Best Fingerpicking Guitar - 6 Vital Stats You Need to Know Before Buying
+ 5 Great Fingerpicking Guitarists
Whether you're fingerpicking rock, blues or country, or your finger styling is all about classical and flamenco guitar, I'm going to show you some of the best fingerpicking guitars for all of these musical styles. Each music genre has its own requirements and preferences and none of them will be ignored here.
First we'll take a quick look at the different styles and techniques of fingerpicking. Then I'll share my reviews of some of the best guitars for fingerpicking and what features and assets you need to be looking for in those guitars. Throughout this page I'll also be sharing some of the most famous and influential fingerpicking guitarists. The last one will probably surprise you. Let me know your favorite.
So let's get to it.
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Fingerpicking Styles and Techniques
Before we go looking for the best fingerpicking guitar, let's look at what fingerpicking is.
The technique of finger-picking, or fingerstyle, involves plucking the strings directly with the fingertips or fingernails. The technique is used on both nylon and steel string guitars.
Classical and flamenco are traditionally played on nylon strings, while genres like rock, blues and country are usually played on steel strings. Some players use a thumb pick, or finger picks, but that's somewhat rare. Regardless, it's the multitasking plucking fingers that define this style.
In fingerpicking, bass notes are played with the thumb while the upper notes are plucked with the other fingers. Just how many bass notes and treble notes are played with which fingers is what differentiates the many schools of fingerpicking.
In classical guitar, the thumb, index and middle fingers are all used for plucking. In flamenco, the thumb pulls double duty, being used for both single notes and strumming.
Alternating bass method has the thumb playing rhythm with the index, and sometimes middle, finger picking out the melody.
Then there's the very smooth Piedmont school of fingerpicking, where only the thumb and index finger are used.
And the Travis picking method employs a pre-set right hand pattern, while the left plays standard chords.
There is no single type of fingerpicking that is used in every situation and each style has its own sound. (I've provided a lot of examples via links on this page. All links will open in a separate tab.)
There are, however, common things to look for that make some of the best fingerpicking guitars. If this is a style you're interested in, whether you're already playing it or looking for something for beginners, read on and I'll help you find a great fingerstyle guitar
Fast View: Best Fingerpicking Guitars - Top 3
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Etta’s two-finger style (thumb and index finger) of playing guitar follows in the tradition of other great Piedmont guitarists. Known for her beautiful arrangements and driving rhythm, Etta’s guitar repertoire ranges from late 19th-century parlor music to intimation of blues music styles that would define the post-World War II urban electric blues that became popular in Chicago and Detroit and gave birth to Rock ‘n Roll.
Etta continued to perform well into her 90’s, passing away on September 23rd, 2006 at the age 93. – From ettabakerproject.com (links to video page)
Fingerpicking Style - Blues
Best Fingerpicking Guitar - Reviews
This Washburn WCG66SCE has their signature deluxe re-curve style ergonomic armrest bevel that makes for a comfortable playing guitar, which is one of the key factors that makes things easier for a fingerstyle player. It has a substantial 1 ¾" nut width, but the Grand Auditorium size keeps it from being as big of a handful as a dreadnought.
Of course, it's a Washburn, so you can expect good quality in the solid Western Red Cedar top and Spalted Maple body. The cedar provides warmth to the tone while the maple makes sure it stays bright and doesn't drown in its own richness. But really, the sound on this guitar is impressive, and that's before you turn on the electronics.
The Fishman electronics do this guitar justice. Not changing its tone, but enhancing the beauty that's already there. You can play around, but I like to keep it as close to amplified natural as possible.
With the extra comforts on this full-sized Grand Auditorium, this is an excellent choice for a larger fingerpicking guitar. You'll get big sound and have plenty of room to move around.
Nut Width: 1 3/4"
Top Wood: Solid Western Red Cedar
This Guild acoustic is a mid-sized, orchestra shaped guitar and it's been set up to work well for fingerpicking or strumming. The solid spruce top combined with solid Indian rosewood back and sides provides a bright, but balanced, rich tone. Once again, accommodating any playing style.
