Finger-Picking: Nails? Flesh? Both? | The Canadian Guitar Forum

Finger-Picking: Nails? Flesh? Both?

Discussion in 'Theory and Technique' started by david henman, Jun 2, 2009.


How Do You Fingerpick?

  1. Flesh/Fingertips

    57 vote(s)
  2. Fingernails

    13 vote(s)
  3. Both

    42 vote(s)
  4. Finger Picks

    4 vote(s)
Multiple votes are allowed.
  1. david henman

    david henman

    Feb 3, 2006
    bolton, ontario
    ...recently i began playing without a pick, and discovered a whole new world of tone and dynamics.

    one of the first things i found was that it seemed, to me at least, that i got more satisfaction out of using the flesh of my fingertips, rather than my fingernails.

    which leads to some interesting questions, not the least of which is: is this how jeff beck and mark knopfler do it?

    anyway, i thought i'd post a poll, to find out how you guys play.

    Sketchy Jeff likes this.
  2. Both, but my right hand nails are rarely long enough to do fingernail dig ins justice.
  3. dwagar


    Mar 6, 2006
    Fingerpicking can give you an amazing array of tones, from the snap of the nails to the smoothness of the pads on your fingertips. Or strumming with the top of your nails.

    It may just be an illusion, but I always felt a bit of a closer connection to the guitar fingerpicking than I did with a pick.

    I rarely fingerpick anymore, I remember practicing like crazy back in the old days to give me the option if I broke a pick, lol.
  4. Starbuck


    Jun 15, 2007
    North of the GTA
    I fingerpick ALOT. Use the pads of my fingers due to really thin nails that break therefore are short. Mostly I fingerpick as I play alone and that's quieter and where my interests lie I like tapping the top as well. Flatpicking is hard for me as I've never really used one and now it feels akward. Have any of you tried finger picks? How the heck do you get used to those things?
  5. droptop88

    droptop88 Gold Member

    Aug 25, 2006
    Great poll question!

    I used a pick only for years, until I became more involved with the instrument. At some point, I realized that most of the really good players I wanted to emulate used all the fingers on their right hand, or a combination of pick and fingers (hybrid picking). Trouble is, it frickin hurts when you first start out down this road on a steel stringed instrument. First, I tried nail hardener on my nails. Didn't stay on very long, always chipping off the edges where I needed it most. Then I tried thumb and finger picks. However, I'd used a pick for so long, I couldn't get comfortable with these - clumsy feeling and awkward. Then I tried glueing fake fingernails to my middle and ring finger nails, to start. Brent Mason does this to great effect, although he uses all four fingers and a thumbpick. I've spoken to Jack Semple on numerous occasions - he does the same thing. I found it to be a big hassle and as your nail grows underneath, it can ache and pull - at least that was my experience. Finally, I just went with bare fingers. Now, I let the nail grow out just a bit - just enough to skiff the sting as I strike it - most of it is flesh though. There's no noticeable volume differential anymore between pick and fingers nowadays - wish I'd started hybrid picking earlier on. I encourage all my students, if they prefer a pick, to not forget the other three fingers!
    Dorian2 likes this.
  6. Mooh

    Mooh Gold Member

    Mar 7, 2007
    Southwestern Ontario
    Been fingerpicking as long as flatpicking. I use a thumbpick (Fred Kelly these days) and nails, though flesh kicks in if I've got bass gigs, or a broken nail. A little nail hardener helps once in a while, but mostly I let nature take its course with my nails.

    I got started with classical pima, and never changed except for the thumbpick. Even play banjo that way.

    Peace, Mooh.
  7. david henman

    david henman

    Feb 3, 2006
    bolton, ontario question i wanted to ask is regarding callouses.

    i would think this would be inherent, although i am barely starting to develop some on the tips of the first finger and thumb.

    do the callouses get too big or intrusive, or affect the tone negatively, or is this a non-issue?

  8. Kenmac


    Jan 24, 2007
    Scarborough, Ontario
    From the time I started playing guitar (late 70's) I used a pick but I started fingerpicking back in 1993 and haven't used a pick since. I agree with what Dwagar said about feeling a closer connection to your guitar when you're fingerpicking. I started off learning how to fingerpick from a book and at first it felt very foreign but as always, it's something you get used to.
  9. Luke98


    Mar 4, 2007
    Rexton, New Brunswick
    I use the pads of my fingers, I find the nails can be kind of uncomfortable to use, and the tone too sharp. I like a mellow tone.

