Thumbpicks and Fingerpicks

This is review of as many thumbpicks and fingerpicks as I can find on the market and a few that are still under development. I hope you enjoy the photos, reviews, videos and other material. I've also created a high quality web video tour that includes most of these picks and a preview of the new Tortis thumbpick by Red Bear that's under development. My goal is not to recommend one pick or the other but present you with information that will help you find the right ones for you.

Thumbpicks come in a variety of shapes and sizes and all have pros and cons depending on the size of your hands, picking style and individual needs. In fact I like several kinds of picks for various reasons and keep several brands with me when I play.  I highly recommend players to revisit various brands as your playing style and skills develop. You never want to be caught somewhere without the ability to play because you don't have a thumbpick or may not have the right brand. If you are from the country or a small town like I am you know that finding picks is not easy in local music stores. So keep your options open.

QUICKTIME VIDEO TOUR OF THUMBPICKS
I describe how each of these picks work
and demonstrate how they sound
Length 12 minutes quicktime broadband quality


Note: If you want me to review a thumbpick please contact me via the message link at the
bottom. You will have to ship me samples and I will review and post photos.


Thumbpick and Fingerpick Reviews

RED BEAR TORTIS
I have the very first beta Tortis thumbpick mounted on the Propick frame. I'm currently working with Red Bear to develop a signature model and a production version. You know I was rather skeptical about this whole idea but after playing this first one for a week I am convinced this will be dynamite product for many players. I'm waiting on the next version to arrive for more testing. The blade shape, length, tip size, bevel and other factors are all fine tuned on the computer drawings then submitted to the laser cutter and finally hand beveled with extremely skilled hands and tools. The result is a pick that is almost impossible to fall off, doesn't make your thumb hurt or sweat, lasts forever and can even be filed and customized to your own shape and size. This is hot news off the press and I will update it often.
 MORE NEWS IN COMING WEEKS (last update 30Jun06)

FRED KELLY SLICK PICK
This is a pick that makes many players very happy. It's got the feel of a traditional thumbpick but a much smaller profile, shorter blade and a close up to the thumb feel. These are not very big so large hands may have a problem. The blade is tapered as well as beveled so you get a quick stiff attack with medium power. Comes in several materials that slightly alter the brightness or warmth of the tone.

FRED KELLY REGULAR
Comes in Delrin or Polycarb materials for brighter or warmer tone. Has a blade that points a little more toward the sound hole. I'm not sure I like that since tone definition is toward the bridge and the human hand tends to make the thumb too far forward in the first place. This is a very comfortable pick and the more narrow blade is about 1mm longer than the slick pick.

FRED KELLEY SPEEDPICK
This is my favorite Kelly pick but the light (yellow) model is very thin and clicky sounding. The medium (orange) is a nice pick for light fingerstyle work and the heavy (white) model has a substantial stiffness and bounce to the blade that can produce some serious volume and thump with any guitar. I even use them on a resonator but on the super demanding loud gigs these picks just can't produce the volume of a larger standard Dunlop or National pick. Never the less this is a fantastic pick and people usually get the wrong impression by not trying the heavier gauge. If your guitar has overpowering bass response this pick might help you calm down the bass and allow the trebles to be heard. The flexible design gives a snappy bouncy feel and tone. They also come in a larger version with a slightly longer blade. These can get tight on larger thumbs. They wear really well too but eventually the blade gets shorter and you have to toss it. .

FRED KELLEY SPEEDPICK LARGE FIT
This is a new offering by Kelly that's larger than the normal speedpicks and may fit you better with a large thumb. In my opinion they are not much bigger and I dont like how the blade has also been extended. The body of the pick is not really taller. It's just a stretched longer version of the white heavy model. A great pick but don't order it thinking it's much larger and you might not like the slighty longer blade. Personally the batch I got of them also had some sharp little edges from the molding process I had to file off to make them comfortable. Plus I had to accept blue, red colors because you can't choose what color you want.
 

FRED KELLEY BUMBLEBEE
Well this one is probably going to make some pickers very happy and it's a wonderful conversation piece but in my personal opinion makes neither an outstanding flatpick, strummer nor thumbpick. It's made very well and the blade rotates but I find that as much an irritation as a benefit. Overall this is a cool pick but I dont see myself playing any sort of blues. It might be a really good pick for electric where you aren't playing as aggressively. It does work as advertised though and a quality product. Just not my cup of tea.

 

JIM DUNLOP HEAVIES
These are heavy duty and have a long blade but they are very comfortable, well made and produce bass and tone that you need on most National, Dobro or other resonator guitars. The blade can be a little long for guitar and strike the top or pickups making a tapping noise while you play but if you are playing a tricone, dobro or other instrument with a cover plate or crossbar cover you might need this extra reach. They also feel more in their place when using fingerpicks along with them. The ivoroid color seems to have a little more brightness than the warmer calico model but they are virtually interchangeable. They do not fly off and feel comfortable for long periods. This is an excellent alternative for the Golden Gates pick which has a lip on it that catches the strings often. These dont have that lip and are still comfortable just the same.

