How to Play Guitar with Long Nails

Are you having trouble fretting your guitar because of long fingernails? Does it feel like you are cursed because you don’t know how to do what you love without having to trim all your precious nails (which you also love a lot)?

Well, worry no more because no lock is made without a key and if you’ve lost your set, well, then you can always get another one.

Hey, hang in there, there are a few different ways that you can work your way around this particular problem.

playing guitar

Trim the Nails of Your Fretting Hand

The one solution, for starters, is not exactly a solution, more like a neat trick and a lot like wearing mismatched socks.

A lot of guitarists, professionals included, keep the nails of their fretting hand short because it is near impossible to achieve control over the strings without losing your grip on the pick (if you use one) or hitting all the wrong strings with your fingernails getting in the way.

The one thing that you can do about this keeps the nails of your fretting hand short, but the nails of your picking hand not because having long fingernails on your picking hand can actually be a good thing if finger-picking is unrestrained and you strum often, however, if you use steel strings, you better have steel nails as well because your real ones will get chipped in less than a second.

There are also several ways that you can keep your nails not extremely short by trimming the fingernails of your fretting hand in such a way that they are a little above your flesh but also don’t happen to be very long.

Also, make sure that your fretting hand stays as close to the string as possible in order to avoid strain, observe yourself in a mirror to get the best finger angle and also shape your nails in a T-shaped (that is, square around the edges). The word is pretty self-explanatory.

However, before we divulge into other tactics, let’s make one thing clear; playing guitar with long fingernails is a risk; be it acrylic ones or your natural. Chances are, you might end up chipping your nail, or breaking it off completely or fretting all the wrong strings if you aren’t careful, but if you are a risk taker, then voila, mate!

There are a lot of people out there who can magically press down on the strings and fret with just their nails and that, in itself is a skill, but for a lot of others, this particular action proves to be quite impossible and immensely painful.

The only way that you can get rid of this is to keep practicing and eventually, you’ll have strong enough calluses that it won’t be as painful, although you may never get used to the feeling of a string against your finger. This process can be quite tricky because the sound that you get might not be the one you were originally going for, but no problem, there’s also another solution.

Use Alaska Piks which are these unique picks that go over your nail and under it as well and cover it to keep it safe, also, get your nails done acrylic.

play guitar with nail

Alternate Tunings:

Playing the guitar means having a lot of controlled pressure on the strings and long nails might become an obstacle, but if Dolly Parton can do it, so can you.

The mention of Dolly Parton brings up one big question. How on earth does she do it?

And here’s why! If you are a Darton fan, you might have noticed at one point or another how a lot of her songs are open tuned. The magic of alternate tunings and in this case, an open tuning is that it allows you to play all six open strings where you also get to strum a major chord, most commonly D, E or G.

Finger-Style Guitar:

If open tuning is not really your scene, you can also consider finger-style guitar which is a clever technique where you play guitar by directly plucking the strings with either your fingertips and if you are reading this article, your fingernails.

You also wouldn’t have to use a single spectrum, more commonly known as a pick which can also be a little hard to hold if your nails are long. Playing guitar finger-style also depends on the kind of guitar that you own so, if you are really considering this technique, make sure you have the right instrument, a dreadnought acoustic one, if possible.


With a lot of practice and the right kind of nail shape and finger angle, it is possible to play a few different guitars tunes and if you love your fingernails as much as you do, it is safe to say that you will take good care of them, but nonetheless, some guitarists say, “if you want to be able to play and play well, you cannot have nails.” Click here to know more about it.

But don’t let that get you down and to be the next Chuck Berry! I hope it helps you out and you learn something new and better. Have a great day!

About the Author:

Kristal Bean is a Southern California-based writer and sometimes guitarist. In her free time, she homeschools, works out and listens to live music.