Guitar Nails -Trim the Perfect FINGERNAILS for Playing Guitar – How To Clip

Do i need to cut my nails to play guitar

(Last Updated On: July 8, 2021)

Today we'll talk about something that so many guitarists overlook – yet it can create major (and immediate) benefits in your guitar sound, sound cleanliness, and ease of playing. The secret is in your FINGERNAILS my friends, your guitar nails.

Let's get down to business. I am a right-hand guitar player, so if you are a lefty and play a lefty guitar – switch things around.

Is it better to have longer or shorter nails for guitar?

I prefer my guitarist finger nails short – they're less likely to break or get in the way of everyday life, and you can still play fingerstyle guitar if you trim them properly.

Taking good care of your nails will make your acoustic guitar playing butter smooth. Here's how to do it:

Guitar Nails – The Left Hand (Fretting Hand):

We will start with the short and more obvious one – the left hand that you are fingering the chords with. This one should be TOTALLY clipped all the time.

I clip mine once every 3 days max, and dammit, I really don't know why so many people do not do that themselves, but I always see guitarists with huge left-hand fingernails buzzing all over the guitar and struggling to nail (pun intended…) the chords just because their fingernails get in their way by not letting them fully press the string to the fretboard, touching other strings and etc.

Just make sure you're always on top of that and have them clipped and nicely maintained – the benefits are well worth these 30 seconds once every 3 days.

Whops! Looks like I've been slacking on the left hand trimming for a few days… It's definitely harder to press down some of the chord shapes when your nails look like that.

Guitar Nails – The Right Hand (Picking Hand):

* If you play only with a guitar pick so right now this part might not be relevant to you, but I suggest you keep on reading since you might think differently in a minute.

Now this one is more prone to personal tastes, but here's what works for me, and not only works, but since I started clipping my fingernails this way – I found out that I sound really awesome when fingerpicking (also called “fingerstyle“. btw click on the link to watch the “top 7 fingerstyle players on YouTube”) – so much that I almost totally switched to playing exclusively in this way, and since then I started liking my sound 4 times better!

On songs that do need a pick – I usually use my index fingernail as a pick (as you can see here on the 12 string guitar in my Knockin' on Heaven's Doors cover):

How Long Should My Fingernails Be For Guitar?

So what I do with my picking hand is I keep them always between 2-2.5mm long (about 0.01 inch).

That means that when I clip them I do that very carefully to not screw them up and cut too much and to not create sharp edges that will get in my way of playing and make things uneven. Growing them to even longer than that can sound good and I know a lot of guitarists do that but to me, it feels too long and out of control, and also gets in my way of everyday life when I am messing around with other things that do not happen to be a guitar. Like my smartphone screen for example.

An ideal right hand nails length would make any guitar ring beautifully – when you've had enough of the picks for today and go for some fingerpickin'.

Artificial Nails

I'm not a huge fan of fake nails for a couple of reasons. First it's a pain to take them on and off. You have to use glue and while acrylic nails are strong, inevitably they will chip. This is why my girlfriend has to go to the nail salon almost every week (and she's not even playing guitar with them)!

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More importantly, you can't precisely control the length of a fake nail as you could with a natural nail. Your guitar's action (the height of the strings from the fretboard) may be lower or higher than mine, and therefore you'll want to adjust the nail length accordingly.

What if I break a nail?

This is the one time when I think an acrylic nail can be useful. but if you do break a nail the simplest solution would be to just use a pick and wait until it grows back. If you split the nail you might try super glue to hold it together.

The Benefits of Fingerpicking:

The 2-2.5mm length works perfectly for fingerpicking rock songs, blues, folk, flamenco guitar and for either electric, acoustic or classical guitar players. Make sure to cut the nails in the most circular shape you can and without “sudden bumps”.

When you start fingerpicking suddenly many new doors become open to you on the fretboard because you can play multiple strings at a time – kinda like a piano! I suggest giving that a test even for just a few weeks, you might discover that you like that new sound.

And yes, if you never really practiced fingerpicking so you might suck at the beginning but it's going to be history with some practice just like anything else on the guitar and soon you will start sounding much better. AND you can still always get back to the pick even if just for some songs.

♣ Hippie Tippie: You can totally clip off the long nail of the right pinky since you never use it anyway as a guitarist, but only the other 4. Also, you can cut off the right side of the thumbnail on the right hand, since you only use the left side to pick the bass strings. By doing that, it will be easier to use a phone with a touchscreen. And remember to always keep your guitar maintained and with fresh strings.

