Picking with the thumb

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by violinoscar, Jul 28, 2018.

  1. I was wondering if anyone else did this: I pick almost exclusively with my thumb. I started doing this because I was searching for a bigger sound. I get it with the thumb. The larger picking surface gives me a big fat tone. The only time I use my fingers now is on really fast passages.
  2. Badwater


    Jan 12, 2017
    I do it from time to time for a different sound. And, use the upstroke for a galloping type sound.
    Pbassmanca likes this.
  3. Son of Wobble

    Son of Wobble

    Mar 8, 2010
    I saw a clip some years ago where Aston Barrett of The Wailers described his playing as primarily thumb at the neck for that thick, dub tone.

    Seems like playing exclusively with your thumb could be a challenge for certain material, particularly uptempo stuff.

    Joedog and basscapes like this.
  4. wesonbass


    Nov 26, 2012
    Graniteville SC
    I play almost everything with my thumb. You're exactly right about it being a more powerful ,fuller and richer sound. I only use my fingers when my thumb gets tired. But, I started playing at 5 yrs old and my little fingers simply weren't strong enough. I would lay my mother's bass on my lap and pluck the strings with my thumb. I'm 56 now and still have my first bass. A 67 fender Coronado. Dont be shamed by anyone on TB or anywhere else about playing with your thumb because to me, it just sounds much better. If I could play with another body part I would, if it sounded better. :bassist:
    strigidae likes this.
  5. wesonbass


    Nov 26, 2012
    Graniteville SC
    Also there's a lot more meat on the thumb causing this. Keep jamming. Use whatever sounds good to your own ears.
    Son of Wobble likes this.
  6. Gravy4001


    Jan 9, 2012
    I saw The Police concert about 10 years ago and Sting was strumming/picking a lot with his thumb. I incorporated the technique mainly for quiet sections and nowadays I find myself using it a lot. You can get pretty funky and it's real easy to add some palm muting.
    Son of Wobble and SkulliesBass like this.
  7. Russell L

    Russell L

    Mar 5, 2011
    Cayce, SC
    I use my thumb along with muting the strings with the side of my hand near the bridge to imitate an upright sound. Not often, but just sometimes on the right song (think "Crazy," for instance).
    InhumanResource likes this.
  8. It's the way Leo envisioned it. And Jamerson only used one finger, so why not one thumb?

    But I don't do that. I'm normal. :laugh:
    gebass6 likes this.
  9. Thumb came over from rhythm guitar. Well the pick came over, however, I like the sound of the thumb over the pick with what I play. Flats, foam and thumb does get me about as close to an upright sound as an electric can go.
  10. ArteK

    ArteK Supporting Member

    I'm another one who uses it occasionally for quiet passages. I seem to have more control over dynamics when I use my thumb as a plucker. And yeah, palm muting is a big part of my game, and the thumb playing makes that really easy.
  11. oranje

    oranje Living Deliciously Supporting Member

    Feb 1, 2010
    San Diego
    The thumb is one of three fingers I like to use.
    MartinB likes this.
  12. RustyAxe


    Jul 8, 2008
    You can get the same sound by playing with the SIDE of the finger instead of the fingertips. I started playing in the 60's, and my first bass had a "tug bar" ... many players used their thumbs exclusively back then. Whatever is working for you is just fine, but for me I found it limiting, unless I was playing the country music of that era.
    gebass6 likes this.
  13. Reggae is the first thing I think when I hear thumb playing, followed by people like Bill Buddha, Wooten, and other funk-style players.
    Son of Wobble likes this.
  14. Droopy_TX


    Jul 17, 2016
    I pretty much always use my thumb when playing slow country music.
    It just gives it a very controlled smooth and boomy sound.
    And, yes, sometimes thumbing it very close to the neck for extra mellowness.
  15. the_home

    the_home Supporting Member

    Jul 14, 2005
    Pensacola, FL
    Someone mentioned rather in passing that thumb playing is what Leo intended. And it is what his basses were designed for. Recall the original placement of the 'thumb rest' was on the treble bout of the bass. It was there to put your fingertips on while you play with you thumb. And it was called a 'tug bar' when you needed leverage to dig in.
  16. Rip Van Dan

    Rip Van Dan DNA Endorsing Artist Supporting Member

    Feb 2, 2009
    Duvall, WA
    I did this back in 1965. That's the whole reason the tug-bar is where it is in those 60's Fenders. Then later in 1965 I started using a pick because it sounded immensely better to me than playing with my thumb. Then in 1967 or 68 I was hounded into using finger-style by my drummer. Funny to see folks going back for that "thumb-style" after all these years.
  17. CryingBass

    CryingBass Just a Fool Whose Intentions are Good Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 8, 2016
    I have often said that finger players should try to use the meats of their fingers vs. the tips.

    Thumb players have a big advantage in that regard :)
  18. ThumbBum


    Dec 16, 2016
    Its not, I do it all the time. Just takes practice like anything else and you'll figure it out. I incorporate both thumb up down strokes with fingers as well.
    Quinn Roberts likes this.
  19. If memory serves me,....
    The brothers Tommy and Toy Caldwell of Marshall Tucker band both played exclusively with thumbs, bass and guitar respectfully.
    wesonbass and nbsipics like this.
  20. PWRL


    Sep 15, 2006
    I started playing that way, actually. It just seemed to come naturally. Then I graduated to picks, then mainly finger style. With my latest P bass, tho, it has a tug bar, so I was just having fun recently getting back into thumb playing. Funny that this thread came up right now.

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