Broken Nails, a guitar player's dread

A five minute fix without surgery utilizing common household items...



Lotsa Good Stuff!

Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx




We guitarists have always been plagued by the eventuality of breaking a finger nail just prior to (or even during) a recital. During the past few years, as you undoubtedly know, srtificie1 replacement nails have appeared on the market. These nails have been a god—send, but they do have certain drawbacks. One drawback is the relatively high price we pay monetarily for the insurance of an artificial nail kit. I have one other problem with pre—formed artificial nails, a problem that many others share, end that’s that the thumb nail replacement is a fraction of an inch too email. I’ve devised ways of getting around this at times of crisis, when an immediate fix is required, but “life on the edge” is not exactly my cup of tea. I knew there had to be a better way to fix a broken nail, if I could only figure it out.

One day, as I was leaving my apartment, I took a large chunk out of the business—edge of my thumb nail by an inadvertent combined action of door—knob, door—frame, and key chain. Well, I sat on my steps, cursed my misery and pondered the meaning of life. I even contemplated sawing off the rest of my nails and taking up the kazoo. I then steeled myself to my fate, deciding to dedicate the mangled thumb to researching a more viable alternative to undersized scraps of plastic and crazy glue. My tear—filled eyes came to rest on a neighbor’s Corvette. Always a source of anguish in me for my not having gone into a more profitable line of work, it was now transformed into an object of joyous revelation —an answer to my silent prayers. There it was — a fiberglass sports car. I knew that the same principles that keep the Corvette from flying apart at 100 plus miles—per—hour would withstand six nylon strings.

I did a bit of research and found that, at least in automotive applications, the fiberglass is made solid by being thoroughly saturated with epoxy resin. I tried overlaying strips of gauze soaked in epoxy over my nail. This failed, for as soon as I filed the nail, gauze fibers were exposed along the edge of the nail, making the nail sound a bit nasty in use. I then rationalized (by necessity) that plain epoxy would do the job. Now I had the prob1erm of keeping the liquid epoxy on the nail while it solidified (approximately 5 minutes). After much trial and almost as much error, I came up with the following procedure.

1) Prepare a mold from a piece of plastic snipped from clear display packaging. (Bic disposable lighters come packaged on cardboard with a. form—fit plastic panel glued over. This plastic panel is perfect since it already has the proper curvature to fit under the nail.) See the diagram for euggeetec3 shape of mold.

2.)Apply a thin coat of paste wax to the top of the mold to prevent the epoxy from adhering to it. I recommend Butcher’s Wax as this is the brand I use end find effective. Any wax high in Carnauba should work.

3.)Since epoxy works by filling irregularities in a surface rather than penetrating it, I use a piece of 600 grit sandpaper to scuff the surface of the finger nail. It may or may not help, but I do this at this point.

4.)Mix the epoxy on a email piece of cardboard with a toothpick. Equal parts of epoxy and hardener should be used, as indicated in the manufacturer’s instructions. I would use only DEVCON 5 MINUTE EPOXY. This product works consistently well.

5.)Place the mold under the remaining portion of the fingernail, pp indicated in the diagram. If the mold is a good, snug fit, it should remain in piece without your having to hold it.

6.)Spread the mixed epoxy over the entire surface of the nail, from the cuticle out on to the mold, and from side to side. Make sure the epoxy fills up all the areas where the nail is missing.

7.)Wait the entire five minutes before you attempt to remove the mold. I don’t suggest any filing or shaping of the finished nail until an hour has elapsed since the epoxy was applied.

8.)File the epoxy nail as you would the natural nail.

This method of reconstructing the nail is obviously a more time consuming process than attaching a pre—formed nail. It is, though, a stronger, more natural-feeling nail. One never need worry about removing it as it will grow out with the natural nail.

Obviously, one should keep a commercial replacement nail kit in one’s guitar case in case of breakage just prior to performance. If one has the time and would like a more permanent and durable (and cheaper) solution, I would recommend trying this method.


See accompanying diagram of damaged nail and plastic mold.

Harry Pellegrin

Soundboard Magazine Winter 1984