Nothing compares to watching Dolly Parton perform on stage, regardless of whether you’re right up front, in the nosebleed section, or even just playing a video on your TV screen. But after enjoying the show, you might find yourself curious about a few things — like how the heck she’s able to play guitar with those long nails of hers.
At least, that’s something I’ve always wondered. I’m no music pro, but I have asked a few musician friends over the years if they knew how she was able to hit all the right chords despite the extra inches on her fingertips. They usually shrugged it off as another one of Parton’s seemingly magical talents. I did the same until the country queen finally cleared things up herself in a recent interview across the pond.
Well, the talk show aired in the UK, but Parton video conferenced in from her home in Tennessee for an episode of The Graham Norton Show. It was another guest, actor Rupert Everett, who took the opportunity to ask, “How do you manage to play the guitar so well with those nails?” She, of course, immediately responded with her typical humor saying simply, “Well, pretty good.”
Parton then admitted that she goes without the extended manicure when she’s not on stage. “When I’m serious about my song writing, I take these off and file ‘em down, y’know, and really write good,” she explained. “But I’ve learned to work them — these [right hand] work great as picks, there’s no problem with this hand — but these [left hand] are the ones I have a problem with. But I’ve learned to do open tuning, mostly, when I’m writing and stuff. But if I’m really serious about it, I just have to saw ‘em down.”
My musician friends enlightened me more this time, explaining that open tuning basically means she can use one finger across all the strings in different sections of the frets to create the sound she needs. Although it never occurred to them when I asked about it before, it’s apparently a popular technique in blues and folk music.
But really, can you imagine ever seeing Parton without her vibrant acrylics? It would almost be as strange as seeing her without a wig! The long nails are such a part of her, in fact, that they get their own credit in one of her most famous tunes, “9 to 5.”
Take a look at the video to hear her discuss how she used her nails to write the song:
How amazing is it that she made that iconic typewriter sound with her manicure? Clearly, there’s no end to Parton’s ability to creativity and musical talent!