The Pick is a tone tool!

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Rob W, Apr 6, 2000.

  1. While reading many of your responses to some of the "pick" threads going, I was astonished to see the most important element of this whole discussion go almost completely untouched. A few people touched on it briefly, but I think a big point has been missed.

    The decision to use your fingers or a pick should be primarily based on one thing alone: the sound you are trying to make.

    I have always used both approaches. There is, in fact, an incredible range of tone colours and articulations that are possible with a pick that aren't possible with the fingers, and vice versa. I'm really surprised so many of you limit your sound palatte by not using one technique (many of you don't seem to want to use the pick from the looks of it). I think those of you who never use a pick are missing out on discovering the range of tones available to you.

    Many of you have said that you can get a broader range of tones with your fingers over pick. I don't see how.

    Some say they can get any sound from their fingers that is possible with a pick. I'd like to hear that. I can't imagine that being possible. (I also feel the reverse would be impossible)

    In any case, the biggest range of sounds certainly will come from using both approaches. It just seems silly to limit yourself by elimnating such a valuble tool.

    As a double bassist, if you took away my bow, you'd have to shoot me. My bow is where most of my sound comes from. It is infinately more expressive and capable of such a huge amount more variety of articulations and colours than I could ever hope to get from my fingers (pizzicato). I feel similarly about the pick - although to a much lesser degree - it is a tool, which with great pratice, can be used to draw great sounds from an instrument.

    Regarding the pick as being the easy way out, that's also a falacy. There are plenty of things that are harder to do with a pick than with your fingers. Ever tried to "swing" with a pick? It's much harder - but Joe Osborn and Carole Kaye used to do it on sessions in the '60's - a great tone, but very diferent than using your fingers.

    The bottom line is that your choice of which to use should be governed by the piece of music you are about to play and how you want it to sound. I know a few of you hinted at this earlier, but I was surprised to see how many people seemed to side-step this issue.
  2. RickenbackeR


    Mar 28, 2000
    I agree completely that the choice should reside in the preference for sound, but I am confident that FEEL is very important also.

    However, some people (me, for instance) prefer the sound of fingers.

    How I have achieved My Sound(tm) [​IMG] is by growing a little bit the nails of my first two fingers of my right hand.

    This creates a sound completely different to using a pick, and different also to using your fingers with no nails.

  3. Your response that "feel" is important too is somewhat valid, but only to a point.

    Of course, certain things are going to feel more natural than others, but if you can't get the desired sound, what's the point? If you are mostly in charge of what you want to hear timbre-wise or articulation-wise, then you may "cave in" and do what feels more natural even if it's not exactly what you're wanting to hear. You may even convince yourself that one way actually sounds better to you based on the fact that it's easier for you to do. As humans, we often take the path of least resistance.

    However, being mostly an Orchestral player, I come from a different headspace. If a composer and/or conductor asks for a certain technique to be used (usually because they have a certain sound in mind), you either learn to do it, or start looking for another gig. If the composer has asked for something to be played with the bow, and you decide it's more natural to play with your fingers, you'll likely be shown the door (in my case, using the bow is much more natural than pizzicato).

    So, I still contend that the ultimate goal should be what sound comes out of your instrument. If it requires you to master a new technique, then so be it.
  4. lump


    Jan 17, 2000
    St. Neots, UK

    Enjoyed your post. If you've seen some of mine, I'm sure I come across as anti-pick. I'm not. But I am anti-ignorance. If someone like yourself (a pro) chooses to use a pick for the reasons you state (to create a tone you can't get with your fingers), I support that decision whole-heartedly. But when someone says "I use pick because Bass Hero X uses one," when in fact Bass Hero X DOESN'T, I get annoyed. I think a lot of the younger folks would be surprised at how small the pantheon of pick-using bassists is.

    As for a broader range of tones possible with the fingers, when they make a pick with the combination of hard and soft surfaces of my hand (plus a thumb), I'll concede they are more versatile.

