The Bass Debate: Pick vs Fingers

Picks vs. Fingers

Q: I prefer playing the bass using my fingers, but I see a lot of bassists these days using a pick. What’s your take on that?

A: As with all things that come down to taste and music, I say: “follow your ears!”

If you don’t like the sound of a pick, or it just doesn’t feel right, don’t bother with it unless there’s a specific reason. It can’t be “everyone else is doing it”.

I will argue to the death that one is no better than the other. Pick haters only need check out Bobby Vega, Steve Swallow or Carles Benevante to hear that a pick can be used creatively and make beautiful (non hard edged) music.

I’ve always been a finger player, but I’ve actually started using a pick on about half of the songs I perform with the pop band, Echo Helstrom. I’ve recently joined the band, and I just felt like I should be using a pick on some of the tunes with pulsing 8th note grooves.

I wanted to hear that click with the notes, so I bought a handful of different picks and experimented until I found one that felt right and sounded right to me.

Is it a bit awkward? Sure, at first, but I’m getting used to it and it actually makes me play differently, which is a good thing, I think.

I like to keep myself open to whatever the song may need. If that means a pick, cool. Why not?

So, in short, do what will make the song sound better and what will make you feel best about what your playing. Forget any hype or online arguments about what is better. Serve the music!

That said, I’m sure this will open up plenty of discussion here, and I look forward to it.

Readers, what’s your take? Post your thoughts on this subject!

Photos by Robin D and ilcountz

Have a question for Damian Erskine? Send it to [email protected]. Check out Damian’s instructional books, Right Hand Drive and The Improviser’s Path.

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  1. although me and most bassists I know prefer fingerstyle, there’s nothing wrong w/ using a pick…there are great pick players in all genres.

  2. I remember someone who told me once, “real basses don’t use picks”. Never before have I actually laughed so hard to the point of coughing…what made it even better was the fact that he was serious.

  3. I think one should do whatever suits the song. Just practice both – you never know.

  4. Right now I have no need to play with a pick. I play upright and a pick doesn’t really work on that but who knows, I bet someones tried it. When I play electric I play finger style cuz I play mostly funk, jazz and jam band stuff so my fingers are more natural feeling to me. I do practice with a pick every once and a while incase I’m asked to at some point.

  5. It’s not a debate. Play the way you want. Anyone who says there is a right or wrong way to be creative and express yourself is a fool. That’s what playing music is all about.

  6. A Great Composer once told me” if you ever want to be a real Bass Player loose the pick”.
    I think it may work for somethings just not my things.

    • I think it depends on the song, some some tunes need the bite of the pick, some tunes need the thunder of the digits, too each his own, but I’d rather own both.

    • I’d say he wasn’t a real composer. Using your thumb wasn’t even a bass thing until Larry Graham but you would never say that that’s wrong.

  7. I think it all depends on what sound you want and which music you’re playing. It’s pretty awkward to play ska with a pick and punk without one.

  8. A pick can get you some of the funkiest tones…for example Carol Kaye. Another pick player I dig is Steve Swallow. Personally, I am more comfortable with my fingers, but It’s good to learn how to utilize a pick too.

  9. I was anti-pick until I joined a metal band in my late 20s. At first, I just felt like I needed it for the stamina to play relentless 16th notes, but soon fell in love with the tone I got. Now, I play more jazz and folk, but carried that lesson to the tone. Fingers still feel more natural to me, but I get amazing tone after stringing my hollow body electric with flatwounds and using a pick.

  10. Although fingers is my preference, to me there’s no debate. It’s just another way to attack the string. Carol Kaye showed me how she began using a pick in the studio because for her it made cold sight-reading easier by thinking in terms of upstrokes and downstrokes. Thanks for jogging that memory loose! And anyone who thinks playing with a pick ain’t funky, Bobby Vega is the very best!

  11. Why limit yourself? have some fun and try different things who knows where it can lead? :)

  12. My bass heroes growing up were Chris Squires from Yes (uses a pick) and Geddy Lee (doesn’t use a pick). There is no debate as it depends on preference and what music you’re playing.

  13. Funny, I’ve never seen an upright player use a pick…I don’t use a pick even when I play regular guitar. I’m just a natural plucker with my fingers. If my right hand’s fingers aren’t touching the strings I don’t know what to do. Putting an inanimate object (like a plastic pick) between my fingers and the strings would be like having my fingers go numb. All of what I just said is just me – if you want to use a pick, knock yourself out. It’s a personal preference.

    • Wouldn’t make sense for a double bass player to use a pick, that’s for sure – they should use a bow :). But a bass guitar is not a double bass – it’s an entirely different instrument. When Double Bass players migrated to the electric, they naturally used their fingers – and a stereotype was born.

    • What about an upright player using a bow????

    • one of this day or in the future an upright bass player that use a pick will emerge jst like stanley clark did and made an amazing slap on an upright that no one expected..


  14. 3 of my favorite pick players: Paul McCartney, Chris Squire (Yes), and Dennis Dunaway (Alice Cooper Group).

  15. A great alternative is using a felt pick. They don’t last long and create a lot of felt fuzz, but they are softer sounding, faster than fingers (IMO) and more forgiving sonically than standard hard picks.

  16. I enjoy playing bass with a pick; as a former guitarist, that’s how I first approached the instrument. However, I soon felt the urge to learn how to use my fingers. Not becasue of that “real bassists use their fingers” crap, but because I didn’t want to be a limited bass player.

    And that’s exactly why I think people should put prejudices aside and give the pick a try: because knowing how to use it expands your horizons as a musician. Both techniques have very distinct sounds, and I’m having a great time figuring out which one to use on which song…sometimes, you can even use both on the same tune!

