The short answer is yes, you can absolutely play the guitar if you have long nails, acrylic nails, fake nails… any types of nails!
Whilst you may struggle to play if you have really long fake nails, it still wouldn’t be absolutely impossible.
Let’s look at the reasons why guitarists actually do play with nails, and what you can do to make your playing a little easier if you’re in the process of growing out your fingernails.
At what point do long nails make playing harder?
Acrylic nails exceeding 1cm are naturally going to make guitar playing more difficult because of the added space between the tip of the finger and the fret. The added space and push-back that a long nail provides could also make the act of fretting more difficult.
Having said that, there are many musicians with long, fake nails who play guitar very well. Some quick examples include:
- Miley Cryus
- Dolly Parton
- Machine Gun Kelly
One point to note is that guitarists will intentionally grow the fingernails on their right hand to make strumming and picking patterns more accessible. For example, classical guitar players and country players may have a longer thumbnail which allows them to hybrid pick effectively and ensure that they retain bass note as they’re strumming other strings.
Some classical players even have all of their fingernails on their right hand long (assuming they’re right0handed players), so they essentially act like mini plectrums on each finger. Hard to get used to, but incredibly effective one you know how to play that way.
So, it’s pretty clear that even with long nails you can still play… but surely there’s a secret? How are they playing their guitar without destroying their tips?
How do players with long nails actually manage to play without ruining them?
One of the really interesting things that even I was unaware of prior to researching this sub-topic was that many country players in particular will ‘sculpt’ their nails so that they can play, but not damage them.
Rather than butcher the description, here’s a really handy (pun intended) video on how players known for having long fingernails literally sculpt them so they can keep the awesome look, and not worry about their playing being too affected.
I say ‘too’ affected because, let’s face it, standard-length nails is better than nail extra-long ones when it comes to trying to hold down a chord effectively.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t just come down to the fact that longer nails can make playing a bit harder. If they’re really long then they can also become a bit of a hazard… the last thing you want to do is get caught up in your strings!
In summary, it’s normal and almost expected in some genres for the nails on your picking hand to be long, because they can be an incredible addition to your playing. On your fretting hand, sculpting is an option, but again not necessarily ideal.
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