    As for feel, or "limiting" oneself, I have to admit that's the luxury of not being a pro. I can draw the line where I want to, not where the producer does. Personally, I draw it at using a pick (and four strings, but that's an argument for another day). Right now, I am totally digging the tone of the bassist in Creed, for example. But I'm not inclined at all to use a pick to duplicate it (or buy a P-bass Lyte, for that matter). And the reason for that is what Mr. Ric states - FEEL. The electric bass is one of the only instruments that allows you to use the hands THEMSELVES to shape the tone (and "Low Rider" just sounds stupid on a harp). No picks, sticks, keys, mallets, bows or valves. Maybe you've been playing the bass so long you don't appreciate how unique and powerful that feeling is. The fact you say using a bow is more natural to you than pizzicato is almost sad to me. I'm not an upright player (maybe someday), but what could be more fun than digging into that big wooden beast with both hands? And for me, being a brass player, incorporating the fingers on my right hand is almost essential, and puts me in much better touch with the instrument, and the music.

    For me, FEEL of the instrument, and using that feel to create music is far more important than creating a particular "tone." And let's face it, judging by some of the posts, half the players on this board can't even tell the difference, much less the guy in the 12th row.

    Y'all kin jes keep them pick thangs. I'll stick with my fingers.
  5. Black_Sabbath_Fanatic


    Dec 12, 1999
    well rob, your post made it seem like all of us who don't use picks are just ignorant people who just don't like the sound of it...well i HATE USING A PICK and i don't do it at all. but i have tried it. i tried it and hated it. i didn't like the sound much (i prefer warm, and i can change the way i play with fingers to produce all tones i want) and playing with a pick to me doesn't feel right at all. i just play for fun, and it is no fun if it doesn't feel right, feel is THE MOST IMPORTANT thing to me. and another reason i don't use a pick is because i can't mute the strings with my thumb worth ****.

    "Don't let those empty people try and interfere with your mind, just live your life and leave them all behind!"--Black Sabbath
  6. Lump: what could be sad about using the bow in favour of the fingers. I actually see it as a bit of a shame when I see a Jazz player using a fine master double bass WITHOUT the bow (even sadder to see a pickup on such an instrument). I just imagine all the tone colours that must have come form that instrument in the past that aren't happening anymore. The double bass has been around for a number of centuries now and until until Jazz came along, it was almost exclusively used with the bow. That was how the instrument was concieved : to be a bowed string instrument.

    I can sort of see what you're saying about having another item between you and the bass (meaning the bow), but to most classical string players, the bow is as much part of the instrument as the actual fiddle. In fact, Many players (including myself) contend that they'd much rather have a great bow than a great instrument (luckily I have both [​IMG] ). The bow, to me, is like an extension of my hand, and the most natural tool I can imagine. The amount of expression and colour available with the bow is far greater than you could ever hope to do with just your fingers. Another consideration is that I can produce about 5 times as much volume with my bow than with my fingers, which is handy when 99.9% of my double bass playing is completly unamplified.

    Back to the pick on the electric bass: BTW I'm not in favour of using it all the time. In fact, I probably only use a pick about 15% of the time and it definately sounds better on certain of my basses than others. It is not anywhere as veratile as a double bass bow, but I still believe it capable of doing things that the fingers cannot (and vice versa). My main point is I feel players should think twice before eliminating a valuable tool that can help them stand out.
  7. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    Let's see...$2k bass; $2k worth of amp/speaker...played with $0.15 worth of PLASTIC?! Sorry, for me, that doesn't compute. I usually say, "...if my hands can't pull it off, then that's a problem I've got to address". That's why I'm seen as "anti-effects", too; if I were "good enough", I wouldn't need that octaver to achieve that sorta sound/tone. So,...back in my early developement, I'd estimate 95% of my practice time was spent on getting TONES; I'm pretty confident I can get a reasonable facsimile of "the pick sound" with my fingers.
    ...BTW, I love Jazz bass pizzicato-style; for some reason, a bowed bass in a Jazz environment doesn't work for me. Classical is a different thing; I prefer the bow & NOT fingers in the symphony.
    ...the above, of course, is IMHO.
  8. Brooks


    Apr 4, 2000
    Middle East
    Let me add my two cents worth...I use pick less than 10% of the time, mostly on some old tunes. It took me quite a white to learn how to do it right, to have the feel and expression that I can get out of my fingers.

