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Author Topic:  Fingerpick Frustration
Peter Haverkamp

 

From:
Ontario, Canada
Post  Posted 15 May 2021 9:50 am    
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Okay, so here's the deal, I have been playing 6-string guitars most of my life. Never ever have I used a pick (except on rare studio session occasions where the strumming called for it), but largely for live purposes, I never used fingerpicks nor a standard guitar pick. Even for leads, I have always used my bare fingers for everything including strumming.

So last month when I acquired my first Pedal Steel Guitar, it goes without saying, I jumped right in without the fingerpicks on. I owned the fingerpicks (in fact I had ordered them on Amazon a month prior to even getting the guitar).

I am having zero luck acclimating myself to using them. I do not understand how anyone can even get used to them. I'm watching these players on youtube and it blows my mind. I am used to "feeling" the strings and where they are. I am actually starting to sound "okay" already without the picks, but as soon as I put them on I sound like a total donkey.

I've heard some people say, don't worry about it, you can just play without picks, and I get that, but I'd like to be able to play this instrument properly, and at least have the option to play with or without picks.

Are there any good resources out there for helping an old dog learn a new trick like this? It takes all the fun out of the instrument right now for me to practice with them on so I keep trying but then immediately yanking them back of my fingers again. How are you supposed to "feel" where the strings are with a piece of metal in front of your fingertip?? Arggghhh LOL
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J Fletcher

 

From:
London,Ont,Canada
Post  Posted 15 May 2021 10:14 am    
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Well I played bass with my fingers for over 20 years , and guitar with a pick and fingers for about 10 years before starting playing steel. Nothing about the steel felt natural , but I persevered with a thumb pick and two metal finger picks. It takes time and a lot of practicing before it starts to happen. You might benefit from some dedicated right hand picking exercises . Good luck . Jerry
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Ian Rae


From:
Redditch, England
Post  Posted 15 May 2021 11:16 am    
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Peter, may I ask if you're attempting to use the picks straight out of the box? They normally need bending to shape so that they attack the string at the correct angle when your fingers are curved back towards you. Is there anyone in your area who might help you with this? A new set of picks needs work to get them just right. Round-nosed pliers are your friend.
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Last edited by Ian Rae on 15 May 2021 11:25 am; edited 1 time in total
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Marc Jenkins


From:
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Post  Posted 15 May 2021 11:25 am    
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It took me a long time to feel comfortable with picks, and I gave up for a while, and played with my fingers. Later I tried MANY different picks and only started to get used to them when I found ones that both felt (with custom squeezing and bending of course) and sounded good.
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Georg Sørtun


From:
Mandal, VA, Norway & Weeki Wachee, FL, USA
Post  Posted 15 May 2021 1:08 pm    
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Just as an example of how far one may have to go in shaping picks to get them just right for some players…
check out mine

The picks pictured on my page are almost 40 years old, and haven't been polished more than once or twice since I shaped them initially back in the -80s – they are that hard and wearproof. They allow for finger-tip sensing and muting of the strings, and allow me to produce as sharp or soft attack-sound as with any picks on the market by varying how much, if any, of the fingertips that come in contact with the strings when picking.

Regular picks used by most PSG players don't last long shaped like mine, a few hours at most. I have found some made for banjo pickers that look OK for "unorthodox" shaping though, but so far I haven't needed new ones.

And, I repeat: mine are just examples, that may not suit your picking hand and/or whatever style you are trying to learn. Not many PSG players that use straight picks and (more or less) straight fingers.
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Pete Burak

 

From:
Portland, OR USA
Post  Posted 15 May 2021 4:25 pm    
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I press a small dot of mounting-putty onto my finger nails before I put on the picks. Just enough to cover the nail where the pick wraps over the nail.
This makes for a very comfortable fit, and they do not come off.
Generally speaking I would say it would help to get together with a local gigging Pedal Steel player for a Steel hang to address some common issues like this.
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Larry Dering

 

