The Picks of Famous Country Guitarists

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Guitars have been an integral part of country music since its inception, and one of the defining factors of a guitarist’s sound is the pick they use. From fingerpicks to thumbpicks to flatpicks, each guitarist has a unique preference that contributes to their signature style. In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into the picks preferred by some of the most famous country guitarists of all time. So, grab your guitar, calibrate your fingers, and let’s explore the ins and outs of these legendary picks.

Fingerpicks

Fingerpicks
When it comes to playing country guitar, fingerpicks are a popular choice among many guitarists. These small metal plectrums fit onto the fingertips, providing greater precision and control over the strings. They are favored by some of the most iconic guitarists in country music history, each with their own preferred style and technique. Let’s take a closer look at some of these legendary musicians, including Chet Atkins, Jerry Reed, Merle Travis, and Tommy Emmanuel, and their use of fingerpicks. If you want to learn more about the different types of country guitar picks, check out our guide to country guitar picks.

Chet Atkins

Chet Atkins was widely considered to be one of the greatest country guitarists of all time. Known for his signature fingerpicking style, Atkins utilized a thumbpick and index finger fingerpick to create his unique sound.

Atkins’ picking style was often referred to as the “Atkins Style,” which he developed after being influenced by the likes of Merle Travis and Django Reinhardt. His ability to play complex chord progressions and intricate melodies simultaneously was unparalleled, making him a true innovator in the world of country music.

Atkins was known to prefer using fingerpicks made out of metal, as opposed to the plastic and nylon commonly used at the time. He found that the metal picks offered a crisper tone, and allowed him to better control the strings.

Atkins also had a unique way of holding his guitar pick, which contributed to his distinctive sound. Rather than holding the pick between his thumb and index finger, he held it between his thumb and middle finger. This allowed him to execute complex fingerpicking patterns while still maintaining a strong rhythmic foundation with his pick.

Many guitarists today still study Chet Atkins’ style and techniques, and he remains an important figure in country music. If you’re interested in learning more about different types of picks and how they can impact your playing, check out our article on the history of guitar picks in country music.

Jerry Reed

Jerry Reed, also known as “Guitar Man,” is remembered for his impressive fingerstyle guitar playing and unique use of fingerpicks. He was often seen using a thumb pick on his right hand and two fingerpicks on his left hand to create a distinctive sound that set him apart from other guitarists.

Reed utilized his fingerpicks to execute a wide range of techniques, from intricate melodies to speedy runs and percussive effects. He favored National fingerpicks, which are known for their durability and consistent quality. Despite their metal composition, National fingerpicks are still comfortable to wear and allow for greater control and precision in one’s playing.

One interesting aspect of Jerry Reed’s approach with fingerpicks was his use of them on his strumming hand. He was known to anchor the fingerpicks to his fingers with tape, ensuring that they wouldn’t slip or slide while he played. The result was a tight, focused attack on the strings that created a unique sound that remains popular among country guitarists today.

Reed was also well-known for his use of a thumbpick, which he held at an angle to create a staccato-like effect. His picking technique with the thumbpick was so fast and precise that it sounded almost like a machine gun in some of his recordings. He preferred a ProPik thumbpick with a flat blade, which he claimed allowed for greater control and more natural feel.

Jerry Reed’s use of fingerpicks and thumbpicks helped to shape his iconic sound and style on the guitar. Aspiring country guitarists looking to emulate his approach to guitar playing may want to experiment with different types of fingerpicks and thumbpicks to find the ones that work best for them. For more information on picking techniques and gear for country guitar, check out our related articles on unique materials for guitar picks in country music, acoustic guitar picks for country music, or tips for holding a guitar pick in country music.

Merle Travis

Merle Travis is a legendary American country guitarist who was famous for his unique style of fingerpicking. Travis influenced countless country musicians with his technique that combined both rhythm and lead guitar playing. He was known for using fingerpicks made of metal or plastic, which allowed him to play with more speed, precision, and volume.

