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Asher Guitars WD Music Products Amplified Parts Mod Kits DIY Nordstarnd Pickups

Thumbpick vs. Flatpick

Discussion in 'Bad Dog Cafe' started by Butch Snyder, Feb 13, 2018.

  1. Butch Snyder

    Butch Snyder Tele-Afflicted

    Mar 17, 2003
    Trenton, OH
    I have been a flat-picker since I first started seriously playing guitar back in 1979, as a high school freshman. Influenced by all the Rock guys that most others were; at that time. 1982 saw significant changes in my influences. I was best friends with a drummer who wanted to be in a Country band. I was all Fusion and Prog; musician's music, some would say. Country? No way. Then a guitar "mentor" of mine, who happened to live next door to my drummer friend, called me. I went to his house and he introduced me to Albert Lee. My world was forver changed. I think the drummer went to him and whined wbout me not wanting to play Country. I was introduced to the world of Hybrid picking. For a flat-picker, it's, IMHO, not too awful difficult to learn. I started to embrace Country Music and its musicians and artists. I was raised with Hee Haw; so I already knew a lot of them.

    I started getting into Steve Wariner (still one of my dearest favorites), Jerry Reed, Chet, and others. In 1994, I heard a song that would, again, change me; Alan Jackson's "I Don't Even Know Your Name". Who in the world was that playing guitar?!?!?!? Brent Mason...

    I started researching all these great Country players and found they had something in common - thumbpick. I bought a Dunlop thumbpick and was stopped dead in my tracks. It felt like I was learning to play after an accident or something. I couldn't play play for anything. Left hand was fine. Right hand, where, IMO, a lot of these guys get there tone and technique from, was gone. I threw the thumbpick in a drawer and went back to the flat pick (hybrid) technique. It was safe. The thumbpick kept calling me and calling me.

    Fast forward to now. I can play proficiently with both. I won't say I'm an expert. That would be up to the listener. Here's my take. I'm definitely faster and somewhat smoother with a flat pick. I play smarter and more "blended" with a thumbpick. My lead/solo playing is good when I'm having a good day. I keep a thumbpick on my desk at work. When I go to GC during lunch, to mess around, I'll take that with me. I love the thumbpick and playing with it. I like the difference in my playing and what it becomes using the thumbpick.

    Why did I post this? It's been on my mind a lot lately. Wondering if anyone else has a story like this.
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2018
    rickthescot and Doug 54 like this.
  2. dustoff

    dustoff Tele-Holic Silver Supporter

    May 23, 2005
    Glenview Illinois
    I'm just the opposite. I learned using my fingers with out picks. Then I was taught with a thumb pick and banjo picks for my fingers. It was quite a while before I was introduced to a flat pick. I will admit that I still have a long way to go with the flat pick though.
  3. Butch Snyder

    Butch Snyder Tele-Afflicted

    Mar 17, 2003
    Trenton, OH
    Interesting to read an opposite perspective. Thanks.
  4. JL_LI

    JL_LI Tele-Afflicted

    May 20, 2017
    Long Island, NY
    Rock to country is an interesting journey. Those of us who go there all take different paths along the way. For me, the flat pick was limiting. I wanted to learn finger style. I picked a song, Kenny Chesney's "You and Tequila" and learned to play stops, chords, and find the strings for a good solo. It took months but I was off to the races. I learned to keep a bass line going while I played chords and solos. I learned to build arpeggios into my playing. I sometimes play solos thumb only and have learned to thumb strum. I'm so much better at this than I ever was playing rock with a flat pick. I still play some country tunes with a flat pick because the brighter timbre is called for. I've build up a pretty good arsenal of techniques. Unfortunately, I've never been able to master hybrid picking. I just can't train my right hand to work separately in two halves like that. Maybe it's time to add another guitar resolution for '18.
  5. Ira7

    Ira7 Doctor of Teleocity

    Jan 8, 2008
    Coral Springs, FL
    Haven't used a thumbpick since 1974.

