The Woodshed

Thumb pick or no thumb pick?

1

Hello, all.

Learning (and loving) Chet/Merle/Yandell style using the Gretsch. Already experienced at acoustic fingerstyle, but have never used a thumb pick. Essential? Optional?

What say you?

All opinions welcomed and appreciated ...

2

It depends on your goals, and what sound you are after. It is going to be very difficult for you to convince yourself that you really need the thumb pick since you are well versed in playing without it. I had the same problem in convincing myself to switch from a straight pick to a thumb pick, but now I am lost without it. To get the true Chet, Travis, Paul Yandell, Jerry Reed sound, it can only be done with a thumb pick.

There are a gazillion different kinds of thumb picks. Fred Kelly sells an assortment pak that helps a lot.

Good luck.

3

I saw a chap who super glues a plectrum to a thumb pick. Otherwise, I struggle with them.

Any other thumbpicks available that resemble a usual pick shape?

4

Fred Kelly makes what he calls a bumble bee pick, which is similar.

5

You could always develop a callous like Wes Montgomery. I can deal with a thumb pick, but never could tolerate finger picks. Still, I usually just use bare fingers.

6

I saw a chap who super glues a plectrum to a thumb pick. Otherwise, I struggle with them.

Any other thumbpicks available that resemble a usual pick shape?

– Vince_Ray

Herco make the Flat/Thumbpick which is much more like a conventional flat pick.

7

As Richard says, you NEED a thumbpick to get the tone/sound of Chet, Merle, et al, especially Merle. He used his thumbpick like a jackhammer and you it to create his style, a large part of which is 'collecting' the 3rd string after the pick hits the 4th string - when the melody note isn't on the 3rd string. This is all but impossible to attain with just your thumb.

My advice is also to try several styles to see what you're comfortable with. Chet & Merle used the 'standard' thumbpick (Dunlop) but Chet filed his shorter. This type of pick is very stiff, no flex at all. I personally need the pick to flex so I use a Fred Kelley Speed Pick. It comes in different colors which represent a different flexibility. They also have a Slick Pick which may suit you. Personally that bumble bee pick is a waste of time. for single note work I just add my index finger to the thumbpick. Throughout the CAAS Convention the year I attended, I didn't see one of those BB picks used; just a variety of thumbpicks or no pick at all.

A word on thumbpick tone. The non-flexing versions have a very dull, subdued tone and the most flexible, the yellow speed pick I use has a brighter, sort of a slap effect tone. I like this effect as it gives more life to the baseline but doesn't intrude on the melody. In addition it's flexibility makes collecting the 3rd string easier.

I suggest you get that variety pack to experiment with both the playability and tone you're after and let us know how you make out.

8

Herco make the Flat/Thumbpick which is much more like a conventional flat pick.

– noggsly

The trouble with these is the entire pick has the same flexibility as the picking portion! I tried the yellow one, to get the most flexibility but the wrap around part is so flexible it won't stay on your thumb!....dumb design! Regardless of which degree of flexibility you want, the wrap around part should fit snug.

9

Wabash raises an interesting point: finger picks. Generally speaking, these are very rarely used to get a Chet/Merle style. I use my nails but some, like Tommy E develop thick callouses. True, most using their nails use a style of picking that has the flesh hit the strings just before the nail does so it really isn't a nails only thing.

Finger picks are really just a banjo thing.

11

I really like how he explains that to begin, you use only the thumb to teach it to be independent, which is the key to fingerstyle playing. I also like the fact he stresses using a thumbpick and not just your thumb for best creating the Chet/Merle sound. He also touches on choosing the right pick for what you want the sound, not just the playability to be. Most folks on You Tube are truly pathetic in teaching fingerstyle, not dwelling on the basics as Tommy does. The only difference between his advice on how to begin and mine, is he uses a guitar and my dissertation doesn't, otherwise we have the same advice and philosophy.

12

Chet always said the same thing, as has Dave and I and others, although my say so doesn't carry the weight. Chet always said to practice the thumb alone, for 6 months or so, as he would half jokingly say. The thumb is the foundation for that style, and it stands to reason that one should always make sure the foundation is solid before building the house. Tommy is a wealth of information and a wonderful teacher. I especially like the way he really harps on timing. You notice he mentioned that his tuner also had a metronome so that he could practice with a metronome. If there ever was a guitarist with perfect timing, it is Tommy Emmanuel. Tommy is perhaps the most respected guitarist in that style alive today, and rightfully so.