  17. So, who’s going to tell Paul McCartney he’s been doing it wrong all these years?

  18. Its definitely a preference thing – though I’d say that everyone should learn both techniques at some point.

  19. I used to hate on pick players, especially as some of my favourite bassists are so creative with their hands, but after a bit more experience and a broader musical mind I realised some stuff needs a pick just as much as other stuff needs a thumb or a finger. I don’t think you can ever emulate one with the other to the point of saying that one is better than the other. I think ‘real bassists’ know what to use and when to use it and don’t care either way!

    • It’s like the different between manual masturbation and using a vibrator. There’s a time and place for both :) LOL x

    • @[513582284:2048:Camille Phillips] LOL! Spot on! x

    • Camille Phillips
      I would say that about sums it up

    • i use all techniqs (fingers, pic ,slap) its according to the of riffs or when u want to give heavy punch , or nice texture … but i didn’t use pick unnecessary!!! its when a need it a use it.. some times happens what that u want to use your fingers but because of fast riffs that texture is not coming that u want in your bass-line.. so i just wanna say one thing that used as many stuffs as u want too , and give a perfect bass line …!!! johny christ(A7x) is a perfect example .. he used to play with picks, fingers N slap m/

  20. I’m a fingers guy, but any of the haters who haven’t heard Anthony Jackson destroy it with a pick need to check it out. Bobby Vega is amazing with a pick too.

  21. Well, it’s a pretty simple answer to this question – if the song calls for it, use a pick! If not, don’t! I’m mostly fingerstyle (maybe 75% of the stuff I play is that way) but I’ve used picks. In fact I’ve gone so far as to have a personal pick preference! [Dunlop Big Stubby, 3mm, btw.] If someone tells you one is better, laugh at them just like Mike Bercik did.

    • Most recordings (approx 90%) that came out of the 1960s Hollywood studios were done by a pick whether it was me or whoever. You have to use a hard pick to get the great sounds and have the correct flat-wrist technique of playing close to the end of the neck for the right powerful sounds, on flatwound strings.

    • Carol Kaye excluding Motown,Philly International, Atlantic Records and Stax

    • Carol Kaye Just learned “A Little Less Conversation” and “Boots Were Made for Walking” for a band I recently joined. When I played it with a pick at rehearsal, bandmates all said “Yes! that’s the way it’s supposed to sound! ” Apparently last guy didnt use picks :) Thanks Carol. Both great parts.

  22. Simply put, there are sounds you just can’t get without a pick. I’d played with just my fingers for the better part of 20 years, but with the band I’m in now, some songs demand that punch you can only get with a pick and a Fender. in several songs I alternate between fingers on the verses and pick on the choruses, when it really needs that driving, kicky sound. Don’t limit yourself!

  23. I never could get used to using a pick, but to play faster or get that sound, I use my fingernails on my first & middle finger. I keep them a little longer.

  24. there’s no need for a debate with fingers and pick both r fine,, u cn even use yr feet as u want if that’s lead u to express yr music..john lennon once said I’m a musician give me a tuba and il do somthing about it..means there’s no rules in expresing or creating yr own music..

  25. I prefer fingers, but like you said “serve the music.” I used to play with both, because my fingers would get tired sometimes while playing pulsing 8th notes. That was a couple of years ago though. I like fingers better because of the smooth sound, and I can control my dynamics better. I’m sure the opposite is the case for some people.

  26. “I wanted to hear that click with the notes”.

    Honestly, if you’re hearing a ‘click’ when you play with a pick, you might need to work on your technique.

    Not trying to be condescending, but it shouldn’t sound like that.

  27. I started out playing with a pick and now I play fingerstyle with thumb and 3 fingers but for the more aggressive rock styles I like to use a pick. I prefer a Dunlop Nylon.73. For those that think that real bassists don’t play with a pick, what about Carol Kaye?

  28. Limiting what you do in music is limiting your creativity and hence you fail. Arguments like bassist shouldn’t do this, guitarists shouldn’t do that, drummers can’t do this are bullshit.

  29. Bassists who think that using a pick is an inferior way of playing bass guitar, tell that to Chris Squire, Brian Ritchie, and Matt Freeman(oh by the way… I play fingerstyle) or tell that to someone who uses a bow to play upright bass(they are using an object other than their fingers).
    It don’t matter, as long as you bring it……

    I like to add that Tony Levin uses funk fingers( drumstick extensions).
    I like to see people hating on him for that…….

  30. Learned to play with a pick, switched to fingers and never looked back, until recently that is. Started messing with a pick again just to change things up a bit and broaden my horizons. I think I’ll always mainly be a finger style player, but playing with a pick is good skill to have.

  31. its all tone, I’ve been told that I “cheat” when I use a pick, your not a real bassist blahblahblah, but in reality I can use fingers bettet than a pick, I just can’t get that same punchy tone that I love with fingers.

  32. I’ve been playing bass for over 45 years and was never able to play with my fingers until just recently. When I went into the studio a few years ago the producer told me that I couldn’t use a pick, “Bass players don’t use **** picks!” is how he said it. At the end of the session he told me that he couldn’t tell I was using a pick. It’s all in how you do it. I prefer Jim Dunlop.66 guage picks; they simply do not break they only wear down. And I don’t think you need a really thick pick like some say. I.88 gauge on some songs like Rush but mostly the medium gauge works best for me. All of my really favorite bass players use a pick almost exclusively; Dave Hope of the original Kansas, Chris Squire of Yes, and Ray Schulman of Gentle Giant are all pickers and there are no better players out there. Of course, if you play with your fingers you don’t have to worry about dropping the pick so there are benefits.

    • At my drum lesson last night I stated to my teacher that one stick sounds different from the other. When I learned from him that one stick is slightly heavier than the other, I was proud of myself for being able to notice that.

    • You no me Tim I prefer the fingers.But it all about the way you learned to play.I think that pics realy help with speed.Although i never could keep one between my fingers.LOL And I believe that tone is something that you just develope.over time. Pic or no pic.Thats Just my opinion. Every one has there own.

