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  1. #1

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    A question for those who play primarily finger style or with just thumb. Do any of you use flat wound strings? I know I could just try it and answer my own question, but I'm lazy and hate changing strings especially just for an experiment.

    I've avoided them up to now because I've always heard that you need the brightness of round wounds when playing with bare fingers. The string noise thread got me thinking about this.

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  3. #2

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    I do, almost all the time. I'm not necessarily recommending it for anyone. But I like it for me.

  4. #3

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    I have used flatwound classical strings for fingerstyle and did so for a number of years. Nate Najar and Gene Bertoncini recommended them (Labellas). But they are a different kettle of fish than steel guitar strings. I don't generally use flatwounds but have at times in the past; I thought they sounded a little dull for fingerstyle. On the other hand, Joe Pass sounds great with them here:


  5. #4

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    A lighter gauge flatwound set (0.12/0.11's) will sound clear enough when plucked with the fingers. As with the nylonstrings on a classical guitar it largely depends on how much nail connects with the string when plucking :
    more nail > brighter tone
    less or no nail > more mellow
    Other factors just as important are :
    what type of guitar do you use ? Does it have a solid top, a wooden bridge, a dark sounding pickup ?
    With a metal tunomatic bridge you'll retain more highs, a guitar with a thicker/less responsive plywood top ( ES-175 etc.)
    will most often not sound as bright as one that is made of solid wood. Fingerstyle is mosty played in a solo or small group setting so the guitar doesn't have to have the "cut" as when played in a larger group.
    You also have the choice of the half-round strings (D'Addario) which sound a bit brighter than flats, have a little more sustain and still retain most of the smooth playing feel of true flatwound strings. Do yourself the favor and buy a few sets of different strings, it only takes about 15 minutes to change. Try the new ones for a week and go from there.

    Developing "good tone" on any guitar takes a lot of practice and dedication, no matter what style or type of music you are playing ....

  6. #5

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    I play fingerstyle on my Tele strung with .011 Thomastik flats. Works for me, although the metal can be a bit hard on the nails - I wouldn't recommend switching to Classical guitar without polishing your nails first.

  7. #6

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    I use the same Bertoncini approved nylon strings mentioned above. I have a hollow body P90 guitar stung with flatwound strings. It's OK, it works. The solid body guitars I play most often are strung with D"Addario half round strings witch I believe produce a clearer tone. My nails are very short and I do smooth them with fine grit paper occasionally while playing.

  8. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by docsteve
    I play fingerstyle on my Tele strung with .011 Thomastik flats. Works for me, although the metal can be a bit hard on the nails - I wouldn't recommend switching to Classical guitar without polishing your nails first.
    I use Thomastik flats on my Ibanez AFJ85. Best strings I've used. ?

  9. #8

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    My right hand. nails are even with or very slightly beyond the end of my fingertips. I learned this when studying classical guitar. It works well for flatwounds as it adds just enough brightness to the sound to clarify the tone

  10. #9
    Thanks for the responses. I should have mentioned that I'm not using finger nails and play an Ibanez AF75.

  11. #10

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    Go ahead then Anybody use flat wounds for finger style playing?


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  12. #11

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    Most often, I use a hybrid picking style, which is to say that I grip the pick between thumb and index, and use the other three fingers for picking as well, mostly to drop chords onto a melody line. As the need arises, I can ditch the pick and play all fingerstyle; my classical studies also guided me towards the short nails that rsclosson uses. Very short nails allow you to get the clarity that a nail provides while still getting the flesh of your finger onto the string to provide a fuller tone. I also find that if my nails get beyond the very short length, it interferes with my ability to execute right-hand picking patterns or sequences (i.e. pami, etc.)

