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IRONING IT OUT (#1) – To pick or not to pick?

In the first of what we hope will be a regular if not slightly irregular (and possibly irreverent) feature, Edenthorn bass player Faiba Gabrielle joins us At The Barrier with her ‘Ironing It Out ‘- all will become clear if you read on…

faiba gabrielle edenthorn

We’ll pre-empt Faiba’s debut piece with an Editorial anecdote – There’s a story in Time Flies, the excellent Porcupine Tree biography by Rich Wilson where Steven Wilson has to play Colin Edwin’s bass part himself – with a pick – as he wants a particularly aggressive sound on a song (which I can’t recall) that Colin can’t achieve with his preferred finger technique. With that thought, it’s over to Faiba, where we find her pondering…

TO PICK OR NOT TO PICK!? – IRONING IT OUT (1)

I was stood doing a massive un-rockstar-like pile of ironing today and a memory popped into my head. Until 2 weeks ago I have always been a fingerstyle bassist and have never-ever used a pick.

I remember playing a gig a few years back and a man was very nicely complimenting my playing. He finished his sentence with “You’re a proper bassist because you use your fingers...” and that sentence stuck with me ever since. The thought of playing with a pick was a crime! Until now… A week ago I recorded bass for an upcoming Edenthorn track. I worked on the song for around 2 weeks making sure I knew each part inside out before I hit record, played about with fills, messed on with my pedals and pickups and tried playing in different places on the bass to ensure I got the right sound. I also had to spend a good while warming my fingers up so they were ready for action!

Sidenote – The pandemic has made us change up the usual way we record as a band, so at the moment we’re all recording our own parts at home and then sending the tracks over to Dylan (our guitarist and Studio Engineer) who then produces, mixes and masters our music for release. I must also add that because I now have control of recording myself, I can delete every single thing I record and start again cause I think I’ll do it better the next time around… It’s a blessing but a curse at the same time! Throughout the whole of lockdown I’ve been spending a lot of time with my bass and to challenge myself I’ve been learning a few well-known basslines. (Let’s not talk about YYZ though!) Amongst the songs was New Years Day by U2. Love them or hate them you can’t deny that the bassline is super catchy and prominent. I watched a few live videos of the song on YouTube and noticed Adam Clayton was using A PICK! (Dun, dun, dunnnn!) So, I left this song and moved on because I use my fingers. End of sidenote.

It took me around 10 hours to lay down the bass for the Edenthorn track! Now I realise this was mainly because I didn’t want to give in to the pick lords and was adamant that I must use my fingers because real bassists don’t use picks (give me a minute!). A couple of days after I completed the recording, I was tidying out a drawer and found a little packet of picks that I got free when I bought a new strap for my bass last year. I remembered that New Years Day was played with a pick, so just for fun, I sat down with my bass and started playing the song (Hmm, this isn’t too bad, it sounds pretty similar to the original, I seem to be quite natural with the pick, let’s keep going…) .

As us musicians do, I started playing snippets of all sorts of songs including the Edenthorn track I recorded a few days prior. The main thing I noticed was the different tones and sounds I was getting from the pick and not to mention that I could play the main riff more comfortably and didn’t have to move my fingers 10,000 miles an hour to stay in time (HAHA!) I started digging further into which bassists use picks. Carol Kaye, Duff Mckagan, Adam Clayton, Paul McCartney, Roger Waters, Sting, John Entwistle just to name a few. However, a few of these bassists also use their fingers depending on the song, what tone they want, what feel the song needs, whether they want to stand out in the mix, whether the riff is faster than the fingers can comfortably move (unless your Steve Harris of course). SO, back to my initial point…

What took me 10 hours to record – because I was scared of the pick and didn’t want to give in to not being a “real bass player” – would have taken me an hour tops should I have used one. I am currently taking an online course in “using a pick” and believe that having this tool will help me grow as a bassist. I won’t be giving up fingerstyle playing, instead I will be adding pick playing to my toolbox and will use whichever method is best for the song in question.

