Welcome to the Classical Guitar website of Rob MacKillop.
The aim of this site is to encourage those who wish to play classical guitar without using finger nails. It is also the home of my own classical guitar studies.
Using the flesh of the fingers to generate sound on the guitar has a long and distinguished history. Whether you play without nails through aesthetic choice, or through medical necessity, hopefully there will be something on this site to help and encourage you. Please use the Comment areas if you have something to say, pro or contra.
I will be embedding sound files and videos of my own recordings and performances, and there is a Players page, with videos and information about some the great nail-less players of the past and present. Feel free to send me links to your own files and videos, or to those of other players.
If you are looking for lessons, I teach privately in my home studio, or via Skype or FaceTime. Details HERE.
Pujol: “In order to produce the tone with the fingertips that Tárrega did, it does not suffice to cut one’s nails short; the tone has to be formed: i.e., a certain balance between touch, resiliency and resistance must be developed in the flesh of the fingertips, which can only be acquired by constant practice and care.” [Dilemma of the Timbre of the Guitar]
robmackillop at gmail dot com
“So, tell me again why you play guitar without nails…”
41 thoughts on “Welcome”
Love your sound. Lots to think about.
Note: typo on the technique page started by concentrating on Fernando Sor, who’s technique sb shose
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Thanks, Robert. “Typo” fixed. Many thanks. Glad you found it before my wife did – she writes books on grammar!
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After thirty years away from the guitar, playing and teaching only lute (see my site for details), I’ve gone back to playing guitar, and have ordered a copy of Torres FE17 from my luthier Richard Berg in Ottawa (delivery expected early next year).
1) I, too, play without nails (and did during most of my first ‘guitar period’ (’80-84).
2) All my lutes are strung in gut, and I intend to string my new Torres copy in gut, but am having a little trouble finding sources for gut strings designed for classical guitar.
Any suggestions as to a vendor or vendors?
Hi Tim. I’ve known your name for some time now. Nice to cross paths.
On your side of the ocean, I’d opt for gut strings by Damian Dlugolecki – see my STRINGS page. But he doesn’t supply silk-core basses. For those you have to go to Aquila. Aquila have a Gut and Silk set tailored to measurements given by Pujol. My recent experience is that their basses are great, but I much prefer Dlugolecki trebles.
Best wishes, and enjoy your FE17!
Hi I live in Quebec and had no idea there was a reliable luthier in Ottawa.
I own a 1951 luthier made Rodolfo Paralupi classical guitar that my parents bought for me at that time. The sound is still beautiful and velvety, but I often wondered whether I shouldn’t buy a second luthier made guitar.
What are your thoughts about your new guitar?
Have a great day.
Hi Edna. I’m sure there are some good classical-guitar luthiers in and around Quebec. I’ll ask around. Best contact me at robmackillop at gmail dot com.
Let’s try this again. Had to reset my password to post this, and that made me lose my message!
My last four instruments (baroque lute, archlute, theorbo and Torres model (FE17) guitar have come from the shop of Richard Berg of Ottawa. (He was first recommended to me by my teacher at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague, Toyohiko Satoh.)
All four of those instruments are depicted at various spots on my website: baroquelute.com (which also includes various sound samples)
Contact information will be provided upon request.
Fantastic site Robert, I have recently started learning classical guitar and due to a childhood accident I play without nails. I am enjoying your videos and articles on flesh playing. Thank you for providing me with much needed inspiration to keep picking up the guitar every day.
My pleasure, Miguel. Thanks for commenting, and good luck with your studies!
I barely remember my first tones on classical guitar as a few years old kid, but… weren’t we all nail-less players in our very beginnings? 🙂
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Yes. And it’s all downhill from there! LOL.
For the past 40+ years, I have been primarily an electric blues player. Now that I am getting too old, grouchy, and deaf, to play in clubs anymore, I have become interested in revisiting my college interest in fingerstyle and classical. Right away, my nails were an issue, as it seems like no sooner would they get to the desired length (so I thought), I’d break one. About a year ago, I started getting acrylic overlays and gel coatings, with mixed results. Having hard and unbreakable nails was great for consistency, but as the edge of the nail was significantly thicker than a real nail, I have never quite gotten used to the sound. Recently, I decided to give my nails a break from being covered all the time, and I was shocked at how much thinner and more brittle my natural nails are, after a year of overlays. Your website, and your no nails technique, has been a welcome revelation, as I was despairing about the difficulty I have experienced trying to conform to the conventional “must have nails” wisdom. Thank you for sharing! I look forward to experimenting, free from the feeling like there is “no way to get a good sound without nails”!
