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.”
21 thoughts on “Virginia Luque”
Very good interview,thank you!
Excellent, just excellent!
Thanks Rob for introducing us to Virginia,
Cheers, Rob. She’s one heck of a player.
a very good interview , i’m very influensed by your technique , cause i want to play classical guitar without nails and you are the only source that i found , thanks sir Rob
Sir Rob? I like it! 😉
[…] Virginia Luque, Segovia’s last private pupil, is a virtuoso classical guitarist who plays with no nails. Take note, critics of the no-nails technique who state that playing without nails limits your speed, dynamics and tonal palette. Here’s a really interesting interview with her, where she discusses why she decided to play without nails and some of the results and implications of doing so: https://rmclassicalguitar.com/interviews/virginia-luque/ […]
Can you please clarify what she means by “the tip of the flesh, never over?” Does this mean that if you view the finger from the front, sighting along the top edge, the nail would match but not exceed, the shape/contour of the tip? Thanks.
I can’t speak for Virginia, Tico, so suggest your email her from her website. The nail is there to give strength to the tip, but not make contact with the string. I imagine it depends a lot on the size and shape of your fingertips. Cheers.
Thank you very much for the advice.
I love classic guitar. One of the professional music teacher said a pianist can’t become a classical guitarist. Because he can’t grow NAILS!! Her words made me sad.Because I am a keyboardist.
Now onwards I will start practice.
I sat 2 feet from her when she used to give lessons in New York a long time ago. I got to see her really go for it without the fear of a mistake as in a concert setting. She is by far the greatest classical guitar player I have seen in my life
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I don’t doubt it! She is a hurricane!
Great interview and video…very inspirational! I wish there were as many closeups of her RH technique as there were of her LH. She was doing something with her thumb there at the end that was very interesting…and a bit puzzling to me. The whole issue of how the thumb does its job in nail-free playing is something I would like to see expounded on more.
Me too, Steve. Perhaps you could contact her through her website.
Her sound is amazing, and so is the interview! I looked around and was dissapointed that she doesn’t seem to have any published work (be it in the way of just one of her normal masterclasses filmed or any book) to learn the way she plays. I have seen her comment in a video in youtube that she explains that when she teaches masterclasses (sorry for any bad english).
Glad you like the interview, Pablo. She is a phenomenon.
[…] Interview with Virginia Luque and Rob MacKillop […]
Just read your essay. I have a spruce/cypress back&sides guitar, so called a ‘cross over’. I have always liked the traditional sound of gut strings (Dorita y Pepe, remember them?) Carles Trepat on Torres w/ gut has inspired me to restring my guitar and play with ‘flesh’. Many thanks, Neil
Cheers, Neil. Carles is a wonderful player, but it would be wrong to think he plays without nails, as I know for a fact that he uses them. But playing a Torres with gut strings, he’s getting there 😉
I’d forgotten about Dorita and Pepe! Thanks for the reminder (I think!).
[…] Finally, consider (and try out!) playing without nails. While we are only focused here on the use of fingernails, there is a long, time-honored tradition of playing classical guitar without nails. A great no-nails player who studied closely with Andrés Segovia is Virginia Luque: […]
[…] Finalmente, considere (¡y pruebe!) jugar sin clavos. Si bien aquí solo nos enfocamos en el uso de las uñas, existe una larga y consagrada tradición de tocar la guitarra clásica sin uñas. Un gran jugador sin clavos que estudió de cerca con Andrés Segovia es virginia luque: […]