From:
Missouri, USA
Post  Posted 15 May 2021 5:38 pm    
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Peter, as a fingerstyle guitarist I can feel your pain. However I know you can adjust to the picks. As suggested find a local player and if not watch the many YouTube videos explaining picks. Put them on, get them adjusted to your fingers and wear them around in the evening not playing. Practice slowly and you will get the hang of it sooner than you think.
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Dave Mudgett


From:
Central Pennsylvania
Post  Posted 15 May 2021 6:35 pm    
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Virtually everybody who hasn't used finger picks finds them awkward at first. Long before steel, I started using finger picks for guitar on middle & ring fingers, with a flat pick. And then a bit later, banjo with thumb pick and two finger picks. It was awkward as hell at first. For a few months, I just left the finger picks on pretty much all my waking hours and gradually shaped them so they were comfortable. I started using old Nationals, and they hurt so much I switched to Dunlops, which really are more comfortable. Maybe Dunlops would be a good starting point.

I still generally play slide guitar with a thumb pick and bare fingers - that usually sounds more 'right' to me for slide. But any type of steel is generally with thumb pick and 3 finger picks. I even feel naked with just two finger picks now.
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Richard Alderson


From:
Illinois, USA
Post  Posted 15 May 2021 8:00 pm    
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Here is an angle to consider.. How many new things are you actually trying to do? We know that E9th pedal steel is new for you. We know that finger picks are new. And I am wondering if this is your first time playing with a bar as well. Maybe its not just the finger picks, but also everything else that's going on. You will need some patience and strategy for dealing with so many new things at once. Its true that 99.9% of players use finger picks. I can't recommend not using finger picks, but I can recommend delaying it for a while if everything else is also new. Learning consists of making new neural pathways in the brain, and it does create tension and stress. But there's at least one of every 5,000 players out there who play pedal or lap steel without the picks. So it has happened. Its not recommended. But learning too many things at once creates a lot of stress, and maybe you need to divide and conquer by waiting to introduce finger picks a few months.
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K Maul


From:
Upstate NY/Hobe Sound FL
Post  Posted 16 May 2021 4:40 am    
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Richard Alderson wrote:
maybe you need to divide and conquer by waiting to introduce finger picks a few months.

That’s good advice. Old habits are comfortable and hard to change. I recommend AT LEAST wearing a thumbpick, but you may need to try 20 kinds before you find something right. Then after using that for a while you must keep experimenting and you will find something you like better. I started playing in the 70s with fingerpicks so can’t recall much except that it WAS awkward. So was stepping on pedals to play melodies! It took me years of trying different things to arrive at what I use now.I can feel the strings right through the picks now and can’t do without. Like Dave, I sometimes play electric bottleneck with just a thumbpick.
I recommend COOL mediums, the blue HERCOs, FRED KELLY and DUNLOP mediums. I like smaller ones for electrics, but large DUNLOPS or COOLs for dobro. I have kind of small fingers so I generally prefer the DUNLOP mini fingerpicks gauged .020. I bend the tips right around the curve of my finger. Some like them sticking straight out. There are many personal factors to consider before saying “I just can’t use picks!”.
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Tony Prior


From:
Charlotte NC..
Post  Posted 16 May 2021 5:54 am    
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Peter, also a NON pick guitar player for easily 40 years or more. YES, Thumb and 2 finger pics for Steel. It just takes some time.

I still can't use finger picks, or a thumb pick for that matter, for the Electric guitars even though I use them for my Steel playing. Over 40 years !

Go figure !

Just give it time, it will come.
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Gene Tani


From:
Pac NW
Post  Posted 16 May 2021 5:59 am    
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I also play steel and banjo with fingerpicks comfortably but on 6 string guitar it's a mighty struggle (I can alternate pick with thumbpick pretty well but fingerpicks are kind of useless for that purpose)

PeterH: you could post photos of your picks to see how they're fitted and how the blades are curved. I kind of rotate mine towards teh thumb a little. Also can tape them or heat shrink them or put something like Plastidip on them to make more comfortable/take up slack
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Alan Bidmade


