Guitars are incredibly versatile instruments – capable of a wide variety of sounds at a skilled musician’s capable hands.
But, what about guitarists whose skilled hands are all they use to coax sounds from their instruments? Not all guitarists (even the electric-leaning) pick up picks to pluck at their six-strings.
In fact, a surprising number of guitarists avoid picks like the plague, yet their music is every bit as awesome as those who slay with picks by convention.This article is about great guitarists who play with nothing but their digits, plectrums be damned.
Why are Guitar Picks Used at All?
Guitar picks may not be necessary, but they certainly come in handy. Certain techniques are legitimately easier to pick up with a pick than others. Specifically, tremolo and sweeping come much easier to pick wielders than their manual counterparts.
Tough stuff for hand wizards (as is that nickname)… However, picks are not without their problems. Where the above techniques become easier, skills such as string skipping and general arpeggios become significantly more difficult to learn. Finger-flingers (another very bad nickname) have way less trouble with complex string skipping maneuvers as all hands (or fingers) are on deck, in a manner of speaking.
Guitarists Who Don’t PICK Their Battles
See what I did up there? I know… Shameless, really. Anyway, here they are – guitarists who pretty much never bother with picks:
Derek Trucks started young as a guitarist, playing prodigiously from the age of nine and performing professionally at 11. In 1994, he created the Derek Trucks Band and played with all manner of prominent artists, including Bob Dylan and Joe Walsh.
Robby K. is none other than the Doors’ guitarist and a proud inductee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This guitarist goes pickless and is worth about $15 million today thanks to the singular sound he contributed to the Doors.
As a jazz guitarist, Stanley Jordan has played alongside the likes of Dave Matthews, Umphrey’s McGee and more. Jordan has worked with Quincy Jones, made numerous television appearances and surprisingly devised the startup sounds for multiple Macintosh computers. His incredible touch-guitar technique allows him to play full-blown piano compositions with little difficulty on guitar, sometimes going so far as to use two guitar necks at once for a fuller range.
Mark Knopfler has released over 20 albums, producing music with his band Dire Straits as well as solo, and is widely known for his expressive, lyrical tone. He also has a penchant for sipping tea on stage in between songs.
Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks took the world by storm as members of Fleetwood Mac. His style and pickless playing were so unique that even Mick Fleetwood himself was taken aback.
This guitarist’s main claim to fame was his work with the Yardbirds. Jeff Beck’s band the Jeff Beck Group started off with vocalist Rod Stewart as their lead singer.
Josh Martin is a contemporary guitarist of considerable skill whose stellar work with the band Little Tybee shows off a wide variety of advanced fingerstyle guitar skills.
Chet Atkins was known as Mr. Guitar and enjoyed widespread acclaim for his country music creations. He was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for his multifaceted contributions to rock and guitar-based music.
Albert King is one of the three dubbed “Kings of Blues” whose album Born Under a Bad Sign set the stage for much of the genre to come. His playing style was pickless and positively mesmerizing. He was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for his long-lasting contributions to rock music.
George T. has put plenty of songs on the musical map, both covers and originals, that have held their appeal over the years. Tracks like “Bad to the Bone” and “Who Do You Love” demonstrate this effectively. All the while, he has managed to work such magic without partaking in plectrum use to any significant degree.
Slicing at your guitar strings with a pick is entirely optional and the choice is yours as to what works best. But, there is no denying the skill the players in this list alone display while playing au naturel.