Nails: existential ordeal of the flamenco guitarist

Nail care dates back to antiquity, and it is not difficult to find literary testimonies from all ages that prove it. In class society, well-groomed nails were an unequivocal sign of belonging to the nobility, since no one escaped that whoever had a hand without calluses and perfect nails obviously did not earn a living with manual labor.

Already in the present, for a few years it has become fashionable to wear perfectly manicured nails, both in women and in men. However, what for most is no more than a simple aesthetic addition, for us guitarists, it is an imperative need: the electric guitar is played with a pick, and the state of the fingernails that hold it is irrelevant; The Spanish, on the contrary, whether classical or flamenco, is played with parts of the fingertips and nails. It is not a choice, but a necessity. Apart from the fact that there are techniques such as the tremolo, whose execution without nails is directly impossible, the speed, the sonority and, above all, the cleanliness of each note depends on how the fingernail that strikes the string is located. And, as if that were not enough, the different strumming, an essential technique in flamenco guitar, which erode the guitarist’s nails in such a way that it is impossible to think that they are not going to break: they break, sooner or later.

It will be easily understood that, for the guitarist (especially flamenco), nail care transcends mere aesthetic display and ends up representing an endless ordeal: we must avoid breaking them at all costs, and this forces us to look for some magical product, some ingenious solution. Go ahead, after forty years, my constant search has been unsuccessful. But I want to share this path with you.

In 1971 I used to buy a kind of Chinese porcelain in a certain place in Barcelona, in a store that supplied polymerization lights, air compressors, even prosthetic material for dentists. Come on, everything you need to get a nice smile. And there, in the “Sudenta” store, I was, every now and then, buying a jar containing powder and another with a reactive liquid. These ingredients, when mixed, produced a paste that spread over the nails and, once hardened, withstood all kinds of attacks against the guitar strings without the slightest fear of splitting the nails.

This marvel was marketed under the name of Diapol and later spread (I don’t know if it was exactly the same product or something similar, although with the same characteristic smell) under the name of Vertex.

This product has been commercialized and its unmistakable aroma is easily detected every time we pass in front of the nail glue shops, which are so proliferating today. However, this solution is devastating for the guitarist, since in order to stick it on, they have to sand your nails first. Over time the cycle repeats itself. To top it off, the sound when playing the guitar is more than horrible. And, to top it off, if you stop using it, you will have to suffer for a whole year the consequences of settling for nails the thickness of an onion layer, ready to break just by looking at them. You have been warned.

After many years using the above solution, I remember that Loctite “Super Glue” appeared. Once again, I was one of the first to use it, when almost no one knew about it, although not in the use for which I suspect it was designed. I started by gluing on a few layers of tissue paper and that kind of worked for me.

Among my workmates, my compadre Lucas one day told me that, apart from pieces of ping pong balls, plastic from a certain brand of cola bottle was stuck to his nails. This is where my investigations began, which allowed me to come to a conclusion that I am transmitting to you today as the best suggestion: the plastic that gives the best results is the one that, when folded, keeps the fold area of the same color, without turning whitish. If the latter happens, it is better to discard it.

At present I use a specific one whose brand, quite unknown, I prefer not to name to avoid publicity, but which I will have no problem in providing to all who are interested. You can write me right here.

In the following video you can observe in detail the personal manufacturing process that I carry out. However, I must make a final warning: glue is harmful to health and can cause allergies in some people. Consult your doctor first, since he, better than anyone, will be able to advise you on the risks that this may entail.


Let’s go.

Rafael Cañizares
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