Aloha from Hawaii,
Music to my ears, Rick. You’ve made my day! All the best wishes for your future playing!
Rob is in a minority, but not the sole player without nails. I’m in that minority, as were Fernando Sor and Mauro Giuliani. Even Tarrega went through a nailless period.
Playing with the flesh has a long and distinguished history. Happy to be part of it. We have a convoy!
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Thank you Rob for all wonderful information on your site. A new hope for me since I can’t grow long nails due to my occupation. I love your sound!
Hi, Rob. I found this site through your Youtube videos. I’ve been playing electric guitar for a while and recently decided to switch to classical. I love the sound that is produced by my guitar and am having trouble deciding whether to use flesh, nails, or a combination of both. When I first got my classical and started playing around with fingerstyle, (I’ve never had any formal training) my hands naturally started in a position not much different from what you were describing on your video about your technique. I have been going through a few method books and all the stuff they recommend for your nails, and it looks like it would be expensive and just plain inconvenient for me, as I work at a shipping company where I use my hands a lot. After I found your site, I’m tempted just to play like my hands wanted me to in the first place. Thank you for the inspiration.
Good to hear, Michael. So many people give up when they are told the MUST use nails. Forget all that, and enjoy playing classical guitar!
Hi Rob – I just came across you while watching a David Stewart YouTube video. I am glad I saw your video. I have always had problems keeping nails to play. I cannot says that I’ve ever seen this concept before. Everyone that I read and watch preaches nails. Thanks for this site. Much to take in now.
Yes, it’s going to take many years and much effort by many people to overturn the “classical guitar = nails” fixed view. But there’s no stopping you now, so get stuck in! And good luck!
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Rob, Are you planning to upload a video with you playing on your new Stephen Faulk’s guitar? It would be great to hear. Thanks.
Dear professor Rob McKillop, my kind and cordial greetings …
I hope this message comes to you as an encouragement and a great boost of joy to your work.
It is a brief and simple message.
Here in Brazil after having spent a few years playing Bossa Nova and Popular Music from Brazil, for many reasons and also for economic reasons, I left my studies.
After watching your video playing Tu Recuerdo by Estanislao Marco, I was very touched, sensitized.
Fitting the right hand without nails and the way of you playing I decided to turn back my studies after 10 years without playing the acoustic guitar and I continue to pursue classical instruction.
It was a great boost to see you play here on the internet. I keep watching your videos.
The sonority of your style had continued for me as a great reference.
Even in the face of the economic difficulties we have here in Brazil, it touched my heart and I decided to turn back my studies without a teacher.
From here my hugs from Brazil. Thank you so much for all information I find in your web site. THANK YOU SO MUCH sr!!!
May the Light of Christ illuminate your work.
Sincerely, Edgar Luiz.
Sorry for my bad English.
Wonderful comments, Edgar. Your English is perfect. I am happy to have helped you. Good luck with your studies, and keep playing!
Your site is so refreshing. I learned to play on my fingertips. My teacher had studied with a teacher in New Mexico who had studied with Emilio Pujol. I tried playing on my nails for a while and soon concluded that the sound of fingertips was far superior. It was more mellow and expressive. The problem is all the other classical guitarists I talked to assumed that Segovia’s style was the only orthodox method. I don’t think they even took me seriously. Over the years i have searched for performers who play on their finger tips. I found Alberto Ponce has some wonderful recordings. I think he studied with Pujol. I am so glad to see there is an emerging world of finger tip performers seeking well deserved acceptance following in the footsteps of Sor and Tarrega.
Great to hear from you, James. Close to the source – Pujol seems to have been a great teacher, carrying the flame after Tãrrega died. Good to see so many flesh players coming out of the shadows.