    • Ron Carter, Eddie Gomez, Marcus Miller and Nathan East! You cannot get that kind of a sound with a pick! Get some calluses, Man! Make it “smooth”!

    • David Hooker You hit it right on the head, it is about tone and the sound that you want to hear. There have been times when I wish I did play with my fingers, I had to learn how to simulate popping and slapping with a pick…just a matter of muting the strings right. But it’s really pretty embarassing when you’re right at the edge of that one magical bass run and the pick slips and falls to the floor. Talk about being a deer in the head lights!

    • @[1494218150:2048:Theo Scott] My man Theo, you left out Victor Wooten! Listen to Ray Schulman of Gentle Giant smooth, fast, complicated, syncopated, and dead on; done with a pick. You might like some of the horns also.

  33. When I play my own music I pretty strictly use fingerstyle. When I’m out gigging if the tune was recorded with a pick and I want to sound as accurate as possible, a pick it is. When I first started playing years ago, my teacher had those pressed felt picks. They had a neat soft, percussive pluck to them. Not so easy to find anymore though.

  34. In my opinion, both are just two different tools in the bassist’s tool box. Both have pros and cons.

  35. Pick, Fingers, Thumb, Any way you can get it done, Enjoy… and Have Fun ,
    May the groove be with all of You.

  36. I think it depends on the song, some some tunes need the bite of the pick, some tunes need the thunder of the digits, too each his own, but I’d rather own both.


  38. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to argue this with someone…guitarists use fingers, thumbs, picks….violin bows. Why can’t us bassist use whatever we wish without receiving flack? If you like the sound of something, then do it!

  39. Depends on the sound I’m after. I play either with Dunlop nylon 1mm or fingerstyle. As many have said here (and we all seem to agree), music is an infinitely flexible medium. Use a pick, your fingers, a tin can……god, go all murderface and use you schlong if that’s works for ya. Just keep it bass m/.

    • It’s fascinating how players will make one sound like other though, such as fingerpicking near the bridge or using a pick near the neck (especially with flatwound strings). It does depend on the desired result though, picks are great for their attack but need more assistance for a good tone IMO.

  40. I enjoy playing bass with a pick; as a former guitarist, that’s how I first approached the instrument. However, I soon felt the urge to learn how to use my fingers. Not becasue of that “real bassists use their fingers” crap, but because I didn’t want to be a limited bass player.

    And that’s exactly why I think people should put prejudices aside and give the pick a try: because knowing how to use it expands your horizons as a musician. Both techniques have very distinct sounds, and I’m having a great time figuring out which one to use on which song…sometimes, you can even use both on the same tune!

  41. Picks, fingers… does it matter? Most musicians I like just get the point across. And when I like their music, I don’t really care what was used….I’ve actually been thinking of trying a banjo style wraparound thumb pick, and float betwixt the styles.

    • Ima 2 finger plucker; wish I was a better thumb thumper, and been resorting to a pick at times this week cus my index finger’s getting used enuf to hurt and I wanna have some left for friday and saturday!

  42. As a bassist for a alternative rock/ Grunge band I prefer a pick cause it gives a more piercing sound, different styles for different sounds. Each to their own! :)

  43. I won’t judge guys who plays with a pick but I would not play with.
    I think it’s kinda waste not to use your UNIQUE hands, so your UNIQUE sound.
    And there’s is much more techniques with fingerstyle than pickstyle, no matter what you think lol!
    But if you can play both, that’s better ;).

  44. Whatever rocks yer world!

  45. Using a pick is one of the many palettes of sound and technique that all bass players should learn and experience. In recording it has a great sound and clarity to put a strong signal on the board, so the recording can have a great bass sound…..whether you use a pick for live or use fingers. In the end you only have to listen to the body of work by Carol Kaye to answer any points about why it is irrelevant what you use so long as you use you imagination to create the lines.

  46. well for me I wanted to play like bassists I grew up listening to so I usually play with a pick. (my favorite bassists are mike dirnt (Green Day), cone mcaslin(Sum 41), mikey way (My Chemical Romance), and mark hoppus (Blink 182).

  47. What if you have grown out your fingernails so you can get a pick sound, and a finger sound just from the angle of your fingers? Is that cheating?

  48. my first reaction was the same as another poster “this again?” and then I saw that Carole Kaye responded and figured that whatever I had to say would be utterly pointless. Yes indeed, Carol, thank you for your mark on EVERYone of us. Pick or not.

  49. I use both.They both have a distinct sound.I use the pick for a sharper crunch and my fingies for everything else.

  50. Ive been playing bass for a couple years now, and I started with a pick. However, as I became more proficient with my bass, I started using my fingers more. Now, the only reason I ever use a pick is for insane speed. Fingers are more versatile and make for a better bass sound. Its also much easier to slap without a pick too. And it looks so much better. Ive always had the opinion that with bassists, the magic happens in the picking hand, and using a pick just doesn’t have the same flair as finger picking does.

  51. I always make the joke that I’m a bass player and picks are for pussies… But seriously its HOW you use it. I’ve heard bad tone from fingers and picks, and good tones too.

    • I’m backwards…. When I play a guitar it’s with my fingers (and occasionally teeth) but when I pick up a bass; I reach for either a Tortex triangle 1.14 or 1.0

    • I never considered myself a bass player, unfortunately other musicians still do. :-P

    • And that pick rule applied to doghouse bass too….. I don’t own one, don’t wanna own one, but wound up playing one the singer owned on holidays at a Holiday Inn and those things hurt.

  52. How bout cats like Allen Woody and Jack Bruce I’ve seen them preform with picks.

  53. Depends on the style. Metal? Pick all the way. Reggae, latin, or funk? Fingers. Most of the guys who say oh you’re not a real bassist if you use a pick couldn’t tell the difference if you put it down on tape anyway.

