The following is a developing essay on my approach to nail-less playing…

If you play the classical guitar with nails, or even a combination of nail and flesh, and suddenly break a nail, you might notice that the sound of  the finger which is now just flesh can sound pretty awful compared to the sound you make with your other fingers. You could therefore be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that nail-less playing is the last thing you would want to do.

The main reason that particular nail-less finger sounds so bad is that you are still trying to play with the technique you learned for nail playing. The nail-less finger is at a disadvantage.

Some players are attracted by the idea of playing without nails, and in a moment of either trepidation or elation, cut their nails off. The sound they now make is not what they had hoped for, but they feel they will give it a few weeks to see if things will improve. Very often it doesn’t.

The fact is that nail-less playing demands a different technique to the one you learned before. The good news is that it is not a difficult technique, and once acquired you will have a strong-sounding technique, with a consistently good tone. No more worrying about the health and well-being of your nails, no more ping-pong balls (some will know what I mean!) or hours spent polishing and shaping.

Do note that some flesh players grow their nails just long enough to provide support for the finger pad, but not long enough to make contact with the string. This might look like they are playing with a short nail, but that is not the case. The thumb, especially, can look like it is long enough to strike the strings, but don’t be fooled. Virginia Luque is one who adapts her nails for this purpose, and was shown how to do it by none other than Andres Segovia. See my interview with her HERE.

Two Myths Debunked

Calluses: there is a myth that you must build up callouses on your fingers in order to replicate the toughness of your dearly-departed nail. THIS IS NOT TRUE. My fingertips are soft and smooth, and I use hand cream on a regular basis to help keep them that way. A rough fingertip will give a rough sound, a smooth fingertip, a smooth sound.

Another myth is that there is one way to play with the flesh technique. This is not true either. Just as with nail playing, there are many ways to play the guitar without nails. I have found my way, and I will relate it below, but there are other ways. For the sake of brevity, I will refer to only two approaches: the Tárrega/Pujol method, and one born of the resurgence in Historically Informed Performance (HIP) , which grew out of the Early-Music movement.

The Tárrega/Pujol Method

This method is outlined in Pujol’s Escuela Razonada of 1934. I have the beautifully-produced English translation of the first three (of the original four) volumes, produced by Editions Orphee, which are highly recommended.  Pujol claims the method is “Based on the Principles of Francisco Tárrega”.

In Chapter XI, Pujol tries to be objective in his description of the two ways of plucking a string – with a nail or without – but his choice of adjectives belies his preference for the flesh alone:

  “Since the fingernail is hard, and varied in its surface, thickness and consistency, it imparts to the string a penetrating brilliance, quick and rather metallic. Without the nails, however, the string is struck by a smooth, subtle and sensitive object, both thicker and wider than the nail, and which gives a sound of greater softness, fullness and purity”.

His concern is that the nail brings out less of the fundamental, and more of the upper partials, while the flesh gives a more pure fundamental sound:

  “Hence the empty and metallic feeling of the sound produced with the nail is inimical to the fundamental sound and favourable to the secondary sounds, as opposed to the full and pure sound produced with the flesh of the finger, which is totally favourable to the fundamental sound and not to the  secondary ones.”

 However, he does not deny that “what it (the fingernail) lacks in sweetness, fullness and balance, it gains in brilliance, strength and contrast”.

In a memorable phrase, he describes the sound produced by the flesh alone to be “the immaterialisation of sound” – a very poetic, non-objective description. He goes on to say,

  “Sor and Tárrega, with the spirituality proper to them as classic composers, drew from the strings the quintessence of sound, in the service of pure music, and, at the same time, made the sound of the instruments more noble”.

Pujol ends his discussion of the nails, no nails debate by assessing the “Advantages and disadvantages of each procedure“. His makes a positive argument FOR using nails, in that a “minimum of effort” is required to get a sound with clarity, and the left hand does not need to press so hard on the fretboard. Without nails, “all barrés, slurs, open or difficult positions, and virtuoso passages, are harder to achieve”. Yet, he remained a flesh player throughout his career, believing that sound came first.

The technique Pujol and Tárrega employed was, of course, heavily based on the rest stroke, or apoyando, generally striking the string at right angles, and producing as full a sound as the instrument could give. Pujol’s Escuela Razonada remains an excellent resource for learning this method.

A similar method was published by Pascual Roche in the 1920s, in three volumes. For students of the Tárrega school, this extensive method is essential. Luckily for us, it is now available legally online:

Volume I

Volume II

Volume III

The HIP-Related Method

HIP is an acronym for Historically-Informed Performance, and has grown out of the Early-Music movement which has been active for the last fifty years or more.