    To me it's a non issue really, they don't seem to matter and I barely feel them compared to my fretting hand and picking hand thumb.
  10. fraser


    Feb 23, 2007
    i pick mostly with bare fingers- thumb and index finger, as my middle finger is damaged. i never thought of them as calloused, but the fingerprints are completely worn off in some places, so they must be hardened, but its not something i notice. i have to figure that a callous could only be advantageous. when i first started doing it my thumb would get awful sore lol. definately not intrusive, or at all obvious- mine are completely unnoticeable excepting for the prints worn off-
    as for nails, i use the flat front surface of my index finger nail, using it to strike strings, almost like a hammer- kinda flicking it out to hit strings- the ends of the nails i dont use. because im limited to a thumb and one finger, ill throw these strikes in adjacent to notes picked with the rear of the fingertip- hard to explain, but basically i use both the front and back of the finger almost simultaneously- it adds up to a pretty "busy" sound for only 1 finger and my thumb.

    i only recently started getting comfortable with them myself- i sometimes wear a thumb pick and a fingerpick on my index. for me the secret was finding a way to wear them that works for me. lot of experimentation. i use metal ones so that i can bend them to a perfect fit. plastick ones can be heated in a cup of water in the microwave, and then bent to fit- or just throw them in boiling water.
    i found eventually that if i wear the fingerpick high up on the finger, so that the pick portion extends just barely past the fingertip(on the fleshy side, not the nail side), and cocked slightly off the center of the finger, its best for me.
    its taken years to get to this point lol, but since my fingerpicking is hampered by injury, and i too play alone mostly, every little bit helps:smile:
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2009
  11. zontar


    Oct 25, 2007
    Somewhere around here
    I started with my thumb, and then went with classical lessons--so fingers & thumb are kind of natural to me, but over the years I've used a pick more.
    Sometimes I used hybrid (pick & fingers.) But I can't get used to thumb & finger picks--I even own a thumb pick, but it's awkward for me.

    Over the last year or so I've been playing with my fingers & thumb more again.

    And the classical lessons way back when paid off-(As did the practicing.)

    So now I play with pick, thumb & fingers, or both depending on the song.

    If I'm strumming full chords-probably a pick.
    Single notes-could be any of the combinations--depending what else I'm doing.
    Playing slide-probably thumb & fingers.
    I'll try songs a variety of ways to see what I think works best.

    When I started I got huge blisters on the thumb--but that went away after about 3 months. Since then-very little problem with callouses.
    Dorian2 likes this.
  12. larvaboy


    Apr 11, 2009
    Edmonton, Alberta
    Started with fingers on acoustics.

    Moved on to flat picks on electrics (Frank Gambale style sweep picking for playing arpeggios).

    Then moved on to Brett Garsed style, which adds pinky.

    Now digging Tommy Emmanuel: flat pick with fingers and thumb pick with fingers...
  13. Key_of_Off


    Mar 23, 2009
    Toronto, Ontario
    I never use a pick on acoustic and certainly never on classical. I change it up a bit on the electric depending on the song.

    I mostly use the flesh of my fingers, but use the top of the nail if I want to strike the strings harder for a big sound. I like the variance in the sound of a chord I can get by using my fingernail or my thumb for a big strum, it's the difference between a punchy treble-y sound and a warm booming bass sort of vibe. Fantastic stuff.

    Still kicking myself for giving up classical lessons as a kid. Kept the books and the guitar, but I fail at self-teaching.
  14. bagpipe


    Sep 19, 2006
    Kanata, Ontario
    For fingerstyle (Chet Atkins/Merle Travis style) or lap steel, I use a plastic thumbpick and fingernails. Now that I've gotten into using a thumb pick, I find it difficult to play any fingerstyle without one. It puts my thumb in a more natural position.

    For electric playing, or general "campfire strumming" stuff, I still use a regular flatpick.
  15. I use a regular pick and my middle finger to fingerpick.

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