Nail Tips For Clawhammer Banjo

by David Bandrowski

One of the biggest problems clawhammer banjo players have is how to keep their nails in shape so that they can produce a warm, clear tone out of their banjo. Nails break and get worn down and without a proper nail, it is very hard to produce a good tone out of your banjo. Here are some tips and tricks to help get around this problem.

1. Grow Nails On 2 Fingers

Most clawhammer players choose one finger on their right hand, either the index or the middle finger, and stick with that finger to do all of their picking. They grow a longer nail for that one finger. I grow a longer nail on both the index and middle finger and have taught myself to be able to use either finger for clawhammer playing. This gives me a backup finger in case a nail breaks or gets worn down.

2. Nail Hardener Oil

You can apply a nail hardener oil to your nails to help keep them from breaking and wearing down. We will confess, we are not experts on nail hardener oil, but Hard As Hoof oil seems to be getting rave reviews! Might be worth a try!

3. Take Biotin

Biotin is sometimes known as Vitamin H and is one of the B complex vitamins that helps the body convert food into energy. Derived from the Greek word "biotos" which means "life", biotin is well known for keeping skin, eyes, nervous system and, you guessed it, nails healthy.

You can take biotin by mouth to help grow healthy, stronger nails. You can find this in the over the counter supplement section of any drug store. Or failing that, biotin is readily available in foods such as avocado, salmon, nuts, egg yolks, sweet potato and cauliflower. As with anything, please consult your doctor if you have any concerns. 

4. Put an Artificial Nail On

Go to the nail salon and get an artificial nail put on. This will sound great and last a good amount of time. And for the guys, if you’re embarrassed of going to a nail salon… get over it. Fun fact: Mark Johnson, creator of the Clawgrass style uses an artificial nail. He also wears cowboy boots and saves lives on a daily basis in his role as Director of Emergency Operations for Levy County, FL. Be like Mark. 

5. Use A Clawhammer Finger Pick

Some people just use a standard banjo fingerpick and put it on backwards so it goes on like a fingernail. There are also a number of good fingerpicks made especially for clawhammer style banjo players.

Check out this clawhammer pick made by ProPik 

Have you tried any of the above? Let me know what works for you in the comments below!


Kristin Scott Benson chooses the Deering Golden Series banjos
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