Guitar nails, yes you can go to the salon…

Gel nails look very natural, they are clear and just a bit shinier than your normal nail. I typically get nice comments on them when folks notice them and it’s a great conversation starter.

Last night I was sitting in the salon getting my nails done when I realized I should do an article as so many players ask about my nails at the shop. There are many ways to go and it’s a personal decision for each player. But here’s what I do and how I got there.

When I initially started playing Fingerstyle I used my own natural nails. The nails were weak, though especially at the end where they often broke, a serious impediment to progress so I switched to metal finger pics – the kind that many Blues players use. I used these for several years. They were extremely uncomfortable and I never liked the metallic attack on the strings.

Then one day I found myself in New York City attending a workshop with Martin Simpson who was one of the instructors. The first song I heard them play was Rosie Anderson and the tone Martin produced was just amazing. Single notes were fat and clear and the overall tone was just beautiful sounding. After the performance we had a chance to meet and chat and he showed me his acrylic nails. Martin told me he goes to the salon every few weeks. I walked out of the door at Columbia University down the street to the first salon I could find and gave them my right hand!! It was pretty comical actually because they thought I wanted both hands done – I mean it was New York City after all. They didn’t speak much English but as soon as I made the motion of playing air guitar they understood.

This was probably 16 or 17 years ago and back then the acrylic nails were a powder and a resin that were mixed together and applied to the nail. Not a great product as it would dry out the original nail and was prone to chipping more often than it should. However over the past few years, a new acrylic nail gel product came out that is not only healthier for your real nail but much more durable and in fact a bit more flexible and better sounding.

The process is pretty simple, as the name implies – the product, which is a gel, goes on thick and gooey and levels itself. If it is your first time and if you want your nails to be longer  they will first apply some fake nail tips to form a bridge for the new gel nail to go over. You then place your hand under a UV light which hardens and cures the gel in short order (warning this can get hot and burning, pull them out for a few seconds to cool and then reinsert them). There’s a few iterations of sanding your nails and adding coats of gel and drying under the UV. This takes about 30 or 40 minutes, then you are ready to go home and play. Well almost. One of the great benefits of this product is shaping. The standard nail file goes from course to fine so you can experiment with beveling your nail and polishing it to different ranges of smooth for the particular tone that you want for your music. Think about the bevel on your favorite pick and try for that for starters.

The long-term care of these nails is pretty straightforward as well – about every 2 to 4 weeks depending on your own situation, you can go back to the salon for what is called a fill. This is where they simply fill in the portion of your nail that has grown out and add any more gel towards the base of your fingernail, fixing any minor nicks or things that need to be touched up.

Nail salon price varies around the country but anywhere from $20-$30 will get you a set of these nails, and fills usually range from $15-$20. Well worth it – I used to lose my pics all the time and now I simply can’t leave home without them.

PS -Be sure and get a pedicure while you’re at the salon, it’s not just for the ladies and it’s fabulous!