Playing Classical and Finger-style Acoustic Guitar Without Nails

— Article in process —

I do not play with nails. This was born of simple necessity and not for a particular technical or aesthetic reason. I was playing a lot of viola when I began studying classical guitar, and it is difficult to properly hold the viola bow with long nails; particularly the thumb nail. When I began classical guitar study, I discussed this issue with my teacher James Hunley, who assured me that one could produce a fine tone without using nails. James was and is correct. James uses nails and has a beautiful tone, one of the finest I’ve heard. Nevertheless, he worked with me to learn to play without nails rather than insist on the long-standing orthodoxy that, in the pithy words of the great Andre Segovia, one who plays without nails “is an idiot.”

I have more to say on this subject, to say the least. It is a very contentious one among guitarists. It needn’t be that way, and I plan to write an essay dealing with this issue. One source I have consulted, and which I will refer to in the article, is Emilio Pujol, one of Francesco Tárrega’s most important pupils and a major exponent of no-nail technique. My primary concern is to suggest, and I hope I have accomplished this with the performances on my album, that whether or not one uses nails need not detract from making beautiful music. And, moreover, anyone who wants to study the classical guitar should be encouraged to do so, with or without nails.