The C-shaped neck makes for a comfortable hold, even with the wide neck, a nice accommodating touch for finger players. With the orchestra-sized body, wide nut and well-shaped neck, this Guild OM-150CE, fingerpickers should feel really well set up.
Other nice finishing touches, which I would expect on a guitar of this caliber, are the bone nut and saddle, and mother-of-pearl rosette. Combine that with solid wood all around and you're looking at one fine guitar.
With the top quality Fishman electronics, great set-up and fine, solid woods, this guitar is ready for home, studio or stage and it'll be happy to make you look good anywhere. This is a very fine instrument you won't regret having in your collection.
Nut Width: 1 3/4"
Top Wood: Solid Sitka Spruce
This Cordoba GK Pro Negra (Gipsy Kings Signature Model) is a "flamenco guitar made for the stage, constructed with a slightly thinner body depth, neck, and nut width than a traditional Spanish guitar." Don't worry about that narrower nut width, though, the difference is only 1/16". The other factors they slimmed down to improve comfort and playability more than make up for that small difference.
A truly PRO model, you have all solid tone woods to give a rich and robust sound. Unlike some flamenco guitars that favor the high tones, this Cordoba ensures a strong bottom end without sacrificing crisp individual notes. It's ideal for fingerpicking, but handles strum and pick well, too. It's actually very playable in many more genres than classical and flamenco.
The cutaway is another nice feature that makes playing certain songs a lot easier. You also have a smooth ebony fretboard and low action to keep your left hand happy.
It's a lightweight guitar with fantastic resonance. The electronics, if you choose to use them, sound great and have an extensive range of setting to fine tune your sound. Occasionally, between the high level electronics and impressive resonance, you might encounter some feedback issues, but they're infrequent and easily managed.
If you're committed and ready for a pro instrument, this Cordoba GK Pro Negra has a lot to offer in a truly fine guitar.
Nut Width: 1 15/16"
Top Wood: Solid European Spruce
Chet Atkins was a fingerpicker extraordinaire. He helped introduce electric guitar into popular music in the 1950s. Yet it was his amazing fingerpicking that resounded on the steel-string acoustic. He lent his models to Gretsch from 1955 to 1980. His signature line does include electro-acoustic nylon string guitars, but there are steel-string acoustics available in the form of flat-top guitars and archtop guitars.
One of the modern guitar models from 1999 is the Gibson Chet Atkins SST Natural. This is a modern steel-string guitar that actually was made to be more of a descendant of the nylon-strung guitars.
You can find this master guitarist's complete discography here.
Fingerpicking Style - Country
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Admittedly, for fingerpicking, it would be nice if the nut width on the Little Martin was a little wider. That said, the other things that make this a very comfortable guitar to play make up for that. However, if you have large fingers, you should probably pass on this one.
The Little Martin is known for its big sound, despite its size. It is the smallest of Martin's guitars. But as I said, it gives big sound, bigger than you'd expect. And once you plug it in, you can compete with any big guitar.
The solid spruce top creates a bright tone that's crisp and clear. Its sturdy design is perfect for heavier strings and assertive strumming, if that's your style. You can also switch out for lighter strings with no loss of quality. This gives you a lot of versatility no matter what style of fingerpicking you do.
The 23" scale length and modified low oval neck make the Little Martin easy to hold so that's not distracting you from your playing. It is a little neck heavy, but using the strap balances it all out pretty well when you're standing.
If this guitar seems a little smaller than you want for your fingerstyle playing, you might consider that it's also a great travel guitar. If you want to take it with you, this one stows easily in overheads and is generally easy to carry.
Big sound, small guitar, easy to play. What's not to love?
Nut Width: 1 11/16"
Top Wood: Sitka Spruce
If you're not familiar with Ovation guitars, you should know that the back of this guitar is a deep bowl shape and to get that shape, they use a composite material, not wood. However, theirs is innovative engineering at its best. The top is still quality sound wood and their special shape creates a big, balanced sound particular to Ovation guitars. They are quite distinct from other acoustics. (There's a video in the listing, partway down the page.)