Last year, I responded to the GFA’s call for proposed lectures at their 2018 seminar, and offered a presentation on nailless playing, based on my nearly 40 years of lute and guitar playing (virtually all of that–including guitar–without nails). I was later informed that my proposal was not accepted. When I followed up with the person who notified me of their decision and lamented the utter lack of attention paid to the nailless community by the GFA, she did not disagree. We’re in a minority, but a growing one–and we represent a long tradition.
In 1980, when I attended my first guitar master class (with Michael Lorimer), the other players were dismissive of my decision to play without nails (Lorimer was very respectful on the subject). Among other things, they felt it prevented one from developing velocity. Oh, if only there had been Youtube back then, with videos of Pujol and others playing without nails!
Nice post. It’s a familiar story, and somewhat lamentable. But the times they are a-changing, and more and more people are beginning to see virtue in flesh playing. Hopefully there is a growing tolerance towards it. Apart from a few very aggressive modern works which demand strong nails, much of the repertoire can be played very successfully without them. Anyway, best wishes for the future, and thanks for your comment.
I had to look it up. My teacher, Paul Charboneau, studied with Hector Garcia who was a student of Pujol. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H%C3%A9ctor_Garc%C3%ADa_(guitarist)
Ha, see my interview with Hector Garcia here: https://rmclassicalguitar.com/interviews/hector-garcia/
Hi Rob, I so enjoyed your videos, and would love to find the music by E Marco. Could you tell me if/where the sheet music is available?
Thank you, Max
Sorry for the late reply. For some reason your message got sent for moderation, which I never noticed.
The music is published in Valencia by Piles. They have a website somewhere.
It is published by a company called Piles (an unfortunate name in English). Hard to find, but worth the effort.
Finding your YouTube video “Playing Classical Guitar Without Finger Nails” was a shocking and bewildering (but very pleasant) surprise! The ironic thing is that it turned up on my Google search while I was trying to find information about how to acquire some form of sturdy fingernail I could apply without harming my nails in any way.
I hope you don’t mind that my response to you is quite long. My hope is to share my experience in order to help others (I’m a teacher by profession).
I recently returned to classical guitar study and purchased a brand new Almansa A-457 here in Canada for $1610.00 Canadian. My background is that I have been a professionally gigging pianist and guitarist and classical guitar is one of my many instrument passions. (I also play accordion, electric guitar, most band instruments, and recently also took up violin). I teach concert band to intermediate students as my profession so I play most woodwinds and brass as well.
This past year I have returned to classical guitar with a renewed spirit and fresh perspective gained from decades of performance and teaching. I tried playing without nails for a while and when my natural nails grew a little bit, I started relishing the brighter attack I was getting although my control of it has a ways to go. Then the inevitable chipping and cracking began and I soon realized that my nails were rather weak. Without researching this area very much I dropped into a nail salon next door to the local music store and asked if they could “help me”. The nail technician quickly pounced on my request and said she had the answer to my dilemma! Fake nails! “I’ll put on very strong acrylic nails for you!”. Sounded great! I pulled up a chair and she got to work applying a very thick coat of acrylic powdered formula over a glued on fake nail. I told her to leave them long and that I would file them when I got home. My fingers felt like they weighed a pound each! Once I got the hang of filing these new sculptures and got comfortable with them on the guitar I thought I possessed some great guitar playing machinery! I even purchased a machine tool for the filing process! My sound was much louder and I also had fun with flamenco style strumming. They seemed hard as rocks! Unbreakable!
After a couple of months the nails grew out and nearly fell off, so I went back for new ones. I paid $20 each time for this. When the process happened again a couple of months later, I noticed that my fingernails had gotten thinner and quite brittle. My thumbnail top surface is no longer straight and smooth but has little waves across the nail. I got worried about this and finally started researching about what had happened. To my horror I learned about how sensitive nail beds are to chemicals and glues, information I wish I had seen BEFORE I rushed in and got those fake nails. Now my nails are completely short again and they don’t even seem to be growing back with much pace. They are also cracking even easier as they are very weak. I avoided that salon like the plague!
Now that I understood the damage chemicals can do to the natural nailbed, I have been looking for a way to have nails on as temporary picks which I can remove at will and reapply as needed all while keeping short trimmed fingernails. My searching led me to find a couple of solutions that look interesting such as Tiptonic Fingernail Picks and Rico Nails. As I was searching these I noticed your Youtube video in the search result and I was immediately intrigued….
