Can You Play Guitar With Long Nails?

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Are you thinking about learning to play the acoustic or electric guitar? Not sure if you’ll be able to do it with your long fingernails?

Playing the guitar can be a lot of fun. However, you’ll need to have access to your fingertips to do it. This obviously complicates things a bit if your fingernails are a part of your personal style and you like to keep them long. But can you play guitar with long nails? Will they get in the way?

Unfortunately, the answers to these questions aren’t as simple as “yes” or “no”. In this guide, we’ll dig a little deeper and tell you whether you can play guitar with long nails or not.

Can You Play Guitar With Long Nails?

If you want to get straight to the point, here’s the answer to your question – kind of.

Playing the guitar with long nails will limit you quite a bit when playing the instrument. Generally, if you want to become a master of the instrument and explore every technique, then it’s gonna be tough to do with long nails.

However, it’s not completely cut and dry. If you’re a bit creative in the way that you play guitar then you can make it work. There are also some compromises that you can make, such as only keeping the fingernails on your fretting hand trimmed up.

We’ll give you more information on these solutions down below.

The Problem With Having Long Fingernails

So why does it matter if you have long nails as a guitar player?

The main problem with having long nails when playing guitar is that you won’t be able to press down on the guitar frets fully. This will prevent notes from ringing out properly. When playing guitar, you need to apply a certain amount of pressure to a fret. This will help ensure that the notes you play are clear and don’t sound muffled.

In addition to this, long fingernails may also bump into adjacent strings besides the ones you’re fretting. There’s limited space on a guitar fretboard. Long nails can get in the way and make it hard to be precise about the frets that you’re pressing down on.

It’s important to note, however, that long fingernails don’t cause as many problems with your picking/strumming hand. Long nails can actually be used similarly to a guitar pick when strumming and can also be used similarly to fingerpicks as well.

Many classical guitar players and flamenco players intentionally grow the fingernails on their right hands out. This helps them to better pick notes while playing.

How to Play Guitar With Long Nails: The Top Solutions

If you have long nails, there are a few solutions and compromises that you can consider. Here are some of the main options.

1. Keep Nails Long On Your Non-Fretting Hand

As mentioned above, classical players often keep the fingernails on their picking hand a bit longer while trimming the nails on their other hand. This can allow you to pick the strings with your nails and works very well for classical and fingerpicking guitar styles. You can also strum the guitar with your long fingernails as well.

However, you’ll still need to think carefully about the shaping of your nails and their length. Especially if you’ll be playing classical guitar with long nails, be sure to read up on how to maintain your fingernails properly.

2. Make Open Tunings Work For You (like Dolly)

Dolly Parton Playing Guitar With Long Nails
Source: Josef Just via Wikimedia Commons

One of the great things about playing the guitar is that you can use many different alternate tunings and don’t have to stick to the standard tuning of EADGBE. Some people who have long fingernails choose to rely on a non-standard guitar tuning in order to play the instrument with long fingernails.

When using certain open tunings, the strings will form a chord even if you don’t place your fingers on the frets at all. This also means that to make additional chords, all you’ll need to do is “barre” your finger across all of the strings at various places up and down the guitar neck. Playing in this way can allow you to play quite a few chords without needing to fret the guitar with your fingertips, but instead using the side of your finger to make each chord.

One of the most common examples of a guitarist who plays in this way is country singer Dolly Parton. Dolly Parton is well known for playing her guitar in this way in order to avoid trimming her nails.

Aside from open tunings, there are other guitar tunings and “almost open” tunings that can make things easier as well. Reading up on various guitar tuning and experimenting to find an option that works great for you can be worth the effort.

Keep in mind that this may work best if you primarily want to play guitar for accompaniment while singing or while part of a band. It may not be as useful to you if you’re interested in learning how to play guitar solos or use advanced techniques.

3. Play Slide Guitar

Slide Guitar Player

Another great option for playing the guitar with long fingernails is to play with a guitar slide.

