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Some Thoughts on Nails and Strings

Some Thoughts on Nails and Strings

Some Thoughts on Nails and Strings

Some Thoughts on Nails and Strings

Some pre-requirements for playing the guitar

by Carlos Bonell

Nails and strings are two subjects of con- stant concern for guitar players. When do you change the strings? What strings should you put on? And how about your nails—wearing down through practice, maybe damaged accidentally, or just plain weak? How do you save them, preserve them, and strengthen them? I am going to tell you about some of the things I have learned through per- sonal experience. I am not suggesting that these are the only methods or remedies.

I couldn’t do that without an exhaustive

investigation. But they have worked for me.


The strings you choose should depend on how loudly you play, the height of the action on the guitar, the instrument’s ten- dency or otherwise to buzz, the balance between bass and treble, and not least, the sound you like to produce. Without wishing to avoid the questions

I posed above, let me say that different

strings suit different guitars and different players. Here are some examples:

• a player who likes to make a loud sound on a guitar with a low action. My advice:

high-tension strings.

• a player who likes to make a loud sound on a guitar with a high action. My advice:

medium-tension strings.

• a player who likes to make gentle sounds in his living room, the only location where he plays the guitar. My advice:

low- or medium-tension strings.

• a guitar with strong basses and weak tre- bles: try carbon strings on the trebles.


Although time-consuming, I experiment with lowering the nut and bridge to the lowest point before the guitar begins to buzz, and play with medium-tension

Some Thoughts on Nails and Strings

strings. I like the way strings sustain and respond to the touch. Sometimes I put on

a high-tension 6th string and medium-ten-

sion strings for the rest, and find the guitar responds differently again. So let us imag- ine you have fixed the strings and action. You are happy that the guitar sounds good,

it doesn’t buzz, and the action feels right. Now you have to consider the all-

important part that comes into contact with the strings: your nails.


The most important thing you can do in the short term to preserve your nails is to learn how to play at an angle to the string that doesn’t wear them out, and to develop smooth, relaxed strokes. In addition, please treat the nails with the respect they deserve. In other words, don’t bash them against the strings for an hour as loud as you can, and expect them to be happy and undamaged! For most people, the nails will complain in the only way they know how— by wearing down and even splitting. Always play with your nails as smoothly polished as possible. Use an emery board and fine emery paper around and under- neath the nail until there are no catches, ridges or imperfections.


In the medium and long term you can strengthen your nails by encouraging them to grow strongly by what you eat. Find foods that contain calcium, zinc, silica, bio- tin, folic acid, vitamin B6 and B12 and cod liver oil. Here are some of the foods that include these: fish (especially herring and salmon), oysters, liver, watercress, spin- ach, alfalfa, lettuce, kale, kelp, asparagus, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts, nuts, wheat germ, oats, brown rice, buck- wheat, soy beans, bananas, fruit, molasses, and cider vinegar.


Try this for breakfast on weekends: wheat germ sprinkled oatmeal porridge with bananas and soy milk. Sweeten with honey.


Raw oysters with lemon juice as a starter, followed by grilled salmon with lemon juice, and a watercress and spinach salad, toasted sesame seeds, boiled buckwheat (a rice substitute) with a dressing of cider vinegar and olive oil. And if you don’t like salmon, try herring or another oily fish.


You can also take vitamins, minerals and cod liver oil in capsules. You can apply nail- strengthener liquid directly to the nail.


Unless you break a nail off completely and lose it, most breaks and splits can be repaired. A mix of super-glue and resin can hold a split nail together for up to two weeks. Read the instructions carefully, especially when you apply super-glue to the nail. Apply it first onto a tooth-pick and from there onto the nail surface. A word of caution: Some nails are more vulnerable to the effects of super-glue than others and can suffer. If in doubt don’t use it!.


I do take care about my diet, and not just

for the nails, but for my general health,

which in turn helps the nails grow strongly.

I apply nail protein directly to my nails.

When I damage a nail I use a nail kit (there

are several on the market) and that sees me through thick and thin (pardon the pun).

From the April 2013 issue of Classical Guitar. First published at