Lute players in the 1970s and 80s adopted the thumb-in technique, witnessed on many period illustrations, where after playing a note, the thumb moved inside the palm, rather than outside (as with modern guitar technique). For a while, almost all lute players used this technique, though slowly it became apparent that it was only really suitable for the early six-course lute repertoire. During John Dowland’s lifetime, with the increase in the presence of a bass line, the thumb started moving outside the hand, into a more recognisable position for today’s players. However, in both cases (thumb-in and thumb-out) the little finger or pinkie was positioned on the soundboard.

The position of the pinkie varied a lot. Some illustrations show the contact being the outer edge of the joint nearest the nail, so lying quite flat. Others show the tip of the pinkie making contact. Sometimes the pinkie was placed between rose and bridge, sometimes on the bridge, and sometimes behind it. Each posture and position would radically alter the sound being produced.

The thumb mostly played rest strokes, the fingers free strokes. The ring finger was used rarely, and mostly in the latter period of the baroque lute.

Moving into the 19th century, and the guitar, some of this lute technique can still be traced. Sor admonished players for placing the pinkie on the table, though at the time he was pushing his friend, Aguado’s tripod, which held the guitar in a fixed position.

  “Some rest the little finger of the right hand on the soundboard so as to give sureness to the hand when plucking. This may have been useful while the guitar was not in a fixed position, but now that it is played on a tripod I do not consider the support necessary because the fingers of the right hand depend on the support given by the forearm and wrist” [Sor’s Method]

However, he does admit:

  “Sometimes I employ the little finger, pressing it perpendicularly on the sounding-board, below the first string, but take care to raise it as soon as it ceases to be necessary.”

There is no one single “19th-century guitar technique”, which anyone who reads more than one tutor publication will very quickly recognise. Even national styles are difficult to agree upon – compare Sor’s and Aguado’s methods, which could hardly be more different. Pujol, in his Dilemma, contemplated that Sor could possibly represent a Catalan school.

So, if we are to play the works of more than one composer, using the technique outlined by each composer, one must make a few decisions: nails or no nails, pinkie down or not, mostly slurs in scale runs (Sor) or articulation of each note unless notated otherwise (Aguado), and more. These are important considerations, the adoption of which can radically change the sound and reception of the music.

Many players of 19th-century guitars today come from a lute background, that is, coming forward into the 19th century, rather than stepping back from the 20th or 21st century. I spent some twenty years as a lute player before really getting into the guitar again. I started by concentrating on Fernando Sor, whose technique is closest to that of the baroque lutenist. The results of my studies can be heard on my download album, Fernando Sor – The Art of the 19th-Century Guitar (search on iTunes, Amazon MP3 and CD baby).

My Technique

I tried to resist the music of Tárrega, as his technique is so alien to me, the twist of the wrist, the apoyando, the common use of the ring finger – I find such techniques too difficult to adopt after twenty years of lute playing. But Tárrega’s music is among my favourite, Llobet’s too. I decided to make some videos using the technique I had developed over the years, using gut or nylgut strings, and the comments I got from many guitarists encouraged me to continue playing this beautiful music.

So, my technique today incorporates some late lute technique, some Sor-related technique, and I have started bringing Tárrega-style rest strokes into my playing in slower pieces, though without adopting his twisted wrist.

Here’s a slo-mo video, showing the technique of pushing the string before releasing it. This gives the no-nails equivalent of the rest stroke and ramped-nail stroke of nail players, and is an important part of my technique:

My pinkie often touches the soundboard, yet often does not, especially as I am using the ring finger more. Careful observation of my playing will note that the pinkie is up and down a lot during a single piece. When it does touch the soundboard, the touch is VERY light – it is not “planted”, but brushes against it. To do this successfully, the pinkie side of my hand is lowered somewhat, and I can view inside my palm.

My thumb plays a high proportion of rest strokes, which gives a warm sound, and it frequently plays as high as the second string, and sometimes the first. I often use thumb-index alternation in scale passages, sometime thumb-index-middle, and I can play much faster this way than by alternating index and middle.

I confess my tremolo is quiet. I’d be vastly over-praising myself by quoting Pujol:  “the tremolo is no longer metallic and brilliant, but acquires an ethereal sonority”. The sad fact is that my tremolo needs work, but it was never a strength of mine even before I cut my nails off and went over to the dark side! This is a Work In Progress…

Very short demonstration of speed bursts:

A four-minute discussion of my technique:

Adelita and Lagrima by Tarrega on a new guitar, the Ramirez 130 Anos:


Here is an old video I did in 2009. It’s a bit dark and quiet – sorry about that. Much of what I say I still agree with, though I prefer a 65 cms string length now.