The right hand in the proper nail length. You can completely cut off the pinky nail as well. (which I did not do in this pic)

Fingernail Clippers & Files:

First of all, I hope you already have a good nail clipper or a nail file – if you are a man so you are probably using a clipper right now which should be fine as long as it is still sharp, pretty new and does its job well.

A worn out clipper will leave weird sharp and uneven textures on the edge of the fingernail which would make playing feel a bit weird in the first day or two after clipping. You can avoid that awkward feel by getting a new good clipper if you need one. Also, consider filing the fingernails on the right hand, this can give some more precise results.

Amazon's best selling clippers: I recommend getting one of the smaller ones with a pretty flat arch – since they allow clipping with greater precision. (whether your nails are on the bigger or on the smaller side – it doesn't matter)

Do i need to cut my nails to play guitar

That's the kind of “various intensities” nail file I use for soft finishes after clipping the nails – if I'm about to play. You know those harsh nail tips in the first 1-2 days after you cut them, and cause a weird sound when fingerpicking? That kind of file helps to avoid them.

Here's a list of best-selling files on Amazon and here's a list of the best selling clippers.  

These are my ways of maintaining my nails – start paying attention and your guitar life are going to become much smoother.

Thanks for reading! Peace and have fun, and you are welcome to watch this “twin” video-article from my YouTube channel.

Do you have other methods of taking care of your nails to keep them in top guitar shape? Please tell us in the comments – we love hearing new ideas. Thanks!

— Update: 01-05-2023 — found an additional article Why You Should Trim Your Nails To Play Guitar from the website for the keyword do i need to cut my nails to play guitar.

If you are learning how to play guitar, you probably have many questions going through your mind, and one of the main ones is whether or not you should trim your nails to play guitar. While having long nails in your picking hand can be great and help you achieve a special tone when playing fingerstyle, your other hand should have trimmed nails.

In this guide, we’ll go over some of the most important reasons why you should trim your nails to play guitar.

Do guitarists cut their nails?

Yes, guitar players, in general, cut and trim their nails in both hands, especially if they are using a pick to play. The reason is that having trimmed nails allows them to quickly press the strings on the fretboard without hitting the fretboard and gives them more control over the notes they are playing. For the playing hand, having trimmed nails also makes it easy to hold the pick and play faster.

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The only exception to this rule is for fingerstyle players who like to have longer nails on their picking hand, which allows for creating a sort of pick with their nails. Fingerstyle guitar players will also trim their nails to sharpen them, which helps to improve their picking and sound.

Before jumping into the reasons that make trimmed nails better for playing guitar, we need to distinguish between fingerstyle guitar clearly, players who use their fingers to pick the strings and those who use a pick. Fingerpicking requires, in some cases, longer nails or nail picks.

Why trimmed nails are better for playing guitar

Here are some of the main reasons why trimmed nails are better for playing guitar:

1. It’s easier to press the strings

One of the main reasons why trimmed nails are a must for guitar players is that it allows you to press the strings without a lot of effort easily. If you have long nails and you try to press a string on the fretboard, the nail can get in the way and hit the fretboard unintentionally. This makes it harder to press the strings and play, especially at a fast tempo.

2. Improves hand placement

Trimmed nails also make it easier to place your hands around the neck of the guitar and on the right strings. While this may seem unnoticeable, it can make a big difference when you play and learn how to place your hands correctly.

3. It makes it easier to play chords

Certain chords require you to stretch your fingers a lot, and when you are just learning guitar, having long nails will make it difficult to do specific chord shapes that require a lot of stretching.

4. Improves articulation

Your articulation can also improve if you have your nails trimmed, and this will help you to perfect your technique over time and become an even better guitar player. You’ll also notice that things like bends or pull-offs, and pull-ons are easier to play with if you have your nails trimmed.

5. It gives you more control over the strings

Finally, trimmed nails will give you more control over the strings because your fingertips rest totally on top of the strings. If you have slightly longer nails, they can quickly get in the way and make it more difficult for you to play and have complete control over the string’s movement.

Do you need short nails to play guitar?

While you do not need short nails to play guitar, it is usually advisable to trim your nails as much as possible. On the one hand, it will make it easier for you to hold a pick, and as we mentioned previously, it will also be easier for you to press your fingers against the strings and the fretboard.

Should you cut your nails to play guitar?

Yes, cutting your nails will make it easier for you to play guitar because it allows you to have more control over the strings, and their movement, while offering you more flexibility and dexterity.