Besides the shape affecting the sound, it also makes for a very comfortable playing experience. The guitar tucks into you more than forcing you to reach over it. It's easy to play and while providing a solid bass, the top is bright and clear. Both are excellent features for fingerpicking patterns. The on-board Fishman electronics take good care of all of your amplification needs.
Ovation's goal is to create great sounding, great playing affordable guitars and they've done a good job of that here. If you want to try something different and get a good guitar for your money, this Ovation might be the right choice for you.
Nut Width: 1 11/16"
Top Wood: Spruce
Getting into nylon strings and classical guitars, this is where fingerpicking thrives. It's where 2" nuts and comfortable string spacing are designed to accommodate Spanish and Flamenco styles of play.Whether you're choosing to play these styles, or something else, the guitars designed in this tradition are ideal, and Cordoba is one of the best classical guitar brands around.
This Cordoba C5-CE comes in a few options, but I've chosen this one because of the spruce top and Fishman electronics.
The spruce top makes sure your notes are clean and crisp and remain individually clear. The Sitka spruce is especially good for this. This ensures a nice balance against the warmer toned nylon strings.
The Fishman electronics ensure that you’re ready to take it to the stage, if you want. Of course, they're great quality and will always serve you well.
The sunburst finish is an added bonus. It never hurts for your guitar to do a little showing off for you, and this one does that nicely.
All around it's well made and being a Cordoba, I would expect nothing less. You really can't go wrong here. It's one of the best guitars for fingerpicking, especially if you want nylon strings.
Nut Width: 2"
Top Wood: Solid Sitka Spruce
Paco De Lucía
Paco De Lucía was a Spanish virtuoso flamenco guitarist, composer and producer. A leading proponent of the new flamenco style, he helped legitimize flamenco among the establishment in Spain, and was one of the first flamenco guitarists to cross over successfully into other genres of music such as classical and jazz.
De Lucía was noted for his fast and fluent picados (fingerstyle runs). A master of contrast, he often juxtaposed picados and rasgueados (flamenco strumming) with more sensitive playing and was known for adding abstract chords and scale tones to his compositions with jazz influences. – From Wikipedia
And here's a video for you enjoyment.
Fingerpicking Style - Flamenco
Don't Forget the Finger Picks
A set of 24 finger picks from Ernie Ball. Adjustable and comfortable finger picks with plenty to have around so you don't have to worry about losing them. Great for trying out a fingerpicking technique. This set doesn't include a thumb pick, but you can get one of those here.
This Spanish guitar-maker always does an impressive job and Alhambra's are consistent in being high quality.
This is a nicely affordable flamenco guitar, perfect for a mid-range upgrade or anyone looking to try out fingerpicking on a good quality instrument.
The solid cedar top keeps the sound warm and full. The sound is big, but not so much that the top notes are drowned out. Your wonderful flamenco fingerplay will not be lost.
It comes with the action set low for easy play and it's just a well-made, solid choice for a nylon string, fingerpicking acoustic guitar.
It's not super fancy, but it'll get the job done and get it done well.
Nut Width: 2"
Top Wood: Solid Canadian Cedar
This traditional dreadnought acoustic guitar has a couple of nice features that make it good for fingerpicking.
The nut width is almost perfect, leaving a nice distance between strings. And the top is solid spruce which is great for clarity of tone when dealing with lots of individual notes. Another nice thing is that the more you play it, the more the sound will age and improve.
Beyond that, it's extremely affordable, and it's a Yamaha which is a really great acoustic guitar brand that provides excellent quality at a good price. This guitar feels and sounds great.
It is a regular dreadnought guitar, so if you're of smaller build, this one could be a challenge, especially for fingerpicking. But if size isn't an issue, you can get a lot of guitar for your money. I've seen people compare this guitar to Martin and Fender guitars that cost 3 times as much and still prefer this Yamaha.