Travis was known to use a combination of thumbpick and metal fingerpicks on his right hand while fretting the chords with his left hand. The thumbpick gave him more control over bass notes, while the fingerpicks provided a bright and sharp treble sound. This technique allowed Travis to play intricate melodies and basslines simultaneously, which became a hallmark of his sound.

Travis is one of the few guitarists who has a specific style of fingerpicking named after him, the “Travis Picking.” This style includes the use of thumbpicks and fingerpicks, playing a bassline with the thumb while the fingers played an alternating pattern on the treble strings.

Travis played mostly on acoustic guitar with a medium gauge pick, but he experimented with other types of picks throughout his career. He was not satisfied with the tonal quality of the picks available during his time, so he sometimes filed down the picks to create a custom shape that he preferred.

Travis was an innovative country guitarist who developed a unique fingerpicking style that has influenced many guitarists that came after him. His use of thumbpicks and fingerpicks helped define his signature sound, allowing him to play fast and intricate melodies with precision and clarity.

If you want to learn more about thin vs thick picks in country music, check out our article on thin vs thick picks in country music.

Tommy Emmanuel

Australian guitarist Tommy Emmanuel, known for his virtuosic fingerstyle playing, has a unique approach to his guitar picks. Emmanuel is known for using a thumbpick on his right hand and two finger picks on his left hand.

Emmanuel prefers Dunlop Clear Finger picks, which are made of a durable polycarbonate material, for their clarity and consistency of tone. He also values their flexibility, which allows him to comfortably play his complex fingerstyle arrangements. For his thumbpick, Emmanuel prefers the Fred Kelly Delrin Speed Pick, which is made of a high-quality Delrin material and has a speed bevel design for swift and accurate picking.

As Emmanuel is known for his intricate fingerstyle playing, his picks play an important role in his sound. With the combination of clear finger picks on his left hand and the Fred Kelly thumbpick on his right hand, Emmanuel is able to achieve a bright and articulate sound that highlights his fast and melody-focused playing style.

Below is a table summarizing Tommy Emmanuel’s preferred picks:

Hand Pick Material Features
Left Dunlop Clear Finger Picks Polycarbonate Clear tone, flexibility
Right Fred Kelly Delrin Speed Pick Delrin Speed bevel design

Tommy Emmanuel’s preference for these specific guitar picks highlights the importance of finding the right tools for achieving a specific sound and playing style. As with any profession or interest, having the right equipment can make a significant difference in the quality of output.

Thumbpicks

Thumbpicks
As we move further into the realm of famous country guitarists and their preferred picks, let’s now tackle the topic of thumbpicks. These picks are unique among the three main types of guitar picks, as they are worn on the player’s thumb instead of being held traditionally in the fingers. Thumbpicks require a certain level of expertise to use, but they offer a distinct sound and style that has been utilized by many notable musicians throughout country music’s history. So, let’s dive into some of the famous country guitarists who have made the thumbpick their preferred choice.

Glen Campbell

Glen Campbell, a legendary country guitarist, was known for his use of thumbpicks when playing. He preferred a plastic pick, claiming that it allowed for better control. He was often seen using a National NP2 thumbpick, which was his preferred choice.

Campbell’s top picks:

  • National NP2 thumbpick
  • Plastic picks for better control

Throughout his career, Campbell played with many other famous musicians, including Elvis Presley and The Beach Boys. He even went on to have a successful solo career with hits like “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Southern Nights”.

Fun fact: Campbell was one of the most sought-after session guitarists in the industry, known for his ability to play in a variety of styles. He was even asked to join The Beach Boys as a replacement for Brian Wilson.

Campbell’s legacy in country music lives on, and his preference for plastic thumbpicks continues to inspire guitarists today.