No matter which way you start to play without nails, try to keep the following in mind:

Your finger pads need time to adapt to their new, more important role. Don’t play too much for a while – just allow the pads to get to know the strings, without forcing the issue.

Use hand cream before and after each session. You don’t want hard calluses to form, as they will give you a bad sound.

Try tuning even lower – it might not be to your taste, but your finger pads will appreciate it. Through time you can creep back up to 415 or higher.


To be continued…

77 thoughts on “Technique

  1. This site is great, Rob. I discovered it through a link posted by 10 string guitarist Viktor Van Niekerk, in which he refutes the idea that good classical guitar should contain “upper partials”, much as discussed by Pujol above. (Actually I’m a little hazy on what “upper partials” actually means – could you please provide a definition?). In either case, I’ve been inspired to cut my nails and go back to the way which felt intuitively correct for me, after years of being brainwashed by the ideologues. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Matt. Upper partials are the treble end of the sonic spectrum. So, more upper partials means less fundamental, which means more trebly. More fundamental means a rounder, warmer note.
      Good luck with your change! Try using lower-gauge strings, or tune down a tone. That will help your fingertips adjust to the new technique. Take your time. It took me at least six months before I was getting the sound I wanted.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, I see what you mean. I am tuning down a tone right now, which helps. My biggest challenge right now is getting a consistent round tone from my ring (anular) finger, but I’m confident that with persistence I will get it. Thanks again, + I really enjoyed the essay by Pujol, I downloaded his biography of Tarrega as well.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Good for you, Matt. Take your time. The finger pads will grow accustomed to their new role in time. You’ll grow to love the touch of the strings, and after a while you’ll begin to wonder why anyone plays with nails at all 🙂


  3. I have been watching your videos for several years. Excellent I might add. I think your technique and encouraging videos will save my classical playing. I have been “stuck” at an intermediate level for years. Your technique, when I try it for awhile, actually feels more natural for me and my style of playing.


  4. Hi Rob! I encountered a few of your videos just a while ago and I was very intrigued! I have heard about the concept of nailless playing years ago, but never really encountered a practitioner of it. I love your sound, I think it is a wonderful, and perfectly valid approach to tone production on the classical guitar. Listening to your videos and sound makes me wonder why there aren’t more players doing this. I am currently revisiting all sorts of tone issues myself after 40 years of playing (I hope to get it down some day!) going back and forth between steel string and classical, and you are making me want to look into nailless playing! The part of your tone video that really caught my attention. was your comment about curving the right hand and playing “from under” the strings. My own thinking about tone is that the ANGLE of vibration of the strings is very important, and it didn’t surprise me that you commented that your free strokes sound much like your rest strokes. I think playing the strings with the position you describe force the strings to vibrate at an angle to the soundboard, very similar to what a rest stroke does. I suppose I should just do my own video on this topic about string vibrational angle, rather than go into a lot of detail here, but Im convinced it is worthwhile to think about tone in terms of what it is we make the string do, rather than exactly how we do it. In other words, hand positions don’t create tone all by themselves, it is the effect on the string vibrations that we really want. Anyway, let me stop before I start my own ranting, I just want to say congratulations on finding such lovely sounds, and promoting this issue which clearly has lots of historical precedent for. Your playing is lovely, sensuous, very musical, and I love all the early music stuff you are doing. Im not a lutenist, but I have played early music myself for quite a few years. Cheers!


    • Cheers, Hue. Glad you noticed the comments about angle of attack, coming from under the string, etc. Very important. As my technique develops on the guitar, I find myself using more of a variety of strokes than I did on the lute, as much of the repertoire demands more colouration. I’m enjoying the process, getting deeper into the music. Good luck with your own journey! Any questions, just ask.



    • Dear Hugh, Enjoyed your analyses, inspired by Rob’s playing. Have in mind we are touching so many taboooos imposed nowadays on players. Very few will go on their own search and try to discover by themselves. You are one of these few. I’ll be glad to see your videos.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks, I like to think outside the box myself. Right now I’m exploring the notion as to whether it’s possible to keep nails at a short enough length to where one can employ EITHER nails or finger flesh, depending on hand position. Lol, can’t say I’ve settled the question but it’s an interesting experiment.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Please accept my thanks for sharing your technique. My tendency to go back and forth from nails to no-nails has hindered my progress. However, your Blog and the responses you have gotten are very encouraging, and should help to alleviate this. All I really want to do is play some beautiful music on my classical guitar, and not spend all of my time trying to coax a note from my nails. Again, Thank you, John.


