Dropped picks. Picks that turn in our fingers when we play making them useless. Is there a solution to this, other than just gripping tighter? Maybe. Here are a few tricks I’ve tried over the years.
These days, I’m mostly a finger-style player but I still make a point to practice with a flat pick and in my days of playing lead guitar or strong rhythm guitar in various groups the issue of pick control was always part of the equation. I’ve written before about the importance of using at least a medium gauge thickness flat pick or even a heavy one rather than a thin pick, which may be easier to use initially but encourages bad habits, i.e, depending upon the flexibility of the pick to make a controlled attack rather than your wrist and forearm, which is where control should come from. Plus, thin picks break – frequently – when used in an aggressive manner. It’s instructive that the vast majority of great players in rock, jazz, blues and bluegrass use medium to very heavy gauge picks. Thumb picks are another issue entirely and because I’ve never had much luck with them I’m not qualified to comment of those things.
So, what to do? First, don’t get locked into the idea that you MUST use the standard shape triangular picks (with rounded tops and corners) that have been the most popular shape for decades. If they work for you, great, but don’t be afraid to try different shapes and sizes. After many years of using the standard shaped ones (Fender mediums) I went to the smaller Fender “jazz” teardrop shaped picks in heavy gauge. My tone, accuracy and speed improved quickly and I used them for many, many years. Still do from time to time. But the issue of dropping picks at just the wrong time continued. So I began drilling small holes in the center of those picks, usually with a 1/16” drill bit. This improved my grip and helped immensely. I remembered that the small music store in my home town when I was growing up had a big display of picks and some had a round hole that was surrounded by a ring of thin cork. Can’t remember if I ever tried them but later on the hole thing seemed like a good idea, and it was.
These days there are a few companies that offer round and star-shaped holes in picks but these are mostly the standard overall size and frankly if there’s one thing I know for sure, I prefer a smaller flat pick. I have no doubt they work however and are probably worth a try.
Then a few years ago a student turned me on to Clayton Piktac Adhesive Dots. These little circles of plastic have adhesive on each side, one to adhere to your pick and the other to stick to your finger. They work, for sure – you will NOT drop your pick when using them – and they don’t leave residue on your fingers but I just couldn’t get used to the feel of things. But I have this weird thing about having sticky fingers or anything stuck to my fingers so that’s most likely just me. They come in packs of 50 pieces and are relatively cheap so they may be worth a try.
There was a recent thread on one of the guitar forums on this subject (dropping picks) and one person suggested and uploaded an image of his solution. He buys a roll of some sort of fabric backed adhesive material used for bandaging wounds and cuts it into small pieces that he sticks to the top area of his flat picks. He claimed that they not only improve the overall grip but the fabric absorbs moisture from the fingers, making them even more grip-friendly. I tried to find some of the stuff at a pharmacy yesterday and was unsuccessful. I will keep trying but I suspect the added thickness when the stuff is applied will be off-putting, to me anyway.
My latest solution has been picks from a small company called V-Picks. These are made of some sort of polymer that makes the pick adhere quite nicely to my thumb and forefinger when slightly moistened or heated up while playing. They come in various shapes, sizes and colors and I tried a variety pack initially. The model called the “Chicken Picker” in thin gauge (which is actually more like medium gauge in terms of flexibility) is my favorite. It is slightly smaller and more teardrop shape than traditional flat picks. I ordered more of them, and while expensive at about $4 each they have become my go-to flat pick. I’m not 100% thrilled with the tone I get from them as they are quite bright sounding but the lack of bulk and great adhering qualities make me reach for one every time I want to do some flat-picking, both strumming and single note playing.
I’ve also tried many others that are supposed to reduce the problems of dropping and pick rotation while playing including a bunch with various textured surfaces, rubber pads, etc. and some are pretty good. But in every case I did not care for the overall tonality that I achieved with them.
This gets to the good and bad of flat picks for today’s players. There are hundreds of designs, materials and shapes available these days, including some “boutique” picks that cost upwards of $20 each. I’m too cheap to take a chance on those fancy ones but if I ever have the opportunity to try a couple I may end up buying a few. After all, last year I spent more on a “boutique” capo than I have for some guitars! It’s great by the way.
The bad: you can spend a lot of time, effort and money searching out the perfect flat pick and you may never find it.
The good: Same thing. We have more choices than ever and I think everyone’s playing is better for that.
And it all gets back to technique. Take a flat pick between your fingers and grip it as hard as you do when you play. If you feel your wrist and forearm tighten up, you’re probably gripping too hard and whether you know it or not, this will slow you down and make you less accurate. Only grip hard enough to keep the thing between your thumb and the forefinger or middle finger (depending on which you prefer). If you can keep that grip as light as possible – thanks to a pick that stays securely between your fingers – you WILL be a better flat –picker!
Peace & good music,