Have you ever thought to yourself that you may want to try out a thumbpick? Maybe your pick keeps flying out of your fingers as you play, or maybe you’re interesting in fingerpicking but want a little more oomph on the bass strings while you play the melody on the high strings with your other fingers.
If you have never tried a thumbpick, I recommend you give it a try. Even if you don’t like it – you hate it more than anything else in the world – at least you know.
“And knowing is half the battle.”
Besides, you may love the freedom it gives your hand. You can go from flatpicking with your thumb and index finger to letting your index finger fall away as your thumb starts pumping out bass notes and your other fingers can start plucking out the melody with your other fingers without any awkward hand acrobatics like tucking the pick in between your fingers or lining up flat pick after flatpick crammed into your pickguard only to have you play, drop a pick, grab a pick, play, drop a pick and so on and so on. If you do flatpicking and also occasionally dabble in fingerpicking, this is just the easiest way to go.
But thumbpicks are odd in a lot of ways. They come in a wide variety of styles, thicknesses, and prices.
The traditional plastic thumbpick though is the one that I bought. I bought three of them in S, M, and L (small medium and large) that (unfortunately) are all heavy in thickness. I usually play with a medium pick or .73 preferably and like that thickness a lot. If I want to thrash and need a bit more sturdiness to the pick, I bend it a bit lengthwise, like you may see people eat wide, NYC style pizza slices, and if I want to strum I don’t bend it. It’s easy to use and flexible not just in thickness but also in tone.
To be fair, if the whole piece of plastic was .73 it probably wouldn’t stay securely on my thumb and that would negate the reason to buy a thumbpick.
So I deal with the thickness. I’ll probably get over it.
But besides the thickness there was a big problem with these thumbpicks (National thumbpicks, by the way) was the length of the actual pick. The length of the pick required me to push and pull my wrist away from the strings far enough to kill my picking speed and the leverage created from having such a long pick makes the pick twist on my thumb and eventually come off it. It was enough of a pain that I stopped using the picks flat out for quite some time.
But then I heard that the trick to thumbpicks and the length of the pick was that the length was not really meant to be used stock but with some alterations, they can be amazing. That’s what I heard and here I was with three picks so I started experimenting. I kept one stock and it remained vastly unused throughout the whole process because of what I said above.
The second one I used a pair of scissors on and tried to cut to a length that was more usable. I do not recommend this method AT ALL. It is imprecise, it is probably going to get messed up and hey, it might even be dangerous what with flying plastic coming away from scissors.
Like I said, I wouldn’t recommend it at all. Especially when I’ve got a better method.
I can’t take credit for it at all (the credit belongs to a mysterious person known only as Norm) but if you take a nail file (like you can get at Target or Wal-Mart or any department store in great quantity and little price) you can file the picks down toa more manageable size.
When I read it I though 1) that would take forever because these picks are kind of thick and it’s a nail file and 2) it may be difficult.
I was wrong on both counts. I started by filing straight across the tip down to a level that, without my guitar around, I thought would work well or at the very least give me some extra room for future filing. In SECONDS I had it down to the imagined level and then treated the pick to more precise filing to bevel the edges to (hopefully) make for some easier picking. It was easy. I do recommend putting a trash can under your hands as you do this to catch any dust, but that’s the only recommendation. Here you have a quick and precise method to shape the pick to your EXACT specifications and maybe make the greatest pick you’ve ever played for less than half, less than a 10th maybe, of the price of boutique picks.
So armed with this knowledge, go out and try thumbpicks out. See what I mean about trying to use one stock and then grab a file and go to town shaping it to something you can use and maybe even love. Worst case scenario: you hate it and you’re out two whole dollars. Best case scenario: for two measly dollars you have discovered a pick that will help you shape the tone you hear in your head, through your hands without too much hassle and attention paid to the pick and honestly, that’s what we all really want anyway, right?