By Ryan Mueller
If you’ve ever been to a music store and walked around the guitar section, you’ve probably seen a stand with a bunch of accessories including strings, tuners, various types of hardware and a wide range of different guitar picks. Most guitar players will play with guitar picks for the majority of what they do on the instrument, and in the beginning they’re often indecisive about what kind of pick they should use and why. With the different shapes, sizes and thicknesses, it’s very easy to become overwhelmed and not make the right decision – if you’re in this scenario right now, then this article is for you.
The short answer is that many picks are different from each other, and that it will take some experimenting to figure out which pick is right for you and the playing you do. What one player prefers could easily differ from what another player of the same type likes. The long answer (and true reality) is that different picks are better equipped for different types of playing, and knowing what picks are best for what job can and likely will make your decisions easier.
Thin, floppy picks tend to be used exclusively for light strumming, with the occasional embellishment thrown in the middle of your chords – be it some hammer-ons added to the chords, or a simple open-string lead guitar lick. In this case I’m referring to any picks that are thinner than 0.75 millimetres, and they work well in this scenario because they’re very flexible and give in to the strings as they strike them, which results in a soft and delicate sound which is great for simpler acoustic folk tunes and soft rock. Their abilities don’t stretch far beyond that however, as they don’t have the responsiveness that’s necessary for more focused lead guitar playing.
If you plan on being an avid lead guitar player – particularly one that plays lots of very fast scale runs and sweep picking licks – then thicker guitar picks will work in your favor. These are best for this type of playing because to keep your picking hand in sync with your fretting hand, it’s very important that the pick will flick the string at the exact moment you need it to and they won’t do this unless they have a certain amount of stiffness. I’m one of these guitar players myself and have found that picks thinner than 1.14 millimetres don’t have the responsiveness that’s necessary for me to pull off the things I want to do.
As for picks in that middle range, they’re very good if the playing you aim to do consists of a nice mixture of both scenarios above. In my experience, guitar picks that are between 0.88 and 1 millimetre thick are very well rounded – they’re bendy enough to make softer strumming easier to pull off, but also have enough rigidity to make them suitable for rock, blues and slower metal lead guitar playing. These are also the picks I would recommend you starting out with, as their versatility will make it easier for you to develop good picking technique in a wide variety of contexts which will help you when making further decisions about what picks are best for you.
With all of this said and done, it’s important to remember that while having the right pick for the right job is important, it is in no way a substitute for having good picking technique. Good picking technique will make it easier for you to do the things you want to do in your guitar playing and will also open the door to more possibilities than you initially considered when first picking up the instrument. On top of that, as your picking technique improves you’ll have less limitations as to what picks you can use for what job (I do lots of delicate playing in my band as well, and my picks are 1.52 millimetres – at times I feel like I’m holding a shark tooth).
Whether you use a plastic, wooden or tortex pick, a big or small pick, with or without a grip on it, etc. – my advice to you is to start experimenting with different kinds of picks and see which ones you like the most. It might take some time to find the perfect pick, but at least it’s a fun journey!
About The Author:
Ryan Mueller is a guitar teacher who regularly helps people fulfill their musical potential and find their own sound through his guitar lessons in Etobicoke.