Lindsey Buckingham

Lindsey Buckingham is a celebrated guitarist, singer, and songwriter who gained fame as the lead guitarist and one of the vocalists in the iconic band Fleetwood Mac. Buckingham’s unique playing style has solidified him as a guitar legend, and he’s known to use a thumbpick in his performances (thumbpicks being the focus of this section of the article).

With a career spanning decades, Buckingham’s influence on the music industry is undeniable, and his use of thumbpicks has played a significant role in defining his sound. When it comes to his choice of thumbpick, Buckingham is known to prefer the Herco nylon thumbpick over others.

A Herco thumbpick is made of durable nylon material and is designed with a flat pick on one end and a thumbpick on the other. This design allows for easy switching between flatpicking and thumbpicking, something that is essential in many of Buckingham’s intricate songs.

Buckingham’s use of thumbpicks is most notable in his unique fingerpicking style, where he seamlessly combines fingerpicking and strumming for a mesmerizing sound. He has inspired countless guitarists with his innovative approach to the instrument, and his choice of thumbpick serves as a testament to his attention to detail and dedication to his craft.

Lindsey Buckingham’s preference for the Herco thumbpick showcases the importance of finding the right tool for the job, and his mastery of the instrument has inspired generations of guitarists to follow in his footsteps.

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Flatpicks

When it comes to playing the guitar, there are a variety of techniques and tools available to produce a unique sound. One of the most popular methods is using a flatpick, which allows a player to achieve a bright and sharp tone. In this section, we will explore some of the most renowned country guitarists who have mastered the art of flatpicking. So, let’s dive in and discover their preferred picks and playing styles.

Brad Paisley

Brad Paisley is not only known for his smooth voice and chart-topping country hits but also for his impressive guitar skills. When it comes to his preferred pick, Paisley favors the Dunlop Tortex .60mm pick. Let’s explore why he chooses this particular pick.

  1. Texture:Paisley loves the texture on the Tortex pick, which helps him get a good grip while playing. The added texture makes it easier for him to hold onto the pick and play for hours without his hand slipping or feeling uncomfortable.
  2. Flexibility:The .60mm thickness of the Tortex pick gives Paisley the perfect amount of flexibility to strum effortlessly while still maintaining control. He can bend notes with ease and create a variety of sounds thanks to its adaptable style.
  3. Endurance: Paisley’s high-energy performances require a pick that can withstand the test of time. The Tortex pick’s durability allows him to play aggressively without worrying about the pick breaking or wearing down quickly.
  4. Sound:Finally, Paisley is drawn to the way the Tortex pick produces sound. Its medium-size and weight allow him to pluck the strings with precision without sacrificing tone. The pick’s sharp tip brings out the perfect amount of twang in his playing style, giving him the signature sound he’s known for.

Brad Paisley’s choice of pick isn’t just a random preference; he specifically chooses the Dunlop Tortex .60mm pick for its texture, flexibility, endurance, and sound. It’s clear that the right pick is vital to get the best sound and feel while playing guitar, and Paisley’s pick preference only confirms this belief.

Vince Gill

One of the most accomplished country guitarists of our time, Vince Gill is a master of the flatpick. Gill has won 21 Grammy Awards and sold more than 26 million albums worldwide. He is also known for his smooth vocal style and his ability to play a variety of instruments.

When it comes to his preferred flatpick, Vince Gill is very particular. He has been known to use the Herco Flex 75 for many years. It is a pick that is made of nylon and has a thickness of .75mm. It offers just the right amount of flexibility and stiffness that Gill needs to get the sound he wants out of his guitar.

In addition to the Herco Flex 75, Gill has also been known to use the Dunlop Tortex .60mm pick. This pick is made of a durable plastic material that offers a warm and balanced tone. Gill likes to use this pick when playing his acoustic guitar, as it provides a solid attack without being overly harsh.

