How to Play Guitar with Long Nails

hand with long nailsIn current times when long gel and acrylic nails are among the top trends, ignoring them is quite tough.

And who doesn't like pretty hands with long nails showcasing a beautiful gel coat and some detailing, such as embellishments, diamantes, or funky patterns?

However, you may feel perplexed if you are passionate about playing guitars- can you really play electric guitar with long nails?

Long, decorative nails are a great way to show off your hands or look classy and chic.

However, they do come with a fair share of problems.

Some tasks, including playing guitar, may pose a challenge for you, inclining you towards shortening the nail length.

But what if you are a manicurist? Or do you simply like your hands better with fake nails on?

Several videos of celebrities and famous guitarists, such as Dolly Parton, playing guitar with long nails have gone viral.

Since then, many people have been encouraged to play the guitar regardless of their nail length.

If they can strum the guitar with long nails, so can you!

So let’s look at all the possible ways.

When are Long Nails Too Long?

Before we get into the main discussion, it is essential to know what nail length is really too long for playing the guitar.

Are your nails only slightly longer, and you are worried for no reason at all?

Or have you entered the 'unsafe for the guitar playing' category? Time to find out!

You will come across people with different opinions when it comes to nail length.

While 2 – 4 mm nails be long for you, a nail extending beyond the nail bed may be long for others.

The majority of guitarists prefer short nails since they are easier to manage and string cords with.

On the other hand, a considerable number of guitar players have minimal issues handling the guitar with long nails.

They have shared that for them, it is easier to hold down the guitar strings, so they do not cut down their nail length as often as the others.

Some guitarists can play guitars and hold chords with significant ease despite having fake or acrylic nails.

Although they do admit to taking a lot of time and repeatedly practicing to master this skill, being a part of this small group is undoubtedly something to boast about.

To make things clear, we will discuss how to play the guitar when you have nails protruding beyond the finger pads.

All the ways listed in this article will prevent your long nails from getting in the way of holding chords or striking a solid sound.

Grab a pen and paper and note down all the efficient strategies and techniques you can use to successfully play the guitar without compromising your nail and hand aesthetic.

How to Play Guitar with Long Nails?

Let's break this down to reach the basics: you hold a chord down using your fingertips' pads to maintain firm pressure on the strings.

This enables the guitar to release solid sounds without any buzzing or vibration noises.

That tells you why keeping the fingernails short makes it easier to play the guitar.

Now we will talk about playing guitar with long nails.

Although this will give you a much tougher time, playing the guitar with long nails is not impossible.

You will get the hang of a few tricks in no time, even if you have fake or acrylic nails.

Here are a few techniques that you can employ:

1. Mastering the Skill of Fingerpicking

A popular guitar-playing technique is Finger-picking. It allows you to pluck or pull on the individual strings to produce a unique sound.

It is often used in country songs to highlight the beats produced by the guitar particularly.

Strumming is another obstacle you have to tackle while strumming with a pick.

The long nails will prevent you from maintaining a steady grip over the pick as it keeps slipping from your fingers or rotating in various directions.

That can be pretty embarrassing to perform in front of an audience.

So, how do you rectify this? Practice! Because practice makes a man (and woman) perfect.

Learn to strum with the pick, ensuring you practice every day for a considerable amount of time.

While initially frustrating, you will soon develop this skill and play your guitar like a pro!

2. Replacing the Guitar Pick with a Fingernail

If you are fond of strumming on your guitar or if fingerpicking is not what you usually go for, why not eliminate the use of a pick entirely?

You do not necessarily have to use a pick to play your guitar; fingernails longer than a pick can also do the same job.

To ensure that you hit the right chord at the right time, you can even file your nails in a specific shape to enhance the guitar's sound.

Here are a few helpful filing tips you can consider:

  • Go for nails with a pointed center when filing. This shape resembles a typical guitar pick the most, allowing you to master it as you practice. However, the nails' sides going towards the center must be identical on both sides to produce a pick-like sound.
  • If filing nails in the shape of a pointer seems too extreme, simply opt for rounded fingernails. While the rounded shape is quite different from a pick's, it will aid you in producing a fuller sound during strumming. Now, who can say no to that?
  • Another nail shape you can consider is the one-sided slope. This nail shape will allow you to play the classic guitar models since one-sided nails help form a warmer sound. For the slope's angle, you can decide whatever is easier for you. Start off with looking at different angles of nails online and settle on the shape you like best.

3. Maintaining a Nail Length till the Finger Pad on the Fretting Hand

Now that we have talked about the main methods for handling the guitar with the strumming hand, it is time to discuss strategies involving the fretting hand.

As mentioned earlier, the most formidable challenge while playing guitar with long nails is holding the chord down on the fretboard.

Unless you apply the same pressure with your fingernails as you do with the finger- pads, the sound will not be the same.

The easiest solution for tackling this problem is only growing the nails on the finger pad's edge.

This will prevent your nails from blocking the chords or giving you trouble while holding them.

You can keep your long nail length and play the guitar as well as your mentor.

Everybody wins!

4. Open Tuning Modification

If you just cannot resist keeping long nails beyond the finger-pads and want to keep playing guitar, consider open tuning the instrument instead.

This means that you tune string A to string B, string G to G#, and string D to string E.

Now what this new arrangement, known as open tuning, will do is that you will produce the same beat without putting as much pressure on the guitar's fretboard.

Ultimately, you will not have much trouble handling the chords with your long fingernails.

Dolly Parton- How does a Legend Play Guitar with Long Nails?

Dolly Parton is a country music legend popular for playing the guitar and singing. She is known for her flashy nails and fancy getup.

When inquired about her secret of playing guitar with long nails, she revealed that she relies on barre chords exclusively.

Dolly Parton forms barre chords without using her nails onto the fretboard.

Moreover, she utilizes the open tuning technique, especially on open E, to perfect this skill.


Apply any or all of these strategies to prove that playing the guitar with long nails is definitely possible!

You do not always need to reduce the length to play the correct tunes.

With the right strategies, plenty of practice, and ample patience, you can play like a pro in no time!

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can I play the guitar with acrylic nails?

Playing guitar with acrylic nails is possible.

According to popular belief, musicians of all genders should ideally wear acrylic on their strumming hands to produce consistent, crisp notes.

The acrylic nails also cause lesser trouble than finger picks.

2. Can I play guitar with fake nails?

Playing guitar with fake nails is possible as long as you have the nail length close to the finger- pad.

While some guitarists do play with fake nails, the majority opt for natural, short nails.

3. Does nail length affect guitar playing?

If you practice enough with long or short nails, the respective nail length will not matter.

However, you may produce some beats slightly differently or have to learn to apply more or lesser pressure on the chords.

4. Is it better to play guitar with short or long nails?

While playing guitar with both long and short nails is possible, most professional guitarists prefer to keep their nails short to minimize trouble while strumming and handling the guitar chords.

5. Can you play guitar with short nails?

Several guitarists play the guitar with short nails, but a beginner may produce a relatively softer sound.

Short nails are often recommended for the fretting hand, while long nails suit the plucking hand better. Alternatively, you can utilize a guitar pick for extra pressure and amplitude.

Author Box

The author of this post is Sarah Hansley.

Sarah is on a mission to empower performers across the music industry. Her blog covers a diverse range of topics including DJing, Rapping, Voice Acting, and music production.