flamenco guitarist nails - tips and advice flamenco guitar and guitarists

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flamenco guitarist nails - tips and advice


"Guitar Stuff"


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flamenco guitar and guitarists



Snaggy things on the ends of your fingers. Things that, unless you’re exceptionally lucky, you’ll spend your whole life as a flamenco guitarist filing, gluing, and keeping out of the way of potential hazards like doorknobs, washing-up and frisbees. One millimetre too much and you feel like something out of Nightmare On Elm Street, one mil too little and you’re struggling to get any sound out of the guitar. Well, I do, anyway.

If you are one of those naturally blessed people who can use their fingernails as screwdrivers or go rock-climbing without even chipping a nail, then there’s no need to read on. You’re lucky.

So, for we more prosthetically-oriented types, what’s the perfect nail for flamenco? Flexible or hard, long or short, squared-off at the end or more rounded?


flamenco guitarists

Each player has a more or less unique way of attacking the strings. Vicente Amigo seems to play picado with the last joint of his middle and index fingers loose, so that the finger sort of flops onto the string rather than "hitting" it like a hammer. Manolo Sanlúcar told me differently. He maintains that the only way to get clean picado is to keep that joint rigid and the movement of the fingers smaller, and hence, presumably, the nails need to be shorter so they don’t catch. I’ve heard lots of other guitarists say the same thing, but I think it all comes down to what the individual player is comfortable with. None of the stiff-last-joint brigade have ever said that Vicente Amigo can’t play clean picado. And Manolo Sanlúcar taught Vicente for God knows how many years. So work that one out. I think it’s just the way his own playing has evolved. I’ve heard a related argument from a guitarist in Jerez who says the thumb of the left hand (sorry lefties) mustn’t poke up above the edge of the neck. He’s seen Paco de Lucia doing it, he says, and it’s a mistake. So does that mean Paco De Lucia can’t play? Then there are issues of long fingers and stubby fingers: which are better for flamenco? But those belong to the wilder shores of flamencology and I won’t be lured up that tree.


flamenco guitarists

And please; I’m not saying that picado is any more important than any other technique, it’s just an example.
What I can say is that 14 years of flamenco guitar playing have led me to one way of toughening up my nails which I’ve stuck with, if you excuse the pun.


Believe me, I went through them all:

cadiz summer flamenco
  • acrylic nails that are painted on (much to my embarrassment in a women’s nail care salon in Sevilla)
  • gloopy liquids that you paint on then sit there like a bored secretary while it dries
  • toughening liquids like Tuff Nail and that stuff fom France which is mostly ammonia and makes your nails go white and brittle
  • bits of dissected ping pong ball (these really light up in nightclubs under UV light – be warned!)
  • stick-on nails from the local cosmetics shop (one of these came flying off while I was doing my audition for a course in front of Gerardo Nuñez – much laughter at my expense)
  • latest advanced polymer "Rock Nails" gel from Laboratiores Garnier or whoever
  • Micropore surgical tape with superglue 3
  • Superglue 3 and bicarbonate of soda (dries really quickly, but looks bizarre, and once got me nearly busted at Heathrow airport when the customs men wanted to know what this white powder in a jar was!)
  • Tissue paper
  • Bits of an old silk shirt
  • and so on
flamenco guitarists

The best stuff I’ve found so far is....(drum roll)....self-adhesive silk wrap. Stuff you’d think you could buy at the local haberdashery but you can’t. Miro in Sweden makes kits which come with a length of self-adhesive silk. Savarez have also produced a kit along the same lines, and there are probably others. They come with "special purified nail glue" and nail nutrient oil. Don’t be taken in, it’s just the same superglue 3 you can get in any hardware shop. And as for the oil, I’m sure it’s excellent for the real nail, but seeing as my real nails never come into contact with a guitar string...


flamenco guitarists

Why does it work so well (for me)? For a start you can build a new nail long enough to play with even if the actual nail is broken right back to the flesh. Then the fact that it’s self-adhesive, so you don’t go into a slapstick comedy routine involving everything getting stuck to everything else whenever you need to put a new nail on. It sticks to the nail before you put the glue on. So you just cut out the shape you want, stick a couple of layers of it to the nail, put on a few coats of superglue 3 and you’ve got a tough, not too thick, fileable nail that should last a month or so before it pings off whilst accompanying dance. If you find it again under your chair, just stick it straight back on for another month of hassle-free playing.


flamenco guitarists

It’s always a compromise between nice clean rasgueados (easier with longer nails) and things like arpegions, picado, tremolo etc, in which the fingers travel the opposite way across the strings, and when the nails can catch on the strings to produce unwanted effects, like martryred-looking singers or irate dancers. What do people think? If there’s a miracle nail out there that I haven’t dicovered yet, I’d love to hear about your experiences with it. E-nail me and we’ll start up a Nail Newsgroup.



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