    However, nail length and associated hand position is a subjective choice. I once met Vicki Genfan at NAMM and was astounded at the length of her nails. Longer nails certainly don't hinder *her* ability to finger-pick :-)

    I use flats on my archtop and rounds on other guitars. Generally I don't have a problem with string noise. Perhaps part of classical training or perhaps done intuitively years ago when first learning to play electric (which amplifies every stray noise, period), I learned to get my fingers off the strings when changing position. They don't have to clear the strings by much! "Proper" LH technique with thumb centered on the back of the neck and clearly arched fingers that fret as perpendicularly to the fretboard as possible gives a lot of leverage as well as easy clearance. I do find that letting my LH thumb angle a bit towards the headstock (instead of straight-up "proper" classic technique) makes jazz chording a bit easier. I also grip the thumb over the top of the fretboard for extra leverage on string bends, like a rock or blues player would. In short, classic LH mechanical technique is my default, with use of jazz or rock thumb position as called for.

    Because I've learned to clear the strings just barely when changing position, I never use finger-ease types of products either. However, Jonathan Kreisberg told a workshop that I attended that he uses some sort of oil on his LH fingertips (IDK what kind right offhand, but you can probably google it) and I certainly have no problem with any of the playing/technique decisions he makes! BTW, he uses rounds, not flats.

    So, in the end, a lot of mechanical technique choices can be subjective. Different people will tell you that one thing or another is "right" and not to do the some other thing. Take it all in and don't be afraid to experiment. You may need to work hard at giving new techniques a real chance over a long time before you see a benefit. That is, the "new way" may sound awful and not work as well as the "old way" for a LONG time. It can be a bit frustrating to spend a year on some new approach and decide that it just doesn't work and you have to start over on some "other way" but that can happen, too!

    I would definitely recommend trying to grow your RH nails and trying flats. But caring for RH nails is another thread. I'm sure you can find it online somewhere... your nails will break a lot until you've been cultivating them properly for a while...

    HTH

    SJ

  13. #12

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    Play fingerstyle nearly 100% of the time and use .11 or .12 TI Flats. Light touch and a small amount of nail. If I let my nails grow to long the tone on the plain strings sound tinny and thin. I usually don't have a problem with too long a nail as mine are quite weak and break easily. Like nylon strings, one has to keep the nail smooth and shaped or the tone and feel will suffer.
    Last edited by rob taft; 11-12-2020 at 10:29 PM.

  14. #13

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    I use both and sometime flat wounds are better. No nail scraping and playing electric. Playing acoustic better to have round wounds but they can make fingernail noise. I don't use a lot of nail but even a little can get hung up on the string.

  15. #14

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    I use a compressor when I finger pick. And my main guitar has flat wounds on it. The more nail that hits the sting the brighter your tone. I have used finger picks before, but I did not get as much articulation as with nail and pad.

  16. #15

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    Doing it all ... flatwounds (on hollowbody), nickel roundwounds (on tele/strat), bronze roundwounds including a wound G (on acoustic). Using flatpick, hybrid picking, occasional thumbpick and lot of fingers - with nails involved when a brighter tone is sought.

    The benefit of being comfortable with everything is that it provides versatility of tone and various options for execution. Your mood may vary (YMMV). Try 'em all... enjoy 'em all!

  17. #16

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    D'A flats on my archtops which in recent years were played with my fingers using little or no nail. Tonal adjustments were made by picking location/angle and knob-twirling at the guitar and/or the amp.

    BTW I had an AF75. Loved it!

  18. #17

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    TI jazz flat 12s, fingerstyle, no nail.

  19. #18
    Quote Originally Posted by starjasmine
    ...

    I would definitely recommend trying to grow your RH nails and trying flats. But caring for RH nails is another thread. I'm sure you can find it online somewhere... your nails will break a lot until you've been cultivating them properly for a while...

    HTH

    SJ
    I appreciate your response. However, I played Flamenco for many years and I think I spent more time obsessing about and caring for my nails than I did practicing. I never ever want to get involved with nail care again. Now it's just flesh backed up by a tiny bit of nail on a steel string guitar. But I'm going to give flats a try.

  20. #19

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    I wonder whether flamenco is tougher on nails than other styles. If you are rasqueado-ing and banging hard to strum all day long, that could definitely beat them up. For what I do, I find that I can keep my nails up with maybe 15 minutes of care once a week, and filing off any nicks or damage as soon as it occurs. It's more ongoing, very brief maintenance whenever things don't feel right than a lot of time and effort. Again, though, I probably don't do the same amount of damage that aggressive flamenco technique would inflict.

