You might not think that such a small thing – like a pick can influence the way you play. However – it does. Since you strike the strings with the pick, it is only natural that the audio signal will be influenced by it. If you do not choose the right shape, material, texture or thickness, you will probably not sound okay.
Picks are the elements that provide the tonal foundation of your technique and ultimately to your sound, whatever music genre you might be playing. Here are a couple of essential things you must know about picks to not “pick” the wrong ones.
The Material Must Be Right
Usually, guitar players use picks made from nylon or plastic, but you should know that there are many kinds of plastic these days. Cellulose acetate plastic, for instance, has been a very reliable material for many decades. Other types are the ones made from the shell of the Atlantic Hawksbill Turtle. However, these were banned in 1973, since the animal became endangered, forcing people to opt for plastic picks.
One company produces a type of pick that has a powdery texture, for example, which basically applies friction to the strings and thus, the grip will be stronger
As to nylon picks, they offer a brighter sound and a tad more flexibility. Their textured grips make it difficult for them to slip. Undoubtedly, they are perfect if you are looking for a vintage sound.
Other materials are in the game of picks as well – leather, stone or wood – each with its characteristics. Hard and dense materials usually make a crisp and cutting sound.
The Importance of Thickness
A light sound is achieved by using a pick that is thinner – about .40 and .60 mm. If you want to play acoustic strumming, then this is a perfect choice, since it gives a more trebly tone. With a very thin pick, you get the sound needed for the pop, rock and country recordings.
If you want to obtain a round tone on the single note leads, the pick must be considerably thicker – from .60 to .80 mm.
Medium picks are probably the most popular ones since they are stiff enough but also flexible enough for a rock rhythm and an acoustic accompaniment.
If you are an electric player, then picks that are smaller and with pointy, heavier tips will give more control, precision and articulation.
There are all kinds of shapes, from jazz to standard and teardrop, equilateral triangle and also the fine shape. Each shape can help you get different sounds and have a different effect on the contact surface.
Things are getting even trickier, since it is not about the shape only, but also about the part of the shape that you will use. If you want a full, round sound, then you should probably use the portion of the standard pick shape that is rounded.
Not many players think about this aspect from a tonal perspective, but the texture can make a big difference. If the texture is raised lettering or other patterns, then you will better hold it when your palms start sweating, for instance. Another advantage of this is the fact that the impact is stronger on the tone. You should experiment as much as possible with the lettering, or the raised dots and see how the texture is saying its word on the sound.
Needless to say, you pick a pick considering the style of music that you play. Another way to look at this is that depending on the pick you use; you can develop your way of playing.
However, the general rules are these: if you play acoustic, then the best fit are thick picks, made of faux tortoiseshell, cellulose or Delrin.
If you play electric rock, medium to heavy gauges are a good choice, with large or standard pics, and the tip sharp or rounded. Cellulose is best for indie-rock and classic.
Let us know if you found the information useful, and tell us more about your experiences with the wrong picks.
Danica Levy is the marketing manager for Levy’s Leathers