The shape of a guitarists fingernails play an important part in classical guitar mainly, but also in the various other types of guitar if you fingerpick. In this article I will explain how you can shape your finger nails to get a great sound from your guitar.
Before we start, if your nails aren't protruding over the ends of your fingers, there isnt much in you reading this article. Yes, they really have to be that long! Your thumbnail should be the longest, long enough to cause alarm when your friends see it.
Equipment you will need:
01. A diamond/sapphire dust nail file. Usually about 1 from superdrug or the U.S alternative.
02. A nail buffer with various types of roughness on it. (Smooth Nail, Remove Ridges etc.)
03. (Optional) A fine grade glass or sandpaper.
04. Your guitar in front of you.
Ok, so your nails should be long enough to catch on the strings when you play by now, which is a good thing (sort of) as it means that your technique is correct, just your nails are too long lol. I will start with the method that I use to shape my nails.
Firstly, sit with your guitar in your usual position and place all your fingers (that you play with) and your thumb on one string, with your thumb in front-nearest to the frets. Then, keeping them in the same position, bring them up off the string and up to about eye level. Your fingers should still be together, and they should still be in a line. Grab your nail file, being carefull not to move your fingers, and run it across then ends of your nails. You should now have a small flat bit on the ends of all your fingers, not your thumb. Next, choose which finger to concentrate on shaping.
The reason we use a diamond edge nail file to shape our nails, not a metal one with a pattern, is because the metal ones damage the nail, they tear away the layers. As does cutting them, and using emory boards.
I always tend to start with my index finger, so I will use it as an example. Get your nail file and place it paralell with the mark you made earlier, on the underside of the nail, at an angle of about 45 degress. Then file. The aim is to get the largest, flattest area possible that will strike the string, giving the cleanest sound. The warmness and tone will come later. Then, once you are satisfied with the underside of your nail, smooth off any edges or corners that may catch the strings. Basically, you want the area that you've smoothed off to be the only thing that touches the strings. Once you have done all that, get your nail buffer and smooth and shine the edge of your nail, taking care to get all of the underside smoothed and shined. This will make a nice smooth sound, and will help prevent the strings catching if you pick it wrong.
Do the same for all your fingers, its the same method for all of them. Once you are entirely satisfied with your fingers, its time to move on to your thumb nail. I find this nail the hardest to shape, but it is the most worthwhile if you get it right. Place your thumb and fingers on the string, the same way you did before, and bring them off the strings in a line, the same as you did before, and mark your thumbnail in the same way as your fingernails, but rotate the file about 15 degrees to the outside of your hand, away from your index finger. This is the most important part of shaping the thumbnail. I repeat, rotate the file about 15 degrees away from your index finger, but still keeping it in the same place on the nail. Then file it in the same way, keeping the file at about 45 degreeson the the underside of the nail. Then treat the nail in the same way aswell, with the nail buffer, smooth then shine XD.
That is one method of shaping your nails, the other method is similar, but instead of using the nail file to mark your nails, you fold a square of fine grade glass or sandpaper over a string and play a few free strokes on it. This will mark your nails also.
Your nails should now be very smooth and rounded, but they wont be perfect. Each persons fingers are different, and I can only give you a guidline as to how they should be shaped. The only way that your going to get a decent sound is by fine tuning them, by constant tweaking and experimenting while your playing, until you are happy with the sound. Also, if you listen to a classical guitarist called Segovia, his tone comes a combination of nail and flesh connecting with the string, not just the nail.
If you make a mistake, dont panic, just wait a week or two then try again :D
If you ever break a nail so that its hanging off, stick it back on with superglue and it will knit itself back together.
Also, you may find it easier if you have no nails on your fretting hand, as they sometimes catch on the strings or something.
Hope this helps,