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Picks vs. Fingers for Playing Bass Guitar

You have probably heard this question many times: Should I use a pick or my fingers to play bass? You can find a huge amount of different answers on the Internet and still be confused. 

My philosophy is, to never limit yourself. Both methods are valid and appropriate for the right musical context. 

Picks vs. Fingers: The Eternal Debate

Whether using picks or using your fingers, each technique has its place and, ideally, you need to feel comfortable with either one you choose.

pick bass player

Is there a wrong way to play an instrument? Any method you use to get sound out of your instrument - fingers, pick, nails, palms of your hands, etc - can work, if the sound produced is the sound you are looking for. It is entirely a matter of personal preferences.

Therefore, this is an unimportant debate, if your plan is to be a versatile musician, and be able to understand the rich parts of every bass line, regardless of the method used to play them. 

For me, it is difficult to understand how this debate has been one of the most controversial topics since the advent of modern music creation decades ago.

Why not keep an open mind and become comfortable with both methods? There is room for everything.

Using Fingers to Play Bass

Usually, bass players report having more control when using their fingers, giving them a richer tonal variety, and beefier tone. In Addition, the popular slap technique used by many bassists can be easily implemented, if you don’t hold any pick between your fingers.

Play bass with pick

A funny positive argument is, that you will never lose your bass pick if you don’t own one.

One of the drawbacks of this method is that it takes a little more work to learn. Nevertheless, if your goal is long-term learning, this should not be a technical obstacle.

Using Picks to Play Bass

The biggest advantage of using a pick for the bass guitar is obvious: Instant speed. You can develop speed more quickly and effortlessly.

If the bass lines you want to learn, belong to certain music styles that are speed intensive, a pick might make sense. You can develop the same speed as with your fingers, but it will take much more time.

guitar pick grip

In addition, the tone can be easily changed by using a different guitar pick. This allows you to have different tones, and experiment a lot to find the right sounding bass guitar pick.

Every pick - for guitar, bass, or other instruments - has four different main parameters: Shape, material, thickness, and size. Combined together, they result in a very specific range of tone textures, attack soundwaves, and feedback. Therefore, choosing your guitar pick is one of the most difficult tasks.  We have created a guide HERE, that will help you find your tone.

Pick Thickness for Bass Players

Bass players generally use thicker picks. The thickness improves the bass playing control, and the overall tone of the string.

The average pick thickness for bass players is 1.17 mm, while for guitar players is 0.89 mm. Remember, bass strings are much thicker than guitar strings. Therefore, a thinner plectrum will give you much less control in comparison to a thicker plectrum. 

The size of the pick will also have a role in the creation of the tone.

guitar pick thickness

guitar pick thickness and size

Having said that, there are still many bassists who do prefer to use thinner bass picks, like for example Rombo Classic, or Rombo Origami. 

If you have no idea where to start, take the average value and look for picks with a gauge of about 1.2 mm. This is a good place to get started. From there, you can go up and down and try other picks depending on your preferences. It might be a good idea to look for the bass picks your favorite players use, and try to understand why they do so.

Most Popular Pick Shapes for Bass:

The truth is, most classical shapes tend to have an excellent reception between the bass players. 

The most popular shapes are the classical teadrop pick shape, the rounded teardrop pick shape, and the triangle pick shape.

In addition to shape, there are many other attributes that define a pick. HERE you can read about the 6 most underrated attributes of guitar and bass picks.

Teardrop

Teardrop is the most popular and known type of guitar and bass pick. Semi-sharp point for quick attacks, that maintain a wide range of possibilities, depending on the thickness and material used.

Guitar Pick Teardrop

Rounded

Rounded picks provide a more warm sound and smooth attack. These are for the bass players looking for a way to play the bass strings with less force and attack. Sometimes they are totally free when a teardrop pick is completely worn down.

Guitar Pick Rounded

Triangle

A triangle pick is the most practical option because of the tri-sided feature. You can pluck your string with any of the three pointy tips this pick provides. A triange pick is recommended for those players who constantly break the tips of their picks. 

We are developing a triangle guitar and pick in these moments and it will be launched with 3 other models in early 2021. These 4 new guitar picks will be co-designed by real guitar players. How? In September, 2020, we will create a huge survey to determine the thickness, size, tip diameter, and other parameters of the new picks. Do you want to join the team? Click HERE.

