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

Hey good people! My name is Alon, I'm 27 and I play mainly the guitar, piano, and harmonica. In the last few years, I traveled through four different continents with my guitar while performing and teaching music. Currently, I am based in sunny Tel Aviv, Israel. The GuitarHippies mission: To get you to enjoy your musical journeys to the fullest. Cheers!

Today we'll talk about something that so many guitarists overlook – yet it can create major (and immediate) benefits in your guitar 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 going to be referring here to right-hand guitarists, so if you are a lefty and play a lefty guitar – switch things around.

*Originally posted in December '15.

guitar practice tips 4

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

Guitar Nails – The Left 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... Defiantly harder to press down complex chord shapes when your nails look like that.

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:

* If you play only with a 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.

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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): So what I do with the right-hand fingernails 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 to ring beautifully.

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'.


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)

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.

The Benefits of Fingerpicking:

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

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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 nail of the right pinky since you never use it anyway as part of your guitar nails, 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.

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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.

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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.

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!

*Originally posted in December '14.


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

  1. Alan Kagle
    July 15, 2017 at 3:10 AM

    very nice post, i certainly love this website, keep on it

    • Alon Cooper
      July 23, 2017 at 5:20 PM

      Thanks Alan.

  2. Tibby
    May 13, 2017 at 10:19 PM

    Thanks for the article, my nails are way longer (kinda like 4mm) and I wasn’t sure if it helped, I think I’m going to cut them as you do.

    Thanks! 😀

    • Alon Cooper
      May 14, 2017 at 10:57 AM

      Well, 4mm seem to work for John Butler. Never found it helpful or comfortable tho, but he might have a point (;

  3. Teo
    April 7, 2017 at 11:16 AM

    it always been a problem for us guitar player our finger nails. And some times we tend to forget to cut it off until the time to play outside. So thanks this is a good read!

    • Alon
      April 8, 2017 at 4:05 PM

      Glad you enjoyed Teo.

  4. Lupo
    February 20, 2017 at 6:53 AM

    Thanks, great ideas for the right hand clipping.

    • Alon
      February 22, 2017 at 11:09 AM

      Glad you enjoyed Lupo.

  5. Ed Butler
    February 2, 2017 at 10:02 PM

    Good info. Another consideration is the shape of the cutting blade on the fingernail clippers. I find that most have too tight of an arc to fit my hands, but toenail clippers cut with too wide of an arc. However, if you look hard enough, you can find fingernail clippers of a slightly larger than standard size. (Try gas stations & truck stops. They’re more inclined to cater to menfolk’s hand sizes than your local Walgreens.)

    • Alon
      February 4, 2017 at 2:07 PM

      Great point, I agree and it’s heard to estimate the size of the arc in an Amazon pic as well. Thanks for the gas stations tip.

  6. Giz
    December 26, 2016 at 6:07 PM

    Hello Alon,

    Appreciate this article — very sound advice.

    Do you need to add a “zero” after the decimal point on your measurement conversion? {1-1.5mm long (0.04-0.06 inch)}

    I’m a bit flat with math.



    • Alon
      January 2, 2017 at 4:10 PM

      Hi Giz. Nah, the inch numbers are correct without the zero, it’s 0.4-0.6. Or even better – just look at the pic – it shows how things should look like. Try to play around that area for your own maximum individual comfort.

  7. Darya
    December 23, 2016 at 10:53 AM

    I really like to buy a guitar and start learning how to play. But I have very bad fingernails and I can’t grow them at all. Do you think I can play guitar with short fingernails? I mean, can I play well without using my fingernails? If it takes practice, I will practice A LOT, but if it needs fingernails maybe I should find another instrument…

    • Alon
      January 2, 2017 at 4:06 PM

      Hi Darya,
      Don’t worry. My first three years of playing the guitar I used a pick 100% of the time. Playing with the fingers is just another style of sound and you’ll do great without it too. Have a great time with the guitar!

  8. Ed
    October 10, 2016 at 11:35 PM

    In the sentence below the second picture “Defiantly harder to press down complex chord shapes when your nails look like that.” I thing you meant to say “Definitely …..” Defiantly means something entirely different.

    • Alon
      October 29, 2016 at 10:41 AM

      Thanks Ed, you’re right.

      • Gloria Acker
        June 26, 2017 at 1:05 AM

        I have long nails I’m just getting ready to learn to play guitar, do I need to cut them all the way down?

        • Alon Cooper
          June 27, 2017 at 5:34 PM

          Hi, yes, right hand fingernails are ok as long as you use a pick and you find it comfortable. However, left hand fingernails will get in your way in a very limiting way.

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