Why Do Bass Players Hate Picks?

Depending on the bass player you talk with, their love of picks will hit anywhere from love to true hatred. Those who express this hatred often do so with a fiery passion. So, why do bass players hate picks?

Using a pick is not a bad thing. However, as a beginner, using a pick can hinder your ability to stay in rhythm properly and prevents the use of the rest stroke.

Considered more of a psychological than a physical limitation because a pick allows you to play many notes at high speed. It reduces the pressure to stay in rhythm. As the bass is a grounding instrument, an excellent sense of rhythm is more important than the ability to play many notes quickly.

For more advanced bassists, the pick is shunned not for a lack of rhythm, but because using a pick does not allow you to utilize the rest stroke. This valuable technique involves pushing through one string to land on the nearest string above or below, eliciting a pleasant thumping sound, often associated with the bass.

In other words, it may be valuable to learn to play the bass without using a pick to ensure you don’t pick up any bad habits, but as you progress properly, the decision is completely up to you. Keep reading as we expel the myths and weigh the pros and cons of this classic debate.

What are some advantages of not using a pick?

Aside from the reasons listed above, there are many reasons why bassists choose to go pickless, including:

  • Good Pedagogy: Mastering two-finger plucking is an essential step for developing rhythmic consistency, evenness, and for forming callouses. Although using a pick is not necessarily a bad thing, these developments require hours of practice and dedication, and a pick can impede this process.
  • Versatile tone: Through finger plucking, the whole spectrum of sounds and tones can be achieved—you can even experiment using different parts of your fingers to alter the sounds of your tones. Think of it this way: you can play smooth warm, and full tones using the pads of your fingers then quickly switch to your fingernails to produce crisp bright sounds—you can’t do that with a pick in hand.
  • Endurance: Picking is tiresome and strenuous on the fingers and wrist. Musicians who use picks only tend to do so for short periods. Finger plucking mimics more natural finger and wrist movements, allowing you to play longer comfortably.

Here’s a video of Geddy Lee of Rush explaining why he doesn’t use a pick.

So, is playing with a pick bad?

Just because there are a lot of musicians out there who have a problem with picking doesn’t mean it’s bad form to use one. Honestly, screw them. As long as your technique is solid, do what makes you happy.

Bassists who have a problem with picking tend to hold one or both of the following beliefs:

They don’t like the sound: Picks produce a treble-heavy, defined sound. Although this sound complements certain genres, some bassists are traditionalists, believing a pick takes away from an authentic sound.

They see it as a shortcut: Playing with a pick is easier than playing without one; therefore, some musicians see it as a shortcut believing it shows a lack of dedication and skill.

In other words: play however you want. If you can shred with a pick, you’ll lay both of these theories to rest. 

Check out this clip featuring Paul Gray (formerly of Slipknot) playing “Duality” with a pick. Do you think anyone called him a bitch while he was busy picking away?

Advantages Of Using Bass Guitar Picks

Ok, so using a pick isn’t bad form. Considering most bass players don’t use picks, are there any advantages to using them?

Although not as popular, there are many advantages to incorporating pick work into your playing, including:

Better Attack: Picks help achieve aggressive and defined sounds that require a strong attack. For this reason, many metal, punk, and thrash-metal bassists will often use a pick for periods of time.

Emulating the sound of others: Given that many legendary bassists use picks, if you’re into playing covers, you will want to use a pick to emulate their style.

Play with guitar: Typically, a bassist follows the beat of the drums to tie the rhythm and lead parts together; however, there are times when bassists need to follow the guitar players. Using a pick will allow you to keep up with the fast pace of the guitar, assuring you can hit notes faster to achieve the desired sound.

Notes ring longer when picked, not plucked: Every time your finger plucks the string, it is muted for the short time it is in contact with your finger. For fast patterns on one or two strings, the time the notes ring freely can be short. A pick shortens the contact period, allowing your strings to ring longer.

Professional Bassists Who Use Picks

Ok, I get your point, but are there any serious bassists who ONLY use picks? Accomplished bassists who only use picks include:

  • Justin Chancellor—Tool: Although he occasionally uses his fingers for slow parts, as soon as the rhythm picks up, look closely, and you’ll spot the pick in his hand.
  • Jason Newsted—Metallica: When Newsted stepped in after Cliff Burton’s untimely death, he knew he had a big pair of shoes to fill. Thankfully, his aggressive picking style and “fuck you” attitude was enough to win the love and respect of Metallica’s diehard fan base.
  • David Ellefson—Megadeath: There is no debate that Ellefson’s tone and technical abilities are a key component, responsible for Megadeath’s unique sound—and he always uses a pick.
  • Nick Oliveri—Queens Of The Stone Age: Considering he’s responsible for co-writing most of the first three Queens of the Stone Age albums, Nick Oliveri played all of his iconic bass lines with a pick-in-hand.
  • Gene Simmons—Kiss: Don’t let the battle gear, long tongue, and fire-spitting fool you; Gene Simmons is a beast of the bass and can always be spotted with a pick on stage.
  • Jean-Michel Labadie—Gogira: Labadie’s relentless attack combined with his raw tone could never have been achieved through finger plucking. Gogira’s infamous sound would not be the same without the use of a pick.
  • Lemmy Kilmister—Motörhead: Enough said, suck it

Are bass picks and guitar picks the same?

All right, you make a good point with your Lemmy Kilmister comment; maybe I’ll give using a pick a shot.

While guitar picks can be used with bass guitars, it is recommended that you use picks that are specifically designed for bass guitars as they tend to have three noticeable differences, mainly to do with:

  1. Thickness: Clocking in at 1.0-3.0mm’s, bass picks are slightly thicker than guitar picks, which are roughly 0.40-1.0mm’s thick. A thicker pick ensures the heavy bass strings don’t knock the pick out of your hand, not to mention: the thicker the pick, the more attack.
  2. Material: Bass picks are often made from heavy-durable plastic called Lexan, whereas guitar picks tend to be made from less durable forms of plastic, like celluloid and delrin.
  3. Width: To improve accuracy and prevent picks from breaking, bass picks are slightly wider and often more triangular in shape compared to the average guitar pick.

Check out our article on the different types of guitar and bass picks for more information.


So, to answer the question: why do bass players hate picks? In summary, some musicians will look down their noses at you for playing the bass with a pick. I would argue–who cares? Most of the hater’s reasoning is based on stereotypes and generalizations that can easily be disproven with talent. So, if using a pick feels right for you, then hold your head high and pick away.

Dan Winker

Lover and writer of all things Heavy Metal. Desperately trying to write myself out of a horrible pre-university career path.

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