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What's Your Pick Grip? Take the Poll!

By October 24, 2016 February 3rd, 2017 Polls

Welcome to another Cracking the Code Poll, where you get to help us get a handle on picking technique, and view the results as they roll in. In this one, we’re asking about pick grip. In other words, we’d like to know how you hold the pick, and also what your setup is for the other fingers that are not directly involved in the grip itself.

To limit the crazy number of variables, there are lots of significant aspects of picking technique that we could ask about but chose not to. Here are a couple:

Anchoring. Many players use one or more fingers to make contact with the guitar body. Because there are so many ways this can be accomplished, we may save the anchoring issue for a future poll. For this poll, please choose the best option to describe what you do with the non-anchoring fingers. For example, if you tend to have your fingers open and loose, with one of them anchoring to the guitar body, please choose the “out” option for the fingers. If, instead, you tend to curl your fingers, but allow one to anchor on the guitar’s body, choose “curved” for that. We’ll probably address anchoring, as well as other aspects of your setup, in a future poll.

Edge Picking. Do you hold the pick like George Benson or Carlos Santana? If so, you may be using what we call “trailing edge picking”. This is really a combination of two things. Of course there is the grip itself, which in George and Carlos’ case, would probably be option “A”, for “pad to pad”, or possibly option “C”, for “angle pad”. But it’s also the way you turn the pick, so that you can control which edge makes contact with the string. Both George and Carlos use the edge of the pick which faces the bridge. We call this the “trailing edge”, hence, “trailing edge picking”. The reverse orientation is more common, and describes the way players like Yngwie Malmsteen and Eric Johnson use the headstock-facing edge of the pick to make contact with the string. We call this “leading edge picking”. You can read more about edge picking in this blog post here. But to make a long story short, in this poll, we’re only asking about the pick hold itself – in other words, which parts of the fingers you use to actually grip it, and what the other fingers are doing. We’ll address edge picking in a future, more comprehensive poll.

Thanks and let’s get started!

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View the Results!

These are updated every few minutes, so be sure to check back to see new data. If you’re on a phone, scroll down to see smaller charts, and rotate your screen if they still appear cut off!

Total Counts: Pick Grip, Finger Position, and Motion Mechanic


Combinations: Grip & Finger Position

Combinations: Grip & Motion Mechanic


  • Patrik Hanson says:

    I did the quiz twice because I didn’t realise what my actual pick grip was until after I did the quiz. I hope I didn’t ruin the legitimacy of the results because of my stupidity.

  • Andrew says:

    There goes the nobel prize Patrik. Good job! 🙂

  • Johan Runesson says:

    I miss the crazy friedman-style

  • Quintin Pace says:

    I used to do the three finger grip, but my teacher showed me the way he held it and said it was my choice. He held it pad to side, which he got from the Paul Gilbert instructional vid. The clip’s still on YT. I transitioned over to that style after a while. Now, I think I hover between pad side and pad angle, leaning more toward pad side.

    I used to hard anchor my pinky on the guitar, but I quit because of the tension. I have experimented with curved or loose fist, but lately I have been letting my fingers hang loose. I noticed I tend to curl them up when I’m playing licks that ascend in pitch (going up the strings from low E to high that is). So loose down, curled up.

  • leif says:

    I know it;s too late now, but the size, shape and thickness of the pick would have been interesting. Is there a pick a particular style gravitates to? That sort of thing.
    Maybe next time.

  • David says:

    What does Robert Fripp do?

  • James dillon says:

    I am a forward pick slanter and vary between two and three finger grin due to lots of hybrid picking

  • keith says:

    what about pick position in the fingers. some ppl use the pointy end,but some roll it around to use the side or even the fat end. i think this is an important question too in regards to what style your playing i.e shred,country,blues….

  • max says:

    I think there should maybe have been polls for both lead and rhythm playing. Everything about my lead playing, from the way I hold the pick to the mechanics I use are massively different to my rhythm playing. But maybe I’m strange, maybe most people stick to one thing that works…

    • ralph says:

      Nah, you’re not strange. It’s perfectly normal, but I think it’s safe to assume most people taking the poll are talking about their lead playing. The truth is most intermediate to advanced players just don’t pay attention to how they play rhythm. I had no idea I played fast down-picked stuff with a trailing edge until I noticed recently, the reverse of my usual leading edge picking. When inserting fast gallops, I change the angle completely and don’t dig nearly as deep. And for some reason, I never use economy picking except when picking clean notes and letting them ring out.

      For simpler things like these examples, it’s normal for your body to automatically choose what’s comfortable and efficient for you, especially if it’s just a matter of endurance like a lot of rhythm playing is. Those things don’t take a lot, if any, analysis to pull off correctly, so your muscles often automatically choose the path of least resistance.

  • ralph says:

    I’m so pleased that “Out” isn’t the majority of respondents which I expected it to be. Anchoring is so ugly.