    • I could really work hard and get a finger style going, but I grew up listening to guys like Paul D’Amor, Justin Chancellor, and Greg Edwards, all pick players. I just like the sound of the attack, and for mostly rock/hard rock music, it works.

  54. You can make a great case either way. Pick: Carol Kaye, Joe Osborn, Chris Squire, Steve Swallow, Bob Daisley, Rusty Allen, St. Paul Peterson, Cliff Williams, Rex Brown, Jason Newsted, Tom Araya (who started as a finger player). Fingers: James Jamerson, Jaco Pastorius, Stanley Clarke, Victor Wooten, Marcus Miller, Family Man Barrett, Pino Palladino, Billy Sheehan, Robert Trujillo, Cliff Burton, Mike Watt. Or, there are those who are great at both: John Entwistle, Oteil Burbridge, Anthony Jackson, Bobby Vega, Tony Levin. So, I think it just comes down to musical context and playing appropriately from the heart; trying to get the sound out of your head and into your hands with a pick, fingers, thumb, whatever feels right to you. In other words, I believe what Damian said above is right on!

    • Right on, Paul. So many great players in both camps. Someone who plays w/ their fingers and pick is my version of someone who doubles…lol. McCartney to Wimbish…it’s ALL good!

    • That’s a really great way of looking at it, Kenny!! It is like doubling. And thank you for the McCartney/Wimbish references; I knew I would manage to leave out two of the greatest bass players of all time! Speaking of Wimbish, have you seen the Living Colour DVD ‘The Paris Concert?’ Utterly mindblowing!!!!

    • @[100003035689365:2048:Paul Chapman] Dude, I haven’t. Familiar but havent seen it. Been on a Tackhead kick lately. If you havent seen The Wrecking Crew….it’s off the chain. Regarding LC….dem boys just seem to be getting better. Corey Glover is insanely good. Oh, also, the Hiram Bullock Tribute DVD is retarded the talent. Ok, my Ambien is kicking in….I gotta go…lol. Must do lunch soon, Paul. Every blessing, -K

    • Real quick, before I nod off… Who cares pick or fingers, 4 or 5 string. Love it ALL and do it ALL. Couldnt imagine anyone being more perfect in AC/DC than Clifff Williams and no one other than McCartney in The Beatles. Find your own voice and shout it from the mountaintop!!! zzzzzzzz

    • Blessings back to you, my brother! I need to check out the Hiram DVD and The Wrecking Crew. I haven’t seen either one yet. And yeah, LC gets better every year. I heard Tackhead was going to reconvene. That will be a music event for sure!

    • @[100003035689365:2048:Paul Chapman] Welcome to borrow my copies. yak soon.

    • Very cool, I have The Paris Concert, which you are welcome to borrow as well. Just found some cool Tackhead on iTunes, yeah!

  55. I’d like to add Matt Freeman to the list of pick players.

  56. depends on tonal quality. They each have their own place, but fingers for me.

  57. Personally, I’ve always liked the pick but I didn’t like the sound of a plastic pick. I use felt picks. I play a bit of a busy style of bass, and the felt pick gives me that while sounding like fingering.

  58. this reminds me of classical gutiarists: do you use your nails to hit the strings or use your fingers? Both have a unique timbre. The same then goes for fingers or pick in bass playing. If you choose not to use a pick the it limits the types of sound you can produce. Its a petty debate.

  59. I hate using a pick, and am much faster and stronger pizzicato. When I was just starting out I was taught that real bassists do not use picks. I have since matured enough to know better, but have now never learned to use a pick properly. I have an acoustic bass that NEEDS a pick to be heard with a guitar, and there have been times my callouses have not been developed enough for the gig at hand and neede a plectrum. Much better to learn both. Don’t even get me started on my inability to slap at a pro level…

    • I am playing in a band now where I use a pick for the first time in my life. The music works much better with the pick. It took awhile but when I AB the pick against my fingers in this particular band the pick wins hands down. It’s a punk band with a very trebley sort of bass sound so the pick kills.

  60. A carpenter does not own one hammer and one saw. To build a great bassline you need to have the right tool be it a finger, pick, thumb, funk fingers…

  61. I almost always just use fingers, but I’ve been hearing some friends getting good results with picks, so I started experimenting with picks. I don’t like it much, and I still prefer fingers, but I’m going to keep working on it.

  62. Fingerstyle to me is more intimate. I’ve been a guitar player for 34yrs, using my fingers while playing a bass has always been a way to seperate the two instruments (in my mind). I play bass in two bands and I have realized that I do have to use a pick on certain songs(but I don’t like it! I feel like a cheat)…and I do think that “real bassests need to know how to pluck and slap”…I’m just lucky that I’m capable of playing both ways! but when I play the bass I use my fingers 99% of the time!

  63. I’ve always player finger style but most of the bassists I really respect have been pickers – John Glasscock, Squire, Andy West, Graham Maby, Rick Anderson, Dave Hope, Tim Landers (w/Dimeola)…I could never get the hang of picking but have strived to get as clean and precise a sound from my fingers.

  64. If you don’t want to use a pick but still want the sound of one, play with more fingernail.

  65. This is all true but it also depends on the style. I’m a finger player but when it comes to certain styles like Metalcore and Deathcore I use a pick. As much as they both sound great it takes more to use your fingers.

  66. When I started, I always used a pick. Now it’s only about 10% of the time. There are still some songs where a pick affords me a little more control. My favorite bass player is Lee Jackson of The Nice. He always used a pick, yet it doesn’t sound like it. Oh, and is anyone going to tell Lemmy he’s not a bass player?

