Virginia Luque is a virtuoso classical guitarist. She is the person I point to when critics of the no-nails technique say playing with flesh alone limits your speed, dynamics and tonal palette. Have a listen…she should change your mind!
Dear Virginia, I have been a fan of your playing for a few years now, and regularly visit your website: and also your YouTube Channel: , and I’m very much looking forward to your forthcoming CD, “Homage to Agustin Barrios”. You are a guitarist of International repute, having won the “Manuel de Falla” Competition for Classical Guitar in Granada, Spain. Thank you for taking time out to answer my questions.
1. Have you always been a flesh player?
I think I have. Flesh is mostly developed with progressive stages until you find the right stroke. I knew I needed from the start to be as close as possible to the heart of the guitar, getting closer to the strings and maximize the sound quality. I was a flesh player since I started, supported by Maestro Segovia, who taught me how to take care of the tips of my nails in order not to interfere with the contact points.
2. Is playing without nails for you an aesthetic choice, or one driven by poor nails?
Playing without nails is a need to fulfill the sound I’m looking for.
I studied Acoustics to be able to understand the strings vibratory phenomenon and being able to achieve scientifically, in this case with the guitar as an acoustic instrument, the synchronicity of the sound vibrations. I spent a lifetime to be able to coordinate this process and feel in control of these difficult goals, incorporating different fingers’ landing and different kinds of vibratos. One of my concerns with the guitar was not being able to sustain notes like other more fortunate instruments such as the piano that counts with a generous tool of a pedal. The lack of legato was a priority to defeat.That was basically the beginning of my Acoustic journey with the guitar pursuits.
3. You play with a tremendous dynamic range. It seems there is nothing you can’t do that a nail player could. Is that the case?
I always look forward to serve the musical needs of a composer’s work. Dynamics are very important to me to communicate properly the composer’s message, although we need to be very careful how we should apply with proper taste and gracefulness.
Playing without nails increases the technical challenges of learning how to control the releases with ease. It is a lifetime goal that needs to be taken with the proper humility and accept the challenge that a flesh stroke demands in every sound we approach.
I agree that no nails technique provides more capabilities to do anything possible in the guitar. The problem is that it takes long time to achieve.
4. I’m impressed with the clarity and warmth of your tone. No-nail players are sometimes criticised for having a limited tonal pallet. Do you feel this is an issue?
Thank you for your words. I think flesh players are always looking for two elements: warmth and quality of tone. The clarity is part of the process of how well you release the strokes. The tone can be altered according to the angle approached of the fingers every second they land.
5. Are you aware of the flesh players of the past? I ask because I myself am only now becoming aware of how many guitarists chose or have chosen not to play with nails.
Yes, I am. I also have learned that in the past guitarists were more interested in making music and interpret the music of the great composers. Nowadays, going along with the times we live, where speed is wrongfully essential, guitarists grow long nails, play very fast and buy boomy guitars to facilitate their labor. Unfortunately, the sound suffers entirely the consequences.
6. What would say are the main advantages of playing without nails?
With a flesh approach, the sound improves, the extra frictions of the nails striking against the strings are not existent. Also, being closer to the strings, provides better access to them but at the same time more difficult releases.
Volume is not an easy process when you play without nails. Strength is applied differently.
With a nail approach, It is an easy technique that provides easy access and easy release of the strings, but with poor sound quality and limited musical tools to project in a concert hall. Everywhere I go I find more and more long nails players that are convinced to perpetuate that technique by teachers that follow generations of that school.
7. You play a beautiful Hauser guitar. I’m wondering if you have found that older guitars lend themselves to flesh playing better than modern guitars?
Vintage guitars are very challenging to play. I know many professional guitarists that don’t know how to make a sound out of a vintage instrument. It requires a lot of involvement with the strokes. The attacks and releases are totally different and these guitars are no-nails players welcome at all.
The idea is to build the sound by yourself as a player, not buying big sounding guitars that lose the traditional sounding of this warm instrument.
8. Please add anything else you want to say.
Thank you for letting me communicate what my work has been all these years. Audiences don’t have the opportunity to know the story behind my playing. I think it is very gratifying to do this.
I always like to honor this instrument and its language.
August 3rd, 2015
I asked Virginia about her comments to the first question, concerning nails and advice from Segovia. This is her reply:
“When you play with flesh only, the flesh doesn’t bring a robust sound, that is why you need to have nails to support the flesh as long as the tip of the flesh, never over. For that reason we can dig into the string and boost the sound with power and good color.
“This is playing without nails. Segovia taught me this nail’s-length technique. Then, I incorporated it to my tip shape to maximize the sound quality.”