To sum up, the table below shows Vince Gill’s preferred picks:

Pick Name Material Thickness
Herco Flex 75 Nylon .75mm
Dunlop Tortex .60mm pick Plastic .60mm

It is clear that Vince Gill is a guitarist who knows what he wants when it comes to picks. His choices reflect his dedication to his craft and his desire to create the perfect sound for his music. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced player, there is something to be learned from Vince Gill’s attention to detail and the care he takes in selecting the right picks for his playing style.

Keith Urban

Keith Urban is a country superstar who has been playing guitar since he was six years old. He’s known for his energetic and soulful performances, and his guitar style is a big part of what makes his music stand out. He is one of the most recognizable guitarists in the world and has been awarded numerous honors for his talents.

When it comes to playing with a flatpick, Keith Urban is no stranger to the technique. He has a preference for thin picks, which he believes allow him to execute ornate passages with precision and speed. His go-to pick size is around 0.50mm, which is rather thin when compared to other famous guitarists.

Keith Urban is a versatile musician who plays a wide range of styles, from rock to blues to country. He notes that he likes to mix up his playing style and experiment with different types of picks. He finds that nylon picks produce a sound that’s too bright for his liking, but he enjoys the warmth and tone of celluloid picks.

Additionally, Urban often uses a thumbpick and fingerpicks in combination with his flatpick. He has been seen sporting a red Dunlop thumbpick made of nylon plastic that he likes to wear on his right thumb for extra volume and control. He also prefers metal fingerpicks because he enjoys the attack they provide when he’s playing leads or single-note lines.

To achieve his signature sound, Keith Urban combines all these techniques to get precision, speed, and a balanced sound. By using his flatpick, thumbpick, and fingerpicks, he can play both rhythm and lead parts with ease. His choice of thin, flexible picks allows him to perform complex fingerpicking patterns, and he is known for his mastery of quick runs and riffs.

Keith Urban is a talented musician who uses a combination of techniques and picks to create his signature sound. His go-to pick size is thin and flexible, and he mixes up his playing style by using different materials like nylon and celluloid. He loves to experiment and find new ways to enhance his playing, and that’s what makes him stand out as one of the top guitarists in the country music world.

Albert Lee

When it comes to the world of country guitar, few names come as highly regarded as Albert Lee. Born in Leominster, England in 1943, Lee has carved out a reputation as one of the finest guitarists in the genre over the course of his illustrious career. One of the key elements of Albert Lee’s signature sound is his use of a flatpick. While he has experimented with fingerpicks and thumbpicks in the past, Lee has always favored a flatpick for its flexibility and dynamic range.

Lee’s preferred pick is the Dunlop Ultex Sharp. This pick is made from a unique blend of Ultex material, which is a form of plastic that is designed to offer both durability and flexibility. The Ultex Sharp is known for its precision and clarity, and Lee has praised its ability to cut through a mix and produce a bright, articulate tone.

What sets Lee apart as a guitarist, though, is not just his equipment but his technique. He is a master of chicken picking, a style of playing that involves alternating between picking and plucking the strings with the fingers. This technique requires a great deal of finesse and control, and it is rarely employed as effectively as it is by Lee.

In addition to his flatpick work, Lee has also gained a reputation for his use of hybrid picking, which involves using both a pick and the fingers to play notes. This allows him to create complex, layered melodies and harmonies, and it has become a hallmark of his style.

All in all, Albert Lee’s combination of superb technique and impeccable gear has allowed him to become one of the most influential and revered guitarists in country music. And while he may have experimented with different picks and techniques over the course of his career, his current setup of a Dunlop Ultex Sharp and a flatpick is a testament to his lifelong dedication to perfecting his craft.

James Burton

James Burton is one of the most accomplished guitarists in country music history. He has played with some of the biggest names in the genre, including Elvis Presley and Merle Haggard. Burton is known for his impressive speed and technique, which he has honed over many years of playing. His preferred pick is the Fender medium pick, which is a popular choice for many guitarists.

Burton has a unique style of playing that incorporates both country and rock influences. He is especially skilled at playing fast, intricate licks that require a lot of dexterity and precision. He is also well-known for his use of the B-Bender, a device that allows him to bend the pitch of a string with his right hand.