  6. My typical style in learning new techniques is to “stumble” on someone’s site like yours and really like it, This no-nail technique is right up my alley. Can’t wait to investigate more of your website. I think there is much to be learned here. Thanks ….Jim


  7. Hi Rob! Thanks for this wonderful site. I was wondering if you have any advice for making the switch from nails to no nails. I started off playing no-nails fingerstyle on a steel string guitar and moved to a nylon string guitar. I loved the feel and tone of this style of playing – but I just wasn’t very loud, and I found I lacked dexterity, speed and accuracy. I switched to nails, and found some of those things easier – I liked the ease with which some techniques that had been previously out of my reach came – but I am constantly fussing with my nails and they are breaking due to my job and various commitments that require nail-breaking work. So I’m considering moving back to no-nails and just sorting out the issues I had previously ignored – probably as much due to my lack of experience and muscle development than to any difference between nails or no nails.
    I’d like to be able switch between steel and nylon…but that really rips my nails up right quick. I don’t have a strong opinion on the nails no-nails debate..I can definitely see advantages to both just from my own limited experience. But I’m thinking I’d like to go back (to the dark side) and so…just lop em off? Any thoughts to make it easier to transition?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi Rob! Thanks for this wonderful site. I was wondering if you have any advice for making the switch from nails to no nails. I started off playing no-nails fingerstyle on a steel string guitar and moved to a nylon string guitar. I loved the feel and tone of this style of playing – but I just wasn’t very loud, and I found I lacked dexterity, speed and accuracy. I switched to nails, and found some of those things easier – I liked the ease with which some techniques that had been previously out of my reach came – but I am constantly fussing with my nails and they are breaking due to my job and various commitments that require nail-breaking work. So I’m considering moving back to no-nails and just sorting out the issues I had previously ignored – probably as much due to my lack of experience and muscle development than to any difference between nails or no nails.
    I’d like to be able switch between steel and nylon…but that really rips my nails up right quick. I don’t have a strong opinion on the nails no-nails debate..I can definitely see advantages to both just from my own limited experience. But I’m thinking I’d like to go back (to the dark side) and so…just lop em off? Any thoughts to make it easier to transition? Will playing steel string develop calluses that ruin my nylon playing? Some sites seem to encourage calluses while you mentioned it can adversely affect one. Anyhow…as you say it all depends on what you want…


    • I play steel as well, almost every day in my teaching, and for my own pleasure. I prefer lighter-tension steel, though. As for playing nylon without nails, I suggest that for the first few months you lower the pitch of the strings, anything up to a semitone. This will reduce the tension, and be less of a shock to your fingertips. Over time you can tune back up to 440, although, like me, you might grow to enjoy the more relaxed sound a lower pitch provides. Many modern classical guitars are constructed with super-high tension strings in mind, so I opt for traditional Spanish-style guitars. As for calluses – I don’t have them. I use hand cream before and after a long session. Ah, my secret is out! 😉 Good luck.


  9. Hi flesh players.
    Glad to see that it exists. I just started playing classical a few month ago, and was under the impression that classical players have to have long nails. My teacher has them, and even goes to the nail saloon to have a faked one attached whenever one brakes off, and then files the nail himself at home to his needs.
    I come from an electric guitar, 30 years plus, funk, fusion, jazz, freeform and crazy stuff. I have my right hand fingers totally involved in my style, changing between guitar pick and fingers all the time. I like no nails, so I can actually feel the strings and have full control over the dynamics, and get a warm, dark percussive sound.
    So, I had some nails for a while, but they kept braking. I guess one would have to change life style a bit.
    I kind of get it, the sound seems brighter, if that`s the desired tone. But what I hated (my nails are short again since 3 days, broke 2 nails just opening the dishwasher), was the disconnection between the guitar/sound/strings and myself. I need to feel what I am playing. Well, perhaps if I would have been trained on nails for years, maybe I would think different. But from what I just described, I can only go for flesh.
    Great great website here, nice videos, interviews, resources and the take on strings.


    • You’ve made my day, Peter. You describe exactly how I feel about the contact with the strings – it’s so important. I can assure you that no-nails playing of the classical guitar has a long history, populated by many great players. Maybe you should show the site to your teacher. He is unlikely to jump ship himself, but will hopefully understand where you are coming from, and that it is not to be discouraged. Good luck with it all!


