Revolutionise your playing today, with our guide…
They are the smallest, often the cheapest and undoubtedly one of the most important items in your quest for guitar playing perfection, but how many of us actually think about the pick we’re using? The shape, the thickness, the material used, or simply how we’re using it? We’re often more willing to change strings, pick-ups, cables, guitars and amps in the search for great tone or some improvement in our playing. Thus, the humble pick is usually overlooked. We know why that is of course …we start playing a particular type of pick as beginners and, having become used to it, never give it a second thought to change. Well, if you’re in that category you’re not alone and potentially you could be missing out on something that could improve your chops in an instant with just a little experimentation. Let’s start at the beginning.
Let’s assume you’ve had some assistance with your first strum of a guitar and there have been a few different gauges of pick available for you to try out. Gauges being the thickness of the pick, not the shape or indeed overall size. We’d wager that many beginners lean towards quite a large, light gauged pick because they provide little resistance when strumming. Therefore, you don’t need to think too much about how hard you hold it.
Falling into this bracket are players who strum chords from their elbows – think singer-songwriter types concentrating on their singing and enthusiastically waving their picking arm up and down to strum the chords. All of this is totally fine, of course, and a nice large, light gauge pick will sound very nice when used in this way on an acoustic guitar. But what happens when you want to pick out melodies on the guitar or play solos/scales, licks, riffs etc? The light gauge pick won’t have the punch to make the notes stand out.
As a beginner, there is absolutely nothing wrong with using a light gauge pick to get you into the swing of things, so to speak, but as you progress it would be wise to consider changing your pick to allow you some freedom and indeed improve your playing.
If you’re one of the aforementioned strummers who uses a light pick and would like to improve their playing, we suggest doing a couple of things. Firstly, try playing with a thicker gauge of pick whilst also trying to play more from the wrist with your rhythmical strums. Playing from the wrist will mean you could potentially strum faster, more accurately, whilst expending less energy. The heavier gauge of pick will allow you to play heavier when you want to produce more volume or accurately play a riff too. The only adjustment you will need to make is to begin to alter how tightly you grip the pick depending on what you’re doing…nice and loose for fast strumming parts, tighter for picking out individual notes. The improvement in tone and versatility will help your musicality too.
The Need For Speed
Those of you looking to improve your picking speed and accuracy would do well to consider trying a thicker pick. John Petrucci is no slouch when it comes to picking so you could try some of his signature Jim Dunlop picks. If you’re really going for it, you could even employ some bevelled edges to improve the contact on the leading edge of the pick. But let’s not get too caught up on technique in this blog…let’s move on to the all important holy Grail. Tone.
Yes, believe it or not anything that comes into contact with the guitar makes a difference to the tone that is produced. Everything, including you, has a resonance and the density of your pick, the material it’s made from and the shape of the part which strikes the string ALL make quite a considerable difference to your tone. Many players believed that Turtle shell produced the sweet spot tone-wise but we’re glad to say that (generally) the world has moved beyond the use of animal homes to produce our beloved picks. There are now a bunch of manufacturers who hand produce faux-turtle shell picks and they have some very notable endorsees too. You can expect to pay up to £20 for one though if that’s you thing, so don’t go losing it at your next jam session!
Hear it Feel it
Trial and error is totally the key concept here. One player’s gold is another player’s, well… cardboard! So you need to try out a range of materials and not only use your ears but also your feel for the material too.
If you’re prone to sweaty fingers, then it might be wise to consider a balance between something non-porous (so it isn’t taking on the damp) and something you can grip well enough too…fishing a pick out of your acoustic during a performance doesn’t shout “professional” does it? Nylon with some grip markings might suit you.
Shredders, or those wishing to walk on the dark side of the force, should consider something dense, hard and potentially sharp, although the degree of sharpness is a personal preference. Bevel edges on the leading edge of your pick may well speed up your picking dramatically so don’t dismiss them if MPH is what you’re aiming for. Try these picks for size.
Those of you with a fondness for Tritone substitution and beards may well like a large, thick pick which has enough density to produce those warm tones associated with Jazz. We’ve seen players use wood picks before which, when coupled with some flatwound strings on an archtop guitar, sound pretty sublime.
Whatever type of pick you currently use, you definitely owe it to yourself to ensure you’ve tried out a full range of shapes, sizes and materials. Hopefully the above information will save you some time in your pursuit for the perfect playing partner.
Lee is the Dawsons in-house Guitar presenter for all guitar related videos. He is also the UK demonstrator for Roland & BOSS, performing all over the UK.