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Use of 'thumb pick' in finger picking

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Active Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 6
Topic starter  

Hi all!

Ok..... im venturing into a bit of finger picking guitar. Now Ive always been a bit of a finger picker, but im working on new techniques etc and having great fun with them.

But..... During my study im watching lots of finger pick masters etc, and they all seem to use a 'thumb pick' - which I do not, perefering to just play with 'natural' thumb and fingers.

Now, Ive brought a thumb pick and played about with it, and first off - I cant play anything with it!

My thumb trips over the strings, then my fingers mess up etc etc

So first thought is too bin the pick and go back to usual. But if I play very slowly, I have noticed that the 'thumb pick' base notes ring out far clearer and louder than when I dont use the pick - with the effect that the 'pick' notes resonate throughout the melody in a more crisp and sustained fashion.

Given this - and the fact that I seem to see so many others using them - should I carry on trying to master the thumb pick approach?

Thanks for any feedback, and all the best.

Steve Saunders

Reputable Member
Joined: 21 years ago
Posts: 343

Hello Steve,

Yes you should carry on if it is something you would like to learn, the more techniques you know the better. I am a fingerpicker as well, however I do use a plectrum and I use a thumb pick. I started fingerpicking for classical and some flamenco (don't have a classical guitar) but for both styles a thumb pick can be harsh in sound and you aren't suppose to use one for them anyway, so I never used a thumb pick. When I learned some Robert Johnson (who I am pretty sure used a thumb pick) songs, the bass line just wasn't nearly as crisp as his were. You know in acoustic blues you need that crisp bass line so I bought a thumb pick. First thing I noticed was that I couldn't play with it either, got stuck on the strings, missed strings, it was terrible. I thought I was going to have to learn a new way of picking. Turns out, it was all in my head. I was concentrating too hard on trying to use the thumb pick. Relax. When I didn't think about it I played it took five minutes to make the adjustment. I can jump back and forth to finger picking with it or with out it with no problem. One thing to keep in my mind, make sure the thumb pick on your finger so that the plectrum part is perpindicular to the strings, this was also screwing me up. Play a song you know well to get the feel of your thumb being farther away from the strings. If the song is something you can sing to, concentrate on the singing and don't worry about your picking hand. You'll see, it'll fall in naturally and if it doesn't just come back here and we'll try to help again.

Hope this helps!

It's not easy being green.... good thing I'm purple.

Eminent Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 21

The last tip was a good one, it all depends on the type of sound you are looking for. I personally do not use a thumb pick, but i do take gelatin capsules and carefully groom my nails. I found that I didnt like the bass ring I got from a pick, the nail even with a tiny piece of meat sounds more natural to me. I also started out plucking the 3 high strings with 3 fingers but found my ring finger got in the way. After watching a Townes Van Zandt DVD I began using only my index and middle finger.

Besides, If your playing gigs or in a studio, a good sound guy can EQ your lows, mids, and highs for an even tone. The sound I get is the sound I want. If I wanted to sound like everyone else I'd trade my acoustic in for an electic.

Hope I could help,

Illustrious Member
Joined: 21 years ago
Posts: 7833

One kind of thumbpick I especially like is the Fred Kelly Speed Pick. It has a skinny, very flexible tab that allows for bidirectional picking or strumming, and it's handy to pinch it between the forefinger and thumb to use as a flatpick when desired.

"A cheerful heart is good medicine."

Famed Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 3221

I've found the Propiks to be very comfortable and the delrin tip is relatively short, letting you get your thumb closer to the strings. Some folks might prefer that.

However, after using plain old standard Dunlop thumbpicks for a while, I now find the tip of the Propiks too short. Unfortunately, the Dunlops are less comfortable for me; the mediums are too tight, the large ones somewhat loose.

I'd like a thumbpick with the blade length of the Dunlops and the comfort of the Propiks... :(

Here's a great overview of thumbpicks with a video as well:

Hey Rico, does the edge of the Kelly Speed Pick scrape on the strings at all? Does it require you to hold your hand any differently?

"Everybody got to elevate from the norm."

Illustrious Member
Joined: 21 years ago
Posts: 7833

Hey Rico, does the edge of the Kelly Speed Pick scrape on the strings at all? Does it require you to hold your hand any differently?Nope. Nope.

"A cheerful heart is good medicine."

Estimable Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 84

I went through this same dilemma a while ago. It took me about a week to get used to the thumbpick, but after that it was definitely worth it.

It helps a ton, especially if you're just starting out fingerstyle. Plus whenever you play, your friends always wonder what the hell that device on your thumb is.

One drawback for me is now I can't go back to using just my thumb, I forgot how. Ah well, such is life. :cry:

Stick with it and you'll be glad.

Well, I've had some requests, but I'm going to play anyway.