  10. Hi

    I came across your website on the Delcamp forum. I am relieved to hear that l’m not alone. My reason for no nails a part from the tone was a child nail biting habit has left me uncomfortable with a nail catching in something. Great store of information and advice.




  11. Thanks for for promt reply and the welcome to flesh pad guitar world. I believe a plectrum/Fingernail for sharp sounds and pads for tone ref: (Rory Gallagher he could scream a guitar with plectrum and caress with his flesh pads) it is my belief this applies to nylon,steel etc. The closer a player is to the string it gives more control for nuances, tension and percussion. Pad players are nowadays seen as inate classical guitar muscians it is a shame. The spainish harp is played with pads one hand and nails the other, this is probabably useless infomation.

    Lockie from West Clare pre Brexit EU


  12. It is a nice website, thank you for these videos and explanations. Since I am just a beginner and have no history of nail playing, I think I’ll try my luck with flesh pad playing and do my best to obtain the sound I wish I had: sweet, not metallic, but clear and resounding enough. The difficult part though is to avoid the thumb nail hitting the string. I guess I’ll have to somehow change the angle of my hand to avoid that… Thanks again for your site and videos.


  13. Excellent site Rob!
    I too believe in your ideas, principles.
    I was listening to the sound recordings of past finger playing – no nails , very warm.
    I wondered about Virginia Luque, when I watched her videos, but you touch upon her us of her thumb, the nail looked long.
    Glad I found your site, I play with the pad, but have just enough nail if I change the angle of attack to get a different effect with a snippet of nail, so really not nails like generally considered for classical.


    • Hi Rob. Great to have your comments. I suppose there is a continuum of sorts, between 100% flesh to 100% nail, with most people around the middle. Each player has to find their spot. I’m glad you found yours.


  14. Hello Rob. Very good website. I am an amateur guitarist (from France). I learnt guitar wtih a pupil of Emilio Pujol. I never play with nails and I always thing that sound without nails is much more beautiful. But the most of professional guitarists plays with nails and, for my point of view, the most of them, including some very reputed, have an ugly sound (with rare exceptions such as David Russel). Also I love playing guitar but I rarely take pleasure in listening to a concert or a disc.
    The problem is that many guitarists like to show their virtuosity at the expense of the work they perform…


  15. Rob you have a really nice website, also I enjoyed your video and the sound of your guitar. I lived during my childhood in Brazil, later in Chile and now in New York City. I have played almost all my life with my fingertips, Brazilian and Chilean popular music, in a nylon string guitar. My style is very similar to the guitar playing of Toninho Horta who also plays without nails.I am looking to replace a classical guitar that I have, so I need your advice. Which guitar in your opinion sounds better for finger playing no nails ? Cedar or Spruce ? I have thought about it, but I have not arrived to a clear conclusion yet. I know that Cedar is warmer than Spruce which has a bright sound. Since the fingertips or pads make the sound warmer and darker it seems to me that a Spruce top guitar would balance the sound. Did Sor or Tárrega talk about this matter ? Thank you in advance.


    • Hi Rod, nice to hear from you. Although I love cedar guitars, I’m going to go with spruce on this one. But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy playing no-nails on cedar, as I have a nice cedar guitar, and am happy to play it. Of course, I use gut strings, so that will also affect my decision. You should try good-quality gut – see my Strings page for advice. Neither Sor nor Tárrega mention cedar, as it wasn’t really used on guitars before the 1960s, or so I believe. If you or anyone else knows otherwise, I’d be happy to change my mind. Good luck with your choice, Rod!


  16. What a fantastic resource you’ve created here! I’ve been primarily a pianist but also studied classical guitar in my early to mid-teens and was enchanted by the instrument. The fingernails have always been a problem, though. My nails are not strong, and growing them interferes with piano. The nails also seem to undermine what is so wonderful about classical guitar–the potentially haunting lyrical sound, the delicacy, the way the instrument is sewn up within the personal sphere of the player’s body. When I showed up for guitar lessons with too-short nails as a young person, I was criticized for “digging” into the strings; it didn’t bother me, but it wasn’t what my teacher wanted. Now you’re making me think my flouting of orthodoxy wasn’t “wrong,” and that maybe there is a way for me to get back into guitar playing, on my own terms. Thank you so much for sharing this information.