  67. What I will say is just this. It shouldn’t even be a debate. It’s a matter of taste, personal preference and the sound the song might call for. It also comes down to the bass and strings you are using. Why? With some, you can get the sound you need without a pick and with others, it just might be the necessary thing. I use a Marcus Miller Signature Jazz and for me, it’s not a necessity though some years ago I had an older Precision using D’Addario ground half-rounds and discovered a hard felt pick gave me what certain songs called for when playing closer to the neck. I tried one with an older Gibson EB0 and then an EB3 and the neck allowed for some really fast runs using a pick. When I played closer to the bridge, I was getting a sound I really liked after dialing things in. I ain’t trying to hate on anyone however they choose to play. It’s all about the music and the way you like to play it and the results you’re receiving. It’s definitely a technique worth learning and being fluent with.

  68. I was on tour in S.E. Asia; on a classic Rock set, we did Dyer Maker, I was bored so chanced using a pick. It was so profoundly different; so I got creative, I played such a lively, syncopated bassline. So on certain tunes, I have grown to like and use a pick.

  69. a few smart ones have the answer, there is no right answer. Playing music is about what you feel, what you hear, and most of all _____ what the song demands, have fun and do what feels right for you as a musician period>.

  70. It all honesty I have nothing against pick players but picks just get in the way. When playing with a pick I usually feel the need to sweep or slap. Picks just don’t feel right when sweeping on a bass.

  71. Couldn’t agree more, I’ve gone through stages of using one or the other and being stubborn about it. But it comes down to what feels and sounds right for the song.

  72. I can’t believe I have not seen a single comment about JPJ(Led Zeppelin) or Rick Danko(The Band) in this thread. Both very skilled and amazing musicians and bass players, both play with both. WOO! I have played fingers my whole life. I have seen a lot of guys who play guitar for a while and then their buddies band needs a bass player so they just pick up a bass and start rooting, I believe this is the reason for the “not a real bassist” comments. Everyone knows this guy. This is not the plectrums fault. When used properly I believe both techniques have merit in the industry. Its all about you and your love of the instrument and how you express said love.

  73. I usualy tape a pick to my thumb, I remember I saw a bassist do it at a show cause he kept changing from picking to finger picking to slap so I inherited said tatic and it really works I am in a metal band and in the heavyer songs where the rythm really neads to be prominent I use the pick fingers are used for everything ells that isn’t slap :P x.

  74. I don’t think it matters which way you do it. I mean, Johnney Christ of Avenged Sevenfold uses a pick, Rob Trujillo of Metallica prefers using his finger. Both excellent bassists but two totally different playing styles.

  75. Since I’ve been playing, I’ve always used both. Being a fan of bands such as Iron Maiden, where you need to use fingers to re-create Steve Harris’ tone, and also a fan of Death From Above 1979 which really got me started as well as Tool. When people have said not to use a pick, I’ve often said “You try and do a pick scrape with your fingers”.

  76. It’s so hard for me to play using my fingers. Maybe one day.

  77. Comes down to the sound you want to get. Like damien, I use picks for some songs and fingers or others. I tend to find that (with my equipment) if I want a treble-ly, hard-nose sound, which I do for the rockier songs, I go for the pick. If I want a bassy, softer-edged sound I use my fingers. Best way to go! And for the pick-haters, Paul McCartney & JPJ used a pick…

    • To be a complete bass player you need to do all three.
      But hey I’m just a guitarist….what would I know

  78. it all depends of what feels and sounds right for that particullary song, nothing more or less.i use a pick if the bassline needs more attack or a really bright tone, smoetimes it brings the song to a higher level, though I play mostly with my fingers.

  79. I don’t use a pick but its not because picks are bad or lesser than finger plucking, I just don’t like to carry an extra thing to play.

    • Some guy got really defensive about how playing a bass with a pick is wrong before. Aside from the tonal difference of using a pick, why would they have pick guards f you weren’t supposed to use a pick?

    • @[100001433123438:2048:Rob Gnarly] my guess is because the first bass’s physical design is based off the fender stratocaster which had a pickguard.

    • Lawrence Anthony Wiggins Yeah, but fender wasn’t te first electric bass (let alone the first to have a pickgaurd) The audiovox bass fiddle had one as well. So did the gibson basses, the rickenbacker basses. They all do.

    • @[100001433123438:2048:Rob Gnarly] the fender bass was the first popular model to sell. the bass fiddle really never caught on. pickguards also make wiring easier. without a pickguard you have to rear rout the control cavity.

  80. As a Bassist for over thirty years, I’ve played it both ways. Pick and Fingers. BUT! The choice to use the Pick was mine. Some music just needs that soft fleshy touch and then there are times when you just want to scream it out. I can honestly say, that a Bass Pick is the best way to go. Not these little less than plastic thingy’s in the picture, but thick, tapered picks made especially for basses, usually made from felt. Now wrap your heads around that sound. :)

  81. Can’t believe you left out Carol Kaye. Playing with a pick, or not, is a ridiculous controversy. Learn both ways to give yourself a larger arsenal of sounds from which to choose.

  82. well, I almost never use picks because I constantly drop them, or they go flying off into space, but having cut my teeth with a drummer whose sole tempo is “as fast as the song can go,” (he gets nervous & speeds up) when he gets too fast I’ll resort to gripping my index finger with my middle finger & thumb & use that mess as a pick! Usually by this time the guitar player has smoke coming off the strings :)

  83. 90% of the time I don’t use a pick, but if I’m covering something like Tool that the pick sound is crucial I will use one. I don’t think it makes you any less of a bassist. Same with finger plucking. For some songs a pick would sound terrible.

  84. Here’s a video lesson I did about using a pick…

  85. You don’t need a pick to get “biting” tone, it’s all in the mix and hands. Geddy Lee has always cut through, ya’ know.

  86. This guy says you use all three (pick, fingers, thumb), depending on the song. I agree with him cause he is so f***ing amazing!