JIM DUNLOP CLEAR D
I love how these look because the audience can't really tell if you are wearing picks or not but the design of this thumbpick is different than the others and not only squeezes my thumb tighter but has a sharper slightly smaller blade. I think there are better versions of a clear pick on the market. The fingerpick in this set is nice though. I would always order large sizes since they are so tight.

JIM DUNLOP WHITE PLASTIC

This is a very nice set that wears well, very comfortable and sounds very solid. This is an outstanding choice for making a resonator or dobro really bark. Anything but the large fingerpick hurts my finger. The medium and large thumbpicks are both very comfortable. These are used by Bob Brozman, Tommy Emmanuel and many pros. Tommy uses a medium thumb and files the blade down a little. I think the stock blade length is perfect and it's a little shorter than the Dunlop Heavies shown above.
 

JIM DUNLOP SHELL PICKS

Simulated turtle shell plastic looks good, feels great but identical in almost every way to the white plastic version but ever so slightly warmer in tone and softer. These wear noticably after heavy use but they remain one of my favorite picks of all time and produce a big fat tone. And like the white plastic version have blades that are nice medium length and not longer like the HEAVIES version shown above. These break easier at the bend than the others.

JIM DUNLOP ZOOKIES

Featuring tips that are angled at 10,20 or 30 degrees this is a fantastic idea. Great pick too. The tip is narrowed a little and I like the 10 or 20. The 30 might be too radical for some but this certainly allows for some angle correction on how the pick meets the string. Just another option for you to test and they only cost a few bucks so go try a couple.

JIM DUNLOP DELRIN
Basically an exact clone copy of the Fred Kelly regular. Blade leans toward the sound hole. Decent pick and comfortable. See my review of the Kelly above.

JIM DUNLOP BRASS FINGERPICK
These are great once you get used to them but I like the sound of plastic fingerpicks better since they have no metallic click sound. The brass does have a warm sound though. You get better at these over time and the extra weight and reach on the ends of your fingers is cool but I think it changes how I play and my style a little. You also loose the ability to mute with bare fingertips but the power these give makes a cone in a resonator scream and also helps the trebles match the bass volume a thumbpick produces. I don't like the thinner gauge .015 so I usually use the .0225 shown here. 

 

JIM DUNLOP NICKEL/SILVER FINGERPICK

Same as the brass but slightly brighter tone. My ear can't really hear the difference to be honest. I think these feel more stiff though and might be more durable.

JIM DUNLOP SILVER THUMBPICK

Never would have thought this would sound as warm as it does but it's a really good pick and that turned up metal on the tip is smooth and warm sounding when picking the string. These are for people wanting serious volume and aggressive playing. The holes in the bottom help grip and this pick is very stiff yet comfortable. I imagine mostly dobro players use these. They win the award for robust construction.

Shell, Medium

NATIONAL SHELL THUMBPICK
This is an excellent alternative to the shell Dunlop pick but I'm not convinced these are as comfortable and they have more of a curled around shape and feel. Not as flat on the bottom and perhaps squeeze and aggravate a little more than the Dunlop but if you have smaller or medium hands these might be great for you. I use them as a backup whenever the stores are out of the others. They are an excellent option and depending on your thumb size and shape these could be perfect for you. Nice fat warm tone too.

NATIONAL WHITE PLASTIC
These don't always feel exactly the same as the shell model and the tone is just about the same or maybe a hair brighter. They are slightly harder and wear a little slower than the brown.

NATIONAL BROWN PLASTIC
I'm not sure why they sell these two different kinds of brown picks but this specific model is softer, more flexible and pretty cheapo. When you buy the S, M and Large sizes they seem to use the same exact total size. So when you get a small the blade is nice but by the time you get to the large the blade is very short. Just be aware these are not the same as the SHELL version just above this one. This along with the Fender brand just don't last and I stopped using them. They also fly off your thumb easier but they are more comfortable than the two National picks above.
2 Dozen ERNIE BALL THUMB PICK
Comes in a variety of colors. The pearloid one is a little harder than the others and might last longer and sound slightly brighter but these are basically equivalent. They make another good alternative to the Dunlop or National because of the substantial beef. They have a longer shaper blade with narrow tip. They are not molded to be as comfortable for a large thumb and very much like the National pick. This is a good one to try but doesn't beat the Dunlop. I love Ernie Ball though. They are the only company in the modern age to really stick it to Microsoft after being prosecuted for a bunch of bogus software charges. One of the coolest stories I've seen in years. I like these folks. They have some spirit at every NAMM show.

