Take the 2-minute tour ×
Music: Practice & Theory Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for musicians, students, and enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I'm at the very beginning of learning to play guitar, and I recently needed to buy some more picks. This was more complex than I was expecting, since there are apparently many different weights of picks available.

I've gotten the impression that people generally categorize picks into three types: thin (or light), medium, and thick (or heavy). However, sometimes they're classified by a specific thickness (0.60mm, etc). As an aside, is there a particular thickness threshold for each of these types?

I ended up buying a few picks of different thicknesses, just to see what I liked, but I'm curious if there's a particular reason to use a certain type. Do the different picks produce audibly different sounds, or are they useful for different styles of playing for some reason? Or is it just something that comes down to a personal preference for which feel you like?

share|improve this question
2  
You left out Jazz picks which can be up to 3.0 mm thick, then tapered. –  Anonymous Jan 26 '11 at 17:25
1  
Another thing to experiment with: the shape of the tip. You can cut or file the tips (I like 'em pointy) to change the feel and the sound (sharper angles have more "edge"). –  luser droog Dec 13 '11 at 9:43

7 Answers 7

You are right that picks are generally thin, medium, heavy. Some picks are by mm, but it's really just a different measurement of the same thing. Some manufacturers will add super / extra thin or heavy.

You do get a different sound with different picks. There is a maximum amount of force you can apply with a pick, given it's thickness. This will affect the tone you are generating.

I think that heavier picks have a strong advantage, as you can make them "softer" by not gripping them as tightly. They get more "give" although, it's really in your fingers, the effect is the same. You cannot make a thin pick stronger though. When I was learning, I liked thin picks though as they were easier to play fast with. However, technique solves that problem.

It is largely personal though. I suggest you try a couple out and see what works for you.

share|improve this answer
3  
You can make a thin pick stronger: By bending it perpendicular to the strum direction (i.e. around your thumb/finger). I find when I try to soften my grip on the thicker picks I end up shaking my guitar over my head trying to get it back out of the body, which really breaks up the song. Your technique solution sounds interesting. I may have to give that a try some day... –  Anonymous Jan 19 '11 at 22:29
    
@Kendrick, that's interesting. I had never thought of that. I'll have to give that a go. In order to stop losing your picks, try an electric guitar! ;o) Really though, it's all in the technique. With some practice, you'll find you don't lose it so much. –  yossarian Jan 19 '11 at 22:47
    
+1 Kendrick, I've just realised that's what I often do with medium picks (curling them so they go stiff). Also some electric guitars have f-holes and they are even worse for retrieving small objects from. :) –  Anonymous Jan 20 '11 at 23:58

They definitely produce different sounds. A harder pick will give you a harsher sound, and a softer pick will give you a more mellow sound.

It's generally easier to play softly or slowly with a soft pick, because it will bend and allow you to move smoothly across the strings. Likewise a hard pick allows you to play more loudly because less energy will be absorbed by the pick bending.

Beyond the rigidity of the pick, there's also its thickness. Again, the thicker the pick the louder you can play, and it's easier to play softly with a thin pick. I find the thickness is much more about your personal preference than the sound, however; the material controls the sound more.

I prefer a medium-weight, fairly elastic pick for most of my playing.

share|improve this answer

Generally, for lead playing, people use 0.7 - 1mm picks. If the picks flex too much, it's harder to play faster picking runs.

If you're an acoustic player who strums a lot, you might go with a light to medium thickness.

I personally only ever use heavy picks, around the 1mm mark.

share|improve this answer

This answer has already been comprehensively answered, and I would like to say that, for me at least, it is down to a degree of preference, and the way you want to play will reflect in your preference. I like jangly warm sounds, hence I go for very light picks. May I also note that if you are beginning to play a twelve string, then it is easier (because it is easier to move between strings), and makes a brighter sound using a lighter pick. Hope this helps.

share|improve this answer
  1. This is not only about thickness of pick. Generally thick, will produce louder more accented sound, softer will be more mellow and easier for strumming across the strings.
  2. But this also relation between pick thickness and You strings gauge. Thicker strings need thicker picks to produce decent sound.
  3. As mentioned before direction is also important perpendicular or parallel to strings
  4. Picks comes in different shapes too. Oval endings vs. pointed endings
  5. Moreover i have noticed that material used affects tone - but i cannot give any general rules here (different kinds of plastic and it's finish, different materials - bone, wood)

I myself use:

  • 1.14 plastic pick with oval endings parallel on .12 gauge strings for jazz (semi-hollow guitar)
  • 0.9 plastic pick with pointed ending perpendicular on .11 gauge strings for rock/blues (i.e. pointed ending for me is must have for artificial harmonics)
  • sometimes 0.6 oval plastic pick for nylon stringed guitar (but most of time i play with my fingernails)

Generally i experiment with picks and this is my advice to You. Pick is important part of producing Your sound - so take some experimentations and have fun :)

share|improve this answer

I've found that when playing different styles, particularly "heavier" music, that the heavier picks hold up better. For instance, I've broken light pics by galloping with them.

share|improve this answer

I once saw a guy in Acoustic Guitar suggest that beginners all start with medium strings and medium picks, saying that they shouldn't bother to move to heavy or lighter strings or picks until you can explain why you need to go that way.

I like a 1mm ultex pick (Dunlop or Clayton) because I like the feel of them and, especially on acoustic, they bring out more high end. I hate hate hate hate the feel of thin picks flopping around on me, and the lag between when I was expecting the note to sound and when the bend of the thin pick snaps and the note actually comes. But honestly, especially on electric, it's much more about how it feels in my hand and much less about how it sounds.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.