    However, you CAN get a lot of different sounds with a pick, and those are not same as the ones you get with your fingers. I even learned to combine pick and fingers by holding the pick with the thumb and index fingers, and using fingers 2 & 3 fingerstyle. I can also kinda 'slap' with a pick, if it's a really hard one and action is set low.

    I agree with Rob 100% - it's just another tool, and I don't see why I should ignore it.
  9. JustMe


    Apr 6, 2000
    This is a very good topic...
    yes, the pick is a tone tool, and it produces different tones that sometimes might be useful.
    Why can't we leave it at that? As musicians, we have only one (main) goal - to produce good music. If the pick sounds good with a certain track, then why the f_ck shouldn't we use it? Coz it's cheap? Coz it's not our FAVOURITE "tone tool"? Most of us have more than one bass, we might have our favourite, but that doesn't mean we'll never use the other basses when their sounds are needed (e.g. fretted/fretless).

    Someone said that they wont use it coz its cheap? well that's just sad.

    It doesn't feel right/good? i don't know about you, but i feel right/good whenever the audience enjoys my music, whatever it takes.

    | || || || || || || || || || || || || || || || || || || || || || || || || || || || || || ||

    'didn't mean to offend anyone, you're all entitled to yer opinions,etc It just sounds better like this...
  10. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I must say that I agree with JimK and that I wouldn't want to rely on a cheap piece of plastic for my sound and that I can get any sound I've heard on a record, just using my fingers, which are far more reliable and better-trained for the job. [​IMG]

    I suspect though, that the main reason we both hate picks is the feeling that you're being limited (by someone else usually) in terms of your sound - in particular the dynamic range. I have heard comments from several pros in interviews (John Entwistle for example) that the only reason they used a pick on a recording was because the engineer thought it would "produce a more consistent sound".

    I tend to let the nails on my thumb grow a bit longer and they have got very hard over the years - I can use my right thumb nail (and palm muting) if an abrasive "pick-like" sound is needed - for example like JJ Burnel in the Stranglers.

    I also wouldn't want to get reliant on a pick, because you would undoubtedly get the situation where your last one falls down a drain, just before that important gig, where the record company exec. is coming especially to hear you (this is a theoretical example!) - so what do you do, make your excuses and leave or play badly becuase you've always practiced the set using a pick?

    I also think this probably relates to the sense again in which a lot of bass players think of the "sound" as being their own and that is identified with them and people either take them as they are or leave it.

    Most of us aren't in the same situation as RobW where we are playing parts for a living and spend a lot of time getting the **sound** we really like and object to anyone else telling us how to sound - if they don't like it why did they choose us to be in the band?

    As I don't rely on music for my living I would be happy to tell someone where to go if they didn't like my sound or the way I play and would go off and play with people who did like it. I would be happy to take advice on technique and musical theory, but in terms of sound - "I know what I like" and while I would always, of course, try to make my bass part fit the piece of music, if someobody told me to play with a pick for a particular song I would tell them to get somebody else.
  11. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    Yeah, well, I am "sad"...again, if my hands can't pull something off, then I need to address that problem. For S&Gs, I pulled a guitar pick out last night & tried it; I then played back by the bridge with the TIP of my index finger & with a little difference(to these tone deaf ears)!

    There was a time I did some studio work in this town(& ghosted some parts for some bands' projects)...couple times, I was asked to use a pick to get that Rock 1/8s-Root thing happenin'...I can so do that with fingers; so why should I succumb using something that isn't comfortable FOR ME & that will affect my playing & ultimately lessen the listeners' pleasure(if any).

    ...and to sound like the perfect hypocrite-I actually prefer using a pick on a guitar(all 0.15 cents worth!).

  12. Brinmar


    Apr 9, 2000
    A must for that "GANK" sound from a Rick Bass
    Also Using a pick is a nice change up during the weekend. When youve played your ass off, and the blisters are formin'
  13. JustMe


    Apr 6, 2000
    It's alright if you can get the sound you want without using a plectrum, all i'm saying is that you shouldn't completely dismiss it, and be "afraid" of it.

    I still, however, don't feel too comfortable with the 'cheap' thing...