From:
Newcastle upon Tyne UK
Post  Posted 16 May 2021 9:05 am    
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Try the lightest finger picks you can find - Dunlop 015 for example. These are very easy to adjust, and cheap, so you can experiment until you find a 'fit'. You can then adjust to harder gauges of pick.
My other tip is to keep them on, even when you're not playing. Round the house, in the car, the supermarket...
You'll soon get used to them.
Try different brands, too. Pro Pick are great. Find what works.
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Richard Sinkler


From:
aka: Rusty Strings -- Missoula, Montana
Post  Posted 16 May 2021 9:44 am    
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I say stay with learning to cope with them from the start. If you put off working them into your technique, that is just that much farther down the road you'll be when having to learn to pick with them. Playing without picks at first, for whatever time frame you choose, you may form a position with your hand that won't work well with finger picks on, thus making you develop your hand position all over again. There is no reason to put off learning any aspect of the PSG. I would put off learning pedals & levers before putting off picking technique. Part of your practice routine could include some time doing nothing but working on picking. Picking is by far the hardest thing to master on PSG as far as I am concerned.
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Michael Hill

 

From:
Arizona, USA
Post  Posted 16 May 2021 10:22 am    
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I'm somewhere between intermediate and expert with 6 string fingerpicking. I use my nails as the picks. So I expected I would jump right in to fingerpicking on pedal steel. I had a very rude awakening. The 6 string skill did not translate and I was really hopeless on pedal steel. I read and tried many suggestions about shaping picks and different types. In the end, I think all of that just kept me busy until I had gotten in enough practice and gotten used to using the picks on pedal steel.
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Bob Carlucci

 

From:
Candor, New York, USA
Post  Posted 16 May 2021 12:00 pm    
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I have seen this exact post a dozen times and I will give you the same answer I always have given..
None of us liked the picks, and a LOT of us figured we would just do without them... For most that just won't work well.
Here's what I did, and what I think you should do.

Put the picks on all day, every day.. Eat with them on, work with them on if you can and yes sleep with them on.. Your body will adjust a LOT faster if they are always on... I was ready to give up when I came up with this plan oh, maybe 45 years ago.
The picks felt horrible first few days, but probably withing a week or two, I didn't even notice them on anymore.. My body grew used to them, they were no longer a threat or discomfort, and then it was simply muscle memory, and I learned to play a LOT faster by deciding to go that route... Put them on. keep them on until you get used to them being there, and they no longer feel alien.
bob
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Walter Webb

 

From:
California, USA
Post  Posted 16 May 2021 12:11 pm    
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Just an idea: use a jeweler's ring sizer (a long tapered metal bar) and a brass hammer to shape the steel or brass pick to match the taper of your last finger knuckle. Tap, tap, try it on, tap, tap some more. Makes a smooth curve with no kink or bend, for less topside fingernail area pinch.
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K Maul


From:
Upstate NY/Hobe Sound FL
Post  Posted 16 May 2021 12:15 pm    
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I agree with Richard S and Bob C and should mention that to this day before a gig I’ll often put them on as soon as I get my gear into the venue and wear them while I’m setting up and after soundcheck if there’s down time. I wore them around the house for hours when I first started, too. They grow right into your hand! Playing PSG without picks is like playing golf without shoes.
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Andrew Goulet


From:
••••••••
Post  Posted 16 May 2021 5:05 pm    
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Peter, you've gotten all the advice I think you need here. I'll just say that I switched from stainless steel to brass early on, and it made a world of difference for me. I found the brass had a better sproing to then that helped me feel the strings through them. Even now, if I try to use steel picks, I'll have a hard time.

Stick with it, you'll get it.
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b0b


From:
Cloverdale, CA, USA
Post  Posted 16 May 2021 7:36 pm    
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I don't see anything wrong with playing without picks, if the tone is acceptable to you. For most of us, the pedal steel "sound in our head" requires picks and a volume pedal.

I have a nice little lap steel at the office that I play when I need a break. Hawaiian music and blues, through a clean little amp. It sounds fine to me without picks. I often practice pedal steel at home without picks, but on stage or "tape" the sound of metal picks is what I need to hear. As they say, "your mileage may vary". Winking
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Jon Voth

 

From:
Virginia, USA
Post  Posted 16 May 2021 8:23 pm    
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Hi Peter-

I am also like you, I played most my life classical guitar with nails and when I started PSG about three years ago the picks were the worst and I wondered what my ring finger could do to help also.

