One of the drawbacks I’ve encountered in my general move toward more hands-on elicitation of primal rawness in my playing is that … well, I was busting nails.
If you’re bored enough to read or care even a modicum about what I say here on a semi-regular basis, you may recall that I’ve evangelized about celebrating your uniqueness [“Fly Your Freak Flag High,” September 2011], shaking off the chains of preciosity [“Banishing Gollum (or Discovering Your Inner Punk),” August 2011] and simplifying your rig to get more sounds with your hands [“To Stomp, or Not to Stomp,” November 2011]. In retrospect, I guess all those diatribes have highlighted various facets of a general curmudgeonliness that’s coming over me as I get older. Naturally, I think it’s a healthy crustiness, but you may have a more unbiased viewpoint. Anyway, one of the drawbacks I’ve encountered in my general move toward more hands-on elicitation of primal rawness in my playing is that … well, I was busting nails.
Yeah, you read right. Nails. The problem began three or four years ago, when I switched string gauges to get a tougher, tauter sound and tamp down on the string warble I got when I dug in for heavy riffs. Moving up to .011s fixed the problem, but soon a couple of other evolutions in my approach changed everything again. First, thinking about the range of sounds that Jeff Beck and Brian Setzer—two of my favorite players—get with hardly any gear inspired me to decrease my stomp-able distractions and try to wring more sounds from my bare hands.
Soon after that, I acquired an amp whose unadulterated tones were so bloody titillating that I felt less need to augment them—an amp that enabled me to dial in a single sound and either play light as a feather for glorious clean tones, or attack ferociously for nasty, in-your-face sounds. More recently, I’ve taken to flipping around my heavy, textured-grip nylon picks to get even more bristling tones out of my axes—which sometimes unconsciously spurs me to ram my picking hand into the strings even harder. I know, I know … my inner punk is out of control.
Integral to all this is the fact that I do a lot of hybrid picking—another nod to Setzer and Beck, and probably the biggest single takeaway from all those teenage years of listening to Eddie Van Halen and Eric Johnson. But there’s been a pretty significant drawback for the keratin plates at the end of my picking hand’s index, middle, and ring fingers: They’ve not increased their gauges one iota to keep up! And the result isn’t pretty. More importantly, it does not feel good. If you’ve ever had a nail detach, you know what I mean. It doesn’t even have to come off that much for your finger to scream every time you touch a string.
I’ve known for years, of course, that hardcore fingerstyle guitarists have pretty drastic fingernail-care regimens—routines that require multiple specialty products, a lot of annoying filing and buffing, and, worst of all, clunky, ugly-ass artificial nails. But I spend most of my guitar time playing electric, so I never really thought much about that until my recent predicament (besides, I always liked the sound of a little flesh rather than full-on nails on my acoustic).
When this whole fingernail-detachment thing reared its head a few months back, I had to decide whether to curtail my attack and sacrifice the sounds I’m totally digging, or figure something else out. Given PG’s slogan—“The relentless pursuit of tone”—I think you can guess which I chose. But as I thought of how to avoid pain and still get my sound, I had to come to terms with the fact that I’m either too vain or too lazy to put that kind of time and money into something I know will bug the living hell out of me every second I’m not playing. Yeah, I like it au naturel, baby.
So I showed my wife my owies, told her about freako fingerstylists’ nails, and asked for help figuring out a solution that wouldn’t feel weird, take forever, and cost too much. Turns out, we already had everything I needed. My loverwoman just had to sit me down and teach me how to do my nails.
I don’t claim this is the ultimate solution, but it’s working for me. Here’s what the missus taught me. After making sure my nails were trimmed neatly, she used a buffing block to polish the surfaces. But, like I said, I’m lazy—plus, I’m not worried about how smooth and perfect my nails look, given that they’re going to get scraped to hell anyway— so now I skip the buffing and go straight to applying a pH balancing agent that helps the protective final coat adhere longer and not chip as easily.
Although not indestructible, my nail treatment lasts through a whole week and a long band jam, puts my sound literally at my fingertips, and isn’t annoyingly distracting. Here, my nails had gotten a tad too long and ripped near the end of a long band rehearsal, but half of what you see is two layers of topcoat—imagine the damage if they’d been unprotected!
