Being a bass player and a finger style guitarist?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Woody1999, Jul 19, 2017.

  1. Woody1999


    Dec 13, 2015
    So in my main band I play bass and sometimes I backup with 2nd guitar. I normally play fingerstyle on the guitar and most of the songs we play require it. However, it's very difficult to play fingerstyle without decently long nails on my right hand. On the other hand, it sounds pretty terrible to play bass with the sound of your fingernails scraping against the strings.

    I attempted to find a "sweet spot" where my nails were short enough to play bass and long enough to play guitar but unfortunately there doesn't seem to be one or they overlap.

    Has anyone got any advice on what to do in this situation or have any experience dealing with it?

    Thanks in advance,

  2. ba55i5t


    May 24, 2006
    I don't use nails on guitar and it sounds nice. I use classical technique but employing the finger tips instead.
    bholder likes this.
  3. bholder

    bholder Affable Sociopath Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Sep 2, 2001
    Vestal, NY
    Received a gift from Sire* (see sig)
    I generally use just a touch of nail on both for extra emphasis - that is, I generally play with fingertips, but when I want extra attack, I'll use the very tip of the finger and the edge of the nail on the "release" to get a pick-like attack. Works even with short nails. I admire, but have never been interested in attempting, long-nail classical right handed plucking technique.
  4. sikamikanico


    Mar 17, 2004
    Yeah, the long nails are not necessary. A decent length is OK, to allow some extra techniques. Some people cut their nails way too short anyway. So find that sweetspot for both and don't overthink it, just keep at it until you find out the right combo.
  5. dxb


    Dec 25, 2016
    Maybe try finger picks like banjo players use?
  6. Woody1999


    Dec 13, 2015
    Cheers guys.

    I use a thumbpick on my thumb but I've never seen them for your fingers! Are they a similar kind of thing?

  7. dxb


    Dec 25, 2016
    Yeah, same sort of thing. Just google finger picks. D'addario makes them, as do several other companies.
  8. TexasHeat


    Jun 6, 2015
    I really hate using finger picks for finger picking style guitar. Not even a thumbpick. You lose the feel of the strings. I'm pretty new to bass, but I still play guitar, so I'm not going to chop my nails off. But I don't need long nails for finger picking, either.

    For bass, I try to release the string before the nail gets too involved. Inevitably, I get a twang from my nails and I chalk it up to my "signature sound". If it's too much for some songs, I will roll the tone knob back a bit.

    On a side note: At some point in the future, I would like to work out some finger picking patterns on the bass. I think that might be pretty cool. I'm still a newb so I ain't there yet. :)
  9. hondo4life

    hondo4life Guest

    Feb 29, 2016
    I absolutely cannot play my bass with any fingernails, but I absolutely need long nails to play guitar. So, I gave up guitar for bass. It sucks, but I can't do both. :crying:

    But if I HAD to do both, I would keep my nails for guitar, and play bass only with a pick. Strange, but that would be the only way for me.
    MalcolmAmos likes this.
  10. dxb


    Dec 25, 2016
    I faced this issue myself because I like to play nylon string (uke and classical guitar) and like others have noted, long nails on bass strings cause an annoying clacking sound. I just ended up trimming my nails because I play a lot more bass than guitar these days, but I'd love to find a better solution.

    Has anyone tried using press-on fake fingernails? I think I've seen a couple guitarists use them before. Probably wouldn't be an option for someone who needs to switch between guitar and bass mid-gig, but if you were just playing one or the other it should be workable.
    Last edited: Jul 19, 2017
  11. Badwater

    Badwater Guest

    Jan 12, 2017
    I've played fingerstyle acoustic a lot in the past, and always used a thumb pick and fingernails. Those metal and plastic finger picks that go over the finger tip are really uncomfortable and awkward to use. The only one I found that was any good was the "Alaska Pik Finger". And with that one, I placed the tip of the plastic under my finger nail for comfort and control.

    Another bass picking option is to fingerstyle like a guitar. This way you can use a little fingernail to get that snap.
  12. I was an old banjo guy. Those finger picks are for the banjo people. I would not recommend them for what you are trying to do on the bass. Hondo's post about using a pick on the bass makes since to me.

    I use my thumb on the bass 99% of the time, but, I do keep the thumb nail cut short. If I do not it hangs up as I play.

    Pick seems to be the best solution so far IMO.

    That and $1.58 will get you a cup of coffee in East Texas.
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2017
    hondo4life likes this.
  13. JTE

    JTE Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2008
    Central Illinois, USA
    For me it's a delicate balance to keep my right hand nails at the right length. Too long and they not only throw off my touch on bass, but they break off a the worst place while playing the guitar; too short and the guitar doesn't have the sound nor does touch feel right and I have trouble executing. So I find it simply a matter of daily diligence to maintain them.

    Finger picks are a viable alternative for a lot of guitar players- I believe Leo Kotke and Jorma Kaukonen use metal finger picks, like banjo players and pedal steel players do.

    Wear 'em like this..

    I never felt right with finger picsks, either metal or plastic however and just learned to keep my nails taken care of. A real problem when I was working HVAC and construction...
  14. Finger attack is around 1.6kHz. Maybe boost the guitar EQ around there and see if that gets you closer to the tone you're after.

    Conversely, grow those nails and cut around 1.6kHz on the bass to tame the nail sound.
  15. Justinvs

    Justinvs Guest

    Jul 8, 2017
    Wise River, Montana
    I'm self-taught where fingerstyle is concerned, which is another way of saying my technique is horrible but it works. When I play a guitar fingerstyle I use the tips of my fingers, never my nails. Same if I'm playing banjo. I know that isn't right, but I can't get the hang of using nails, even when they grow out a little which isn't very often.
    But, just to let you know how bad my technique is, even though I play a lot of fingerstyle 6-string, on bass I always use my thumb and bird finger or a pick. I never really got the hang of the standard four finger picking.