    • Great comments, Angela, so thanks for sharing them. I once had to give up piano, as my guitar nails were getting in the way! That was a few decades ago now, I’d almost forgotten it. Maybe I should get back to the piano, while you get back to the guitar?!
      Best wishes,


  17. Hi, Rob, I’m delighted to have ‘discovered’ you as I have difficult nail problems. I’m entirely new to this. Please can you clarify what to buy with regard to a complete set of gut strings base and trebles. I’ve noted where to buy from your website. I play with a great guitar of the English lutanist Steven Eden with a 63cm string length. I’d really be grateful for help with the string so I get it right first time.


    • Hi Gerry. I thought I had been clear. But as you have a guitar of 63cms string length, you might need other measurements. My figures are for a guitar of 65cms sl. My trebles are .65, .80 and 1.00, and I use various basses, often the Seta set from Aquila Corde.
      Best wishes,



  18. Thanks for your blog. I was so screwed up with nail problems that I even invested in a product from “Alaska Pic”, which were a set of artificial slip on nails for guitarists. I never could trim them to my satisfaction and utility. In retrospect I’ve played most of my life with at least two nails missing, however I never made the connection to take em all off and learn to play without em”.. Until now. I’m also gonna try those gut strings..


  19. Hello I watched the video and no-nail
    I tried it for the first time today, and the tone is very beautiful.

    Question 1. The right hand is turned to the right and the hit string to the right of the end, so the sound is the best, is this correct?

    Question 2. What do you think of using your little finger? I think sounds pretty clear.

    Question 3. Can you recommend strings? How about Aquila’s nilegut(?)
    My guitar is SP / BR / 650mm.

    Would it be better to boost action and low tension? If the current action is low and I use Low, I will get Buzz
    (2mm~ 3mm – 1~6)

    (I’m Korean and English is immature
    It’s pretty hard to see the video. sorry
    This comment is also written in Google translation)


    Thank you 🙂


      • Thank you for your quick and friendly reply and apologize for not having seen the Menu on the Website
        I’ve read several comments (about String)
        If you have any additional questions,

        You rated Aquila – Ambra 900 as good. So, have you used ‘Alabastro’?

        Q2. You say that Savarez’s white card low tension can be tuned to 440Hz. Should nilegut strings be tuned to 430Hz? or freedom?

        Q3. Start with 430Hz to adapt the finger skin to the bullet, and then put it up to 440hz or leave it as it is. Right?

        Q4. How many millimeters is your String action? I am a very low action with 1 = 2mm and 6 = 3mm, but tuning to 430Hz seems to cause buzz.
        maybe I need to get more action?



      • Hi Kim. I can’t remember using Alabastro. Nylgut can, I think, be tuned to 440, but sound better at 415. Playing at 440 is only necessary when playing in an ensemble with other players at 440. Otherwise, 415 can sound better. You must experiment to find the best pitch for you. I often just tune the guitar to where it sounds best, and I don’t care what the number is. My action is 6=4mm, 1=2.8mm, I think. A higher action allows a better vibrato.
        Best wishes,



  20. Dear Rob,
    Wonderful website to happily stumble upon–as someone who dispensed with fingernails some 25+ years ago and hasn’t looked back, I really appreciate the thoughtful discussions on the aesthetics of this approach. Like Pujol I’ve always been drawn to the purer fundamental achieved with nail-less playing. My theory is that the no-nail player involves more of the back and side wood into the tone instead of just (over)activating the top. The overall sound has more of what in Spain they call “duende”, for lack of a better word.
    Anyway, I love your Sor recordings and please keep up the good work. My question is that when toggling between steel string playing and nylon how do you manage to keep your fingertips pliable? I have a problem with calluses developing when I shift emphasis to steel string for a few weeks or so.


    • Hi Jerry. Nice to hear from you. I have very light-gauge strings on my steel-strung guitar, 10s, if I remember correctly. I also use pure beeswax on my fingers two or three times a day. Seems to help, but any moisturiser would do. My fingertips are very smooth. I can’t believe what I read on the internet sometimes, about having to develop calluses to play without nails. That’s the last thing I would want to do. I don’t know if I I’ve helped you much, but good luck!