Well, Daddy always said there was more than one way to skin a cat, and I am a firm believer in the fact that everyone has to find his or her own way, but the thumb pick is essential. That's not to say that one cannot play the thumb and finger style without a pick, but it will always be missing that little something. That snap. That grabbing you in the gut thing. The boys in KY call it thumb style for a good reason. Chet called it finger style, but the thumb was always the star of the show.

13

Jorma Kaukonen seems to be the only one I know who mastered thumb and metal finger picks on guitar.

Jerry Douglas mastered the Resonator/Dobro with both, too.

Essential for Banjo players, and Steel, not so much guitarists.

Nils seems to have developed his own thumb pick style. If you look for it, there is a YouTube or other documentary online where he discusses how it came about. I think he said he kept dropping the flat pick...

14

Leo Kottke also used thumbpick + metal fingerpicks on his classic early LPs. he switched to nails in the late 70s, and i never grokked how he got away with this on 12-string. he did start out on banjo, though.

this combo is pretty much standard for square-neck Dobro players.

Jorma also used his picks on electric; the whole Hot Tuna catalog testifies to this.

16

I use a pick and middle finger to pick, it's a bit limited but I can do a bit of Scott Moore, John Lee hooker, Magic Sam.. But in my own clumsy way

17

Thumb only 90% of the time, the rest I use thumb pick or flat pick with fingers. When I play Chet or Reed stuff I sound like me no matter what I do, so it really depends on whether I need the ca-chunk or not.

18

The trouble with these is the entire pick has the same flexibility as the picking portion! I tried the yellow one, to get the most flexibility but the wrap around part is so flexible it won't stay on your thumb!....dumb design! Regardless of which degree of flexibility you want, the wrap around part should fit snug.

– Windsordave

That's why i don't use them either! I just use the white or tortoiseshell-esque Dunlop thumbpicks, but that's for Lap Steel.

19

I began the fingerstyle journey at the beginning of 2017. I had avoided it, for the past 4 decades, because of the frustration. I didn't have the learning resources years ago, available today, to start it out properly, and it was a huge source of embarrassing frustration!

I started of by learning the song, Dust in the Wind by Kansas. I took a YouTube tutorial, and learned it slowly, one note at a time. Much to my amazement, with proper instruction, the frustration really only lasted 2 days. Somewhere towards the middle of the second day, I suddenly got it! This particular style does not use a thumb pick. The beauty of the YouTube lesson was that, it was a teacher that never left my house. I was able to run that lesson over and over again. I had spent 40 years, of bailing out just a bit too soon, mainly because I never had proper instruction. That little finger pattern, opened up hundreds of songs to me, by slowly altering the basic pattern, eventually into songs that used no repetitive patterns at all. But still.....Something was lacking.

Being a huge Tommy Emanuel fan, I watched his tutorial version of learning fingerstyle playing, and by golly it really works! I'm currently working on Mr Sandman, and although it's a bit above my pay grade right now, I push myself to move forward, by learning challenging songs.

I use a Dunlop thumb pick, filed down about 25% shorter. I use a medium thickness, with just a bit of flex. I also have several, that are heat adjusted, for days when my thumb is a slightly different size, a tip I got from Tommy Emanuel! I have brittle nails, that chip, just as soon as they are long enough to be guitar picks. I took special special vitamins for a while, but they still didn't get strong enough. I have finally settled on what naturally happened, and used to calluses on my fingertips as picks (another Tommy Emanuel thing).

20

I began the fingerstyle journey at the beginning of 2017. I had avoided it, for the past 4 decades, because of the frustration. I didn't have the learning resources years ago, available today, to start it out properly, and it was a huge source of embarrassing frustration!

I started of by learning the song, Dust in the Wind by Kansas. I took a YouTube tutorial, and learned it slowly, one note at a time. Much to my amazement, with proper instruction, the frustration really only lasted 2 days. Somewhere towards the middle of the second day, I suddenly got it! This particular style does not use a thumb pick. The beauty of the YouTube lesson was that, it was a teacher that never left my house. I was able to run that lesson over and over again. I had spent 40 years, of bailing out just a bit too soon, mainly because I never had proper instruction. That little finger pattern, opened up hundreds of songs to me, by slowly altering the basic pattern, eventually into songs that used no repetitive patterns at all. But still.....Something was lacking.

