Thumb Picks vs Flat Picks- What’s the Difference?

By Danny Trent | Guitar Accessories

If you’re new to the world of guitar playing, you may not be very well versed in all of the different accessories that are available to guitarists that can help make your playing not only sound better but also be so much easier on your hands! The worlds of picks can be extremely confusing, especially since there are so many different types of pick options out there.

The two main types of picks that are currently available in the guitar market are thumb picks and flat picks. Underneath of these two main types of picks are a huge number of subcategories of different types of picks, which are sorted by the thickness of the pick, the material made to use the pick, and the different sizes of the picks. Purchasing a customized pick that’s created just specifically for your liking is also an option available!

But, besides all of the pick options available in the market, how are you supposed to know what type of pick is best for your personal playing style and needs? There are several large differences between thumb picks and flat picks, but most people can’t tell the differences between the two picks that set them apart.

Today, we’re going to talk about why you would need a pick to play the guitar, what a flat pick is, what a thumb pick is, and what the pros and cons of each type of pick are.

Let’s get going!

Do you need a pick to play guitar?

You can totally play the guitar without having to use a pick. Figuring out how to use a pick and learning how to have complete control over it can really take some time to learn and develop the skill. Depending upon the type of pick you use (flat picks or thumb picks), you may find that the pick slips between your fingers and falls into your guitar or just lays too awkwardly on your thumb.

Keep in mind that there are both advantages and disadvantages to using a pick vs not using any sort of pick. Depending upon the type of sound you’re looking to achieve, the type of pick that you use can help you to reach the type of sound you’re aiming to achieve.

For example, you may want to consider using a pick if you are interested in playing rhythm guitar, as you will find it much easier to control the volume of your instrument, which is especially important if you are playing on an amp or in any sort of noisy environment. Depending upon the type of playing style you enjoy playing, playing with a pick may serve you more benefits than it does serve consequences.

Playing with a pick will give you the ability to have an easier time playing with faster tempos and solos that are a little bit more complex than your fingers can handle. Here are some common techniques that are a lot easier to play when using a pick:

  • Sweep picking
  • Down picking
  • Alternative picking
  • Strumming heavy power chords

In addition to making applying certain techniques a lot easier to implement with a pick, playing with a pick can also help you to achieve the sound that you’re looking for when applying these techniques. Playing with a pick produces a sharper, clearer sound than when you just play with your fingers. This may not always be the type of sound you’re looking to achieve, depending on what genre and song you’re playing, but you can always stop playing with a pick for a song or two.

With all of that laid out, it’s also important that you understand that playing with a pick isn’t always all fun and games. There are some downsides to playing with a pick, as playing with a pick can bring some challenges to your playing, especially if you have never played with any sort of pick before.

If you have a decent amount of guitar training under your belt and have never played with a pick before, you may find that introducing this new accessory into your guitar vocabulary, you will need to work on certain on strengthening your fluidity with certain techniques. With the use of a pick, there are certain techniques that become a lot harder to be accurate with, even something as simple as strumming.

It’s a common difficulty for new pick users to have problems with string skipping, which is where your pick isn’t hitting all of the strings in the sequence that you’re trying to apply. You may also find that you have problems expressing mood and color in your music, as picks can be extremely difficult to control.

Also, if your guitar doesn’t come with any sort of pickguard and you decide to play with a pick, if you aren’t careful, you can scratch the finish (and possibly even the body) of your guitar. Fixing this can be a hefty price tag, but you can always install a pickguard on your instrument for pretty cheap!

If after reading all of this, you do decide that picks are something that you’re interested in adding to your guitar accessories, don’t click off just yet! There are different types of picks that you can use with your playing, both of which have the ability to drastically influence your sound and how easy it is for you to play with a pick.

The two different types of picks that you have to choose between are flat picks and thumb picks. Scroll down a little to get a better understanding of what the differences between these two types of picks are, as well as the pros and cons that the two different types of picks offer.

There is no right or wrong answer for you to choose when it comes to picking between a flat pick and a thumb pick. It all really just boils down to what pick you prefer holding, what pick you find the easiest to play, what style of music you enjoy playing the most, and even what type of pick you think is the coolest looking to play!

As I always say, before you make any final decisions, you should always try both types of picks out and see which one you feel more comfortable playing with: flat picks or thumb picks. You can totally purchase both, but most musicians typically end up choosing one type of pick and just sticking with it.

By learning how to play on two different picks, you will have an easier time switching between styles when you’re looking to play songs in a large variety of genres. However, take the time to get fluent and comfortable on one type of pick before you try to introduce a different accessory that requires slight variations in technique application, so you don’t get confused and frustrated.

Now, let’s start talking about the differences between flat picks and thumb picks!

What are flat picks?

Flat picks (also referred to as plectrums) are the most popular tool that guitarists use to strike the strings on their instruments. With the use of flat picks, you have the ability to pluck on specific strings or strum several strings at once on your instrument, without having to deal with any strain on your fingers or your fingernails!

