Nail care

A very important aspect of sound generation is not a part of the ukulele: Your fingers! This shouldn’t be underestimated. Every player who cares about good sound should face up to this topic. There are different philosophies that work well:

  • Finger tip players cut their nails short and play the strings just with their bare finger tips. There were famous finger tip players on the guitar like Tárrega.
  • Nail players play with their finger nails. Some of them prefer to keep them relatively short (2-3 mm), others prefer to have them a bit longer. Most nail players prefer relatively short nails. When playing the strings, not only the nails, but also a part of the flesh touches the strings and contributes to the resulting tone.

Of course you can also play with a plectrum or with finger picks — the ukulele is a very versatile instrument, and there exists a huge range of different playing techniques. Depending on music and playing style it can work well to play with plectrum or fingerpicks, however, for classically oriented solo playing it is advisable to refrain from using such aids. If you have good nails, you certainly should consider becoming a nail player.

Nail care is due roughly once per week — and when I’m lazy, just every 2 weeks. At first, the nails are roughly cut into shape with nail scissors:

Of course the nails are not yet ready for playing after this procedure. The edges of the nails are still a bit rough:

Thus they have to get polished. For the first step of this task I like to use a glass file:

Glass files are very useful: They are small and extremely long-lasting. The result of using a good glass file is quite nice already. Sometimes I’m lazy and don’t do more than that, but whenever I want to get a really clean, beautiful tone, I continue polishing with a paper nail file. (Nowadays I tend to do that always, since it really helps quite a bit!) Paper nail files are inexpensive and should be available in every drugstore. Unfortunately they’re by far less long-lasting than glass files. Be sure to get a rather smooth one, since you’ve already done the rough work with the scissors and glass file.

After using all sides of the paper file in their intended order, the nail edges are much smoother and create a beautiful, clean and precise tone.