This is one where you can't go wrong. Even though it's inexpensive, you're not going to outgrow it quickly. Building affordable guitars that carry players well into their advanced intermediate levels is what Yamaha does. You can hang onto this until your next level is pro.
Nut Width: 1 11/16"
Top Wood: Solid Spruce
Andrés Segovia, the legendary virtuoso classical guitarist, brought modern elements into his playing. His fingerpicking was done by both the flesh of his fingers and the nail of his right hand.
According to metronomeonline.com, the first joint of his plucking finger would give way to the string and momentarily reverse so as to bend the string backward. A true artist, he played so his finger flesh would only hit the string to roll and release it, allowing the nail to add a snap.
Check out this virtuoso when you get a chance.
Fingerpicking Style - Classical
This is one of the best fingerpicking guitars that falls in a very affordable price range. While Cordoba makes very fine high end instruments, they also have many budget models that are much higher quality than they're charging for.
The 7/8 size of this Cordoba Dolce is perfect for players of smaller stature, or with short fingers or small hands. It's not a lot smaller, but just enough to accommodate musicians that need just a little help to have a truly comfortable playing experience.
You've got a nice solid cedar top that creates a wonderful sound that's rich, and on the mellow side. Though the upper tones remain bright. It's an ideal set-up for anyone wanting to practice their fingerpicking and grow their skills.
And since Cordoba makes quality instruments, you're not going to regret the way it feels or sounds.
All in all, a very enjoyable playing experience.
Nut Width: 1 15/16"
Top Wood: Solid Canadian Cedar
Well, it's right in the name. When you want a guitar that's comfortable in the handling so you can focus on your fingerpicking skills, the Washburn Comfort Series is great.
Technically, the neck could be a wee bit wider, but with their ergonomic, comfort beveled armrest and a great sound, we'll let that 1/16" of neck width slide. This grand auditorium acoustic guitar has a single cutaway and is shaped to work with your body rather than making you adapt to it.
This is a seriously good sounding guitar. It's bright and sturdy and you can play the heck out of it. It does well across the tonal range but excels in the middle and high points. Let's hear it for the solid spruce top.
It has some good quality Fishman electronics to keep the party going, whether that be on stage or in your home. You have a full range of sound options.
This is a very reasonably priced guitar for everything you get and you're not going to find yourself yearning for something better. Washburn nails it with this comfortable, affordable, high quality guitar.
Nut Width: 1 11/16"
Top Wood: Solid Sitka Spruce
The Martin OM-21 features a shorter length, depth and waist than the standard dreadnought body type, which has made it a standard for fingerpicking. Of course, being a Martin you can count on hand-built quality with nice touches like a dovetail neck joint and top notch hardware like Gotoh tuners.
The modified low-oval neck is a great boon for fingerpicking players, adding to the comfort and ease of this guitar. A nicely smooth ebony keyboard keeps your fret fingers happy while your pickin' fingers are doing their thing.
In specs, this Martin is very similar to the Guild OM-150CE above, but the price is significantly higher. I have to wonder how much extra you're paying for the name on this one. I'm sure this is a fine guitar, I just don't know if it's as fine as its price – unless you're a hardcore Martin devotee.
This might not be entirely proper, but if you're considering the Martin OM-21, I'm going to recommend you take a harder look at the Guild OM-150CE. Make sure you're getting everything you want out of either of these guitars.
They're both top quality, and even if cost isn't your biggest concern, you still want to make sure you're getting your money's worth.
Nut Width: 1 3/4"
Top Wood: Sitka Spruce
Mark Knopfler, of Dire Straits fame, is famous for bringing his exquisite fingerpicking to rock music. His technique is based around the use of his fingers, (he doesn't use a pick). Most of this plucking style is also quite unorthodox. Watch by focusing on the way he applies the plucking technique of his right hand's thumb, index and middle fingers. Some occasional use of the ring finger is also a part of the technique.
