Playing electric with fingers only?

lava

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Not talking about standard fingerstyle here, wondering more about playing with a single fingernail.

A few years back I saw a video of Paul Ortiz/Chimp Spanner jamming with his Dad, who is apparently an awesome player and uses only his fingers to play electric, no pick. And it wasn't your typical fingerstyle, either, it was a weird hybrid where he was doing things like picking fast with one finger. I was intrigued, as I think that there is something to having a direct flesh connection to the instrument with no intermediate device.

I tried it myself, but at the time was not skilled enough to make it work so kept using a pick. However... in the last couple of years I've started playing a lot of bass, and the way I play bass is to alternate between standard bass fingerstyle and using my hand to pick. While doing the latter, I hold my hand exactly as if I were holding a pick, but there's no pick and I'm picking with my fingernail. It's easy to do on bass because the strings are so far apart.

After playing bass that way for a couple of years, I recently sat down at the guitar and couldn't find a pick. Not surprisingly, I'm way better at fingernail picking a guitar now! Like, almost good enough to not use a pick anymore, but not quite. The dynamics are amazing, and the range of tones you can get is immense. I will probably continue practicing this so as to stop using picks, but I will say it can be difficult to do tremolo picking and other fast runs.

Just wondering if anyone else does this or has even switched completely? Can it be done?
 
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KnightBrolaire

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Not talking about standard fingerstyle here, wondering more about playing with a single fingernail.

A few years back I saw a video of Paul Ortiz/Chimp Spanner jamming with his Dad, who is apparently an awesome player and uses only his fingers to play electric, no pick. And it wasn't your typical fingerstyle, either, it was a weird hybrid where he was doing things like picking fast with one finger. I was intrigued, as I think that there is something to having a direct flesh connection to the instrument with no intermediate device.

I tried it myself, but at the time was not skilled enough to make it work so kept using a pick. However... in the last couple of years I've started playing a lot of bass, and the way I play bass is to alternate between standard bass fingerstyle and using my hand to pick. While doing the latter, I hold my hand exactly as if I were holding a pick, but there's no pick and I'm picking with my fingernail. It's easy to do on bass because the strings are so far apart.

After playing bass that way for a couple of years, I recently sat down at the guitar and couldn't find a pick. Not surprisingly, I'm way better at fingernail picking a guitar now! Like, almost good enough to not use a pick anymore, but not quite. The dynamics are amazing, and the range of tones you can get is immense. I will probably continue practicing this so as to stop using picks, but I will say it can be difficult to do tremolo picking and other fast runs.

Just wondering if anyone else does this or has even switched completely? Can it be done?
it can definitely be done, reggie wooten (victor wooten's brother) , andy from proguitarshop demos and jeff beck play only with their fingers. I started in classical/flamenco so I tend to do a lot of hybrid picking/just playing with my fingers if I don't feel like using my pick. If you want to do tremolo with your fingers then look up the classical way to do it (or learn the way victor wooten does it, it's different than classical tremolo).
 

lava

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Thanks guys. Wow, Chris Zoupa really drives it home that this is a totally viable technique. Now if only my 42 year old brain is still plastic enough to get good at it.
 

Dayn

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I do it if I drop a pick and I can't get a new one. My finger & nail just becomes a pick. Almost as good, just a bit less precision.

It's not my preferred method.
 

Flemmigan

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Lindsey Buckingham (Fleetwood Mac) also, has only ever used his fingers.

Hell yeah. Absolute beast. I watched this concert around the time I first started playing guitar, and since then I still can't believe how good he is. He's doing quite a bit more than using a single fingernail, but no picks in sight.
 

ElRay

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Thanks guys. Wow, Chris Zoupa really drives it home that this is a totally viable technique.
:agreed:
Thanks to all posting here. This is the route I've been going for years. I just feel disconnected when using a pick.
Now if only my 42 year old brain is still plastic enough to get good at it.
Hey, if my 50-year-old brain can do it, you can.
 

cardinal

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I tend to do this also since picking up bass. I will use my index finger kinda like a pick, but also often use the other fingers either to pluck chords or just for a different dynamic.

I can play most things like this and can do some relatively rapid runs and sweeps, but if I need to really shred and want to make sure every note in the run has a consistent volume/attack, I have to go find a pick.
 

bostjan

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I don't know how you can use fingernails to play bass. :lol: When I gig on bass, I use the pads of my fingers and I almost always end up with blood blisters. I tried using my fingernail twice to get around the pain, but ended up ripping off my fingernail in the process.

My guitar teacher in my late teen years up to about 20 - he played guitar with his fingernails, because he switched back and forth a lot between conventional picking, fingerstyle, and flamenco-type flourishes. I tried to get the hang of it, but, at that time, I was in the process of learning at least a dozen other techniques from him, so I never mastered it. I tend not to pick nearly as hard on guitar as I do on bass, so I am able to pick with my fingernail only mostly awkwardly, but I have noticed that making a habit out of it does grind my nail down enough to cause a problem. Maybe my nails are softer than most, because it takes me a really long time to grind down the tip of a pick.

At the end of the day, as good as it is to have less reliance on accessories, it's pretty easy to keep a pick (or ten) in your wallet, even if you don't plan on playing out and about. In terms of connectedness to your instrument, that's all personal preference. I feel more connected playing with the pads of my fingers than with nails. Developing impressive fingerstyle technique, IMO, is a lot more technically demanding than anything you can do with a pick alone, so if you are looking for a challenge, I would try that first, then using fingernail as a pick or whatever should develop naturally.
 

ArtDecade

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Beck has to be the gold standard of fingersyle players in a rock format.
 

wankerness

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You have to actually have strong fingernails. A lot of people have skinny, wimpy ones that will immediately bend and break (or get filed down) if you try doing anything like this. It's not feasible for many people to do the Geddy Lee thing, for example. I dunno if it's something achievable purely through diet for us wimpy fingernails types.
 

InfinityCollision

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Reinforcing one's nails is definitely the way to go there. Even if you are genetically blessed (I'm not, my nails are awful), I'd still recommend it just for less risk of breakage.

 

Rawkmann

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Surprised no one has mentioned Jared James Nichols yet. Maybe he's just not the kind of guy a lot of people on this forum know of but he's a great rock player that doesn't use a pick.

 

Fathand

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Check out Wes Montgomery, the Elite thumbpicker extraordinaire.
 
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