What really threw us for a loop was when we found out that Beck didn’t use a guitar pick — we were all learning to play and spent much of our time looking for the elusive picks.
The reason was simple: Beck felt he had more feel for the music and could be more expressive by using the fingerstyle technique. I’ve heard it described as the difference between driving a car with an automatic transmission and driving a five-speed. You simply have more control with the five-speed.
Of course, Beck was hardly the first — or last — fingerstyle electric player, as we all came to learn. It’s safe to say that the technique seems to work for those who subscribe to it, which includes Dire Straits founder and solo artist Mark Knopfler.
“It just started to happen,” Knopfler once told author Bill Flanagan, who wrote “Written In My Soul,” a collection of interviews with noted musicians. “I remember sitting in a house in London – starving to death at the time – playing a cheap Japanese acoustic with really light electric guitar strings on it. I knew then that it was on a turn, it was developing. I was doing things with my fingers that I couldn’t do with a pick – really fast things and what have you.”
“I still love to play with a pick, and sometimes you have to record certain parts or songs with a pick – for instance, “Expresso Love,” Knopfler said. “But it’s interesting that now I’m not nearly as comfortable with a pick as I am with my fingers.”
I’m hardly a scholar on this, but it seems finger-picking is as old as the guitar. Given the number of electric blues greats who use the style it seems likely it evolved from the more common acoustic fingerstyle. Maybe someone out there has a history on this.
Anyway, I came up with a partial list of prominent electric players who go pick-less, with the list as much in chronological order as I could make it. See if you can add any to the list, as I’m sure I’ll miss tons of them.
• John Lee Hooker
• Albert King
• Albert Collins
• Ry Cooder
• Robby Krieger of the Doors
• Jeff Beck
• Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac
• Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits
• Derek Trucks of the Allman Brothers Band
• John Mayer
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