“I actually never learned how to play with a pick. It’s my weak point”: Matteo Mancuso is revered for his virtuosic fingerstyle approach – but what happens when he tries to play with a guitar pick?

Matteo Mancuso holding a guitar pick
(Image credit: Rick Beato/YouTube)

We all know the name Matteo Mancuso by now. The young Sicilian virtuoso has lit up the guitar world in dazzling fashion over the past 18 months, introducing listeners and spectators to his heralded classical guitar-meets-electric guitar fingerstyle approach.

It’s a technique that has prompted plaudits from countless guitar heroes – not least, Steve Vai, who credited his evolution of fusion guitar – and that can be defined by its break-neck speed, effortless execution, and limitless phrasing potential.

Underpinning Mancuso’s entire vocabulary and playing approach is his commitment to playing with his fingers, a technique he has remained loyal to ever since he started learning the instrument. But what happens when he tries to play with a guitar pick?

Well, that exact experiment was conducted in a new video posted by Rick Beato, who put both Mancuso and neo-soul hero Mateus Asato in the same room as one another for an in-depth discussion of their respective playing styles.

When it came to Mancuso, Beato quizzed him over his penchant to go pick-less, and queried whether the fingerstyle maestro ever picked up a plectrum “just for fun”.

“I actually never learned how to play with a pick,” Mancuso replied, “so it’s kind of my weak point.”

Asato, who no doubt shared everybody’s curiosity, was on-hand to pass a pick to Mancuso, who then took the unfamiliar slab of celluloid for a quick spin.

By Mancuso’s own admission, it’s by no means as slick as his pick-less playing – that was never going to be the case – but still pretty darn good. The alternate picking is obviously solid, but it doesn't sound very “Mancuso” – as if the presence of a pick detracts from Matteo's freedom of movement.

“It is bouncy, it is not an even movement,” he observed after a noodle, clearly itching to ditch the pick. “I can’t control the wrist movement.”

There’s also a discernible textural and tonal difference between playing fingerstyle and playing with a pick, too. It’s a topic that Mancuso has spoken about at length before, but here it is especially noticeable.

Indeed, swiftly swapping back to the comfort zone of his fingerstyle approach brings out some none-more-Mancuso stylistic nuances, with a line of liquid-like licks punctuated by the subtle stabs of his fingernails and the warm pads of his fingertips.

As Mancuso has told Total Guitar in the past, this is the core element of his style: “You get a darker tone and the attack is slightly different. With your three fingers, basically everything is an upstroke and the only downstroke is with the thumb. So sometimes, if you want to achieve a different sound, you may want to use a different finger. 

“An important thing is nails. I use my nails and they’re not too long. If you played only with the flesh, the sound would be too muddy and dark. With my nails, I can achieve a more defined attack.”

As well as tone, that’s an element of practicality to Mancuso’s fingerstyle approach. In other words, some of the lines he performs would be impossible to play with a pick. That’s not an exaggeration, either: in the Beato clip, Asato attempts one of Mancuso’s hybrid-and-then-some picking runs to no avail.

As mentioned, Mancuso’s loyalty to fingerstyle stretches back to when he first started playing the guitar. In an older interview with Guitar World, he noted, “I started playing with fingers when I was around 10 years old. That was my first approach.

“I never played with a pick because I often saw my father playing a lot of classical guitar with fingers back then, and I just thought every guitar was meant to be played like that.”

You needn’t look far to find examples of Mancuso's mind-melting guitar skills. Recently, he shared the stage with Steve Vai for a technically dazzling jam, and before that he paid tribute to Eddie Van Halen with a blinding cover of You Really Got Me.

If you're brave enough to try and channel your inner Mancuso, there is some essential reading you need to check out, including Guitarist and Mancuso's in-depth video on top tips for playing better lead lines, and how he developed his own unique style.

Guitar Techniques also demystified the Mancuso method in a lesson on how to increase your fingerpickng speed and nail his extraordinary licks.

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Matt Owen

Matt is a Staff Writer, writing for Guitar World, Guitarist and Total Guitar. He has a Masters in the guitar, a degree in history, and has spent the last 16 years playing everything from blues and jazz to indie and pop. When he’s not combining his passion for writing and music during his day job, Matt records for a number of UK-based bands and songwriters as a session musician.