Guitar picks are cheap enough and they’re ubiquitous, but how do you know which one to buy (your student asks)? Go to a store and you’ll find thin picks, fat picks, isosceles picks, stone picks, leather picks, and more. So, what’s the difference?
Picks have a lot to do with how the notes we play sound; they affect our ability to articulate music, our dynamic range, and our phrasing. Here’s a quick primer to help you choose the right pick. You’ll need to think about 4 factors: shape, texture, material, and thickness.
If you don’t want to think about it, go for your classic triangle/V-shaped pick. If you want to play single note lines (jazz solos, shredding with an electric, etc.), go for a smaller, heavier picks with a pointy tip. Most other shape differences are simply cosmetic.
If you’re playing in a hot room or have sweaty hands, you might choose a pick with embossed lettering or designs. Most nylon picks come with raised lettering that help you keep your pick between your fingers where it belongs.
Most picks these days are made from plastic or nylon – but you can also find stone, leather, and metal picks out there. Nylon picks tend to sound a little brighter than their plastic cousins. They also offer greater flexibility, but if you’re going for precision, you may want to go plastic.
You pick thickness based on the song you’re playing. Thin picks (.40mm – .60mm) are great for light strumming – think acoustics. You’ll want to be careful because the thinner the pick, the more likely it is to break. You can also go ultra thick (1.5mm+) if you really need that bass! Then there are medium gauge picks. The low side of medium (.60mm – .80mm) will bring out more midrange and bass than thin picks. Go a little thicker (.80mm – 1.5mm) and you’ll be able to get a hefty strum and also pull out nice lines.
To sum up: Playing music is about having a great tone and the pick you use will make a big difference. Our suggestion: Go to a store, buy or try a lot of picks and see which ones you love…that’s the tone you really want.