Top Ten Players Who Don't Use a Pick
Published on 18 September 2020
Picks! Or plectrums!
However you choose to say it, those little pieces of plastic are an important part of the guitar playing picture. We do love a good pick here at guitarguitar, with each staff member having their own particular favourite. Jazz III, Tortex Flow...there’s one for every player, it seems...
Well, nearly every player.
Some guitarists prefer to rely on their own silky digits instead and eschew the plectra completely. These players are, interestingly, some of the best sounding and most loved of all, so there must be something in this whole no-pick business!
If you haven’t tried before, try it out! This list here will inspire you to new heights of expression! There is no hierarchy here: these wonderful artists are equally worthy of your worship. What’s interesting is how many of them prize melodic playing over virtuosity, even though none of them could ever be labelled a slouch in that department. Journey with us to the land of No-Plec, and see what wonders await...
Dire Straits’ main man is one of the most famous finger players out there. His touch is unparalleled, and his tasteful, melodic playing suits the more refined, nuanced sounds achieved by going sans pick. Whether he is buzzing out an iconic riff like Money for Nothing or bringing us laid-back greatness in Sultans of Swing, Knopfler has a way with his picking hand that all players would die for.
Robbie Krieger no doubt had to put up with quite a lot of nonsense from his mercurial lead singer, but the Doors’ guitarist has a signature bottleneck slide sound that Jim Morrison couldn’t get enough of. A big part of that style was the muting allowed by his pick-less right hand, not to mention the superlative touch response. One of the most recognisable players of the 60s, Krieger blended his spooky slide playing with advanced Flamenco techniques, which he studiously incorporated into his everyday style. The result was a perfect counterpoint to Morrison’s shamanic growl and Ray Manzarek’s abstract organ playing.
Keeping on the subject of slide players, Derek Trucks has, to many, risen quietly in the background to become one of the best guitar players on the planet. A child prodigy, Trucks plays slide with a feel and precision that’s spine-tingling, not to mention his casual joining of the Allman Brothers Band, which is kind of a Rootsy Rock equivalent of being awarded the Medal of Honour. Good effort!
If there’s one term forever thrown up in relation to Lindsey Buckingham’s playing, it’s that he’s ‘underrated’. He must be sick of hearing that. Fleetwood Mac are one of the biggest bands in the world: how popular do you have to be in order to upgrade into being simply ‘rated’?
So, let us not trot that term out once again. Instead, let us draw attention to his excellently tasteful, exciting and appropriate guitar style, all achieved without a plectrum in sight. Great hair, too!
Those who only know about Steve Hackett from his (pretty incredible) stint in classic-era Genesis are missing a major creative force. Steve Hackett’s music blends the best of World Music, Hard Rock, Prog and full-on fantasy stuff to provide some particularly colourful sonic journeys. His lead playing mixes dynamics with flash, but always concentrates on the beauty of melody over the speed of his phrases. Did we mention he invented two-handed tapping? Even Eddie Van Halen says he did, so that’s that.
Steve Hackett fans, we have a fantastic in-depth interview with the great man himself available here online, so please click through to our interview with Steve Hackett if you want to journey further!
Jazz legend Wes wasn’t so much a finger player as he was a thumb player. No guitarist since has quite managed to get as much mileage out of a single digit as Montgomery, and none have so clearly nailed it in the sartorial department either! The speed and accuracy of his famous octave playing techniques (just mute the string in between with the edge of a fretting finger and strum the lot with your thumb) influenced players far outside Jazz circles. A master of bright melody and mellow tone, Wes was a class act.
Typically referred to as ‘the guitar hero’s guitar hero’, it takes a particularly difficult-to-please guitar fan not to wholeheartedly love Jeff Beck’s natural ability and frankly stunning playing. He’s got it all: timing, phrasing, tone, melody, drama, vibe, expression and emotion. Even if you aren’t into (largely) instrumental guitar music, a few minutes’ worth of watching Jeff work his way around the whammy bar and volume control of his signature Strat will have you flinging your plectrums in the bin and practising until you fall exhausted into a crumpled heap.
You may not instantly associate Flying V guitars with the Blues, but we’d opt not say that to Albert King. Imposing, full of attitude and swagger, there was no one as cool as the King. Albert’s signature sound had a ton of ‘cut’ to it, which is surprising, given his snubbing of picks. We imagine he may have stared his guitars into submission though, using pure force of will to get them to sound as he wanted. However he did it, it’s an instantly recognisable sound, and it put him on the map as one of the guitar world’s true badasses.
Chet, like Jeff Beck, is one of those players who is worshipped by other legit guitar heroes. Abe to make any style seem natural and easy, Chet had a generosity of spirit in his music, and a zest for life that never failed to translate to the listener. A note to the shredders: if you think his songs sound easy, we encourage you to give them a decent go, and be honest about your results! Chet was put on the planet to bring humility to all of us guitar players, and he didn’t need no stinkin’ plectrum to do it!
We missed a few, and that wasn’t because they aren’t fantastically amazing players with lots to contribute to the instrument. We just needed to go and do something else. So, here is a short Roll of Honour for those who are in our hearts but not on our list:
- Stanley Jordan
- Richie Kotzen
- Bonnie Raitt
- Josh Martin
- George Thorogood
Who else did we miss? Interact and let us know! And thank you for reading our list. We love plectrums and don’t think you should throw them away. We do think, though, that it’s very worthwhile (particularly for electric players) to put the picks down one or twice a week and develop your touch and dynamics with just your fingers. How? However you want! There are no rules!
See you next time