Guitar Nails

Editor's note: Two years ago, Toni Stenmark, owner of A Perfect 10 by Tom in Orange Park, Fla., met with a client’s husband to see if she could solve his particular nail needs. An avid guitar player, Norman Wood needed a few nails that would stand up to the challenge Thus, a new service was born. Stenmark recently added “guitar nails” to her salon menu at $3 apiece and intends to publicize the service in guitar magazines and local music stores. NAILS asked Wood to tell us about his experiences as a new nail convert.

I play guitar Music may not be my livelihood, but it is my life I play every day, at least an hour a day. A day without music is like a day without air. There are two main styles of acoustic music, flat picking and finger picking. Flat picking is generally lively and syncopated, a great accompaniment for vocals or other instruments. Finger picking is just plain magic.

Finger picking, also known as fingerstyle guitar, is usually unaccompanied, the melody and accompaniment are both played on the same instrument. Watch some old tapes of Chet Atkins, or better yet, catch a live performance of some of today’s best fingerstyle guitarists and inevitably the question will arise, ‘Where is the other guitar?”

I’ve played fingerstyle off and on for at least 20 years, most of this time I just picked the nylon strings of my old classical guitar with the pads of the fingers of my right hand. (I had no choice since the nails couldn’t hold up to the tension of the strings). As for steel-string guitars, forget about finger-picking them; just find a flat pick and strum.

About 10 years ago I tried the classic “press-on” nails. Shortly after that I started referring to them as “pop-off” nails. Slip-on finger picks were little better, they just didn’t feel natural against the strings and when they popped off they launched themselves across the room. Somewhere in Irmo, S.C., there is a lady who still can’t figure out how that plastic loopy thing wound up in her hair.

Two years ago, my wife had the idea to introduce me to her nail technician, Tom Stenmark, owner of A Perfect 10 by Toni. I told her I needed nails strong enough to hold up to the rigors of my playing. I also told her that I needed the nails to look like my own natural nails. No problem. About 90% of my fingerstyle work uses the thumb and first two fingers of my right hand, so those are the nails we did. That was two years ago and I haven’t been without my “guitar nails” since. I play my classical guitars, but also a steel string dreadnaught (that’s a big guitar) and a 12-string that really puts the nails to the test.

We’ve experimented with gels and tips with different degrees of success, but by far the best results have come from protecting my own nails with a healthy coat of acrylic. My wife will tell you that I may be the only man in this town who truly understands the tragedy of a broken nail.

The guitar nails allow for versatility — they let me play crisp melodies on individual strings, then strum the strings, strumming up with the top of the thumbnail and down with the tops of the fingernails. When I jam with other guitarists and they offer me a pick I say, “no thanks, I’m wearing mine!”

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