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Sometimes when I try to play a solo I feel that I can't pick the notes because the pick is too short, and when I look at it, it is about 0,5mm shorter on the end than a new one.

When should you generally change your pick?

Edit to clarify: These "feels" are often deceiving. Sometimes I feel it makes my playing more difficult, but when I measure it, its exactly like the new one. So I suppose some people with more experience have came up with some way of telling when it is too small. Perhaps some rule of thumb/ general advice. I am unsure if even my 0,5mm makes a difference in my playing or it is just my imagination. I know that this differs with people, style of playing and so on, but it must be based on something general.

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    What kind of answer do you expect, other than "change it as soon as you feel that it makes your playing more difficult"?
    – Matt L.
    Jul 7 '15 at 15:10
  • @MattL. See edit.
    – akaltar
    Jul 7 '15 at 15:50
  • @ToddWilcox That should be an answer.
    – akaltar
    Jul 7 '15 at 16:00
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    When? For me, regularly after you've lost it.
    – seseorang
    Jul 7 '15 at 19:47
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    I use my fingers. Those don't wear down. Jul 7 '15 at 19:47
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The sensitivity of your playing is both more precise than whatever measuring tool you might be using and it's also the most important measurement of the usefulness of the pick. Who cares what some ruler says? If the pick is not pleasing you, toss it to most attractive person in the crowd and grab the next one! I sometimes ditch picks that haven't lost any shape but just have gotten too smooth and slippery from finger oils. And I always use a brand new pick at the start of a show.

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    To clarify, I meant "grab the next pick", not "grab the next most attractive person in the crowd". But you know, whatever works for your audience and show and reason for becoming a musician. :-) Jul 7 '15 at 17:05
  • "what some ruler says" - wonderfully ambiguous! :)
    – rfbw
    Aug 15 at 21:44
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Change: replace vs. repair (vs. diversify)

Replace

You can perform a blind experiment: Blindly draw the used or the new plectrum. Monitor whether you observe a difference while playing, when you do not otherwise know which is which.

You might even develop the habit of keeping a pool of similar plectra; repeatedly replacing the unuseful plectra with new ones.

Repair

The actual size is not the only factor. The three-dimensional shape of the tip of the plectrum, as well as its surface texture are important.

  • When plectra wear down, they become less pointy.
  • The edges become sharper and the handedness of the bevels increases.
  • Depending on the material, the worn edges may be rough.

To some extent, you can counteract these aspects of erosion via sanding, filing, and polishing. The treatment will further reduce the size however.

Diversify

Let me note for completeness that sometimes wear or damage is not the reason for changing the plectrum. Different plectra produce different timbre and lend themselves to different techniques of playing.

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It's so personal. I usually use 1mm Ultex picks, and I like how my older picks have a rounded tip and noticable bevel gained from thousands of times they've been used to hit strings. I have compared them with new picks, and yes, they've been carved down, but they still work for me.

But some picks have sharp tips. It's my understanding that this is commonly used for shredding, and I've played them, but I've never thought that these were what I needed to play like I want to. But that sharp tip is going to be worn down and need to be replaced sooner.

It depends a lot on what feels good in your hand and what sounds good on your strings. They usually don't cost too much and come in bags of ten. If you think a pick is done, it's done.

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