      • Rob,
        Thank you so much for setting up this site. Four years ago I was struck with a life-threatening autoimmune disorder that left me temporarily paralyzed. Unfortunately, the medication that saved my life caused severe problems with my skin and nails. My nails are now brittle and split vertically (from fingertip toward the elbow) at the slightest insult, so by necessity I must play without nails. The illness also affected my ability to stretch my fingers, and I had to switch to a short scale guitar (630 mm) with a narrow neck. The best guitar I could find with such restrictions is made in Japan and is a spruce/Indian called the Asturias “comfort,” which I bought new. It was shipped with Hannabach 815 medium tension strings. I am happy with the quality of the guitar, but I have trouble getting sufficient vibrato, partly because the action is too high, and partly because the trebles seem to be high tension despite the “medium” on the package. Basically, I caress a guitar rather than pound on it, and I plan to have a local luthier lower the action. I was also hoping you could recommend strings that are more suited to playing without nails on a new guitar with a spruce top that seems to have a slightly thicker top than my former guitar. One website suggests Savarez New Cristal Corum for the tension aspect, but since this is a parlor guitar and I plan to have the action lowered, I was wondering if you can suggest other strings that I can try out on a somewhat limited budget. Many thanks in advance.


      • Sorry to hear of your trouble, John. Have you read my STRINGS page on this website? You might try Savarez White Card strings, which are both light and have a slightly rough feel, which flesh players like. Good luck!


      • Rob,
        Thank you for your prompt response. I did read the STRINGS page, but was unsure whether any of the strings listed there will match up with the smaller scale and spruce top of my guitar. I could not tell from your videos whether your guitar has a cedar top or spruce. I was hoping the Savarez White Card strings would be worth a try and was hoping for some confirmation from an expert. Again, many thanks.


  21. Dear Rob,
    it is very heartening to find an encouragement for the ‘no-nail’ pattern of playing guitar. Being a medical doctor, I found lot of dilemma on this issue: with or without nails, as I could not permit myself to grow nails, and also on hygienic grounds. Today by chance I happened to see your site and was very happy and inspired. I loved your music which is very lively and ‘ original’. I am still a beginner with a penchant for classical renditions on classical guitar.
    With high regards for your encouragement.


  22. Hi Rob,

    I’d like to start by thanking you for your Mickey Baker videos. I bought the volume one book back in 1966, learned five chords and put the book away. I pulled the book out three months ago and decided to undertake learning the chords. Your videos have really helped keeping up with Mickey’s instructions. With that said, I started listening to your lute recordings, and ordered in your Introduction to Lute. I’m using a classical guitar, no nails, and trying not to make mistakes so I have a question; I’m doing a lot of of alternating between index and thumb, ignoring for the most part my middle finger. Is this a hug technical mistake?




  23. Hi Rob,
    Fantastic site. I am a relative beginner to the nylon string guitar, and I am in my 60’s. first thing I noticed was that my fingernails simply werenot up to the job! Second thing I noticed was a real attraction to music that is a bit more introspective in nature.
    I have been fortunate in finding a reproduction of an 16 Martinez which is very well suited to the type of music I like, and with a scale length of 614 it has a nice intomate low tension sound. My only complaint is the 45 mm width at the nut.
    Your website is the most helpful and comprehensive I have encountered for adressing playing with flesh rsther thsn nails. Thank you very much indeed for all of the time and effort, and love you have put into this.
    My current focus in my practice is right hand position and the way the I and M fingers address the string. Your “old” video is most helpful.
    Next I think I will give nylgut a whirl!
    Keep up the great work and thanks again
    Dave Marquez


  24. Couple errors in the post: its an 1816 Martinez replica, and the sound is intimate, not intomate. Typing on my ipad is very problematic!


  25. Very sincere thanks to you! Deep down I knew I wasn’t happy with my right hand technique. But now, I am getting very close! Playing is rewarding and fun again. Many Thanks!!


  26. I am so glad to have found this post. I am in my mid-60’s and studied under a student of Segovia when I was quite young. So, of course, I am a “nail player”. I have been a casual classical guitarist my whole life, only occasionally performing in front of an audience, but enjoy it greatly. But with age my nails are becoming thin and brittle. I am always playing with at least one nail too short and it sounds awful. Your article with its references to some of my favorite composers, Sor and Tárrega, has convinced me that my forced new practice of flesh playing is not being disrespectful to the art. I look forward to learning to master this different, but well established, technique.


  27. Thank you Rob for all you do. I’m relatively inexperienced and starting to get into learning romantic music, but I don’t have a nylon string guitar, however I do have a small mahogany, Guild M20, and am able to get a mellow sound. I’m adopting a nailess technique the best I can do, but I am wondering if how your guitar rests in your lap affects the angle at which you pluck the strings. For some reason, probably inexperience, I can really only tolerate having the guitar rest in the typical horizontal fashion. In your opinion, for the sake of a flesh technique, should I try to get familiar with playing at an angle? Or could you play horizontally without losing much? Thanks again,



    • Hi Sean. You need a teacher to at least get you started. A classical guitar is a different size and shape, so the way you hold it will be different. But you can play without nails whatever way you sit with the guitar. Good luck. I teach via Skype, if you ever want to give that a go.