    • ralph says:

      Ignore the above–I’m disappointed in most of you after all. 🙁 I didn’t read the description of anchoring closely enough before taking the survey and I assumed “Curved” precluded it. My hand looks very much like the “Curved” photo when I play, but my fingers never touch the body. I don’t make a fist, so neither option describes me. No anchoring, but fingers in a relaxed, curved state to accommodate easy tapping and hybrid picking.

      I know a lot of players who play this way: the best examples are Paul Gilbert and Martin Goulding. This is quite simply the cleanest picking posture possible if you can keep from tensing up.

      • Mitch says:

        Why would the tip of your finger touching the body suddenly cause tension? If I were to move my finger .00000001 mm off of the body, would that fix it? Anchoring doesn’t inherently cause tension. You can be just as or more tense without anchoring. It’s all about whether or not you focus on loosening up. I would argue that free float causes more tension since the lack of support requires you to flex your extensors to keep your hand in the proper position.

      • Marvio Botticelli says:

        Also, fingers out doesn’t mean anchoring per se, I play with my fingers out and don’t anchor at all, I do use my pinky as both a depth gauge and to feel my way up/down the strings, as well as muting some times.

        • Eugene says:

          I use a volume knob a lot while laying, so it’s natural for me to keep my fingers out. Though they touch the deck only when I playing 1st or 2nd string, and it has nothing common with anchoring. Just the result of hand position

  • ralph says:

    What Mitch? I said nothing of the such regarding anchoring and tension. The only time I mentioned “tension” was in suggesting the style used by PG and Martin Goulding is ideal if you can keep from tensing up. When I first adopted that style, I had some tension issues until eventually my middle, ring and pinky were naturally curled up and loose. I said “No anchoring, but fingers in a relaxed, curved state to accommodate easy tapping and hybrid picking,” and nothing about this sentence suggests anchoring means no relaxation. It just means that when your fingers are in the floating position just above the strings, it’s that much easier to lower them to tap or pluck–no repositioning from the face of the guitar or edge of pickup necessary. As for not anchoring causing tension, I think you mistake not anchoring fingers (what this poll is about) with not anchoring anything. Only one orientation point is necessary–anything in addition to it is superfluous. Nearly all electric guitar players anchor the forearm to the body to preserve energy, stabilize the instrument, and orient themselves to the strings.

    I will suggest anchoring can make one irrationally defensive.

    Marvio, good point. The anchoring section of the poll certainly could have used more nuance. :/

  • Wayne says:

    I just ran across this. These videos are what I believe to be the best out there with regards to picking. Not saying much ,but I’ve yet to run across this kind of detail and we’ll laid out information. This is interesting because my grip isn’t even represented here. But some of the videos have both confirmed what I already have naturally done, and sparked new ideas.

    I only use dunlop sharp picks. My pick angle is backward to the strings than most people. The part of the pick closest to the head stock is facing upwards. This is because I don’t like the swishing sound of the pick moving over the string. It lines up the angle of my arm on the body of the guitar with the angle of the pick strike and wrist. No swish, only note percussion. The pick is pinched between index pad and thumb tip. My fingers are relaxed and curved in ward loosely. I use them for occasional hybrid picking and tapping. The top of the pick is actually placed in the index fingers knuckle fold. My thumb becomes a sort of fulcrum that twists and doesn’t move. I cannot play all that well with a rounded tip pick. It just don’t sound right to me.

    • Brendan Schlagel says:

      Thanks Wayne! We tried to capture as many of the main grips as we could think of, but won’t pretend it’s comprehensive. If you have one not represented here and want to send us a photo we’d be happy to take a look!

    • Marvio Botticelli says:

      I believe you are describing the Gypsy style of picking, Troy does go over it in other videos, but it’s a “rare” style hence why it wasn’t included here, I would think 🙂 Marty Friedman uses that grip/picking style, it is very “hard” to watch because it seems as it’s very tense, but I’m sure it’s perfectly comfortable for those who use it.
      And yes, the whole “Master of mechanics” and “cracking the code” series are quite frankly the most comprehensive look into guitar technique I have ever seen, and I went to the old GIT, when it was called that 🙂

  • Jim Foster says:

    Tough survey to answer. I single string lead lines use forearm rotation along with thumb flexion to get out of the strings if I need to, or just thumb flexion, or just forearm rotation. For all down-picking, three finger grip, changing from leading edge to striking the string purely parallel, depending on what is fatiguing at the moment; old Metallica prodded me into this…also switch from forearm rotation to elbow flexion as one motion muscle group fatigues, to give each group a little break. But if I have to jump strings with down picking I might flex my thumb. Picking is so complex. Thanks to Troy for giving us the common vocabulary to discuss all of the mechanics.

    • Brendan Schlagel says:

      Thanks Jim — definitely a great point that many people use multiple different grips (and motion mechanics, etc.) depending on what’s being played. At some point we’d love to put together a bigger , more comprehensive poll that takes all this into consideration.

