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Nails - Fingernail care

Acrylic nails are dumb
One day my thumbnail broke off completely. It was an emergency situation so I walked into the local ladies nail boutique and asked for half a thumbnail. The chatty girl talk abruptly stopped and everyone in the room looked at me kind of funny. They automatically assume you want to do all the nails of both hands and cover the entire nail surface. Then there is trimming, filing, buffing etc. Well that's what ladies do. For them, false nails are fashion accessories, not tools of the trade. "Why would you want to do only one?", they ask. "Because that's all I need", I reply. A good thing to keep in mind is that a ladies beauty boutique is a place where women go to exchange stories about boyfriends and beauty tips. That's why it goes all quiet when a man walks in. If you unwittingly take up the offer for "the full treatment", you could be there for ages. My advice is to remain focused on the job at hand. Do it and get out of there quickly.

Please don't touch my cuticles.
Here's a thing. Don't ever let a manicurist shape your nails or mess around with your cuticles. For the uninformed, cuticles are hardened portions of skin that fit tightly against the base and side of the nail plate. They can peel, lift, split and bleed when they lack natural oils. Using a Vitamin E hand cream will prevent this. The important thing is that the cuticle is a barrier to keep bacteria from entering your body. Whatever you do, don't cut them, unless you want risk infection. Manicurists will offer to cut them if they are really ugly (the cuticles, not the women). They also have this torture device called an orange stick which they use to push back and prod the cuticles in order to remove the loose bits.

Shape your own nails
Maybe it's just me thinking like a man, but you'd think that a simple instruction like "please give me half a thumbnail" is pretty clear and unambiguous. Why does it have to be so complicated. Just tell them to form the basic nail and let you do the filing and shaping at home. For a guitarist, that's a very personal thing because the sound and feel of a nail needs to be tested on the guitar as you shape it.

Don't become an Acrylic junkie
Acrylic nails are not the horrible, pre-shaped plastic nails you buy over the counter in a department store. Those mass produced things are too small anyway and designed for tiny girl hands. The biggest one, the thumbnail, hardly fits on my index finger. Acrylic nails are created with a mixture of acrylic powder and acrylic liquid. These two elements create a chemical reaction not unlike two-part epoxy resin. There is also a primer liquid which is basically an acid-like cleaner used to prepare the nail surface so the acrylic sticks well. This really stinks. So I got my brand new thumbnail in a few minutes, thanked the nice lady and walked back out the front door into the fresh air. After I shaped the edges, it sounded great. I was so impressed, I bought my own powder and liquid kit. Doing it in a boutique can be very expensive.

It's amazing how you can get hooked on that stuff. Even though I only intended to use it for splits and breaks, I found I had to keep using it because when the broken nail grew back to the right length again, it was weak and thin as paper because it had been deprived of oxygen from being covered so long. I used acrylic for a couple of years until one day I managed to get some of the primer liquid into an open cut (underneath the nail) and caused a painful infection which took a couple of weeks to heal. Like I said, the only problem (apart from the smell) is that this primer liquid is a form of acid. This is not real good for open wounds.

In an emergency, acrylic can make a very nice nail that sounds good......if you're willing to take the risk. I felt I had no choice at the time. The downside is that I had to wait until strong new nails grew out to replace the weak nails. So I basically took a break from flamenco for a few weeks and played with no nails. Apart from my own bad experiences with it, I have seen (and heard) some other horror stories relating to acrylic so I strongly advise against using that stuff.

Maintaining the playing edge
The playing edge of the nail should be kept smooth and free of any rough spots. Use emery boards for bulk removal and progressively finer grades of emery paper for final shaping. It's always wise to test how it feels on the string as you reduce the nail length. You can always file off a bit more if you need to, but if you go too far, you can't put it back on once it's gone. I also test a nail edge on my clothing. Woolen jumpers are good for this. If there is even the smallest split edge, your woolen jumper will get hooked on it. For a final polish, use a piece of thin cardboard wrapped around a nail file. This polish can make all the difference to how your playing will sound and how the nails feel as they strike the strings. I also make a point to polish the underside of the nail. It does make a difference.

Left hand fingernails
The nails of the left hand fingers serve no purpose in guitar playing and only get in the way. Keep them very short. If you have a habit of nail biting, try munching on these left hand nails and leave the right hand nails alone. It is worth noting that descending ligados (slurs) are executed with the flesh of the left hand fingertips, and not with the left hand fingernails as some people believe.

Making nails stronger
Calcium, Gelatin & moisturizer
I'm not a nutritionist, but I believe nails can be made stronger by increasing calcium intake. I can't remember when I didn't have strong nails. But then again, I can't remember a time when I didn't consume lots of milk, cheese and yogurt. I have no proof, but I suspect there is a connection. Nails are made of protein fibers called Keratin. Some people believe that Gelatin contains the necessary protein to promote nail growth and swear by it as a remedy for soft or brittle nails. Gelatin is a slaughterhouse byproduct, made from the skin, bones, and other inedible connective tissue of pigs and cattle. All this is chucked into a vat of acid to disintegrate the cow hairs and rat excrement and then boiled to extract the collagen. Would anyone like a marshmallow? Anyway, I had a student who was blessed with really soft nails that were prone to splitting. Among other things, I showed him an article about gelatin so he decided to embark on a daily course of Gelatin in the form of jelly beans. After two weeks he reported that his nails had definitely become stronger. He was a happy chappy.

Because gelatin contains essential amino acids which the body uses to produce collagen, it has been used for over a hundred years in a variety of medical treatments and in a mind boggling array of foods we eat every day. Gosh! It's even used to coat the pills and capsules prescribed by your doctor. Among nutrition type experts, the jury is still out on whether it's really any good for you. Party poopers. Leave it to the experts to pour cold water on a popular idea. As soon as one group of experts delivers a research paper with a particular set of findings and conclusions, another group of experts will instinctively set out to disprove or debunk those findings. The general public in the meantime becomes totally confused and don't know who to believe.

I always view research findings with a deep suspicion that they are dictated and predetermined by some hidden commercial agenda. It's always enlightening to discover who actually commissioned the research. I personally think they're all a bunch of over-qualified idiots but sometimes you have to make personal choices based on the only thing you can trust; namely, your intuition. Damn! I used to like jelly babies, now they got me eating carrots. The common, but inconclusive consensus seems to be that the gelatin remedy for weak nails is all a load of bullshit. Their argument is that gelatin is a poor source of protein and amino acids and that brittle nails have more to do with a lack of moisture than protein deficiency. One thing they do agree on however is that using moisturizer will certainly help to strengthen weak and brittle nails. Another thing they agree on is that applying a nail hardener is a good idea, but avoid products containing toluene, sulfonamide or formaldehyde.


Strengthen weak nails with a simple Vitamin.
A reader suggested that Biotin can be a lifesaver for people with weak nails. Biotin is Vitamin B7, a B complex Vitamin.
It is also known as Vitamin H.


In his own words.
"Its a vitamin B thing and my cousin who is a horse vet told me that they give it to horses to harden their hooves. Trust me here, I tried most of that other sh*t you mentioned, none of it holds a candle to this. I normally have the thinnest nails. Not anymore. You can buy it at any grocery store. One pill a day first thing in the morning. It takes 40 - 60 days to grow in when you start but the difference is amazing. So buy a tin of Biotin."
Mikael - USA - 29 July 2009



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Flamenco guitar method 1902