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Essentials

Guitar Picks-Does it really matter?

Good everyone, today we are going to discuss guitar picks and the important factors to consider when deciding on which pick works best for you, the user. Since the early 19th century, picks were made from torteshell. This material has been prohibited from use since. Lucky for all of us, there are a vast amounts of guitar picks to choose from which sometimes can be overwhelming for a beginner and even a more skilled guitar player.

When thinking of a plectrum pick four things to consider is the release, memory and tone. The release is how fast the pick returns to its original shape once the string is struck and the memory is how long the pick retains its original shape and tone is the result of the first two. Lastly, the grip of the pick is important when playing. There are textured styles available that lend itself to staying between the fingers and not slipping or dropping while playing. So, when thinking of whether a pick makes a difference to your playing the answer is yes. A pick, just like your fingers is an extension of your fingers which will contribute to what types of sounds you can achieve.

Material

Picks are made with many kinds of materials and generally speaking, hardness is determined by what material is used. Materials such as plastic, wood, felt, bone, ivory, metal and many others are options available on the market today. Picks are relatively inexpensive but there are picks that sell as much as $5000 made from meteorites. For our immediate purposes we will discuss the three most widely used guitar picks to give you a start. The most common type of material is plastic.

Plastic

Celluloid, Nylon and Acetyl is the most commonly used plastic to manufacture guitar picks. Celluloid visually mimics the torteshell material. The material exhibits a stiffer feel compared to nylon. Nylon is a softer material which produces a softer tone. The material is slippery so as you go up in thickness it gives you the ability to play fast lines, This material is suited for strumming chords, but tends to wear out faster than celluloid type materials. Acetyl materials have a similar feel to torteshell and provides a non-slippery finish and it is most known for its durability and reliability.

Celluloid: Nylon: Acetyl:

Celluloid TypeNylon TypeAcetyl Type

Thicknesses

Thickness plays an important role in the pick selection process as it directly correlates to the type of music you are playing and resulting in how your playing will sound.

Thin: 0.40mm to 0.60mm:

In this thickness range, strumming chords is where it shines due to the fact the thin flexibility of the material and loss of control. This is great for acoustic guitar playing but is also used on the electric guitar. It produces a flappy, light clean kind of sound. All three types listed above are available.

Medium: 0.60mm to 0.80mm:

Medium thickness picks are the most commonly used. The main reason that most guitarists use medium thickness is that it provides the all round experience. It can handle both rhythm playing-chord work with the ability to play leads. Although it will not provide the light clean sound the thin pick when performing chord work, it still delivers on both. This is the reason most guitarists including beginners use and start-off with this thickness range.

Heavy: 0.80mm to 1.2mm:

Heavy thickness picks are going to provide great attack and precision that lead guitarist require. They offer amazing clean playing ability, control and with less pick noise.

Extra Heavy: 1.2mm and higher:

This particular thickness lends itself to Jazz style players. Some use up to 6mm in thickness. These types of picks offer a lot of bass and mid-range which results in warm and mellow tones.

Shapes

Shapes play an important role in your guitar pick selection process because of how the pick will be held, what type of music you are playing, and how you attack the strings (precision). There are numerous shapes to choose from so we will emphasis the four basic shapes below.

Standard Pick shapes:

The standard pick shape is the most commonly used shape that guitarists use in their pick arsenal. They usually have rounded edges.

Standard Shape

Tear Drop Shape:

This shape pick lends itself to fast picking, which is slightly smaller in scale to the standard size shape. They provide better control and connection to the strings which most technical guitarists require.

Tear Drop Shape

Triangle Shape:

The triangle shape has three sides as the name implies and provides three edge surfaces to be used. They are generally larger compared to the standard pick shape and is commonly used among acoustic guitarists.

Triangle Shape

Shark-fin Shape:

The shark-fin shape is designed for maximum memory and minimum wear. They are uniquely shaped providing different type tones using the edges of the guitar pick.

Shark Fin Shape

Pick Edge and Bevel

Depending on application, the edge and contour of the pick play a critical role in the selection process. Sharp pointed edges provide faster lead lines especially on the same string. They are designed to glide over the sting. Rounded edges are ideal for rhythm base playing such as strumming chords. Some picks come with bevels which are relative to material thickness. The design intent of the bevel is to provide guitarist with speed in mind. The bevel angle reduces the contact the pick makes on the string providing a gliding effect. One example is when playing arpeggios, the bevel would allow quick roll off onto subsequent strings.

Pointed Edge: Rounded Edge: Beveled Edge:

Pointed EdgeRounded EdgeBevelled Edge

Conclusion

Given the numerous options available on the market, the information above at least gives the guitarist or beginner a great start on what type, thickness, or shape may suit you. If your intention is to sit at the camp fire with your acoustic guitar, then a thin nylon pick may be the best option. Maybe you are playing in a three person (guitar, bass, and drums) band and you are the only guitarist, the medium thickness pick would be a great option. For all you die-hard lead guitarists, the medium will work very well but many use thicker such as extra-heavy pick for rock and metal genres. There are variety packs that you can buy at any guitar store but the best thing I can recommend is go to the guitar store and try several types of picks and see how each feel and sound to your ear.

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