  87. Anything that extends your sonic pallet is a good thing. Picks, love the articulation, fingers, can’t beat the punch and feel, finger pick, very cool, slap of course, drumsticks and other blunt objects, spank me.

  88. If The God of Bass wanted us to play with Picks, he would have given us Picks, instead of Fingers!

  89. It’s just another sound, like slap, or tap, or your fingers. I think you need to be conversant with all the sounds you can get from the instrument, even if you favor one over the other. I started as a pick player. On one of the first sessions I ever did the producer came out into the studio after a couple of takes, took my pick away and sailed it across the room. So I had to get comfortable in a hurry, and learned a lesson that day.

  90. I would like to know who is really ‘arguing’ about this either way?
    Anthony Jackson, Paul McCartney, Chris Squire, Billy Wyman, Jack Bruce, Joe Osborn, others mentioned suck because they use a pick? I mean really, there is no debate is there?

  91. I’d guess that finger style was probably the initial approach of double bass players when the bass guitar was first introduced. When guitarists were asked to double on the instrument, it’s likely they approached using a pick. I’ve always favored playing finger style just because I had learned on an upright first, but I had always strummed my brother’s guitar using a pick. For me, it was a string spacing thing… I didn’t like how playing a bass felt with a pick. Once I got my first Rickenbacker, I almost instantly reached for a pick. Certain bass guitars just sound more interesting with a pick. I’m not sure if it’s pickup placement or what…

  92. Any Bass player that use a pick want to be able to use there fingers, otherwise they will never be a Bass Player.
    Robert Trujillo—-Now there is a guy that can make any bass player that uses a pick look like a fool…
    I have never used a Pick and never will…..Picks are for Guitarist…Thanks heaps Larry Graham, You changed the way the bass should be played.

  93. I’ve always been a finger player, but am starting to have a few finger problems so have been trying to use a pick..I find it very difficult as I can’t do the same things yet with a pick..On the other hand I notice there are some pretty cool things you can do with a pick as opposed to fingers…plus the different sound is great..I’m starting to use a pick for a few tunes with the classic rock band, as the new sound is quite frankly killer….if I could just get fluid with it..

    Oteil Burbridge when playing with the Allmans switches back and forth…anyone who says he’s not a ‘real’ bass player..hahaha, crawl back in your hole…

  94. I don’t have much to add that hasn’t been already said, other than to say that I learned to play fingerstyle and early on I thought that pick players were just guitarists playing bass, and had no business on bass. Obviously I was young and ridiculous. :) However, I did carry something of a deep-seated bias against pickers, until I heard David Ellefson from Megadeth discuss the “pick vs. fingers” debate with his own playing. He started as a finger player and moved to pick to get the sound he needed. Since I totally respected his playing, that’s when I finally let go of my bias. (And, to be fair, I think some of it was the fact that I’m not as good on a pick as I am with my fingers!)

  95. mostly used fingers and my pick technique is a joke but there are times when a pick is the most appropriate choice.

  96. I cheat. I use a 3 fingered LH technique, so I let those nails grow 3/16″ or so; they’re built right in, and I get the sound of a pick from each one! If I need to play 16ths, I fall back on my childhood ukelele skills and up/down pick with my first finger braced with my thumb.

  97. Pick or Fingers? Yes!

  98. I’m of those who prefers no to use it.. but look at Justin Chancellor (Tool)….

  99. I always loved bass. When I bought my first bass for $15, a hohner copy, I was hooked! I couldn’t afford pics, so I fingered the bass. Never wanted to or needed to use a pick until about 3 years ago. I couldn’t get the sound I wanted and when I grabbed a pick, I was hooked! After 35 years, it’s now part of my arsenal. It’s something you have to pay attention to, modify every aspect of your playing and technique. Then playing live, it’s nerve wracking but great! Of course when you throw it away and finger, it’s like putting on a great pair of jeans, it just feels natural. But it made me practice more. It made me WANT to practice. That’s the best benefit I got. Not just discovering a new joy, but looking at my playing differently and getting that old drive back. So from an old school true bassist, embrace the pick! You won’t be disappointed….

  100. I just can’t play with my fingers. It’s way to hard.

  101. What does the song call for? Let it tell you then respond by using the technique that best completes what you want to say musically.

  102. Funny enough just done a recording session, where I was asked to redo the bass lines in a Foxton style attack with a pick….the lines not only sound different, but there influence on how the songs now feel (they have an urgency about them) is what the writer wanted to hear. It was great fun to put that 70s “pick head” on and play counter melody bass lines to songs that have nice corners and chords to play around.

  103. Two bass players that haven’t been mentioned, Steve Harris and John Myung, the last thing in the world they need is a pic! I’m a finger player myself!

  104. I started playing guitar at the age of 11. By 15 my best friend has converted me to bass, a pick was all I knew. I can’t play with my fingers as it’s awkward. My style is up front with a lot of attack. My main influence all these years is still Graham Maby.

  105. I’s very simple,,,,, if you play it with a pick, it’s a Bass Guitar and you probably started on guitar. If you use your fingers, it’s an electric bass and you’re a converted upright bassist, or just a pure electric bassist.

    • I use both, what does that make me? I played the violin about 30 years ago, and have never touched a guitar. Maybe it’s not that simple? :-)

  106. Yellow tortex for the heavier stuff, but mostly fingers. Depends on the song.

  107. I always loved the sound of fat, flatwound picked bass. Carol Kay had an incredible career doing just that. And all those Beach Boys, pop 60’s stuff wouldn’t be the same without it.

  108. I’ve played bass for approx 2 years, and I use both. Fingers for smooth soft ballads, picks for fast hard rock tunes and solos. I’ve tried to create the sound of the bass on Julee Cruises “Falling” (Theme from Twin Peaks) with fingers, but there I need a pick.I use Fender Nylon 1,0 mm, or make picks from old credit cards with my “PickPunch”. Credit cards break/wear easy, but have a mellow yet sharp sound. As I see it, there’s no right or wrong here, it’s all about taste and sound.