    Doesn't do anything for me.
  6. bgmacaw

    bgmacaw Tele-Afflicted

    Feb 11, 2006
    Near Athens GA USA
    After my initial beginner steps (Mel Bay, cowboy chords, etc) I took classical guitar lessons at the insistence of my parents so I learned fingerstyle playing that way. It also drained almost all the enjoyment out of playing guitar. When I picked up playing again and took lessons from a R&B and jazz guitarist, I used a pick. Then, a few years later, I tried out a thumbpick again after going to see Johnny Winter in concert. I found that I liked it and, over the years, I've gotten to the point where I almost entirely used a thumbpick or just bare finger. I recently added a fingerpick on my index finger to get more attack when playing resonator and to do a "Carter scratch" better.
  7. JustABluesGuy

    JustABluesGuy Friend of Leo's

    Sep 2, 2016
    Houston, TX
    I’ve tried using a thumb pick a few times with little success. They tend to roll on my thumb making them very hard for me to control.

    I do ok with a flat pick, hybrid, and straight finger style, but the thumb pick frustrates me!
    Obsessed likes this.
  8. Rockerfeller

    Rockerfeller Tele-Meister

    Feb 14, 2014
    Denver, co
    I do both! I started out as a rock player and now play rock and country. On my amp at any gig sits a couple of Fred Kelly Slick picks a BumbleBee pick and some flat picks. I switch them out throughout the night and one is just as easy to use as the other. But it took some serious wood shedding to get to that point.

    My take on this is that using a thumb pick takes some getting use to. If you keep at it, it becomes natural. I suggest that anyone who wants to get into it, try one of Fred Kelly's BumbleBee picks. It is a very easy transition. Not cheap, but easy.
    Harry Styron likes this.
  9. 4 Cat Slim

    4 Cat Slim Friend of Leo's

    Oct 17, 2012
    Nelson City TX
    Thanks for the tip on Fred Kelly's picks.
    I keep an open mind, because both picks have their advantages.
    I enjoy trying to learn the music of Chet Atkins, Mississippi John Hurt and
    Mance Lipscomb, and a thumb pick helps with that.
    I don't see the point of avoiding thumb picks in favor of flat picks, or vice versa.
  10. RetroTeleRod

    RetroTeleRod Poster Extraordinaire

    Oct 24, 2012
    Oklahoma, USA
    My biggest issue with thumb picks was that I could never find one that sounded as good as the Dunlop nylon picks I like. The thumb picks were either too thick or made for a "clicky" tone. This thread had me wondering once more about thumb picks and after a quick search I saw this gizmo that lets you use your own favorite flatpick. Interesting.
    JustABluesGuy and Rockerfeller like this.
  11. Garruchal

    Garruchal Tele-Meister

    Nov 29, 2013
    I started on nylon strings, then used a pick for the first time with a dreadnaught. When I got my first electric, I tried to use it like a classical guitar, with long fingernails and all. After a summer of practicing with a flat pick, I found these:
    They feel just like a flat pick, and can instantly transition into use for hybrid picking.
    I still practice with a flat pick, mostly, but use these picks any time I perform. For techniques which are more aggressive, I sometimes tape them onto my thumb so they don't roll around (I have a bony thumb).
    To be able to go instantly from a flat-picked solo to hybrid-picked jazz comping is something I'd never want to go without.
  12. Butch Snyder

    Butch Snyder Tele-Afflicted

    Mar 17, 2003
    Trenton, OH
    I use these....


