HTT: How to Finger-Nail

I got my first guitar when I was about twelve. It wasn't much to speak of, a battered nylon acoustic with a warped neck and the action (the distance between the strings and the fretboard) was so high it required the strength of an industrial sized C-clamp to make the strings sound like anything more than a dull thunk.

Two things became true on that day.

One, I was never going to have a normal life.

And the second was that from that day forth I've kept the nails on my left hand trim and tidy while the nails on the right grew to hardened claws.

The better to pluck you with, Little Red Riding Hood, the better to pluck you with.

Anyway, it's been right around twenty six years since my first lopsided manicure and I've held true ever since.

Until . . . 

Until . . .

Until I began playing the guitar for money, and forty-five minutes of noodling for friends, became four hour shows for actual people.

I'm not saying that my friends aren't actual people . . . but well . . . you know who you are.

Turns out . . . like my wife is fond of telling me . . . I had it all wrong.

Now there are all kinds of ways to finger nail. Everything from the Howard Hughs to the Nervous Nellie. I happen to fall somewhere between Bored Secretary and Over-The-Hill Porn Star, without all the polish and glitter.

Anyway, you have to make your own finger nail choices, but if you're interested in posing as a guitar player (a real one, and not the one I've been for twnety six years), then follow me . . . 

First is the left hand.
Now I just assumed that the closer your nails were clipped to the nub, the more finger tip meat you have to press those strings down.

Seems fair.

I played lots of shows over the course of the year and yet every night when I would get home my finger tips would be screaming at me. At first I thought it was just unprepared weakness. Calouses that haven't formed for the big leagues, but after about six months of daily practice, I started to get suspicious. I tore apart my whole technique a realized two things; One, I'm playing too hard, which is part nervousness and part growing up with an unresponsive instrument. Two, if I kept a little more nail on the first four fingers, not a lot, but just enough to stop my agressive fingers from pushing flesh to the bone, then they wouldn't ache as much the next day.

I put this theory to the test for my first show this year, and I'll be damned if it didn't work perfectly. Good sound, no pain.

Second is for the right hand.
You ever see the metal claws that banjo players use? A little ring that slides over the very tippy tip and is shaped like a pick at the end? Anyway, my first assumtion was that those nails (when speaking in real terms) needed to stick out like that. Brighter sound? More control? i don't know, it just made sense. But, as I'm sure you could guess by now, not only was it gross looking and tough to keep clean, but when I started playing ForReals, I shredded them up in almost no time at all.

Not only that, but the longer the nail, the less control I had and my hitting of an errant bass note plumeted when I started trimming those bad boys until they just reached the edge of the finger tip.

Clipping, Cleaning, Caressing:
Okay, so clipping frequency may vary. If you're relatively healthy and take your vitamins, consider a once a week routine.

Cleaning needs to be everyday, no matter how little you shower, and then as needed, depending upon what you've done. (When I was in coffee keeping them clean was almost a full time job in and of itself.)

Dirty finger nails are gross.

You might as well just let snot drip out your nose or wipe your butt-hole with single ply.

As for the caressing part . . . after you've clipped the nails down to their lowest reasonable length, scratch your arm. Not too hard . . . but just enought to see if there are any sharp edges you need to file down.

If you are a single male, living alone, who never had a sister and who's mom left him when he was three . . . go get yourself an emory board. (Everyone else has one in a junk drawer somewhere) Do not use the metal file on your keychain, that's for prison breaks, not your finger nails.

Delicately work your way back and forth, side to side, until you have both a pleasing shape and a smooth silky contour. Use your thumb on the opposite hand to feel for edges. This will make you look like a professional guitar player and a master back scratcher, which, most girls dream of.

In fact the levels of the attractiveness of men start at Rich, then Timothy Olyphant, then Back Scratching Ability, followed by Culinary Expertise and Returning Phone Calls.

And finally . . . the pro-tip, this one from my dear old dad.
If your set includes  brutal string beating with Richie Havens covers followed by the delicate song stylings of Dan Fogelburgh, you may find that by the time you get to that soft part of the evening, you have sheared away the tip of your index finger. Have no fear.

For next time of course, what's done is done.

Anyway, before you start bashing away, cut a small square of packing tape, stick it to the nail of your first finger and then use a pair of fingernail clippers to even the edges with your nail.

Works like a charm.

But beware.

Packing tape is your only option. Scotch tape doesn't stick well enough. Electrical tape moves around and duct tape (and this will be the only time I ever utter this phrase) Duct Tape is completely useless.

If you have run out of packing tape, every retail shop in the world has some lying around. You could go to Starbucks and I'll bet you $100 that they have a roll in a drawer behind the counter. They might not even know what it's for, but if you ask nicely, they'll cut you some. They're good people that way.

Anyway, the moral of this How To Tuesday is several fold. Keeps your nails clean and trim. Girls like Timothy Olyphant. And don't think you know anything about anything until you actually do it.

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