    • I try to vary my posture every day. Staying in one position is bad for you. So I use different chair heights when possible. Relaxation is very important to my technique. So, I suggest you try lots of different ways, and mix them up. Some will be better than others. Good luck!


  28. Hi Rob. I’m a lapsed Classical Guitarist who has (arguably) the world’s worst nails…So…Finding your YT recordings & this site has been a God-send. Thank you.

    When I recently got back into classical playing w/nails – it was as frustrating as it was time-consuming. So I clipped ’em off 🙂 – which felt like telling your Anglican parents you were converting to Buddhism 🙂

    But – as you foretold I can’t get a decent sound – even tho’ I’m doing the Lute R.H. position. It’s (I think) callouses. In one of your posts you mention putting lotion on your fingers before & after you play. The “after” I totally get. The “before” (???) wouldn’t the cream find its way onto your strings – esp. the wound basses – and impair the string quality??

    Thanks again. BTW – in college I studied with Joe Iadone – who turned me onto early music:


    • Hi Jonathan. Yes, before – but I only put a little bit on, just enough to take the edge off the roughness of the gut strings. I then have no problem playing on the bass or treble strings.
      Best wishes for your progress!


  29. Hi, Rob. You are one of my favorite guitar players ever, and I love the fact you play without nails (I think I mentioned it before, on YouTube). I’m first and foremost a sax, clarinet and harmonica player, but also love the guitar and have quite a few books on the subject. Is there any book you would recommend to a intermediate player like me? Thank you so much!


  30. Hi Rob, I have played guitar for many years and primarily play electric guitar with plectrum. However, I have dipped in and out of classical guitar over my life as I love the instrument, but always found I had a problem with nails breaking. I would see some improvement then a nail would go, primarily from playing electric guitar live. I would especially find that playing funk guitar would end up with a ripped off nail in the middle of a live performance! Anyway, after many years of start / stop I had pretty much given up the hope of ever getting a good run at improving on classical guitar and was at the point of finally giving up…that is until I found your website. I was inspired to give it a go with no nails and certainly at first it felt very odd – accuracy seemed illusive. However after a couple of months of intense practise I am finding that I am at least as good now as I was with nails and the accuracy has magically re-appeared. I also love the more rounded tone. This feels incredible and I can now continue my classical guitar studies and also do all my work with electric guitar. So just to say thanks for getting the seed of thought in my mind to try this and I would encourage anyone else with similar issues to give it a go! Thanks again


    • Cheers, Paul. You’ve made my day! No one should ever be denied playing classical guitar just because of nails, and I hope you go on to have many years of playing classical guitar. I also play electric fingerstyle, and even funk strumming, so I know what you are talking about. Have fun! Rob


  31. I’ve been struggling for years with thin, brittle nails and nearly gave up playing classical guitar because of it. Finding this site and listening to the beautiful sound you produce is just what I needed! Thank you for your willingness to spread this message.

    And . . . I also play a Ramirez 130 Anos!


  32. Rob,
    I’ve been having trouble posting on your website to ask you a question, so I hope this gets through. Since encountering your website two hears ago I have completely adopted playing with flesh, but my volume has been too low, and I’ve had trouble getting the same dynamics I used to get with nails. On a whim I recently purchased a very good classical guitar at a bargain price because the previous owner had installed an LR Baggs active pickup, which probably discouraged many classical players from buying it. I already had a small acoustic amplifier from a previous life, and when I tried it out with none of the “sound effects,” I was surprised that my dynamics returned, and the beautiful sound of the good guitar was projected without any discernible distortion. This seems to solve my problem and encourages me to think that I can start playing actively in public again despite my fragile nails. So, what do you think about amplification with a classical guitar? I would appreciate any comments and tips that you can provide.
    John Stroman


    • Hi John. There is nothing wrong with using a good-quality amplification system. Check out Carles Trepat, who plays a Torres guitar with gut and nylon strings. He plays with short nails, but still likes to use an amp, though I’m told his microphone costs as much as a guitar:

      Best wishes for your playing!


      • Thank you for the encouragement Rob. His playing sounds wonderful. I noticed that he places the amp behind him and slightly to the side, so that’s what I’ll try next.

        Liked by 1 person

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