    They work for me and are comfortable.
    HannibalTheCrow likes this.
  13. Rockerfeller

    Rockerfeller Tele-Meister

    Feb 14, 2014
    Denver, co

    Hey Retro, there are a few new thumb style pics that incorporate the flat pick shape. What I like most about the BumbleBee is that the pick is adjustable two ways: you can adjust the depth and you can adjust the angle. This helps a lot when you just want to play rhythm and comp chords. I can make the BumbleBee sit in my hand EXACTLY like a flat pick does. Also, it has some give to it, so you have more control over your dynamics than a typical thumb pick gives you. I buy mine on Reverb for about $10 for 3. Pricey, but they do last a while.
    RetroTeleRod likes this.
  14. Doug 54

    Doug 54 Poster Extraordinaire

    Dec 12, 2004
    Hey Butch,

    Went to thumbpick in 1999 or so.

  15. Toto'sDad

    Toto'sDad Telefied Ad Free Member

    Jun 21, 2011
    Interesting thread. I started on flat pick, then started trying to play with a thumbpick on acoustic. Didn't work out very well, since I managed to get my right hand shut up in a car door as a teenager. The result was, though I had no permanent damage to my fingers, the nail on my middle finger when it grows out any at all, curves down and around the tip of my finger. So I began experimenting with plastic, and metal finger picks. When I finally discovered brass finger picks I found what I was looking for, I only used two, one on my pointer and middle finger.

    The thumbpick is the thing for me, I have to find an extra large one, then soak it in hot water and open it up a little further. Getting a proper fit on the thumbpick IMO is essential to getting to where it really works. I can't play a lick on a Tele with the thumpick and finger picks though. An interesting thing about playing with a thumbpick on my Martin acoustic I can manage to play it amped okay. I think it's the string spacing thing that makes the Tele not work for me with fingerpicks. I have way more "drive" in my playing with a thumbpick, than I do with a flat pick.

    I played 5 string banjo along the way for a while, but needed steel picks on my fingers for that. I was lucky about the banjo since you only use two finger picks on them, so I was good to go almost from the start. Singing and playing acoustic guitar the thumb and fp seems almost perfect. The Tele, not so much.
  16. 4 Cat Slim

    4 Cat Slim Friend of Leo's

    Oct 17, 2012
    Nelson City TX
    It's probably a good idea to get at least a little proficiency with a thumb pick (and finger picks), so that
    you might be able to play banjo or dobro if the opportunity to play either instrument interests you.
  17. murdude

    murdude Tele-Meister

    Jun 16, 2017
    Brantford, Ontario
    I am also a Fred Kelly Slick Pick fan. I had always used a flat but people like Tommy Emmanuel and Brent Mason, made me want to try thumb picks. Kind of tough at first, but the discovery of the Fred Kelly design made it easier. Hardly ever flat pick anymore.
  18. Jack S

    Jack S Friend of Leo's Gold Supporter

    Sep 25, 2008
    Berwyn, IL
    From the beginning I used flatpicks, finger picks including the thumbpick and my bare fingers. I wanted to be able to do all of it. I mostly used flatpicks on electric when I first started playing the electric guitar in 1972, and try as I might I never could find a thumbpick I could use that would stay tight enough on my thumb to not rotate and not cut off circulation to my thumb tip. Some years ago, I simply gave up picks altogether and went to fingers. I do keep picks and might pull one out on a rare occasion, but most of the time I stick to fingers.
    Harry Styron likes this.
  19. deytookerjaabs

    deytookerjaabs Friend of Leo's

    Jun 5, 2015
    I do both, love it, the thumb/fingers sort of lends itself to a lot of different tricks that can spice things up.
  20. slauson slim

    slauson slim Friend of Leo's

    Mar 16, 2003
    By The Levee
    Started on acoustic on flat picks...heard Fahey and played National thumb and steel finger picks, got an electric and back to flat picks. A few years ago - can’t remember when - began to hybrid pick with a flat pick and then using thumb pick and fingers. My style - such as it is - for both thumb pick and hybrid is not much strumming but playing two or three strings in a rhythm/lead style to comp behind vocalists in a band. I like the Cropper, Mayfield, Dupree, Jimmy Johnson, R. Young et al. hammer on and sliding style. And Amos Garrett.
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