That stuff dries faster than water, so step two—applying a coat of nail-polish adhesive—comes fast, and it serves the same purpose as step one. Let the adhesive dry for a couple minutes, and then the final step is to apply the first of two layers of heavy-duty topcoat. Let that dry a couple more minutes, then do one more coat, and you’re done. I now do this after every band rehearsal, and it usually lasts all the way through the week until my next two- or three-hour jam.
Happy manicuring, tone freaks!
Looking for more great gear for the guitar player in your life (yourself included!)? Check out this year's Holiday Gear Finds!
D'Addario XPND Pedalboard
DR-05X Stereo Handheld Recorder
Wampler Pedals Ratsbane
Created in collaboration with legendary guitarist George Lynch of Dokken and Lynch Mob fame, the Mr.Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage and an onboard Deep control, which together are designed to enable an amp to have increased sustain while still retaining note definition and dynamics.
LegendaryTones, LLC today announced production availability of its new Mr. Scary Mod, a 100% pure tube module designed to instantly and easily expand the capabilities of many classic amplifiers with additional gain and tone shaping. Created in collaboration with legendary guitarist George Lynch of Dokken and Lynch Mob fame, the Mr.Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage and an onboard Deep control, which together are designed to enable an amp to have increased sustain while still retaining note definition and dynamics.
Originally released as the Lynch Mod in February 2021, the updated Mr. Scary Mod features the same core circuit as the Lynch Mod but is now equipped with a revised tube mix combo per George’s preference as well as a facelift in a newly redesigned electro-galvanized steel enclosure. As with the Lynch Mod, each run will be limited and the first run in Pumpkin Orange with Black hardware is limited to just 150 pieces worldwide.
The Mr. Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage on top of the cathode follower position, keeping note definition and articulation while further increasing sustain. Each Mr. Scary mod is meticulously built by hand in the USA, one at a time, and tuned using high-grade components. Equipped with a single ECC81 (12AT7) in the first position and ECC83 (12AX7) in the second, the Mr. Scary Mod can clean up beautifully when rolling down your guitar’s volume, and still adds scorching gain when you roll it back up. This is a gain stage that’s been tuned and approved by the ears of the maestro George Lynch himself.
“The Mr. Scary Mod excels with dynamics and is incredibly touch-responsive, allowing me to shift from playing clear, lightly compressed cleans to full-out aggressive sustain and distortion –and control it all simply by varying my guitar’s volume control and picking,” said GeorgeLynch. “In many ways, it’s an old-school approach, but it’s also so much more natural and expressive in addition to being musically fulfilling when you can play both the guitar and amp dynamically together this way.”
The Mr. Scary Mod installs in minutes, is safe and effective to use, and requires no special tools or re-biasing of the amplifier. Simply insert the module into the cathode follower preamp position of compatible amplifiers (includes Marshall 2203/2204/1959/1987 circuits) and
immediately get the benefit of enjoying a hot-rodded amp that delivers all the pure harmonic character that comes with an added pure tube gain stage. The handmade in the USA Mr. Scary Mod is now available to order for $319.
For more information, please visit legendarytones.com.
October Audio has miniaturized their NVMBR Gain pedal to create two mini versions of this beautifully organic-sounding circuit – including an always-on gain device.
The NVMBR Gain is a nonlinear amp that transitions gracefully from clean boost to overdriven tones. Volume increases from just over unity to about 10db before soft-clipping drive appears for another 5db of boost. Its extraordinary ease of use is matched by outstanding versatility: you can use it as a clean boost, push a stubborn amp into overdrive or create a just-breaking-up sound at any amp volume.
October Audio’s new family of mini NVMBR Gain pedals includes a switchable version that allows you to bypass the effect: one option features brand logo pedal graphics, while the other sports a fun “Witch Finger” graphic with a Davies knob as the“fingernail”.
The second version in the new lineup is an always-on device featuring the Witch Finger graphic and Davies knob, with the same NVMBR Gain circuit that lies at the core of the switchable version.
- Knob controls gain and clipping simultaneously
- Stunning silver hammertone finish
- Switchable versions are true-bypass, available with classic or witch finger graphics
- Authentic Davies knobs, including the “fingernail”
- 9V center negative power supply required
- Dimensions: 3.63 x 1.50 x 1.88 in
Witch Finger (always on NVMBR Gain) demo
All October Audio pedals are assembled in Richmond, VA, and available for purchase directly through the online shop. Street price is $109 for NVMBR Gain footswitch versions and $89 for the always-on device.
For more information, please visit octoberaudio.com.