Thumbpick vs Fingers vs Nails vs

Thumbpick vs Fingers vs Nails vs Pick’n’Claw

I’m in the midst of an internal debate.  What picking technique to I invest practice time in? I’ve played with picks, of course, over the years. Especially for electric. I’ve use my fingers and not-so-long nails for acoustic.  Especially for fingerstyle. I’ve experimented with Chet-Atkins-Tommy-Emmanuel style thumbpicks.

But I’m not satisfied with my progress on any of these fronts.  Where do I focus?

Some Background:

I’m focusing on fingerstyle playing right now.  So thumbpicks or fingers makes sense.  Right now, my fingers (without long classical nails) produce to soft and muted of a sound.  But it feels great.  Thumbpicks are nice for mixing styles, picking runs and fingerstyle passages.  But it doesn’t feel at all natural yet.  Do I grow nails to compensate for the muted tone?  Put in the hours on a thumbpick?  Go rogue and do pick’n’claw method?

And whatever I do, I need to follow Arnold Schwarzenegger’s advice:  “Reps, reps, reps”.  There’s no advancement without puttin’ in the hours.  So I want to put in the hours on the right thing.

The Answer

The real question (as you already guessed) is: Who do you want to sound like?

Ok, that was two questions.  So the goal is to pick a technique that produces the sound you want and allows you to play the songs you want.

So.  In order to do that, I did a simple 5-minute survey.  I listed which of my favorite players use which technique.  Feel free to use this to inform your own decision making.  And please leave me comments below on other players that I can add to the list!

*Caveat:  Most players use multiple techniques.  I tried to list the technique that a player is most known to use.

The List


  • Tommy Emmanuel
  • Emile Ernebro
  • Adam Rafferty – (Adam has a nice post on this topic here)
  • Chet Atkins
  • Jerry Reed

Fingers With Nails

  • Thomas Leeb
  • Don Ross
  • Calum Graham
  • Andy McKee
  • Antoine Dufour
  • Martin Taylor
  • Michael Hedges (and Ping Pong ball fragments)


  • Phil Keaggy
  • Eric Johnson


  • Joe Pass (although he used many methods)


  • Wes Montgomery – Yup, just his thumb.


Grouping players by right hand technique yields some interesting perspective.  Though I have listed the most players in the “Fingers with Nails” category, I don’t think I want to go that route.  Why?  Because these players seem focused on one style of music.  Tommy Emmanuel, Joe Pass, and Eric Johnson strike me as having more diversity of genre and format (band vs solo).

I think thumbpicks are the place for me to focus and grow right now.