Finger picks and thumb picks are a bit of a necessary evil. Many players struggle with them, but if you want speed, volume and attack, they are are essential. Most new finger picks feel bulky, awkward and uncomfortable. Ill-fitting picks are painful and distracting, cutting off circulation while constantly catching on each other and the strings. The best players will spend hours tweaking and “breaking in” a set of finger and thumb picks until they feel like a second skin. Once you’ve achieved the “perfect pick”, however, it can drastically improve your playing.
Below are 5 ways to customize and shape your finger picks to create a more natural experience that works with you instead of against you.
1. Smooth surface jewelry pliers
Metal finger picks need to be shaped to ensure the meatiest part of the pick blade is making contact with the string. We all position our hand differently when playing guitar and rarely does the natural stroke of your finger align perpendicularly with the string. Without shaping the pick, you end up catching just a portion of the pick surface which can weaken your tone and cause your picks to catch on the string. The best thing to do is to manually shape both the blade of the pick as well as the bands so that the pick conforms to your fingertip and your stroke.
Start with two pairs of smooth surface needle nose pliers. Do not use standard grooved needle nose pliers, as they will leave indents and burrs that will cause irritation. You can find a range of smooth surface pliers at a jewelry supply stores or online. If you absolutely cannot find smooth pliers, you can wrap stand needle nose pliers in a few wraps of masking tape.
First work on the side bands of the pick, gently straightening and re-bending to fit the diameter of your finger. Position the pick so it is rotated in a way that allows the most area of the blade to come in contact with the string. Once you have the bands wrapped fairly comfortably around your finger, use your hand to pinch it tighter, taking care not to kink the side wraps. You want it to feel tight and secure on your finger
Next work on angling and shaping the blade so it contours around the circumference of your finger pad. Most people like between an 1/8 and a ¼ of an inch of the pick tip to extend beyond your finger, but it is really a personal preference. The key is to be gentle, go slow and make small bends until you’ve got the shape exactly how you want it.
2. Nose Pads
One of my favorite tricks is using stick-on foam nose piece pads made for eyeglasses. You can pick these up at most drug stores. Just peel off a pad and stick it to the inside of the finger pick band. It creates a soft cushion that will make your finger picks a pleasure to wear for hours on end. If they get gunky with sweat and dirt, just peel them out and replace.
3. Heat Shrink Tubing
The metal bands of a finger pick can be brutal, cutting off circulation and digging into your cuticles. Besides properly shaping your pick, one trick is to use heat shrink tubing around the bands to create a more comfortable surface with better grip. Heat shrink tubing is sold at any hardware store and is used to provide installation over electrical wiring. The ¼” tubing works fine.
Place the tubing over the metal bands and snip off the ends. Instead of placing the shrink wrapping over an open flame, which can warp and damage the pick, place them in a small pan of water and bring to a boil. The water will heat the shrink wrap without damaging the pick. Within a few minutes the tube wrap will shrink to form a perfect fit around the band. If you want to get really clever, use two colors of shrink tubing (my store had black and white) so you always know which pick is for your index finger and which is for the middle finger.
4. Use Plasti-Dip to Coat the Bands
Heat shrink tubing works great, but for some picks, particularly the split band ProPiks, shrink tubing is not an option. Not to fear, there is another way to rubberize the bands for better comfort and control: Plasti-Dip. Plasti-Dip is a liquid plastic meant for coating tool handles like pliers or screwdrivers, but works great as a coating for metal fingerpicks. You simply dip into the liquid plastic and it forms a permanent coating around the band. Plasti-Dip can be picked up at the hardware store for around $5. I recommend the can rather than the spray on version, but either will work. The whole process can be a little tricky. Here’s how to do it.
-First, take some painters tape and tape off the pick blade and other areas you don’t want to coat.
– Wrap some wire around the tip of the pick so you have a way to handle and hang it.
-Next, take some sandpaper and rough up the surface to be coated.
-Then spray the pick with 1 or 2 light coats of metal primer this will give the Plasti-Dip a better surface to stick to. Once the primer is dry you’re ready to dip.
– Add a small amount of thinner (follow supplied instructions) and stir up the can of Plasti-Dip, also find a deep cup or bucket and keep it nearby to shake off excess material
– Dip the pick slowly into and out of the Plasti-Dip and give it a light shake over the bucket
– Hang the pick over a piece of cardboard or newspaper and allow to dry
– After around 30 minutes, dip again for a second coat and hang to dry, this time for around 4 hours
– After the coating is fully dry, apply a light coat of MinWax Water-Based Polyurethane, this will keep the plastic coating from wearing over time
– Once the poly is dry, remove the tape. You may need to trim off some of the coating with a razorblade if any made it onto an area you don’t want covered
And that’s it. It’s not the easiest solution, but in the end you’ll have some of the nicest picks on the planet.
5. Lick Them
Finally, one of the simplest and easiest ways to get a tighter non-slip grip is simply to lick your finger before putting them on. Lick your finger,, place the pick on, take it back off, wipe your finger on your shirt and then slip the pick back on. For whatever reason this creates one of the tightest grips around and is one of the best methods I’ve found. Couldn’t be faster or easier!
And there you have it, 5 tips and tricks to customize your finger picks for better playing. I strongly encourage you to mix and match. Personally, I’ll spend some time shaping my picks, then apply shrink wrap tubing, then stick on some nose pads. Since following this method, I can play for hours on end with no issues whatsoever.