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I'm well aware that longer finger nails are common on the strumming hands of flamenco and classical guitarists. I'm thinking of trimming my nails right back to see if this would impair playing, because, as it is, I usually have one nail chewed up by the strings, which, as you know, is horrible to work with.

I'd like to know from those who play with short finger nails, particularly flamenco guitarists, if they are happy with the change.

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    How are you "chewing up" a nail on the strings? Perhaps you are playing too hard.
    – user50691
    Jan 27, 2021 at 22:36
  • Flamenco playing can be forceful at times, and on steel strings, this is a problem for me. And I know I'm not the first to deal with this problem. Jan 28, 2021 at 1:00
  • I would not have guessed you were playing steel strings
    – user50691
    Jan 28, 2021 at 1:21
  • ^ true enough. There are few flamenco guitars built for steel strings. Jan 28, 2021 at 1:35

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You really need to provide a definition of long for the question to make any sense. If you look at a classical method book from one of the greats, like Pepe Romero or Christopher Parkening, you will see that the nails of the "strumming hand" should not be very long at all maybe a millimeter or two beyond the flesh. The string should touch the flesh near the nail when making contact, then the nail acts as a ramp for the string slide off. So, if you have maintained your nails properly they should not be that long. They are not used as picks. When the nails get too long they can hook the string and that is a huge impediment to good playing.

As for no nails? I have heard that some masters require their students to learn without nails so they get used to the feeling of the sting on the flesh, then after some time they grow nails. I believe Pepe Romero talked about his father making him and his brothers learn this way. But I don't know of any with NO nails.

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    Yes, but this is a bit too absolute. Flamenco has a lot of different techniques, and some of them definitely do use the nails as-a-pick-ish rather than giving the flesh the main task. Jan 27, 2021 at 22:44
  • But the question was quite ambiguous citing both flamenco and classical. Romero plays both and I trust his book
    – user50691
    Jan 27, 2021 at 23:31
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    Fernando Sor's method recommends very short nails. Jan 28, 2021 at 6:33
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    @luserdroog: I seem to recall Sor played without nails? Jan 28, 2021 at 9:36
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Lacking many answers, here's my tuppenceworth.

Playing guitar with fingers (as opposed to a pick) gives options. To play with the flesh of a fingertip or the nail itself. When nails are too long (what constitutes too?) there's every chance that all the notes will be produced when those nails come into conact with the strings - it's very difficult to pluck using just flesh. Unless one wants to play everything with those nails, in which case, grow them as long as you want, but them that is compromised by their breakability.

So, nails long (short?) enough to give the option of nail or flesh makes most sense (to me). 1 1/2 - 2mm would seem to give a fair balance for general playing.

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They are not uncommon at all. I have discovered with the help of many great guitarists that for ---at least a large proportion of finger types--- the ideal shape (for the i, m) is short and asymmetric like this:

asymmetric nail

I could say that the picture has it a bit longer than I like to have and the fin does not "fade off" as smoothly and curvy as I want it. The main reason I let longer nails is durability. For instance, say I want to do irrelevant work like home reparations, or commit to a season of heavy practicing (scales, etc...). In fact, with this shape having longer nails makes the right hand "nail fin" flap sort-of-speak making the sound less robust/rich. In general, I try to optimize the sound quality given the required durability constraints --- it's a trial and error process and takes some time to learn. For concerts, I only care about the best sound.

You can experiment with different sizes and shapes, nails grow. Stroke motions and contact surface smoothness certainly influence how fast nail degrade; imagine that if the contact points are not smooth enough (in a microscopic level), they will degrade faster. Strong nails are also related to the diet quality. Also try perhaps some kind of treatment like olive oil --- web is full of suggestions, just use common sense. Last, note that whenever I had to use fake nails (like with very thin fabric sheets and glue/retin) my own nail became weaker after I removed it.

Last, take a look at Scott Tenant; Roland Dyens was also having similar nails.

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