  21. #20

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    Pro flamenco players use super-glue and tissue paper or acrylic powder to maintain their nails, would work as well for steel-string. Just have to keep them smooth with some fine sandpaper and crocus cloth. I play mostly nylon, and play jazz, classical and flamenco gigs,; nail upkeep is an important aspect, but only takes a few minutes a day. It takes quite a while to figure out the best way to file each nail for least resistance and best tone, depending on how you hold the right hand, but once you have it, it's just touch-up.

  22. #21

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jack E Blue
    Thanks for the responses. I should have mentioned that I'm not using finger nails and play an Ibanez AF75.
    That probably will determine string type. Using just the flesh of your fingers may not get enough definition, or sparkle out of flat wounds. You're probably going to need something brighter. Is there any reason you can't grow your nails?

  23. #22

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    Quote Originally Posted by vsaumarez
    That probably will determine string type. Using just the flesh of your fingers may not get enough definition, or sparkle out of flat wounds. You're probably going to need something brighter. Is there any reason you can't grow your nails?

    this is a great point.
    i play with fingers(50% nail, 50% flesh), and flats are just too dull for me.

  24. #23

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    Not me but I will say this...if it's "string noise" that deters you from rounds, with time and practice you'll find it becomes a non-issue. I played with flats for years and at first with rounds I sounded sloppy but eventually cleaned up my technique a bit to remedy that.

  25. #24
    Quote Originally Posted by vsaumarez
    That probably will determine string type. Using just the flesh of your fingers may not get enough definition, or sparkle out of flat wounds. You're probably going to need something brighter. Is there any reason you can't grow your nails?
    It's not that I can't grow nails. It's that I don't want to. I mentioned earlier that I used to play Flamenco and nail care became a time consuming obsession. Plus, I like the sound and feel of playing a steel string with just flesh backed up by a bit of nail.

    I guess the brightness or lack thereof on the lower strings is my main concern with changing to flat wounds. However, I'll soon have my answer. I just ordered some flats and I'll see what happens. I just wanted to find out what others with more experience had to say.

  26. #25

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    I play with flats on my archtop, hybrid style (especially comping), and sometimes fingerstyle. Sounds fine to me, especially compared to the alternative of excessive finger squeak I get with rounds that my archtop seems to accentuate more than my solid and semi (which I string with rounds).

    Fwiw, D'addario chromes are at the bright end of the spectrum for flats (at least compared to TI's). So maybe try those and change them if they get too dull with time and use.

    John

  27. #26

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    Feels like I’m just piling on at this point, but I mostly play finger style and I use Curt Mangan or TI flats on my hollow body archtops. One is a thin line ES330-ish guitar and the other is full depth L5-ish guitar.


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  28. #27
    Quote Originally Posted by John A.
    I play with flats on my archtop, hybrid style (especially comping), and sometimes fingerstyle. Sounds fine to me, especially compared to the alternative of excessive finger squeak I get with rounds that my archtop seems to accentuate more than my solid and semi (which I string with rounds).

    Fwiw, D'addario chromes are at the bright end of the spectrum for flats (at least compared to TI's). So maybe try those and change them if they get too dull with time and use.

    John
    Thanks for your response, John. However, it's too late. I already ordered TIs. Since I only change strings about twice a year (or less) I'll have plenty of time to decide if I like the Thomastick flats.

  29. #28

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jack E Blue
    It's not that I can't grow nails. It's that I don't want to. I mentioned earlier that I used to play Flamenco and nail care became a time consuming obsession. Plus, I like the sound and feel of playing a steel string with just flesh backed up by a bit of nail.

    I guess the brightness or lack thereof on the lower strings is my main concern with changing to flat wounds. However, I'll soon have my answer. I just ordered some flats and I'll see what happens. I just wanted to find out what others with more experience had to say.
    Yes, the lower strings will sound duller, but that isn't necessarily always a bad thing for finger-style solo guitar. I guess you can play around with EQ as well. Have you checked out Tuck Andress. I think he uses all flesh.