  109. I started on guitar and I play both bass and guitar, but it feels funny playing the bass with a pick so I don’t. I am sure there are songs that might sound better with a pick, but I just never want to take the time to get used to it. I don’t think there is anything wrong with it. To each his/her own. I respect someone that can use both styles as the music calls for it.

  110. Never really cared what non-pick players thought. I use fingers most of the time but for some stuff I love a pick, and anyone who has a problem with that is free to come to one of my gigs and tell me. And then I’ll have you thrown out for being a yahoo.

  111. I’ve found the answer is ‘it depends’, playing covers most of the time I try to use what the original used, so for Beatles – a pick if I can, Jamerson, Duck Dunn stuff – fingers etc. Pink Floyd – pick again. Who songs, depends on when it was originally recorded as Entwhistle intially played picks then switched to fingers. I find some nails give finger picking an attack that’s different from a pick somehow. So it goes.

  112. Nice to see Graham Maby get a mention, one of the tracks was a Louis Jordan jump jive groove, but hearing it with the pick certainly makes the track come at you in a way fingers cannot do…..we sort of approached it with a maybe Maby would have played it like this.

  113. “Serve the music!” Perfectly said.

    • Do you ever switch between the two? I do when playing guitar.

    • Yep.I always try to get the right sound for the particular song. There are even a couple of songs where I’ll use a pick to drive a verse then tuck it and finger-style a chorus or break, especially when it’s something high on the neck. Harder to be sweet with a pick.

  114. I was once asked by another bass player during a break at a gig if I used a pick. I replied “no”. He said “Cool, it sounds like you use a pick”. I took that as a complement. Having said that I play bass. I use my fingers, a pick, a coin, a bottle, a drumstick. Whatever to get the sound I need. I play bass. :)

  115. Both as needed. Sometimes a very small stone…..gnarly sound with that hitch….

  116. My secret weapon is a modified Dunlop Clear D Lrg. Thumbpick with 2 Med.Clear D fingerpicks.Works for me.

  117. I grew up playing pick for the first 5 years then decided to switch to fingers and never went back.I know that if I ever had to do a full time rock gig again (which is less than likely) I would use a pick again.Pick has a certain kind of sound.If you new to it then its all you know, otherwise it’s an adjustment.Fingers or pick… they both cool and have a definite sound.It really depends on how you want to accent your notes, the weight you want it to be, and how you want it to sound in the mix.Sometimes you can say more with a pick and sometimes more with fingers.Choice is a wonderful thing!

  118. Bar bassisst , I find doing covers picks and fingers both help out but I like a pick I cant finger as sheehan does but with a pick maybe I’m not to far away I like Jim dunlop.60mm &.73mm they never break and mute quite nicely.

  119. I like to play 8th note rock grooves with the fingers (so the bass “melts” with the bass drum and guitars) and funk with the pick, in order to have a more defined sound when I’m playing busier lines…
    I once read Nile Rodgers state that his bassist mate Bernard Edwards was formerly a guitar player, and when he switched to bass he didn’t want to play the bass with the pick (as all former guitar players tend to do…) but he wanted a more defined sound than just fingers. So he started using his index fingertip as a pick (rested against his thumb, as he was holding a pick). That gave him a superb sound midway fingers and pick, and also blisters and fingertip bleeding during gigs!

  120. Do what the guy who’s paying you tells you to do, but if he tells you nothing you should be able to hear it for yourself. I’m not a massive fan of playing a pick but I did an Alice in Chains song recently and quite enjoyed digging in with a pick.

  121. personally, I play both. Whatever the song calls for is what I use. If I’m playing something that’s gotta be fast and attack heavy, then yes I use a pick….if I need my sound to be warm and round, I’ll use fingers….besides saying one style is better than any other style is bullshit. We’re all here to make music, not fight.

  122. I mostly use my fingers, but depending on the song, I have used a pick too.

  123. Started playing finger style when I began and it’s all I really do. I can mimic a pick pretty well with rotosounds so I don’t feel the need. Plus all of my favorite players were fingerstylists and I can’t see how you’d play their songs any other way. Jaco Pastorius John Paul Jones(mostly) John Entwistle(always the greatest, no exceptions) Steve Harris Cliff Burton Geezer Butler Geddy Lee Victor Wooten Billy Sheehan and on and on………..

  124. Only one name : Carles Benavent . Check out some of his videos and very personal picking technique, Who cares about the pick that he uses?

  125. I often find that switching between the two sporadically gives me a more robust feeling of the songs that I’m playing. Go with what feels right for you at the time is what I say.

  126. The old joke is: Real bass players use their fingers. Those who use a pick are really guitar players who were forced to play bass because the “lead guitar” spot was already taken… :)

  127. I play with my fingers.But when I saw Carles B. play with a pick , it was incredible!

  128. The pick makes the pitch of the note appear quicker.

  129. It’s very very cool to see all the open minded players contribute to this thread! I started playing music as a pick wielding guitarist, but I’m having a great time conquering the three fingers approach to bass as well as slap and pop. Those who don’t see the value of both are losing out on creativity and fun.

  130. Finger player, but I always keep one bye cause you never know. One minute you’re rockin next thing you know youre being charged by some crazed lunatic and you get your pick and ninja throw it into the lunatics eye to divert his attention long enough for you to take of your bass and stab the mother f***er in the heart thru his ass. Godbless :)

  131. This is a fabulous thread – I have a question that’s been bugging me for a long time. I switched to fingers years ago, but find myself having difficulty achieving that ‘punch’ to certain notes or phrases (like Phil Lesh can get). I find it’s very difficult for me to go back to a pick, even for certain songs. Are there any suggested control settings or effects pedals that will help me achieve this ‘punch’ without using a pick? Thanks for your help!