In my opinion picks are essential to the sound just like a banjo. I would suggest go with them and don't look back. It is super awkward but becomes ever less so over time. They are still awkward to me but ever less so as I learn.

I started wearing/shaping the picks so the ends met where my fingernails ended thinking it would feel more natural. But later, after a lesson with a pro player-and looking online on how others do (Franklin being one) I now wear the picks as close to the tips of my fingers as I can with the ends being as far out and up as I can. You can ask for pics on how players wear the fingerpicks-I think it would be a cool thread.
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Bobby D. Jones

 

From:
West Virginia, USA
Post  Posted 16 May 2021 9:21 pm    
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First rule for a new steel player is BUY 2 SETS of picks.
One set, Is your own private set that you fit to your fingers.
The other set is, When you run into another steel player, And they want to show you some things on your Steel guitar, PUT YOUR PICKS IN YOUR POCKET,
Give them the other set. Or your picks will get bent to fit Their fingers and you will have to start all over fitting them to your fingers again.

Smoothly bend the wrappers on the pick to fit your fingers. 1 for index finger and 1 middle finger. The best way I have found is place a 3/8 in rod or smooth drill shank in a padded vice. With a small hammer slowly and smoothly peck and roll the wrappers into a oval circle to fit each finger.

If a pick is just bent the holes in the pick wrappers will act like hinges and the pick wrappers will be more of a hex or octagon with the bends catching on each other and can pull one or both picks off.
Good Luck and Happy Steelin.
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Peter Harris

 

From:
South Australia, Australia
Post  Posted 17 May 2021 5:25 am    
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Walter Webb wrote:
Just an idea: use a jeweler's ring sizer (a long tapered metal bar) and a brass hammer to shape the steel or brass pick to match the taper of your last finger knuckle. Tap, tap, try it on, tap, tap some more. Makes a smooth curve with no kink or bend, for less topside fingernail area pinch.


I know where you're coming from, but with respect, I'd suggest this WASN'T the best idea...
Apart from music and a few other things in my life, I studied as a jeweller, and a Ring Sizer is exactly what the name implies...it is for sliding on a ring of otherwise unknown size until it reaches the point where it stops on the taper...then one reads off the graduations engraved on the Sizer to establish what size the ring actually IS.

Two important points:-

A Ring Sizer is NOT designed to be beaten about...one does that using a Ring Mandrel...try doing that on your Jeweller's Sizer and he'll have you by the short-and-curlies....

A Ring Mandrel has the basic same taper as a Sizer, but in all its iterations, the actual taper of the instrument is so gradual that you will not be able to get to the diameter that you require (to equate to the diameter of your finger) before the other end of the mandrel starts conflicting with the tip of the pick.

Another poster's suggestion of using the back end of a suitably-sized DRILL BIT (in a vise, BTW!) as a mandrel is a far better way of getting there as you no longer have to deal with a tapered object..

And work (metal) picks using a small tack-hammer (with the head face in good condition) starting at the middle and working outwards to the two ends of the 'roll' of the pick....gentle hits while holding the pick in position on the mandrel.

Maybe even watch this to give you an idea...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LmCw7DN8n54

....even though this guy clobbers his mandrel a bit... Wink

...a soft-headed hammer is only really required when you're dealing with actual jewelry, and don't want hammer marks on it...

HTH


Peter
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Tom Keller

 

From:
Greeneville, TN, USA
Post  Posted 17 May 2021 8:05 am    
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My suggestion would be work with the picks. Just remember the rule of three, three minutes, 3 hours, 3 days, 3 weeks. You will then have a fully integrated habit. Smile
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Johnie King


From:
Tennessee, USA
Post  Posted 17 May 2021 8:28 am    
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Check out Mike Bourque playing steel with out picks on YouTube.
He plays Tele an steel an is incredible steel player.

A good steel player can play pedal steel with out picks Bobby Seymour played great with out picks.
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