybe 10$ it's worth the extra couple bucks. if you even see part of a break it sounds like you know but then you need to file it down or patch.
posted by ibakecake at 12:35 PM on February 10, 2012

If the finger picks come off too easily, are you wearing them the right way?
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 2:43 PM on February 10, 2012

Ah. No, I'm not, but wearing them the right way apparently makes them totally pointless for my purposes. I need to strum both ways and be able to "twang" a string.
posted by cmoj at 2:57 PM on February 10, 2012

Yeah, that's why I don't use them either. There's another type which is worn the other way round, but I've never tried them.

I know that Martin Taylor uses acrylics, and his wife became a certified nail tech to take care of them.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 3:21 PM on February 10, 2012

Biotin and pantothenic acid are both good for your nails, and my mother's Dr. says you can boost the production of them in your system by taking MSM. I am not a nutritionist, but it's working for me.
posted by ThisKindNepenthe at 4:33 PM on February 10, 2012

Please don't go for acrylic coating. It will harm your nails. This method saved my sanity. Feel free to PM me for more info.
posted by Think [Instrumental] at 2:34 AM on February 11, 2012

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