Interesting facts:

  • Burton was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.
  • He was a regular performer on Elvis Presley’s tours in the 1970s.
  • Burton has been a session musician on many famous albums, including the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” and Gram Parsons’ “GP.”
  • He has also worked as a producer and has won multiple Grammy Awards.

Despite his many accomplishments, Burton remains a down-to-earth and humble musician. He continues to play regularly and has inspired many younger guitarists to take up the instrument. James Burton is a true legend in the world of country music, and his legacy will undoubtedly continue to inspire musicians for generations to come.

Conclusion

After exploring the picks preferred by some of the most famous country guitarists, it’s clear that each guitarist has their own unique style and approach to playing the guitar. While some, like Chet Atkins and Jerry Reed, prefer the use of fingerpicks to achieve a fast and precise picking technique, others, like Glen Campbell and Lindsey Buckingham, opt for the use of thumbpicks for a more controlled and blended sound. Flatpicks, on the other hand, are the preferred pick of many country guitarists, including Brad Paisley, Vince Gill, Keith Urban, Albert Lee, and James Burton.

However, one thing that all of these guitarists have in common is their dedication to their craft and their willingness to experiment with different picking techniques and tools to achieve the perfect sound. Whether you’re a beginner learning the basics or an experienced player looking to expand your skills and techniques, these famous country guitarists and their preferred picks provide valuable insights and inspiration for mastering the art of country guitar playing.

So, no matter what pick you choose to use, the key is to focus on perfecting your technique, finding the right sound, and staying true to your own unique style. With practice, patience, and determination, you too can become a skilled and respected country guitarist. Keep experimenting and honing your skills, and who knows, maybe one day your name will be added to the list of famous country guitarists with their preferred picks.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are fingerpicks?

Fingerpicks are small metal or plastic devices that fit over the fingertips to enhance the volume and tone of a guitar’s strings.

What is the purpose of using fingerpicks?

Fingerpicks help guitarists enhance their playing style by increasing volume and articulation. They also create a brighter sound and increase sustain.

Who is Chet Atkins?

Chet Atkins was an American guitarist, songwriter, and producer who helped popularize fingerpicking style guitar. He also performed in a variety of genres, including country, rock, and jazz.

Who is Jerry Reed?

Jerry Reed was an American guitarist, songwriter, and actor best known for his fingerpicking style and hits such as “Guitar Man” and “East Bound and Down.”

Who is Glen Campbell?

Glen Campbell was an American guitarist, singer, and actor who achieved success in both the country and pop music genres. He was also known for his use of the thumbpick.

Who is Keith Urban?

Keith Urban is an Australian country musician, singer, and songwriter known for his hit songs such as “Blue Ain’t Your Color” and “Somebody Like You.” He is also an accomplished flatpicker.

Who is Brad Paisley?

Brad Paisley is an American country musician, singer, and songwriter best known for his hit songs such as “Whiskey Lullaby” and “Mud on the Tires.” He is also an accomplished flatpicker.

What are thumbpicks?

Thumbpicks are small devices that fit over the thumb to enhance the volume and tone of a guitar’s strings. They are commonly used in country and bluegrass music.

Who is Lindsey Buckingham?

Lindsey Buckingham is an American musician, singer, and songwriter best known as the lead guitarist and male vocalist of Fleetwood Mac. He is also known for his use of the thumbpick.

What are flatpicks?

Flatpicks, also known as plectrums, are small, flat pieces of plastic or other material used to strum or pluck the strings of a guitar. They are commonly used in rock and country music.

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About the author

Hi there! I’m Jack Little – an avid country music fan with tons of live country performances in the past. I used to play banjo in a country band with my best friend John Peters, who’s a true country harmonica master. Those were great years and I’m still mastering new banjo playing techniques, writing my own country songs and lyrics, and collecting banjos!

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