Mark's style uses a unique vibrato and lots of it - almost anywhere and everywhere he can, including chords. - From ultimate-gitar.com
In this video, Mark talks about his unique playing style in great, and inspiring, detail.
Fingerpicking Style - Rock
6 Vital Stats You Need to Know Before Buying
Certain top woods favor fingerpicking styles of play. Lighter, more responsive woods that provide plenty of resonance are what you're looking for. You want something that captures the clarity of the individual notes while not leaving them sounding isolated. As always, a solid wood top is preferable to a laminate to get the best sound.
Spruce is especially good as a top wood for some of the best fingerstyle guitars, for maintaining that clarity I mentioned. Sitka and Engelmann spruce varieties in particular have excellent quality resonance to make sure those individual notes and the naturally lighter playing method can still be easily heard.
Cedar is another great wood top for the best fingerpicking guitars. It's less dense than spruce and this softer nature adds more tonal warmth to the notes produced. Being a lighter wood makes it directly compatible with the lighter playing fingerstyle.
Small body, lighter weight guitars are generally preferable for most fingerpicking players. This favorable anatomy has to do with comfort more than sound. Honestly, your hands are going to be so busy, the last thing you want to be struggling with is reach, or comfort. Even normally full-size players sometimes, choose a slightly smaller profile when they're fingerpicking for these reasons.
In steel string acoustics this can be a drop to something like a Little Martin, a ¾ size for some, or even a parlor guitar in certain cases. And classical and flamenco guitars (nylon strings) are already a smaller body-size than a dreadnought.
For a quick rundown of acoustic guitar shapes and sizes, check out this chart.
If you're fingerpicking an electric guitar, yes – it's possible, size is less of an issue as the bodies are already smaller and easier to manage. String and fret spacing is the bigger issue here. (See below.)
Speaking of string spacing…
The consensus of many professional fingerpickers is that a 1¾" nut is an ideal size. The nut is the bit of bone (or plastic) at the top of the fretboard, just below the headstock, that the strings pass through. This size allows for sufficient string spacing for most hands to comfortably fingerpick a guitar. Though also check the string spacing over the sound hole, where you'll be plucking.
And while we're hovering around the neck, a radiused (slightly rounded) fretboard is another nice comfort feature to look for when you're going to play fingerstyle.
For once, players with small hands are at an advantage. They may even opt for a smaller nut. However, if you're a player with smaller hands and you've got an accommodating guitar, you may already be set up perfectly for fingerpicking.
Of course, if you've got larger hands, or especially thick fingers, you're going to want that 1¾" nut, or possibly larger.
Speaking of the action…(okay, maybe I wasn't, but I needed a segue.)
The action is the distance from the strings to the fretboard. Depending on how the guitar feels when you play it, you might have room to lower the action a bit, which could make it easier to fingerpick.
Classical guitars traditionally have high action, which leaves room for this change. Flamenco guitars start with lower action, so this adjustment may not be available. And steel string acoustics and electrics vary according to model. Consult with your local guitar tech or luthier before making this modification, or have them do it, so you don't end up with excessive fret buzz.
Brands and Models
I already mentioned the Little Martin. And you can't go wrong with a Guild OM-150CE. It's certainly one of the best acoustic guitars for fingerstyle. These are two of the leading acoustic guitar manufacturers. They make fine quality guitars
But don't overlook the beautiful Washburn Comfort 20 Series with its built-in beveled armrest and solid Sitka spruce top. Cordoba, Alhambra and Yamaha also make some excellent guitars for fingerpicking, in both nylon and steel string.
See the reviews and comparison chart above for more information and options.
Fingerpicking on an Electric Guitar
Yes, if Mark Knopfler, Etta Baker, Justin Johnson and Chet Atkins, have anything to say about it, it's perfectly fine to fingerpick on an electric guitar. From country to blues to rock, fingerpicking is alive and well for performers in almost every genre. (Those are all video links in the first line.)
