When I first asked Nathan Bredeson and Michael Ibsen about their fingernails I was being perhaps a bit flippant. As a pianist, nails are basically a nuisance that have to be trimmed almost every day. I found out that the opposite is true for the classical guitarist; their nails are indispensable tools for playing their instrument. Here is more of what Nathan and Michael had to say about their nail routines...
There are a variety of DIY methods for shaping nails from sandpaper and files to specialized abrasive cloths to using a spoon and a lighter or even a hair iron to heat and bend nails to a desired shape! Other guitarists use acrylic nails, either buying them at the local drugstore or going to a salon to have them done. My normal routine right now is to file the nails
to shape and then smooth them with two different grits of sandpaper (500-600 grit). One player in my guitar trio uses all natural nails except for a fake nail on his ring finger. According to him, it just sounds better that way.
Breaking a nail can definitely ruin your day--last December I accidentally tore off my thumb nail minutes before a performance! Depending on the severity of the break you can sometimes patch it with teabags and superglue or just file down to the crack, but in severe cases you may have to put on a “fake” acrylic nail while you wait for the natural one to grow out. You definitely get a few weird looks at the salon the first time you come in and tell them “I want an acrylic on just one finger” but you get used to it after a while.
Keeping the nails intact is a bit of a lifestyle adjustment; as a right-handed person, I have to get used to using my “wrong” hand to do certain tasks, such as opening a door or picking up objects. I don’t always remember, though. Nothing is more frustrating than breaking a nail just trying to turn off the kitchen faucet!
My natural fingernails are very weak and oddly shaped, with lots of divets and ridges. As such I use all fake nails, as many guitarists do. I have searched long and hard and tried everything from Shellac to drug store glue on nails, but I have settled for now on some fake nails developed by an Italian guitarist who sells them online. They attach with small non-toxic glue dots so every day or two I attach them, and I can change them at will if there is an issue. These ones give the best sound and response I’ve found from any fake nail, and they come in different thicknesses and material so you can customise the sound for each finger if you want. Mucking about with the fake nails is a bit annoying, but I really like having full control over the length and shape at all times, and consistency is key. There is one “snag” in that the nails can catch on the backside when I am strumming fast, so I have to attach some tape over the nail where it connects to the cuticle as well to prevent this when I am strumming vigorously, but so long as I do them up right before a concert I haven’t had any issues with a set lasting for a whole performance.
If you want to know more, Nathan and Michael will be doing a "meet and greet" after the Made in Canada concert on Friday, September 27th, 7pm at Hazzards Corners church in Madoc Township. Check our website for ticket information.