There are some musicians who enjoy using flat picks over thumb picks because the flat picks produce clearer sounds than thumb picks do. In order to get a better understanding of what flat picks have to offer you as a musician, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of using a flat pick:

Pros of using flat picks:

  • Easy to find in music stores, online, in your local guitar shop.
  • Even if you forget to bring your pick stash to your playing lesson, flat picks are pretty cheap and aren’t hard to find, so your instructor or your guitar buddy will most likely have an extra one to give you.
  • You can easily have one custom made for you based upon sizing, material, and color preferences.
  • Flat picks come in a large array of colors and shapes- you can even buy a flat pick punch on Amazon and make your own flat picks at home with old credit cards!

Cons of using flat picks:

  • They are so easy to use. I actually always keep an extra pack of at least five in my guitar case, because I always end up dropping a pick off of my stand or dropping into my sound hole at least once a playing session.
  • They can be uncomfortable to hold, especially if you have sweaty hands and can’t really hold a good grip on the pick.
  • You have to use all of your fingers to be able to hold a pick, so it’s difficult to switch in between playing styles.

What are thumb picks?

Thumb picks are picks that you wear on your thumb, just like you do a ring! Besides being able to wear the pick on your thumb, a thumb pick also gives you the option to be able to use your thumb for the three thickest strings, while also using your next three fingers (index, middle, and ring) for picking the other three, thinner strings.

Some musicians enjoy using thumb picks over flat picks because wearing thumb picks frees up your index fingers, allowing you to play two styles at once.

In order to get a better understanding of what thumb picks have to offer you as a musician, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of using a thumb pick.

Pros to using thumb picks:

  • It’s much easier to hear classical style artificial harmonics
  • You don’t have to worry about dropping your pick inside of your guitar
  • You can still play all of the techniques that you play now with your flat pick
  •  Instead of having all of your fingers clamped down on the flat pick, you will have four fingers available to use for pickings, which means that you can switch from fingerstyle playing to other techniques very quickly
  • You can adjust the angle of your pick easily by bending the knuckle of your thumb, rather than moving your entire wrist
  • The thumb pick easily allows you play chords (clawhammer style), which will provide you with a clean, controlled sound that is especially clear on octaves
  • You can use your fingers to pick difficult strings while you’re playing a solo, instead of having to learn a unique picking technique

Cons of using thumb picks:

  • The feeling of a thumb pick takes a little while to get used to, as it does feel very weird to have something attached to your thumb while you’re strumming on your instrument
  • You may find that it’s nearly impossible to find a thumb pick that’s in your size, due to the limited range of sizes. If you have large thumbs, you’re most likely going to feel squished and constrained by the thumb pick; on the flip side, if you have small thumbs, you may find that the thumb pick slips off your finger, completely ruining the purpose of using a thumb pick
  • If you only play with thumb picks, you’ll be in a fickle if you end up forgetting to grab your thumb pick when you’re on your way to practice or to record. Thumb picks aren’t as easy to find as flat picks are, meaning that it’ll be highly unlikely that you’ll be able to stop in at your local guitar shop or music store and pick up a thumb pick

Quick tip

If you happen to have bought a kit or collection of supplies for your instrument, chances are you have a flat pick in that kit/collection.

If you want to experiment with your sound a little bit, change up how close you pick to the bridge of your guitar. By picking closer to the bridge of the guitar, you will find that you sound is much harder and more intense. On the other hand, if you pick further away from the bridge of the guitar, you will receive a softer, more mellow sound. This tip applies to both flat picks and thumb picks.

If you spend a couple minutes looking around the Internet for different types of picks, you will notice that there are an enormous amount of different shapes, sizes, thicknesses, and materials used to create the flat picks and thumb picks (depending upon which one you’re looking at). The variations in the picks available on the market will create a different sound from your instrument. While this difference in sound isn’t going to be as drastic as if you were to plug in your guitar and play around with a soundboard, playing with different types of picks will give you slight changes in the intensity of the sound you’re producing.



At the end of the day, you’re going to have certain musicians recommend using a particular pick over the other. Don’t feel pressured to pick a type of pick over the other just because you think it’ll make you look cooler. Besides you, there isn’t really going to be anyone who pays attention to what type of pick you’re using. Choosing the best type of pick for your personal musical preferences is really going to help make playing your guitar more comfortable, but will also provide you with an easier transition between techniques.

Keep in mind that it’s totally okay if you purchase a set of flat picks and a thumb pick, as it’s completely possible to learn how to fluently play both picks. I would highly recommend purchasing both and keeping them both in your accessories kit, but making sure that you can easily play one type of pick before you start to learn how to play the other. It’ll make sure that in the future, you’ll be able to switch between the two picks with ease.

Good luck finding your new favorite accessory!


Further read!

Top Five Best Guitars for Left Handed Players

The Top 5 Best Fingerstyle Guitars for 2019

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