Part of the trick to fingerpicking on an electric guitar is using a lighter touch. Thinner strings and lower action make it easy to acquire a nasty buzz if you play too hard. If you're coming from an acoustic fingerpicking background, especially steel string acoustic, this will take some adjustment. Also, getting an even sound out of that lighter touch is a bit more of a challenge since the strings on an electric are so much more sensitive.
Another challenge to fingerpicking on an electric guitar is the neck width and string separation. These are generally narrower on an electric, so you have to be even better and more precise to fingerpick and electric guitar well. If you're choosing an electric guitar for fingerpicking, aim for a wider neck to make things a little easier.
If you have problems with too much sustain making your fingerpicking sound muddy on an electric guitar, consider getting lower sustain strings, or trying different amp and pickup settings. This may take some experimentation and practice to get right. Keep at it, and don't forget to lighten your touch.
FAQ - Best Fingerpicking Guitar
What is the best guitar for fingerpicking?
All 3 of these guitars are well constructed, have solid top woods and are very comfortable to play, making them ideal fingerpicking guitars.
How do I choose a fingerstyle guitar?
There are several features to look for when buying a fingerpicking guitar.
- 1Smaller Body Style – Consider a flamenco, parlor, or ¾ size guitar that's easy and comfortable to play so you can focus on your fingerpicking.
- 2Light, Responsive Top Wood – A spruce top, especially a solid wood Engelmann or European spruce top, is ideal for getting a great, lively sound from a light touch.
- 3Comfortable Neck – Usually a C-shaped neck is perfect for fingerpicking. Look for a flat, smooth fingerboard and 1¾" nut width as well.
- 4All-around Comfort – Make sure the guitar you're buying for fingerpicking is simply comfortable for you to hold and handle. You don't want to have to think about handling the guitar at all so you can put all of your attention on what your fingers are doing.
Is fingerstyle guitar the hardest?
Yes, fingerpicking is harder than strumming. It takes more coordination and practice and demands that both hands are doing fairly nuanced actions. In part, it will depend on which style of fingerpicking you choose to learn. The Piedmont School uses only the thumb and index finger, while the Travis School uses multiple fingers on specific strings.
Fingerpicking does, however, leave you more style and augmentation options with your playing. So, while fingerpicking is more challenging, you could argue that it yields greater rewards.
Are dreadnought guitars good for fingerpicking?
Whether a dreadnought size guitar will work well for fingerstyle depends on both you and the guitar. Basically, yes, you can fingerpick on a dreadnought guitar. However, if the guitar is a bit large for you, or feels bulky overall, you might find it a challenge as a fingerpicking guitar.
The idea is that you usually want a smaller body guitar so that you're comfortable and at ease and can focus your attention on your fingers. If you're struggling with the bulk of the guitar, then this could be more difficult. However, if your dreadnought fits you well and is not a stretch for you, then sure, fingerpick to your heart's content.
Can I learn fingerstyle guitar first?
You can learn fingerstyle as soon as you start learning guitar. However, you might expect a little slower progress as this is the more difficult path. You'll not only be getting used to a new instrument, but trying to play with a technique that is more challenging while you're taking your baby steps into learning guitar. But if you know you want to play a fingerpicking style, and you have determination and patience, you can certainly do it.
Is fingerpicking harder than strumming?
Yes, fingerpicking is harder than strumming. It takes more coordination and practice and demands that both hands are doing fairly complex actions. Fingerpicking does, however, leave you more style and augmentation options with your playing. So, while fingerpicking is more challenging, you could also argue that it yields greater rewards.
What is the best nut width on a guitar for fingerpicking?
The consensus of the majority of fingerpicking player is that 1¾" (give or take 1/16") is the ideal nut width on a fingerpicking guitar. This leaves your picking fingers plenty of space to work while also having a neck width that's comfortable to play.
Fingerpicking is an impressive style of guitar playing to take on. It takes a lot of practice and dedication, but the effects you get can be uniquely outstanding. It's not a style for everyone, but if it suits you, you will stand out in whatever genre you choose to play. Finding the best fingerpicking guitar for you will get you on the road to success.
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