Picks, originally called plectrums, have been in use for centuries to play instruments like guitar, mandolin, ukulele, and others. Guitar picks act as the unsung heroes of the world of guitar. However, it is one of the most inexpensive accessories to pick for a guitarist but the different design and style options available to choose from is overwhelming. The effect a guitar pick can have on the sound and technique is astonishing, thus it is important to choose the correct pick for your needs. Picking a guitar pick is not rocket science but you still need to be aware of the various factors to be considered while choosing the correct pick.
To make it easy for you, we have brought a guide for choosing a guitar pick. Let’s start by knowing how it originated, what is it used for, and what to look for when finding a suitable guitar pick.
Guitar Pick: What is it?
In simple words, a guitar pick is a thin yet solid piece of material used to strum the guitar. It is made up of different materials and comes in various shapes and sizes. The difference in material, thickness, and sizes have a profound influence on the sound it creates. This is why it is necessary to keep the differences in mind while selecting one for yourself.
Guitar Picks- Journey from Ancient Greece to the World:
Guitar picks originated in Ancient Greece. From there, it traveled to other nations and is used in almost every corner of the world today. The type of material used to make a guitar pick has seen variations over the years. Until the 1800s, it was made up of wood, stone, or the quill of a bird feather. Feather quills were the most famous amongst these and were used by players throughout the world until the late 19th century.
It was during the late 1800s that a better sounding source was found. It was the Atlantic hawksbill sea turtle, more commonly known as tortoiseshell. It was superior in its flexibility, tone, and feel and was preferred by almost all the guitar players in the world. However, in 1972, the passing of the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITE) act made tortoiseshell picks illegal.
This led to the development of celluloid, leading to the shift to the future. Celluloid picks are in use till today. Many guitar players felt that celluloid picks closely resemble the feel and tone of tortoiseshell. Guitar picks have seen innovations in their shape and sizes over the years. The flat “plectrum style guitar pick” gained popularity with the rise of an American jazz guitarist, Nick Lucas.
Does Guitar Pick Make a Difference?
If you want to know if a guitar pick makes any difference, you can check this for yourself. Grab a few coins of different shapes and sizes and try playing the usual notes you like to play. Notice the difference in the music. Also, notice if the thickness and size of the coins make you feel weird or uncomfortable. The same happens with a guitar pick. As guitar picks come in different shapes, sizes, and thicknesses, it makes a difference in the tone and sound. This is why it is important to experiment with various types of guitar picks and know the differences in each of them. Read ahead to know all the details about the same.
Why Use a Guitar Pick?
Various guitarists use picks for different reasons. Some guitarists find it easier to play with a pick, whereas for some, it is faster to play with them. Some others feel that picks allow swifter movement between the guitar strings and make playing more accurate. Picks also come in handy if you want to protect your fingers from turning sore as strumming with fingers for a long time can make your hands tired and hurt your fingers. However, some guitarists still prefer to play with their fingers.
What to Consider while Choosing a Pick?
According to the experienced instrument players, choosing a pick is all about the Feel. Technically, the feel of a pick is influenced by 3 factors:
- Release: Release refers to how fast a pick can snap back to its original shape after it struck the guitar strings.
- Memory: Memory is how long a pick can retain its shape over time and use.
- Tone: Tone refers to the combination of release and memory. It is the most affected by the shape of a pick and its capacity to retain to wear and tear.
Apart from these 3 factors, the other more visible and important factors are shape, size, thickness, and material of the pick. Let’s look at the variations in all these factors and how they influence the sound of the guitar.
The thickness of the guitar pick is the most important factor influencing the sound and tone of the guitar. It varies from extra light or extra thin to extra heavy. The various variations available are listed in the table below:
0.45 mm -0.69 mm
0.70 mm – 0.84 mm
0.85 mm – 0.96 mm
Read ahead to find out about the differences in tone and sound caused by picks of different thicknesses.
- Extra Thin or Extra Light (<0.45 mm): These are great for producing a more treble dominated tone and are preferable for more delicate playing. They are usually used by acoustic guitar players. They are preferable when the guitar is not the main instrument but an accompanying instrument as the pick noise against the strings is noticeable.
- Thin or Light (0.45 mm -0.69 mm): These are also suitable for acoustic guitars. They give more volume and produce a more trebly tone. These also cause pick noise but it is usually wanted for the rhythm strumming sound.
- Medium (0.70 mm – 0.84 mm): This is what many beginners go for. It can be used for the transition between strumming and playing lead. It produces clarity while playing single notes. This also produces more bass than the light and extra light picks and thus, is great for music styles like rock. It offers a balanced tone of treble, mids, and bass.
- Heavy (0.85 mm – 0.96 mm): These are mostly useful for playing electric guitars. It gives a clean and crisp sound as pick noise is minimal in the higher end of the range. It also produces a heavy bass sound and helps in getting a good volume in single notes.
- Extra Heavy (>1.20 mm): These are used almost exclusively for electric guitars. They are useful for playing music styles like jazz and metal. It gives good heavy bass suitable for such styles of music.
The next most important criterion which influences the choice of picks is the material it is made up of. It influences both, sound and feel of the pick. Picks are more commonly made up of celluloid, nylon, Delrin. However, some picks are also made of up less common materials like stone, leather, wood, or steel. While looking at the best material for the pick, there is no one choice. It completely depends on your personal preference.
However, you should consider the following points while selecting the material of the pick.
- The durability of the material: Durability refers to the time in which the pick wears down. Some materials are more durable than others like nylon picks are more durable than those made up of celluloid. Picks made up of Delrin are also considered durable.
- Sound: Different materials make different sounds on the guitar so try them before you choose any.
- Grip: Different materials have a different grip on your hand. For instance, picks made up of Delrin are easier to grip than those made up of stone. Some picks also have a non-slip surface which helps improve the grip of the pick.
- Feel: Feel is again the most important factor. Compare how the pick made up of nylon feels in your hand with the one made up of Delrin etc.
Shape and Size:
Guitar picks come in exclusive shapes, sizes, and colors. Again, the importance of size and shape also depends on how it feels in your hand. However, the most common shape is a pear drop one. Smaller and heavier teardrop shaped picks are preferred by guitarists who need a more precise sound. Larger picks are good for continuous strumming as it will prevent you from striking your fingers very often. For beginners, it is advisable to go for the standard shape only as it is easier and more comfortable to hold and learn.
The texture of the pick can also affect the pick’s tone and grip. However, you can experiment with the shape and size according to your preferences. Try strumming with different sized or shaped picks and see what suits you best.
This article covered all the tips and tricks to use while choosing a guitar pick. However, as individual needs differ, the best way to choose a perfect guitar pick is by experimenting with various options. Buy guitar picks of different shapes, sizes, materials, and thicknesses and try strumming with each. This will also help you discover different options for different purposes. You can use one for strumming while the other for playing single notes. This will help you experiment with your tones and techniques. Happy Playing!