View Full Version : Picking on electric guitar

12-21-2010, 11:18 PM
hi all,

just started learning electric guitar, and honestly, i'm finding it hard to pick using a plectrum. because w/ uke, most of the picking/soloing is done with the thumb or a combination of fingers. using a pick feels so unnatural, but i guess it's just something to get used to. my cousin''s been playing electric guitar for a while, and he picks without a pick! does anyone else do this? can anyone show me how to pick without a pick (how to position the fingers)?

thank you!

12-22-2010, 12:31 AM
There are lots of electric guitar players picking without a pick, e.g. Mark Knopfler. Jeff Beck also does some creative finger picking on his electric guitar. Some folks do both at the same time, i.e. using a pick and fingers together (and that's not a thumb pick). Do whatever works best for you!
Traditional acoustic-guitar fingerpicking is done with the thumb managing strings 4-5-6 and the first three fingers managing strings 3-2-1, but this can be varied a lot. It works for electric guitar too, but on electric you'll often want to do a lot more of muting so there are some other tricks to be aware of - and I'm not an expert on electric guitar - I tend to play it as I play an acoustic.

On the other hand, learning to use a pick isn't too difficult. The initial problem tends to be to lose the grip and thus lose the pick.. on electric it'll just fall on the floor, but on acoustic it always falls into the soundhole and you'll see the guitarist frantically trying to shake the pick out! The problem goes away after a while though, I used to lose the pick into the soundhole all the time in the past, but that hasn't happened to me the last fifteen years or so.

When you use a pick on guitar you should start with sweep-picking, that is when playing notes in sequence you move the pick first down, then up, then down, and so on. I.e. first note: Pick down. Second note: Pick up. Third note: Pick down. This will lead to smooth, easy playing (and sounding). First learn the rule (=always sweep-pick). When it's second nature you can start breaking the rule, i.e. use all down-strokes or up-strokes selectively if it fits the music better.

(Edit: The way I used the term "sweep-picking" may instead be known as "alternate picking". "sweep-picking" is sometimes used for a technique where you still alternate, but you play the pick through several strings before you change direction. You don't strum, you still play individual notes, but you can "line up" the notes of, say, a melody, on different strings so that you by playing a down-stroke over some or all of the strings get a little melody. Then you could use an up-stroke the same way to continue the melody. It takes some planning though.. just alternating down-up-down-up over individual strings (moving to other strings as necessary while keeping up the down-up-down-up) is reasonably easy to get the hang of.)

12-22-2010, 01:28 PM
thanks so much tor!! i will definitely work on it!!

12-22-2010, 03:19 PM
Many people have problems with picks because they have the wrong size, stiffness, etc... I prefer Fender medium thickness on acoustic flat-picking technique and for electric guitars with syncopated rhythm, I prefer Fender traditional thins.

12-22-2010, 11:09 PM
I use this rule of thumb: The lighter the strings, the heavier pick you'll need. And the other way around, but the latter is by preference really. (My rule-of-thumb seems to be in slight disagreement with Pippin's preferences though, so in the end it is probably _all_ up to preferences only! :))

So I use a very thin sharkfin-shaped pick (from the actual Sharkfin brand) on my 013-056 acoustic, on another guitar with less heavy strings I use a stiffer Fender pickup or some other similar type, on electric (010) I use an even heavier one (strumming or mixed strumming/picking) and for picking-only on electric guitar I use a very small, heavy pick (don't remember the brand but it's red and called 'jazz 3' or something. EDIT: Brand is Dunlop.)

The right tool for the right job: The small one is nice for picking but bad for strumming (too small). The thin sharkfin one I use with the heavy-duty string acoustic is useless on light strings. So I've got a pocketfull of different picks everywhere.

01-23-2011, 11:39 AM
Picking with a pick is easier than picking without one. It may be annoying to use now but if you start now and keep using it you'll find it will benefit you.

Ralph Falkenburg
06-25-2011, 02:17 PM
Plenty of electric guitarists are fingerpickers. Chet Atkins, Merle Travis, and don't forget Nokie Edwards of the Ventures.