SHARK TOOTH CROSSOVER HYBRID PICK
This is an interesting invention with the ability to pick, strum or thumbpick. Other players might give some funny looks when they see it but this is a creative product some people have made good comments on. Personally I do not use these but can see a specialized market for them. They work really well for students we teach in the Childrens hospital because they don't fall off and velcro on.. This seems to be an excellent product with a completely different hybrid approach. Not too unlike the Kelly Bumblebee but attached to your thumb.  Please use your own judgement and investigate this option. There are more videos and demos on their website above.
SHARK TOOTH THE UN-THUMB PICK

Here you can see the Shark tooth along with the other offerings. They are a different breed of picks that might meet special needs or just offer a totally new approach to how you pick multiple styles with one tool. Their site has more info and video demos.

John Pearse® Speciality Picks

JOHN PEARSE BREEZY RIDGE PICKS
John Pearse just doesn't make a product that's not good and these vintage style thumbpicks are great quality and offer a very short quick blade. Not exactly my cup of tea but for guitar these can be very nice when playing everything from Chet or Travis style down to hard core blues. A very nice all around pick and a great alternative for those that like the Kelly speed picks but want more comfort on the thumb. The fingerpicks he offers are also very comfortable and a great alternative to Dunlop's offerings. Please tell Breezy Ridge we sent you because they have unselfishly helped us so many times with huge donations to jams and other events. These are the best people on earth and deserve our support. Great strings too!
 

GOLDEN GATE THUMBPICK
One of the most comfortable I've ever played and a very heavy duty stiff pick that lasts forever but the little lip that makes it comfortable and helps it hold on also catches my strings once or twice during tunes with aggressive picking. This is a very popular pick but I went back to the Dunlops after having that issue. You may love these. Famous players like Jerry Douglas swear by these.

GOLDEN GATES THUMBPICK
A model without the lip and a very awesome pick indeed. They are not as soft as some picks and that helps them wear a little better and sound a little more bright than some of the warmest. This pick does produce a substantial tone but not as widely available at local stores. I usually order these online. 

PROPICK DELRIN BLADE THUMBPICK
One of the best picks I've ever owned and lasts for years. You'll loose this pick before you wear it out. It's got a pretty short and thick blade and tucks up close to your thumb when picking. Another great alternative if you love the Kelly speedpick but want a bigger frame. The frame is bendable and very comfortable without cutting into my skin but the real show winner for this pick is the way the metal clip comes over your thumb and that end loop can be bent to grab the side of your thumb closest to the guitar. So instead of this pick flying off when you sweat and pick too hard that little lip just grips and cinches the pick tighter on your thumb. It works amazingly well for hours and ours of playing. I just dont like the stiff short tip. Many other players love it. I think the Red Bear Tortis pick being developed on this frame is going to completely solve my problem. This pick is certainly one you should buy and try. It's indestructable!

PROPICK CONTOURED NICKEL THUMB PICK
They say it's contoured for more volume with less work. That's because it's picking closer to the sound hole but that also robs clarity, power and definition. Great quality pick with a feature you either love or hate. One pick lasts a whole career. And a spoon shaped plate that fits the thumb. Not as rigid as the Dunlop metal pick and has a fatter area underneath your thumb pad. The air holes are smart because it not only grips but decreases sweating and slippage.

Photo: E C Split Wrap
Single or double wrap

PROPICK FAST PICK
These are designed with an angle to increase speed and efficiency and also have a single or double wrap. These are professional quality and one set lasts for years. They have two models with this feature that look the same to me. The Fast pick and the Reso pick. See their site for more specs.

  Fast Pick Illustration    

Photo: Finger-Tone

PROPICK FINGER-TONE
This is a unique and useful design if fingerpicks throw off your senses and you need more sensory feedback from your finger tips while playing or used to playing with fingernails and want an alternative. The tone and attack is slightly warmer that the regular fingerpicks. Also don't assume this pick will prevent blisters. It also comes in single and split wrap. The one shown is split. I've owned a set of these for years.

Photo: Vintage Single Wrap

PROPICK VINTAGE STYLE

Excellent Dunlop clone in brass or nickel-silver. Super high quality. Also models available in small sizes for women in children. So please inquire on their site for all the additional options.
 

 

Photo: Sharpie

PROPICK SHARPIE

Brighter tone with sharper tip

PROPICK THUMB-FLAT

Another take on the hybrid dual use strumming and thumbpick design.

HERCO EXTRA-HEAVY FLATPICK/THUMBPICK
These may say heavy but in my opinion are rather flimsy and hard to keep on your thumb. I know some players will fall in love with these but don't expect to have a really robust thumbpick sound and you probably won't like them for resonator use. Just like the Kelley Bumblebee but with less features. It does everything okay but nothing really well.

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