Dolly’s method of playing the guitar includes using open tunings and “barre-ing” the strings with a finger on her fretting hand. However, you don’t have to do this with your finger. Using a slide can work great as well.

It’s possible to play slide guitar in standard tuning. However, most players use open tunings when playing slide guitar. Doing so can allow you to do a lot with the instrument. Just like with a finger, you can create chords by placing the slide all the way across the fretboard.

Slide guitar playing is very popular among blues musicians and many of them play slide guitar almost exclusively. Blues icons such as Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters are well-known for their abilities on slide guitar.

Also, keep in mind that blues players and slide guitarists often play this style with round neck resonator guitars in addition to traditional acoustic and electric guitars. A squareneck resonator guitar (also known as a dobro) is also an option and can only be played with a slide. Technically, a squareneck resonator guitar is a totally different instrument than the guitar, however.

Unlike Dolly’s style of playing, you won’t be limited to chords and accompaniment when playing with a slide. You can also play single notes with a slide. You can play lead guitar solos that have a “whining” lonesome sound to them.

In addition to the blues, you’ll hear slide guitar across many other genres as well. This includes Southern Rock, country, and Americana. One of the most popular guitar solos of all time, the intro to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird, was played with a slide.

You might want to grab a Fender steel slide or an Ernie Ball glass slide if you want to try using this method to play the guitar.

4. Angle Your Fingers and Trim Your Nails Just a Bit

If you’re willing to trim your fingernails just a bit, then it can be worth doing so.

One way that you can play guitar with nails is to place your fingers on the fretboard and angle them in such a way that your fingertips can successfully press down hard enough on the strings, even with nails. You can’t do this with extra-long nails. However, it may be possible with nails that are somewhere between the two extremes.

You’ll want to trim your nails accordingly and practice with this to get used to angling your fingers in the right way. Be sure that your fingernails are short enough that they won’t prevent you from putting pressure on the strings. You’ll also need to avoid bumping into adjacent strings to the ones you’re fretting. If you can compromise on fingernail length and angle your fingers correctly this could be a good solution for you to play the guitar.

Additionally, this method of playing may also be easier if you have a larger style of guitar, such as a dreadnought guitar. This will give your fingers and fingernails additional room to work with.

Should I Cut My Nails To Play Guitar?

While it’s a difficult decision to make, trimming your nails is the best choice if you want to be a dedicated guitar player.

At some point and in some way, having long fingernails will hold you back from experiencing the full potential of the instrument. If you want to become a great lead guitar player or you want to experience other advanced playing styles, the truth is that you really do need to trim your nails.

If you simply want to play the guitar because you want to accompany your voice or can accept being somewhat limited on the instrument, however, then you may be in luck. Following Dolly’s method or using one of the other tricks listed above can be good choices.

Of course, there’s no shame in deciding not to play the guitar if having long nails is more important to you. If you prefer to have long nails rather than learn the guitar, then that’s okay and it’s up to you to decide.Musician Playing Trumpet

Other Musical Instruments You Can Play With Long Nails

If you would rather keep long nails, you may want to consider playing a different musical instrument instead. Keep in mind that there are many more great hobbies to consider. There are also other instruments to play where your fingernails won’t get in the way.

Unfortunately, the piano and most fretted instruments won’t be options with long nails. However, most wind instruments and a few other musical instruments can work very well.

Consider learning an instrument such as:

These are all good options to consider that can be fun to play. These musical instruments can allow you to keep your long fingernails while still experiencing the benefits of playing music as well.

Choosing Between Long Fingernails and the Guitar

So can you play guitar with long nails? While it’s a good idea to trim your nails if you want to learn to play the guitar, there are other options. Approaching your instrument in a different way or making a small compromise can be worth considering.

Ready to get started with the guitar? Be sure to check out our list of the top guitar lesson books now.