To conclude: I think that a lot of music fans and gig-goers believe that as a bassist you’re either a pick player or a fingerstyle player, there can only be one, you can’t be both? Maybe seeing a bassist using their fingers looks more impressive than a pick!? Maybe you have this opinion but your favourite song is played with a pick and you didn’t realise until now!? Are you a bassist who only uses a pick and would NEVER use your fingers to play? Maybe you’re a bassist who, like me got a silly comment trapped in the depths of your brain somewhere and needed to read this article to unleash the pick!?

Either way, I would love to know YOUR thoughts on this…TO PICK OR NOT TO PICK!?

A reminder of the most recent Edenthorn single, 1993 – and yes, that is Faiba on bass playing without a pick.

Watch out for Faiba’s next thoughts from the ironing board in an Ironing It Out that might (or might not) possibly involve cover versions and tribute bands….

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6 replies »

  1. Interesting to hear your picking thoughts!!. Faiba I was a bass finger picker too as I liked the softer tones and felt that playing rolling bass on the short and longer runs was easier than using a pick. Like you I received a nice compliment during a gig when an audience member commented that he was pleased to see me not using a pick and playing properly!!! He went on to inform me that he had been bass player in Unit 4 + 2 who had a big sixties hit with Concrete and Clay. After that I saw no reason to change…if I wanted a louder, stronger sound in the rockier numbers I just turned my bass up, which sometimes got me in trouble especially in smaller venues… typical bass player….. always the rebel!!!

    • Hiya Howard,

      Thanks for commenting 🙂

      I was put off by the pick for sooo long but when I messed about with one on my Bass it seemed very natural for me to use so I just went with it! Do you still play? X

  2. Hi Faiba,

    sadly not touched bass for years, I played in groups for about 25 years but now I just play acoustic at home and in music and guitar lessons at work but as we are not allowed to sing in primary schools at moment not even done that. I went to buy an acoustic bass recently but a 12 string caught my eye and got that instead!!! I always think you need 1 more guitar than you’ve actually got. musical interests being fulfilled with all the reviews I do for atthebarrier!!

  3. Hi Fabia – I loved your musings on whether to use a pick or not, and your subsequent exchange of thoughts with Howard. I actually came about the pick/no pick debate from a slightly different angle. I bought a bass before I had any idea of how to play it, but I was fortunate enough to be offered tuition by the bassist in the town’s top band. And he was a pick user, and so then was I.

    You summarise the respective benefits of both pick use and finger picking very accurately – and I fully agree that there’s room for both the twangy, rapid-fire sound that a pick gives and the mellow, true bass sound achieved by finger picking. And I have to agree that some of the most notable bass players were pick users – you mention John Entwistle, Paul McCartney and Carol Kaye amongst others -I would also add the great Dave Pegg to that list of outstanding pickers. Just a thought – Entwistle, McCartney and Pegg (I don’t know about Carol) all started out as guitarists – do you think that was an influence on how they approached bass playing?

    Anyway – sorry for rambling – many thanks for contributing such an interesting set of thoughts.

    • Hiya John,

      Thank you for commenting and sorry about the super late reply!

      Do you find a pick or fingers more natural than the other? or easier/harder?

      Yes, that is so interesting that you mentioned those guys as being Guitarists originally and then moving onto Bass, and yes Carol Kaye was also a Guitarist who moved to Bass. I definitely think you have hit the nail on the head there and I hadn’t even thought about that!

      Here is a little 7 minute video on Carol Kaye if you have time to watch it, you may recognise some of the songs she recorded Bass for!

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vh9zoO4xUKI&t=4s

      Thanks so much for your *ramblings* (haha) LOVE IT!

      Faiba x

  4. Hey John – I’m just reading Kenney Jones’ autobiography and was also reminded that Ronnie Lane started off as a guitarist. And of course, Mike Rutherford switches between guitar and bass (after starting as a guitarist) and the wonderful Pete Trewavas, who as you all know plays bass in Marillion, is a decent guitar player. And then there’s Tony Levin who apart from being generally brilliant, has that technique where he kind of has two drumsticks attached to his fingers to sort of slap/hit the strings…..mike 🙂

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