    Actually, i sometimes play with the (back)nail of my index and/or middle finger, with my thumb supporting it, sort of like playing pick-style without a pick. I fink it's called apoyando or somin'.
  14. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I almost forgot the other "bad" thing about using a pick. People use it as a "rest" when their fingers are getting sore and as a result don't develop the callouses necessary to play with their fingers for long periods.
    This is probably the main reason why I wouldn't advise beginners to bass to use a pick. This ends up "limiting" their use of fingers because it is less painful than using a pick.

    Also to me, the Rickenbacker "Clank" is alright in one or two musical situation (Yes and the Jam [​IMG]) , but really stands out like a sore thumb in 99% of music and to my ears is virtually unusable.
  15. Maybe some of us like playing "Old" music from time to time. I love the Rickenbacker "GANK" and I play that way from time to time - in fact I've recently put together an early Genesis tribute band, just for fun in my spare time. The pick is very essential to the old Rutherford Ricky sound (it also more convenient to pick the bass when you have to switch from 12 string guitar to bass in less than 2 beats of music! - there's no time to switch between pick and fingers anyway).

    Chris Squire still uses the same sound after all these years, and it's a good one. You're right it's not for every day, but it's a nice change at times.

    I still don't understand why people are so concerned about the cheapness of the pick. Maybe if they charged $2000 for a pick that would make you feel better. Do you think all the mandolin and guitar players out there should change their ways because they're using a cheap piece of plastic? What about drummers? A set of drums sticks is pretty cheap compared to a DW drum kit. I know violinst who have half-million dollar instruments played with $2000 bows - that's a significant amount cheaper than the instrument!

  16. RickenbackeR


    Mar 28, 2000
    <BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR>Originally posted by Bruce Lindfield:
    Also to me, the Rickenbacker "Clank" is alright in one or two musical situation (Yes and the Jam [​IMG]) , but really stands out like a sore thumb in 99% of music and to my ears is virtually unusable.<HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

    I agree with everything you said before about using a pick, but i have to disagree here.

    I know this is your very own taste, but i dont see the so called "GLANK" (or "CLANK", whatever) as unusable.

    I also grow my fingernails a bit specifically to achieve that "GLANK" with my 4003 in a way that i just can't using a pick, and i play like that 100% of the time!

    Back to the subject, i agree with whoever said that beginners should play with fingers so to develop calluses. Maybe if they want to change to using a pick after, its ok, but at least they have good background using their hands, and can value the difference in sounds that each technique offers.

  17. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    Drum Sticks..."organic"
    Violin Bow..."organic"
    Your hands..."organic"
    ...see where I'm goin' with this?

    BTW...I'm not thrilled(at all)about pickguards being on instruments, either!

    Turning it up a notch...
  18. RickenbackeR


    Mar 28, 2000
    Strings... "metal"
    Pickups... "metal" and "plastic"
    Electronix... "metal"

    I don't use a pick either, but refusing to use it because its plastic i think is just plain silly, I'm sorry.

  19. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I think it is a n "organic" thing in terms of sound. I play in a Jazz context, with a lot of "acoustic" instruments and players. Using your fingers makes a sound that fits in well enough with this type of group, but much as I admire Chris Squire as a player - his "sound" just would not fit in with a small acoustic Jazz group!

    Now if you think about all the types of music there are - Jazz, Latin, Reggae etc. - there are actually very few situations where this will fit in - that's all I was saying and I would stick by it. And it definitely would be unsuable in the bands in which I play. I have heard bassists at Jazz workshops
    using a pick and it does really sound out of place - that's all you can hear and it becomes very irritating.

    I'm not worried about how cheap a pick is - just how easy to lose and how it comes between me and the strings.
  20. craigb

    craigb Supporting Member

    I fall into the use whatever camp. Sometimes I just like the sound of a picked P-bass. Then again I don't use a pick for any of my band's songs (rock style).

    What about Tony Levin's funk fingers? I really want a pair of those although his company is currently out of them. I may have to make some of my own. I mess around sometimes using a single drumstick to thump the strings to emulate the tone and it's very percussive yet different than a slap.

    But funk fingers are organic (wood), at least until you dip them in the plastic/rubber tool handle dip.