Pick Materials for Bass Players:

When it comes to bass, we apply the same rules as with guitar picks.

After studying the physics of guitar picks, and all the material possibilities we have, we came to the following conclusions. The pick material should:

  • feel nice to the touch and be comfortable, yet provide grip
  • be able to create clear tones, without compromising the bass tones
  • be very versatile: feel flexible when thin, and feel stiff when thick
  • be durable
  • look nice

Guitar Pick Material

You can read all about materials used at Rombo HERE.
You will also find a link with the information about Eco-Black - These picks made out of 100% recycled fibre waste, that we manufacture ourselves.

The durability of Bass Picks:

Because the strings are thicker, and bass players tend to play with more energy, the lifetime of your pick will be substantially reduced.

A way to reduce the wear and tear of picks for bass is:

  • Using thicker picks
  • Using harder materials
  • Using picks with polished tip
  • Using triangle picks (3 tips take longer to wear down).

Guitar Pick grip

Conclusion: 

Playing bass with a pick is as valid as using your fingers, if this is the tone you are looking for.

Finding a pick you are comfortable with, is a difficult task, but testing lots of them and recording some of your bass lines can help you find a balance between the tone you want, and the feel and feedback you wish from the pick.

Do you use a pick when playing bass?



6 Responses

ROMBO
ROMBO

August 30, 2020

Hello Uuno,

Thanks for the feedback! I am very happy to read you like our guitar picks.
If you are interested in new designs, please don’t forget to check the new guitar picks for 2021 we presented here:

https://rombopicks.com/blogs/insight-rombo/new-guitar-picks-2021

Have a nice day!
Judith

Uuno Stearns
Uuno Stearns

August 30, 2020

Greetings from the US! I have been playing bass for over 40 years. As I also play guitar, I spent many years playing bass with a 1 mm teardrop guitar pick and round wound strings. My favorite bass player, Chris Squire from YES, plays with a pick, and that has had some of the influence to my playing style. During the last 5 years I have switched over to flat wound strings and a rubber pick. This has allowed me to get more of a finger picking sound and a softer attack. Now that I have discovered ROMBO picks, I am going to try all of the styles and sizes to see how they sound on both flat wound and round wound strings. I am currently trying out a sample pack of your recycled material picks on both guitar and bass and I will let you know which picks work best for me in which situations. I am very happy with quality,sound , and comfort of your picks and I will continue to use them for guitar and bass consistently in the future. ROMBO picks have given me new sounds to explore and I am very much looking forward to the new designs being released next year for both my guitar and bass playing. Wishing you the Best for the future, Uuno

ROMBO
ROMBO

August 15, 2020

Hey David,

Thanks for sharing your experience with guitar picks!
If you decide to order, please give us some feedback ;) We will use it to improve our products!

Have a nice day,
Judith

David Merino
David Merino

June 25, 2020

For bass, I use thin and thick picks. Depending on the results I want to achieve. I have been using 0.78 mm picks for 10 years now but I am very curious about the variable thickness thing your picks have…

I will place an order soon and let you know if I am happy with them!

ROMBO
ROMBO

June 03, 2020

Hi Chris,

Danke für das tolle Kommentar und Feedback!
Bzgl. “optimales Modell”, keine Sorge, wir haben angefangen vier neue Modelle zu entwickeln und dabei gibt es viele “Zwischenstufen”, zum Beispiel ein dünneres “Diamond-artiges” Plek oder ein etwas dünneres “Waves” mit schärferer Spitze.

VG
Judith

Chris Dreu
Chris Dreu

May 31, 2020

Hi!

Ich spiele seit 20 Jahren Bass und bin zuletzt beim Jazz 3 carbon gelandet weil es ne gute Mischung zwischen Wärme, Attack, Stärke und Grip hat.

Jetzt habe ich mir das Probeset von Rombo zuschicken lassen und finde die Grundidee erstmal sehr cool. Allerdings ist noch kein optimales Modell dabei.
Das ist jetzt noch etwas subjektiv aber ich würde die generelle Form des Diamond, mit der Stärke des Wave gut finden, evtl sogar noch ein bisschen dünner. Aber ich bin auch sehr angetan von der Griffläche des Origami. Wenn es eine Mischung aus diesen dreien geben würde, dann würde ich wahrscheinlich fest darauf umsteigen.

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