Brian writes:

I started playing back around 1991, and always used National brand thumbpicks (white or tortoise shell). They sounded great and didn’t seem to wear down in a way that affected their tone or performance. Sometime in the last 10 years or so, it seems that National changed the plastic material they use in their thumbpicks, and (in my humble opinion) the new ones don’t sound nearly as good. Do you notice a meaningful difference in the sound you get from different thumbpicks? And do you have any recommendations on which brand seems to deliver the best tone and don’t seem to wear down poorly?


I have not noticed a difference in the sound. Some are scratchier (which certainly can be a bad part of the sound) than others, but I don’t hear variety in tone quality from pick to pick, at least of the same general shape. The scratchiness of the material is based on how the pick material wears, so maybe that is what you’re referring to. I find that scratchiness goes away as the pick is used regularly, especially if lubricated with a bit of oil from the side of the nose (really!).

I don’t have recommendations for which picks produce best tone. In any case, tone depends mostly on a lot of other stuff than pick material. I have a long term supply of picks made in the early 90s that look like Golden Gate but don’t have the imprint, and seem to be better material. The Dunlop “tortoise” look plastic picks seem good.

When it comes to tone, the main thing is to want it bad, and keep that attitude as you play. It will come.

Best of luck,

Pete Wernick