Being a huge Tommy Emanuel fan, I watched his tutorial version of learning fingerstyle playing, and by golly it really works! I'm currently working on Mr Sandman, and although it's a bit above my pay grade right now, I push myself to move forward, by learning challenging songs.

I use a Dunlop thumb pick, filed down about 25% shorter. I use a medium thickness, with just a bit of flex. I also have several, that are heat adjusted, for days when my thumb is a slightly different size, a tip I got from Tommy Emanuel! I have brittle nails, that chip, just as soon as they are long enough to be guitar picks. I took special special vitamins for a while, but they still didn't get strong enough. I have finally settled on what naturally happened, and used to calluses on my fingertips as picks (another Tommy Emanuel thing).

– Wade H

There's really only one supplement that will strengthen your nails (and hair). Now it'll take at least 2 months to show results as once you begin taking Florasil (by Flora) it'll take until the new nail now getting the supplement to grow long enough to use to pick with. Trust me, this stuff really works. Keeping your nails to around 1/8" max also helps them from breaking.

Filing down the heavy duty Dunlop/National is something I've also done. I've filed a few shorter as well as thinned them for nice flexibility.

Regarding Noggsly's comment above, it needs mentioning that the Fred Kelley Slick & Speed picks don't suffer the flexibility issue with the wrap around portion. That part is nice and stiff and grips the thumb snuggly as it should. I was introduced to the speed pick in the mid '90's at the CAAS Convention by the late, great picker Bob Saxton. He didn't own an acoustic and loved mine (Eko E85) and was always borrowing it to give workshops. I got to babysit and play his vintage Gibson Super 400! He liked the wider neck, low action and Flat Top strings.

Using just a thumb will certainly give you most of the Chet/Merle style but a thumbpick gets you all the way there. I like the brighter sound of the thinner/more flexible pick. The bassline is the second melody - same as in barbershop arrangements - and I like it to be more predominant than the more subdued sound the thicker pick gives.

21

Jazzhands11 - As you can tell from the discussion you may want to buy several types and experiment. Also expect that you'll be filing them to be shorter, and maybe thinner, depending on your preference. And that at some point you may file it down too much, so measure it as you go, and expect to have a second one ready.

Windsordave - I have several types, including some Fred Kelly Bumblebee thumbpicks, which I like because they are adjustable, in length and also horizontal angle. But I don't play live, and I can see how pulling one out of your pocket or guitar case can require fussing with it. However, because it's adjustable, Jazzhands11 may want to experiment with one to see what works.

That said, I tend to use the Slick Pick and Speed Pick more often. Including a heavy (white color) Slick Pick given to me by Bobby Gibson playing with the "CAAS Cats" at a Gretsch event at Rudy's in NYC several years ago. I told him I felt my thumbpicking was a bit sloppy, we went into a back room where he coached me for a little while.

Also, keep in mind that a heavy or light gauge thumbpick is also affected by how long or short you make it when filing it to size.

22

The only picks that need filing are the ones that are too stiff and/or too long such as the standard Dunlop or National. The different flexible speed and slick picks are already ready to go and I don't know why they'd need to be filed. If you need one stiffer, go up in thickness or if not flexible enough, go for a thinner one. As I mentioned earlier, the thinner/more flexible the pick the more percussive the tone. This should be considered when deciding on a pick as it'll be a factor in your tone when playing. BTW, if you take a heavy Dunlop pick and file it down a lot - make it thinner, it's tone will change. Just because it began life giving a more muted sound by being thick doesn't mean it'll stay that way when you make it thinner.

23

I'm with Richard on the Fred Kelly "bumblebee" line of thumb picks. They're very versatile. It took me a while to find the right thickness. They can move around on you, though.

My go-to are John Pearse thumb picks — low profile, solid, great tone, nicely designed.

Love the Tommy video, Deed — especially Jerry's "bluefinger" reference, how positively true that is!

24

Is Paul Pigat still around? Think he uses the thumb pick all the time so I'd love to hear more from him... what gauge, type, mods etc


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