I was lamenting that I would not be able to easily have long and strong fingernails which I had grown fond of. Yet, I found them to be a nuisance when playing the piano. I had hoped for a solution that offered an “on or off as you need them” approach. Then when I heard you play and demonstrate your technique of not using fingernails I was pleasantly inspired!!! Could this be possible? I thought that my playing without fingernails was weak and tone-less. Yet, there you were with such a full tone and dynamics! I quickly pulled out my guitar and got to work and sure enough I was able to coax a strong, expressive tone from my guitar. I only needed the assurance that it could be done and that it was acceptable which fueled my practicing with renewed energy. THANK YOU, THANK YOU!
And hearing from you about others in history that played without fingernails only confirms my new suspicions that this is a viable approach. THANK YOU! (I was resigned to the idea that classical guitar was only ever played with fingernails.)
I am truly grateful and excited by this new revelation. I intend to explore this approach but may I ask you this… Concerning having fingernails, I found that I also enjoyed that experience A LOT and wonder if a person could possibly juggle more than one approach. What are your thoughts on the idea of varying fingernail or no fingernail usage? How about using “temporary nails” for times one would want that type of sound which could come off so as to play without fingernails as well? Of course they would have to be non-toxic, and non-harming. Are you open to this “multitimbral approach”? Tiptonic Nails seems to me have this whole thing “nailed down” (excuse the pun). Have you heard of people doing this back and forth approach successfully?
Once again, I express my gratitude for your inspiration and look forward to many happy hours playing with my natural finger tips. Thank you for indulging me in sharing this lengthy comment. Hope in some small way it will inspire others who may have gone through my experience. Thank you once again for all your wonderful efforts and inspiration. I know many will benefit from your approach.
Thanks for that, Michael. Your story sounds very familiar, and not uncommon. I’m very pleased that my efforts in promoting no-nails playing are being taken seriously by a growing number of players.
If you want to use false nails on some occasions, I don’t see why that would be damaging to an experienced player, but I would advise against it for students. Consistency is important. You might find after a year of flesh playing that you have all you need to hand, so to speak. But variety is a wonderful thing, especially in a world where most classical guitarists sound pretty much the same, so I encourage you to keep experimenting.
Thanks again for your comments.
Thanks for your response Rob. I’m honored to be communicating with you. Here’s a quick thought I wished I had injected into my long story above… I don’t know very much about the Harp and their technique, but I’ve noticed that without nails my guitar tone more resembles that type of sound (I think). I love the sound of the Harp. Any thoughts on this? Do they use nails or fingertips only? I think I hear more of the Fundamental in their tone.
Thanks for all your kind insights and experience.
Harp players play without nails, unless they are specialists in some older techniques. So there is something behind your observations, Michael. Yes, more fundamental is inherent in the technique.
Regarding the harp… I noticed from your quotations page:
….”an ideally expressive and responsive HARP” (emphasis mine)….. as in below:
……..Pujol: “The tone of a string struck with a fingertip possesses an intrinsic beauty, which affects the deepest feelings of our sensibility, just as air and light permeate space. It’s notes are incorporeal, as might be the notes of an ideally expressive and responsive HARP (emphasis mine)…this style stands for the transmission, without impurities, of the deepest vibrations of our emotions”. [Dilemma of the Timbre of the Guitar.]
Indeed. But the words I would highlight are “ideally expressive and responsive” – in other words, like a harp but better 🙂
Hi Rob Thanks for your great help on your website!
I do have one question: why do you prefer ambra 800 for Sor, and the 900 for Tarrega. I thought it is only difference in tension..? My teacher is using normal tension Alabastro (nails), I prefer light tension ambra 800 (no nails) But we are playing the same music. (Tarrega)
Early 19th-century guitars tend to be lighter in weight to Torres and post-Torres guitars, so Aquila recommend matching the tension of the string to the era of the guitar. However, that is only starting position. Your own preference comes into play, and sometimes I prefer the lower-tension string on a later guitar. There are no fixed rules about this. Choose what works best on your instrument, with your taste. Cheers, Rob.
Good advice! 👍🏼
Happy new year!