Classical Guitar and fingernails: the Scott Tennant’s point of view

In the previous article we report the opinions of Rob MacKillop about the use of the right hand without nail, using only the touch of flesh.

Today we face a traditional point of view: the famous book Pumping Nylon by Scott Tennant.

The right hand

The right hand produces sound: the quality of the tone is determined by both hands, but the quality of the tone and the volume are controlled by right hand.

The lenght and shape of the fingernail affects how you will able to carry out all the various parts of the finger approch on the string

If a fingernail is too long, the speed and easy with wich fingertip and fingernail attack the string is diminished, because the resistance is increased.

A bad fingernail shape can also create resistance between string and nail and cause unsavory sounds.

Nail lenght

To gauge the length of your fingernail, hold your finger out horizontally and then place a surface against the fingertip at the right angle.

If the fingernail and flesh touch the surface at the same time, the length is good.

But, as always, a video is worth more than a thousand words:

Classical Guitar without fingernails? An opinion by Rob MacKillop

Never ask a group of classical guitarists if you can play even without the nails of the right hand!


You risk being insulted brutally….and absolutely do not mention Tárrega!

Seriously, I came across this video where Rob MacKillop explains his technique developed without using the nails of his right hand, inspired by Fernando Sor technique.

Often, when you play other instruments besides the guitar (such as piano, bass, lute or ukulele) the right hand nails can be an obstacle or more susceptible to breakage, and it must be found a compromise solution.

It could be an interesting inspiration for a discussion on this topic, like this interesting article by Adam Rafferty:

  • You are producing a FAT sound that originates from a deeper place than just the surface of the string.
  • The front of your note should be like a “plump grapefruit” — not a cat claw!
  • You “pop” the string into motion and love the sound you make playing a single note on your high E string.
  • If you don’t like your sound, seek to fix it at the finger and string origin point — not the amplifier or eq knob.
  • Don’t worry about speed. That’s a lower priority than tone.
  • Listen to all great musicians on other instruments and go for a strength and center in your tone like theirs.
  • Commit to your choice whatever it is and practice. It can take years to develop technique, so be patient.
  • Listen attentively to the sound you are making, all the time.