That's only the tip of the iceberg


08-27-2011, 01:00 PM
Plenty of electric guitarists are fingerpickers. Chet Atkins, Merle Travis, and don't forget Nokie Edwards of the Ventures.

That's only the tip of the iceberg


Tommy Emmanuel....

To the original poster.... anything new will feel foreign until you get used to it. But fingers are perfectly fine if you like the sound. I suggest that you try different picks until you find one that suits you. I have a friend that uses a triangle pick that I gave him and he loves it.

08-27-2011, 01:26 PM
I use a really thick, but very small pick for electric guitar. I like the Dunlop Jazz III. It is mostly suited for picking melodies, rather than strumming. A larger, thinner pick would work better for strumming. I find finger picking on electrics to be difficult. Not so much for my steel stringed accoustic, though. But for my Strat and Les Paul, it's the Jazz III for sure.

If you want to see some instructional videos from someone who never uses a pick on electric guitars, check out Mojo on Three Chord Guitar.

02-11-2015, 09:39 AM
Merle Haggard, who performs using a pick on his Tele, has said he mostly used only his thumb when recording, to get a fatter sound.

02-12-2015, 05:13 AM
Some of it will depend on what style you play.

I nearly always play with bare fingers. I like the feel, and it gives quite a lot of control over individual string dynamics and note timing.

A lot of pickers (in the Chet Atkins mould) will use a thumb pick, and even finger picks. The thumb pick usually gives a more percussive attack and clearer note definition than can be achieved with bare fingers.

Similarly, a plectrum is useful for a similar effect, and is good for some added twang and on some boogie riffs.

A hybrid technique using a plectrum and index and ring fingers gives some of the flexibility of bare fingers, but with increased bass note definition, and the ability to do some speed picking. I find it harder to play fancier stuff using this technique, but no doubt it would come with practice.

I usually play slightly heavier strings than average, but prefer a plectrum to have some give in it.

I think it’s good to be able to play with a plectrum if necessary, so it’s worth practising. I remember finding it awkward at first, but it’s worth persevering. I played with bare fingers for years afterwards, and have only recently begun to occasionally use a plectrum again. It didn’t take me long to get used to it again.

02-28-2015, 05:22 PM
actually when I play the electric guitar, I play it with my bare hands. I dont use guitar picks. I do have them but I dont use them. I didnt really get hurt nor did my fender. Trust me, playing it with your fingers is much better. Although, I usually use my nails.

05-18-2015, 06:48 AM
You think a plectrum is awkward? I learned strings on a mountain dulcimer, fretting with a walnut-wood wand wand 'noter' and plucking notes with a turkey quill. (Grandpa raised poultry and walnuts, hence those specific materials.) But for the last half-century I've been a fingerpicker on all manner of guitar-like objects, whether acoustic or electric. I use thumb- and fingerpicks for volume, attack, and speed, and bare fingers for more subtlety. (But my lap steel requires fingerpicks.)

I used to despise flatpicks... until I started playing mandolin. I'll fingerpick mandolin (with or without picks) but a flatpick is really necessary for tremolos because of the short sustain of small instruments. Now I use *very* thin flatpicks for fast tremolos, and fatter ones on guitar for volume and accuracy. I even have grandpa's thick, soft, felt pick, for playing his banjo-mandolin rather more quietly. (Disturbing grandma was not a good idea.)

As with anything else, you'll get used to a plectrum over time. Practice, practice, practice. Don't hesitate to fingerpick almost anything, electric or acoustic, hollow or solid. And maybe try a turkey quill. You'll appreciate flatpicks more. :)

05-20-2015, 10:55 PM
I grew up playing flat-pickin' style country guitar because my mother was a country songwriter and we hung out with some of the biggest names in Nashville when I was in junior-high and high-school. I played guitar with a lot of big names. I learned flat-picking technique by watching Tom T. Hall, his brother Hillman, and a bunch of other guitarists that played at my parents' home during that time.

Flat-picking guitar and finger-picking guitar are usually done best on necks designed for that sort of play. For flat-picking, a guitar with a thinner neck and a nice radius curve is ideal. Finger-picking style is best on a guitar with a flatter fretboard and a wider neck with more room between strings. That is why it is easier learning to finger-pick on a nice ukulele than a guitar. You have more room between strings.