How long nails affect your guitar playing

While it may seem like it is not important, the size of your nails can have a great impact on your playing. When you are trying to play or learn guitar with long nails everything will be more difficult.

Pressing the string with your fingertips requires a surface area where your fingertips touch the string directly, and if you have long nails that surface will be smaller. Additionally, the long nails will hit the fretboard making it more difficult for you to press the strings. 

All of these hurdles are easily overcome, if you put in some time and effort you will be able to play with long nails, but that shouldn’t be your approach. You will inadvertently make the learning process more challenging, and demanding for you. Which in turn makes it more difficult for you to improve and become a better guitar player.

— Update: 01-05-2023 — found an additional article Long Or Short Nails For Playing Guitar? (Explained!) from the website for the keyword do i need to cut my nails to play guitar.

Guitarists are always looking for ways to improve their tone and technique. One question that comes up from time to time is whether or not nails should be long or short.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the pros and cons of both options and help you decide what’s best for you.

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How Long Should My Nails Be For Guitar?

The perfect length of your nails for playing guitar is when you see a small white line of about 1 to 2 mm so that your nail is just a bit shorter than your fingertip.

Cut your nails too short and you might find that your fingertip starts hurting when pressing down on the snares of the guitar. Because you don’t have your nail to take some of the pressure.

Nails that are too long can make it difficult to accurately press down on the strings. They can also get in the way when you’re trying to hold certain chords.

Long nails can also cause snares to slide under your fingernail when playing, this can hurt your finger and it doesn’t sound good when playing guitar.

So, the ideal length for your nails when playing guitar is somewhere in the middle. Not too long and not too short.

Do i need to cut my nails to play guitar

Is It Easier To Play Guitar With Short Nails?

Short nails have the advantage of being able to press down on the strings more accurately. This can be helpful when you’re first starting out and are still getting used to placing your fingers in the correct position.

Short nails also make it easier to hold chords, as they don’t get in the way as much.

However, like I said before short nails can make your fingers hurt a little more. Because without the nail to take some of the pressure, all the pressure is on your fingertip.

Is It Difficult To Play Guitar With Long Nails?

Long nails can be difficult to play guitar with, but it’s not impossible.

If your nails are too long they can get in the way when you’re trying to hold chords and make it difficult to press down on the strings accurately.

Long nails can also cause snares to slide under your fingernail when playing, which can hurt your finger and doesn’t sound good.

Your nails might break or bend when they are too long. This can be painful and make it difficult to play guitar.

So, if you have long nails it’s probably best to either trim them down or file them so they’re not in the way as much.

Do I Need To Cut My Nails For Playing Guitar?

No, you don’t need to cut your nails for playing guitar. You can play with long or short nails.

However, I would recommend keeping your nails trimmed down so they’re not too long or too short. This will help you get the best sound out of your guitar and make it easier to play.

For your right hand, that you pick the snares with it doesn’t really matter if you have long or short nails. But for your left hand, that you hold the chords with having short nails will be easier.

Can I Play Guitar With Acrylic Nails?

Playing guitar with acrylic nails will be even more difficult than playing with normal long nails. Because of the same reasons why it is hard to play guitar with long nails but times two.

Your acrylic nails can get in the way when you’re trying to hold chords causing other strings to make a buzzing sound because your acrylic nail is touching them.

And they make it difficult to press down on the strings accurately.

Do i need to cut my nails to play guitar

How Did Dolly Parton Play Guitar With Nails?

Dolly Parton is famous for playing guitar with long acrylic nails. She didn’t press down single notes with her fingers.

Instead, she turned her guitar to an open chord and only played open barre chords on it.

Playing guitar this way allowed her to use her whole finger to press all the strings at once. Instead of pressing down single strings with the tip of her finger.

Why Do Some Guitarists Paint Their Nails?

Some guitarists paint their nails because they think it looks cool.

Others do it to protect their nails from breaking or bending. When your nails are painted they are less likely to break.

However, painting your nails can make it difficult to play guitar. If the paint is too thick it can make it difficult to press down on the strings accurately.


So, there you have it. You don’t need to cut your nails to play guitar. But shorter nails are easier to play with.

Long nails can be difficult to play with but it’s not impossible. If you have long nails it’s probably best to either trim them down or file them so they’re not in the way as much.

Playing guitar with acrylic nails will be even more difficult than playing with normal long nails. So, if you have acrylic nails I would recommend taking them off before you play guitar.

Thanks for reading!