Frequently Asked Questions
About Acoustic Guitar

 

How Do I Take Care of my Hands and Nails?

Taking care of your hands and nails is important, especially if you play on a daily basis. Hand care includes both stretching your hands (ie warming up) before playing finger-busting arrangements, as well as nail care, ie preventing nail breaks and dealing with broken/worn-down nails.

Hand Care
One area that can not be overlooked is warming up before you play. Common sense prevails here.  Start off each guitar session by playing something that is slow, and doesn't involve huge stretches. Scales and arpeggios are always a good starter.  Also, you may want to do some sightreading of a simple piece, since this will normally keep your movements slow.  Or you might try a piece that you know (and enjoy!) that is not too difficult.  Play thru at a moderate tempo, just to get the juices flowing.  A few minutes of warm-up goes a long way towards preventing hand injuries, just as warming up prevents injury in sports and other physical activities.

And what about those callouses that build up on your fretting hand?  A lot of British guitarists (e.g. Eric Clapton) use "Surgical Spirit" to toughen up the skin on their fingertips.  Surgical Spirit is simply the English term for rubbing alcohol.  If you wipe your fingertips with it twice a day for a couple of weeks you'll get callouses tougher than elephant hide!

Nail Care
Nail care seems to be part voodoo, part common sense. Keeping your nails strong and evenly filed is essential to maintaining consistency in your sound. There are basically two things to consider:

  • "How do I prevent nail breaks?", and
  • "What do I do when a nail does break?".

Part of preventing nail breaks means don't expose your nails to dangerous situations.  Common nail breaking incidents are:

  • opening aluminum can tops,
  • zipping your fly (editors note: I didn't write this),
  • and snagging them on clothing.

Don't let your nails grow longer than their optimal playing length. The longer they get, the more susceptible they become to damage.

Another part of preventing nail breaks is preventive maintenance.  People claim that nail polish makes their nails stronger (and shiny!).    Others use hand lotions with Keratin (a natural protein) in them.    Still others claim that your nails get stronger if you ingest powdered gelatin.  And there are other products, like "Barielle Nail Strengthener Cream", which was originally used to strengthen horse hooves, which has been modified for use on your nails.

If you do get a nail break, your options are basically:

  1. Remove the broken part of the nail, and file the nail as best you can, and wait for it to grow back, or
  2. attempt to repair the broken nail, or
  3. replace the nail with a fake one.

Filing the nail is pretty straight forward, and is described later on.  Repairing the nail can be done by reinforcing the nail with a paper/nail polish, paper-mache type fix up job. Replacing the nail can be done thru a number of means.  These include growing your non-picking thumb-nail long, and using it as a replacement nail, using a piece of ping-pong ball, using some brand of fake nail, or even temporarily moving to the use of fingerpicks.  There is a brand of picks called "Alaska Picks" that fit under the nail, and are made of plastic, so they don't give that metallic sound that normal fingerpicks do.

Additional information:
See Greg Neaga's great technique for reinforcing nails.

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