  132. I’ve been playing bass for 40 years and always used a pick (the soft, felt type). Yes, I played guitar for years before starting bass and, yes I have to confess my first big influence was Chris Squire (hence the Rickenbacker in my profile picture). I have tried finger plucking and don’t feel comfortable with it so I just stay with what I like and what works for me.

  133. I just do whatever is right for the genre and tone of the song. versatility is good!

  134. Surely this argument isn’t still raging? To me, using a pick or not is no different than choosing this bass or that bass because of the sound they bring. As the writer said, “Serve the music”.

  135. Used a pick for years with my Les Paul Bass, but now that I have a P-bass, I use my fingers. I think it depends on the sound of the guitar more than anything.

  136. Here’s a completely rhetorical question for those who use pick and fingers: If you could only use one method forevermore, which would it be and why?

  137. I’ve found that I’m using a pick for most of the stuff I play, but I use a Fender Bass VI haha

  138. I’ve been playing 26 years, all but the last 2 or 3 has been mostly fingers. But the last couple of years, I have switched to pick and short scale basses for the same reason, it saves on the wear and tear. I still will play with fingers when the phrasing really suits it and of course to slap and pop, but for most of the fast and heavy stuff, pick really is easier and I think it adds to the ability for me to cut through the mix and get heard.

  139. I always thought pick players where just slackers who didn’t know their ass from a hole in the ground, but then I joined a rock band and it became clear that when it comes to getting that beautiful bright but edgy/growly rock tone you just can’t quite get there unless you use a pick.

    So I guess it’s up to whatever style of music you’re playing. Pick or fingers? I use both now.

  140. Great article. I’ve never understood the “pick wars” that you see online. I’ve been playing about 15 years and I’d say it’s pretty much 50/50. Totally depends on the song. Punk rock is generally better sounding for me with the pick and the extra attack that comes with it, whereas more melodic songs are just smoother with the fingers. I think anyone who plays a broad range will restrict themselves by only using one style.

  141. Kaleb Asmussen

    It’s the fact of using the correct pick. I have known idea what pick I should use, even though I prefer fingers. I feel if you are using a pick, get a jazz bass, precision works better with fingers and a smooth sound to a band. Jazz is good with picking because of the rich, funky sounds. Hope tho helped

  142. mike

    When jazz got started, classical bass violinists were appalled at the very thought of “those primitives” playing the BV without a bow. When the electric bass guitar came along about 1950, the used2B primitives were appalled. Now the finger style purist actually loses sleep over the fact that “their” instument was being tainted by a little celluloid triangle. I was once on a bass blog where Metallica was the subject, and one idiot actually said, and I quote, “I fucking hate Jason Newstead. He plays with a pick.” Hate? Get a life!

  143. Bob Funke

    I play finger style and I have to admit, I have also felt that “real” bassists use finger style; although, because I play guitar, I am quite adept with a pick if needed. I prefer not to with bass and I can achieve the pick sound with my finger nail while integrating the finger style. The spacing of strings lends it self better to finger style, but many famous bassists use a pick. I would recommend mastering the finger style first before experimenting with a pick. A pick can produce a distinctive sound in the same manner that Jimmy Page used a bow for guitar. Nothing wrong with using it for effect.?

  144. David Oates

    There’s a youtube video from John Paul Jones that give a couple of good examples of why both are good & useful for differant songs. He gives an example of Dazed & Confused which he plays with his fingers & then the very percussive ‘almost guitar like’ strumming he uses with a pick for Whole Lotta Love. I’ve been a finger style player for 30+ years & I’ve only recently started using a pick for some songs & I regret not sharing my practice time between fingers & a pick 30 years ago. If I was to start now I would most definitely share my right hand practice time between fingers, pick & slap (yes I know there will be those who will argue that, that is time that could go into their primary style such as fingers). As Damien said it’s what the song needs, why not have a tool you can bring to any song?. Also I like to ‘kill tw
    o birds with one stone’ such as when practicing scales, different positions, modes etc practice with your right hand what you might be weak at such as extra fast picking, slapping or finger style triplets or sixteenth notes or moving to the next note on a particular subdivision of the 16th note or metronome exercises for timing so you could be practising your scales/modes, working on your timing (or speed) & working on your weakest right hand style (e.g. slap or pick) all within the one exercise

  145. keith Kizer

    I’ll throw in another reason for picks, I was a finger player for years but due to a hand injury I sustained years ago I am developing some pretty serious arthritis in my fingers of my pick hand so playing fingerstyle is becoming more and more painful so I have been reforming my style to incorporate the pick. I hated it at first but with some eq adjustments on my amp it’s growing on me.

  146. Many of players thinks in the way, that there is a rule when to play with that or that, or “some way is better than another”. It takes much time that i understand it. I say NO WAY! There is NO RULE. All techniques are right. Play what do you prefer, but be yourself, thats matter. Since the bass guitar exists, players uses all ways how to play it, its individual choice.

  147. Jay Paul Kassen

    The Mel Bay book on bass guitar had the blackened area shaped like a pick..and it read “This is the pick.”! If it was okay with Mel Bay, then do we need anymore validation???

  148. Karl Frisby

    The phrase ‘real’ bassist seems to crop up a lot in this thread. I think we should focus on what it takes to become a ‘real’ musician, whatever that might mean.

  149. Ton

    The joke around here is, what’s the difference between a bass-player, a bassist and a bass guitarist? Leo Fender put pick-guards on his electric bass guitars…the precision, the Jazz bass and all the early Music-Man bass guitars.. What was Leo thinking? .I play my 4/5/6/7 stringers with a pick. I am neither a bass-player nor a bassist. I am an electric bass guitarist. Cheers.