  • bogie says:

    There was one other way of holding the pick you forgot.
    It is with a bent thumb…So you actually are pressing down on the pick with the tip of the thumb and the side of the index finger.
    Both Keith Richards and Glen Tipton pick this way.

    • I am glad you said that Bogie. I didn’t notice how much I was bending my thumb until I read your comment and then went back to look at the pictures. Just now I tried bending the thumb less more similar to the pics, awkward at first but I seem to feel less tension in my forearm. That’s one of the reasons I am here. I carry a lot of tension in my forearm when speed picking and I am trying to understand why. I know part of it is simply remembering to think “loose” but I think there are some mechanically things going on here.

      Now my comments are not to say that bent thumb causes tension but I am realizing that the way I do it may be. Interesting.

  • Sean O Connor says:

    I use the flat thumb and side of my forefinger with my fingers curled, but loose. I find that the most natural and easiest for hybrid picking, which I do a lot, but not in the speedy way a lot of country players do – (any advice or help on that would be greatly appreciated). I use hybrid picking so that I can pick the root note, and only the strings I want to hear with my fingers. If I’m playing something like The Sultans Of Swing I don’t use a pick at all, and I also use just my fingers for some slow blues tunes so I can slap some of the notes off the fretboard for a different feel or sound. I feel like a jack of all trades and master of none at times. Any advice?

  • Drew Adams says:

    What a great set of videos! Missed the poll, but I definitely vary the grip with what’s being played. For leads with speed picking it’s thumb pad flat on the pick and first finger pad, but at an angle. First finger looks like it points straight down at the strings, thumb is parallel to the strings. The pick stays there, and if there is tapping it gets done with the other fingers. No anchoring other than the arm on the body of the guitar. Motion is near entirely with the wrist.

    Not much edge on the pick for the very fast stuff, just the very tip of the pick so it doesn’t get caught too deep in the strings. Until I watched these videos, I probably would have said something like “circular motion”, but it’s actually what amounts to a unconscious (until now) cross picking.

    On rhythm, or riffs with a lot of pinch harmonics, the pick rotates a bit where the trailing edge is contacting the strings. The first finger lowers a bit, it slightly grazes the strings sometimes. There is much more sense of being able to really “dig in”. Not sure if this is a feel thing, or if it’s because I’m left handed, but learned right. Anyways, these videos have me focusing on the pick work again, which already is improving my playing with the speed and articulation that has always been the thing I need to work hardest at. Well done and thanks!

  • bogie says:

    I mentioned the tip of the thumb and the side of the index finger. It essentially looks like you are making the Okay sign.
    But I have not used that grip in many years.

    Now I myself am a reverse pick edge player . To my hands is the best way top pick because I have the most control of the pick this way.
    The biggest problem I had with normal edge picking was my upstrokes. After I switched to reverse pick edge picking
    the up stroke problem is 90 percent gone.

    Which leads me to someone you should interview to study their picking style.
    The guy who does the equipment demos for Guitar World magazine.
    His name is Paul Riario . He is a great reverse pick edge slant player. In fact by watching his demos helped me to develop my technique.

  • Alain Howe says:

    I don’t know if this will show, but here’s a picture of Steve Stevens: https://howgoodisthat.files.wordpress.com/2009/01/001i_billy_idol_steve_stevens_std.jpg

    I’m showing that as an example of how the way I hold my pick looks. The pick is at about a 90-degree angle to both my thumb and the first (outermost) segment of my forefinger. The outermost knuckle of my thumb is bent, even though I’m not a habitual upward pickslanter. Although I use standard picks (which I sometimes sharpen at the tip) now, I used to use those larger rounded-triangular picks and that got me in the habit of pulling the “top” of the pick toward the innermost joint of my forefinger in order to stabilize the pick, which I still do even with the smaller standard pick.

    I hold the pick very near the tip for better control. This seems to be okay for fast picking of single-note lines, but is a bit of a pain for strumming.

    My other fingers are somewhere in between the “Out” and “Curved” postures shown in the illustrations for the survey. Depending on how far away from the body the strings are, I’ll anchor with my ring finger–higher strings militate for anchoring, lower strings cause my other fingers to curl back more and float/slide on the guitar’s body or pickguard.

    I try to stick with “clockface” wrist motion to generate pickstrokes, although sometimes I catch myself picking from my elbow when trying to go fast. I seem to be able to pick just as fast with wrist motion as elbow, but I have to concentrate fairly hard on staying relaxed.

  • Sam says:

    This survey didn’t take into account the side of the pick used. Some players (I fall into this category) play using the rounded side corner of the pick rather than the sharp point for picking. I like to be able to alternate quickly between smooth strumming and quick melodic riffs, so I use a thin pick that has a little give for strumming and the rounded corner provides enough stiffness for alternate picking.

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