Choosing The Right Guitar Pick
by Allen Hopgood
Guitar picks, or plectrums, should be viewed as a tool to help you create music. It’s not a pick only, or fingers only debate. It’s simply a way to get the tone that you’re after out of your instrument.
Guitar picks come in all shapes and sizes. Made from different materials such as plastic or nylon. You’ll find them soft and heavy, flexible or rigid. How do you know which one is right for you? If you watch a professional guitar player play you can get the answer there. It depends on the style of music and the feel of the music that they’re producing. If you’re playing acoustic fingerstyle then a thumb pick may work for you. Heavy metal and rock you will have to move onto a heavier pick as a softer more flexible pick wont give you the response you need to create that more aggressive type of sound.
Even though using a plectrum is a very personal thing, certain picks are useful for certain styles or even various skill levels. If you’re just starting out on guitar with strumming acoustic guitar rock, pop or folk songs, you’re likely to find a soft, flexible pick made from nylon around the 0.60mm thickness will work really well for you. These picks don’t have a aggressive feel and don’t ‘snag’ on the strings as you are strumming – especially on the up strums. They allow you to brush and glide across the strings in both directions with complete ease.
As great as those picks are for strumming, you will likely find that when playing single note melodies or scales, those thin picks are going to be way too flexible and not provide you with good feedback when playing notes only. A better choice here would be a more medium style pick around the 0.73mm range. These picks are still flexible but firm enough to feel the down and up picking motions you will be playing and practising when doing single notes.
At this stage of your development it will be a compromise you’ll have to make for now as you switch between rhythm and notes. As you progress with your strumming you will find you’ll naturally gravitate to a more medium style of pick so you can do strumming and picking with one pick and eliminate the need to change between the two sizes.
If your music preference leans more to the electric guitar – rock, blues, funk, country or reggae music, you’ll want to start off with at least a medium size guitar pick. A plastic or tortoise shell style pick around the 0.73mm and up will do the trick for you at this stage.
A pick like this will promote consistency in your playing. These are not aggressive and you can find them smooth or with raised sections on the flat surfaces that promote better handling and grip.
For heavy metal styles you want to head straight for a large pick in the size of 1.00mm or thicker. This style of music is often fast and needs a heavier, aggressive attack on the guitar from your pick to produce the sound for this style of music. Thin or medium picks will not cut it here.
As mentioned above using a guitar pick is going to come down to personal preference. Personally for years I used a medium style pick to play both acoustic and electric rock, blues and folk styles.
In recent years I have lent more towards a Jazz III style pick for all my electric guitar playing. These picks are a good thickness and produce a good reliable tone for both rhythm and lead guitar work.
However I don’t personally like their harsh sound across the strings on the acoustic guitar. That’s just to my ears and I have friends that use them on acoustic steel string guitar and it works for them just fine. Your own personal taste, maybe different too mine.
Its going to take a lot of experimentation and playing for you to decide on a particular style of pick that suits your needs and style of music that you want to play. A general rule of thumb is the softer the style of music, the thinner the pick. The heavier, faster style of music, you want a pick that doesn’t bend.
As a recommendation, go to your local music store with $10 and purchase several different picks to go home and work with. There are so many to choose from, for different finger sizes and preferences that you are going to have to try a variety of picks and styles to find one that works for you and your playing style. Then, over time, your taste and preference may change so keep experimenting with different picks, as they are tools for your guitar tone.
About the author: After starting to play guitar at thirteen, Allen Hopgood has played along side some of Australia’s biggest musical artists. Decades later, he now lives his life as a professional guitar instructor where he proudly teaches – something different in a very old trade to his students. If you’re ever in the Gold Coast area you can contact him through his website.