5 Fingerstyle Picks Compared to Fingernails

I tried a variety of fingerstyle picks when learning fingerstyle guitar. People have opinions and recommendations and I wanted to find a good solution for me.

I don’t like the idea of being dependent on a piece of equipment. Carrying around and setting up a bunch of stuff doesn’t appeal to me. So the idea of having to keep 4 or 5 fingerstyle picks in my pocket or accessible sounds like a chore.

But, I did want to try them and see if something really put it over the edge of worth the trouble.

5 Fingerstyle Picks Compared to Fingernails

Fingerstyle Picks

From watching videos online, I decided to try a handful of types of finger picks:

  • Dunlop Metal finger picks
  • Alaska pick finger picks
  • Fred Kelly – Slick Pick (thumb)
  • Fred Kelly – Speed Pick (thumb)
  • Dunlop Herco – Flex 52 (thumb)
  • Dunlop Herco – HE112P (thumb)

Many fingerstyle guitar players don’t use finger picks. They grow their nails out and/or use some form of fake nails (see Don Ross).

As a software developer, I can’t stand to type with long nails so mine are only going to get so long (foreshadowing). And I’m not doing fake nails (nor would my wife let me).

(1) Dunlop Metal fingerstyle picks

I first tried the metal finger picks. They seemed somewhat classic (probably the only ones I’d seen before).

The first thing to note is that you don’t wear them like hooks on your finger. Your wear them like armor contoured to your finger.

fingerstyle picks
Dunlop Metal Finger Picks

So you aren’t plucking the strings like a bow-and-arrow. It’s really more of a solid force against the string so that when you get to the end of the stroke, there’s a more dramatic release of tension and therefore vibration.

Metal fingerstyle picks
Dunlop Finger Picks

A good thing about these fingerstyle picks is that they bend so they’re customizable in that sense.

Also there’s a hold in the middle of the finger tip (last “segment” of your finger – not sure what that’s called) so you can feel the string.

I have to say – this was like trying to pick your nose with ski gloves on. I couldn’t feel a thing. The hole is so far from the tip that to feel the string my finger has to be literally breaching the threshold of the sound hole. And if it’s that far, the top of my finger is touching the neighboring string (killing any sound).

These fingerstyle picks lasted about 2 minutes on my fingers. They now sit in my “pick bowl” as Medieval decoration.

I have to assume if you use these you were trained at a young age on them.

(2) Alaska pick

A good number of people like the Alaska finger pick. A couple of benefits of these over metal finger picks are: they go over the top of the finger (you can feel the strings) and they are plastic and can be filed for preference in shape and size.

alaska fingerstyle picks
Alaska Finger Picks (toy gun)

Some fingerstyle players use these if a nail breaks.

They slide on your finger and have 2 slots for 2 lengths of the “nail” of the pick. The slot has a bit of an angle to it so it slides under you real nail to become an artificial extension of your actual nail.

Alaska Fingerstyle Picks
Alaska Finger Picks Under Nails

These also feel unnatural to me. The part that touches the string keeps me from feeling like I’m actually playing the guitar (thinner gloves picking your nose).

Also, these are a bit thicker and I found my fingers felt crowded and even knocked into each other. With the various lines and slots on the picks, they could get hung up on each other.

No joy.

So for the time, I was left to enjoy a smooth roll of a picking technique and lack a sharp, full sound to my playing. Solution to come.

I moved on to the thumb fingerstyle pick…

(3a) Fred Kelly – Slick Pick

I had high hopes for the Slick Pick – it came highly recommended.

I really like the fit and size and shape. It felt like an action movie style of a pick. Like the fingerstyle pick version of a spy.

In the past, I typically liked softer picks as harder picks tend to get hung up on strings for me. Same here for the Slick Pick.

fingerstyle picks
Various Fingerstyle Picks
  • Thumb: Slick Pick
  • Index and Middle: Speed Pick
  • Ring: Dunlop Herco Flex 52
  • Pinky: Herco Thumbpick

Despite the nice feel, when I went to pluck, I feel like I was trying to walk through a door holding a 4-foot two-by-four. I couldn’t just move my thumb along the string – I had to hold it farther away or change the motion of my thumb.

So I tried the Speed Pick…

(3b) Fred Kelly – Speed Pick

The Speed Pick is similar to the Slick Pick but with 3 prongs. The thinner middle prong moves a bit more easily and it’s smaller which makes less of a footprint on the string.

I experimented with filing and cutting them down, but ultimately it was too much like the Slick Pick.

Both are good, but not the right fit for me.

What I felt I was looking for was just a way to make a sharp point right on my thumb. That way I could have a very low profile attach on the string while still having the touch feel of the string on my skin (foreshadowing hint).

(4) Dunlop Herco – Flex 52

Similar to the Slick Pick, I tried the Herco Flex 52. I had similar results with it so just read the above or move on to below.

(5) Dunlop Herco – Thumbpick

Finally I tried the regular Herco thumb pick (HE112P).

There’s a couple of key aspects of my thoughts on this pick.

I really liked it, but it was no better as a fingerstyle pick.

It’s great for strumming so it’s a good option if you’re going to switch back and forth in a song. Also, it doesn’t turn in your hand which is reason enough for me to use it. I’ve always had that problem.

However, for fingerstyle picking, it’s really no better than the others.

Conclusions

So in the end, as I said, I wanted just a hard extension of my finger to pluck strings with definition. I considered dabbing super glue on the ends of my fingers, but that would be worse than carrying around a tackle box of various finger picks.

So I decided to grow out my nails. Not much, but enough to get the results I wanted. I don’t have to carry around any picks, worry about them breaking, etc. I can feel the strings and it doesn’t cost really anything.

I got a nail file I keep handy. I file my nails just about every day when I get ready to practice. That helps me keep them consistency the same length – not too long, not too short.

I went for the same solution for my thumb. I keep that nail at a good length to get some bite on the string, but not too much. Also, it doesn’t bother me too much for typing.

So not an exciting solution, but the one that seems best and most practical for me. Over time I only feel more convinced it’s the right way to go.

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